Crash! Stella fell through the ceiling. She leapt up and quickly scanned her surroundings; a kitchen, bare shelves, the floor covered in the debris of searching and looting, empty cupboards, their doors open, and one zombie, a shuffler. Luckily it was on the other side of the room, giving her time to recover from the fall.
The zombie groaned as it shuffled towards her. She looked around but the only option was behind the shambling corpse: a door, a closed door. She didn’t know whether it was locked. “But who locks a kitchen door?” she said to the zombie.
It didn’t respond.
The kitchen table was between them. It was a simple matter to stand at one end, wait for the zombie to shuffle towards her and then run around the other side. She almost laughed as the dead head jerked around, its lifeless eyes blindly following her movements. On her way past she picked up a carving knife from the table.
Reaching the door, Stella pulled the handle. Locked. She rattled desperately but it wouldn’t budge. “Who locks a kitchen door!” she said to herself. She looked up; her only way out was back through the ceiling.
Taking a deep breath, she leapt across the table, slid on the shining steel surface and used the momentum to plunge the knife into the zombie’s eye. Carrying forward, she slipped off the table and into the zombie, firmly planting her elbow into its chest and knocking it to the floor. She followed it down, landing knees first on the creature’s torso, breaking ribs and smashing its skull onto the tiled floor.
Pulling the blade from the socket, she quickly moved to wipe the gore on the back of her combat trousers. The pockets bulged. As she did so she saw something beneath the cabinets on the far side of the room. It glinted faintly in the shadow. She moved carefully towards it, her movements cautious, as if she thought something would come alive and prevent her from reaching her target.
She laid flat on the floor and reached her arm under the steel cabinet. Dust and grease swiped her finger tips. ‘Not gonna pass basic hygiene,’ she muttered to herself.
Suddenly, she pulled her arm back in shock as a rat appeared from nowhere. Its teeth were exposed and its nose twitched. It raised its head at her as if it might somehow challenge her. She batted the creature away with her fingerless-gloved hand and grabbed the object, pulling it free. It was a mobile phone, its message light flashing. There was very little dust on its battered but still shiny surface. Someone had dropped it recently.
The screen flared to life at her touch. Immediately she noticed the bars. A signal.
Puzzled, she stared at the phone for a long time, her thumb hovering over the message icon. She pressed it. Password needed. She tutted, the sound echoing in the empty room.
The screen saver was a photograph of a man with a woman. They weren’t a couple. Stella knew this instinctively. But the man, tall and angular, his face cruel, looked keen for that to change. The woman was young, blonde and cool, too cool. Her body was relaxed and rigid at the same time, almost as if the side of her furthest away from the man was comfortable and the side near him was made of stone. Stella thought of all the rom-com movie posters she had seen before the crash and how the actors would lean against each other. The woman in the picture was so stiff on one side that she looked she had been photoshopped away from the man, like a rom-com poster torn in half.
Stella wrinkled her nose at the smell pouring out of the zombie. Its eye socket oozed puss and dead brains. ‘Gross,’ she said out loud as she pocketed the phone and pushed the table under the hole in the ceiling. The noise made by the steel legs scraping along the floor was horrendous. Every zombie in the hotel would hear that, and maybe even an angel as well.
She jumped onto the table and stared up at the hole. She had been down here for at least four minutes; everything could have changed up there and she would be a sitting duck for the few seconds it would take her to climb through the hole.
Waiting an hour would mean that anything that heard the table would have lost interest, but Stella was restless and ready to leave this place. Getting stuck in a hotel was not the plan. Finding Hook and getting some supplies and batteries was the plan. The kitchen was a bust, so she would have to search elsewhere and it was already mid afternoon. Sunset was at least five hours away. Time was on her side for now as long as she didn’t wait around for shufflers to decide to leave.
With the knife clenched between her teeth, she reached up to the hole. Grasping the sides she pulled herself up smoothly, the muscles in her bare arms moving fluidly.
Immediately she knew it was a mistake. Zombies heard her. As her head rose above the hole, she looked around as quickly as she could; four of them. ‘Come on then,’ she muttered through gritted teeth, the blade of the knife drenched in her saliva. She threw one arm onto the floor, desperately trying to find some purchase. The floor boards she had removed earlier meant that she quickly found a handhold and she was able to hold herself while she threw her other arm up and out of the hole. Heaving herself up to her waist, she spread half of her weight across the floor, leaving just her legs dangling through the hole.
But she wasn’t fast enough.
The nearest creature stumbled down to its knees, reaching for her face.
Spitting the knife onto the floor, Stella grabbed the handle and plunged it into the zombie’s hand, nailing it to the floor. It looked at her, its dead eyes upset, as if she had offended it in some way. It reached the other towards her.
Quickly she rolled away, kicking the knee of the next creature, making it fold in on itself as if were a toy in the hands of an angry child. Stella was on her feet to face the next and a two-handed shove to its chest sent it sprawling into the wardrobe. The next she allowed to advance at her for half a second before side stepping and pushing it onto the bed. she touched the tanto blade strapped to her thigh and decided to leave the carving knife buried in the floor boards. ‘Sorry guys, didn’t realise you were in here. I’ll come back later to clean. Don’t forget to tip.’
She headed out of the door, slamming it behind her.