At the peak of France’s capital, I gazed out at the Parisian sunset, wind gently flowing all around me, until I turned to Claire, her hand in mine.
“Let’s never leave this place, shall we?”
“Oh David, I don’t know…”
“Well, I do. We’re staying.”
A sharply dressed man with white gloves and coattails offered me a phone.
“Call for Mr. Help. From Mr. Bed City.”
When I put my ear to the receiver, it slowly dawned on me that the caller was speaking in a foreign tongue, what sounded like Latin. Soon after, the scene faded into nothingness.
I awoke groggily, with an odd, stale taste in my mouth, to find myself in Claire Baxter’s living room. I studied my surroundings intently; I then, somewhat pointlessly, made a mental note not to sleep on Claire’s couch ever again.
I rubbed my eyes and then closed them again. I had been dreaming that I was enjoying a nice vacation with Claire in Paris, France, until we received a phone call from our hotel, informing us that we were actually on the planet Neptune. The harsh, permanent winter that Neptune suffers through proved to be too much for us, and we slowly froze into a state of unbeing.
Well, the vacation part was nice, anyway, I thought to myself. I heaved my body off of the couch and made my way to Claire’s kitchen, to once again pillage her refrigerator and find out what time it was.
The clock read 9:32. Then I remembered that I had fallen asleep at around 8:30 last night. Wow, did I really sleep for 13 hours straight?
“Well, good morning sir. I hope you enjoyed your evening at Hotel de la Baxter-Miller.” I did my best not to roll my eyes. I hadn’t noticed Eric sitting at the table, reading a book and drinking coffee comfortably.
“Thanks, that I did. Will there be a continental breakfast provided at the so-called ‘Hotel de la Baxter-Miller?’” I said with a smile as I took a seat across to him.
“Sorry, man, I may be a gourmand, but this here is a self-serve type situation; at least for you…” Eric looked at me and grinned that big, sleepy grin of his.
Not wanting to further examine what he meant by that sentence, I got up and peeked through the shelves of the ‘Baxter-Miller’ fridge. With nothing really looking that appetizing, I decided to make myself two slices of peanut butter toast and a cup of coffee. After I poured my coffee, I took my place across the table from Eric.
“Man, you were out like a light last night, what was it, like 8:30?” Eric asked.
“Yeah, I guess I was still pretty exhausted from the situation at my house,” I said solemnly.
“Well, again man, I’m really sorry that that happened. I mean, what’s with this whole Disappearance bullshit anyway?” Eric asked angrily. “Where did everyone go? I’m starting to think it might be some elaborate prank,” he said as his face reddened. I get the feeling Eric wasn’t used to getting pranked very often.
“No, Eric, it wasn’t some trick. That would be way to complicated to pull off, not to mention cruel and unusual.”
Eric slowly moved his eyes down to his book. “Yeah, I s’pose you’re right,” he agreed, taking a bite of his toast. He started to flip through the pages of the novel in his hand. “Oh man, I don’t know why I even bother with this book; I’m never gonna finish it.”
I looked down at the book on the table, but I couldn’t read the title. “What book is it?” I asked curiously.
“It’s called “The Sun Also Rises,” by Hemingway. You know, I had to read this for that Early American Literature assignment, but I doubt I’m gonna have to finish it now,” Eric stated sadly.
I thought for a moment. I guess Eric had gotten it through his head that Early American Literature, as well as any high school class, was over for good now.
“What is the story about?” I asked earnestly.
“Well, if you really wanna know, it’s about this group of friends who decide to travel from Paris and explore Spain to see the running of the bulls. It’s kind of interesting, I guess,” said Eric lazily.
“In my opinion, you should keep reading it,” I said. “We’re not going to have much else to do with our spare time, which I’m guessing we’ll have a lot of these days.” Just then, a faint springing noise informed me that my toast was now ready.
Just as the crisp bread rose from the toaster, Claire made her way up the stairs. Even in the haze of sleepiness surrounding her, she still looked more beautiful than most other women do after hours of makeup.
“Good morning, Dave. I didn’t think you’d be up yet; otherwise I wouldn’t have let you see me this way, so shabby.”
“Good morning, Claire I’m glad to see we’re all still in good health.” I smiled at Claire as she sauntered over to Eric and gave him an over-the-shoulder hug and kiss. Despite myself, I couldn’t help but think they looked cute together, albeit sickening. Eric, dropping his book rapidly, turned his full-attention to Claire to give a proper good morning. While Claire and Eric slowly devoured each other’s faces, I grabbed Eric’s book from across the table.
The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, had, like most books, a very obtuse cover image with little meaning to any outside reader unfamiliar with the book. The cover showed an illustration of a nude man, with what appeared to be an apple in his hand.
I hadn’t been in Early American Novels, but I’m sure if the second semester had taken place I would have read the story as well. I don’t remember when I learned this, but somehow I knew this book to be Hemingway’s first novel.
I looked up to see Claire snatching a bite of Eric’s jellied toast. “Hey! I demand you give that back this instant!” Eric said with a sly smile and feigned annoyance. I was a little surprised at the couple’s complete lack of tact around me, the houseguest.
After giving them another minute and finishing my own toast, I took a sip of coffee and keenly cleared my throat. “Well, I guess we’d better get started on coming up with a basic plan for the next several days.” I suggested. Snapping back to reality, Claire and Eric (rather disappointingly) glanced back up at me, their expressions turning stern.
“Yes, well, I was thinking about it last night, and I thought we should stop to see if Megan, Olivia, or… Jeff are still alive,” Claire said, with her voice quivering before mention Jeff. I had known that Jeff and Claire had been good friends, and that Jeff had even helped Eric and Claire get together.
Actually, they had all been friends of ours. At the beginning of our sophomore year in high school last year, Claire, Jeff, Megan, Olivia, and I had been a gang of pals. In fact, Megan and Olivia were twin sisters. Jeff had a sister in the grade ahead of ours, whose name escaped me.
For some reason, I had always gotten the distinct impression that Megan had a crush on me, though I was too distracted by Claire to really notice her.
“Yeah, that’s a great idea,” I said to Claire. “But I think we need something more concrete than that. You know, something to do after checking on Jeff and Megan and Olivia.”
“Well, what do you have in mind, smart guy?” Claire asked icily.
“Um, I was kind of thinking we should check on the school, see if there’s anyone there with more information than we have,” I said. I hadn’t actually thought about the school until the idea had left my mouth; it was a plan, nonetheless.
“How about Newport?” Eric asked hopefully. He had family members living in Newport, the next town over from Providence.
“Eric, I was in Newport, it’s kind of like ground zero for me and the Disappearance. I don’t think we’ll find much there,” I said to Eric, trying to soften the blow for him a little bit.
“It’s worth a shot though, isn’t it? I mean, what were the chances even that any of us would still be safe and sound?”
“Yeah, I agree that we should go to Newport, David. But Eric, don’t expect much; remember, Dave had to walk all the way home from there, and he said he didn’t see a soul.” Claire settled the argument in a logical fashion; another strength of hers.
I drank down the last remaining sips of my coffee, pondering the plan. I couldn’t help but have second thoughts about Claire and Eric’s involvement with whatever was about to happen. Is it the wisest thing to include them on this trip? I made up my mind soon enough, however.
“Okay, good. Let’s leave in a half hour.”
When breakfast a la Hotel Baxter-Miller had ended and Claire, Eric and I had finished making our immediate plans, I hopped in the shower for a much-needed clean.
As they often do right before beginning the day, doubts and negative thoughts began to storm and swirl around in my head in the shower, just as the scalding water circled the drain.
Is it the best idea to be leaving the Baxter house? This might be the only safe house we have, and we’re just going to leave to enter who knows what? My second thoughts were not without truth and reason, but the decision was already made. Besides, I thought to myself, am I really okay with just staying here, like a sitting duck?
When it regrettably came time to exit the soothing heat of the inviting shower, I stepped out and dried my face, rubbing over my eyes again and again. I still could not tell if I was making the right choice; only time and the dangers that come with it would ever know.
As soon as I climbed out of the shower, I noticed that I couldn’t hear Eric and Claire being the usual, sappy couple that they were. Maybe a little peace and quiet is what they need right now, I told myself warily. I shrugged off the observation carelessly as I finished getting dressed and ready for the beckoning day ahead. While brushing my teeth, I couldn’t help but remark to myself that the silence continued. That’s when I heard the first noise.
Bang. A sound from outside the bathroom warned me that something was amiss in Hotel de la Baxter-Miller; another boom noise sent shivers down my spine as I cautiously made my way out of the bathroom and into the hall.
At first I suspected that Eric, for some reason, was beating Claire; no, that can’t be. I grabbed my Louisville slugger (which I had taken with me in the bathroom) and carefully stalked into the living room.
Eric’s face was frozen in shock. Claire’s bottle-green eyes were wide with fear as they stared unblinkingly at the front door of the Baxter-Miller. I turned and, making my way to the front window, saw the source of the mysterious and sickening noises.
A zombie had made its way toward the house.
The body of the poor soul whom the zombie mind now controlled was that of a tall, white, almost indiscriminate male. He was probably in his mid-thirties when he had lived, and had had a bit of a beer belly. To top it all off, the body was wearing blue jeans, a white tank top, and bright yellow construction helmet, which was clean save a spattering of blood across the front. It was like a character out of the book on stereotypical blue-collar Americans.
Despite the familiar features, the bloodlust in its eyes and the careless spittle left on its chin betrayed no hint that this man was now a zombie.
The thing began to repeatedly bang on the door at a faster rate, as if it was coming with urgent news. I couldn’t help but remain still, despite the need for one of us to act quickly.
Somehow, the zombie soon figured out how to properly work the door handle, and calmly made its way into the house.
Snapping out of the daze slightly, I swung my Louisville Slugger as hard as I could, aiming the blow at the zombie’s lower back.
Without missing a beat, the zombie’s arms swooped in too gracefully and caught my bat mid-swing. The zombie then somehow managed to throw the bat and myself over its shoulder with little effort, knocking me back towards the closet, my head crashing through the thin-wood frame itself with a crack.
The zombie, ready to strike another crushing blow against me, defenseless, turned its attention towards the kitchen when Eric let out a gasp. Oddly, the zombie hadn’t seemed to notice Eric standing so close to it in the kitchen, paralyzed from fear and confusion, witnessing the battle unfold between us.
The zombie seemed to contemplate for that moment what its next move would be. Looking down at me once more with the same eager, hungry look I saw in little Steven Zimmerman’s eye, it decided to let me lay in pain and turned to face Eric; it was clear who the next target would be.
Still in the doorway, the zombie pivoted its body to face Eric and the kitchen and stood up straight. He had been a tall man and, despite the beer gut, was most likely athletic. With its gaze fixed totally on Eric, the zombie let out an inhuman growl, almost as a roar of intimidation. So this is how it ends; so soon, I thought to myself, still in a daze from breaking through the closet door with my head. We didn’t even get to make it outside the Baxter house.
I hadn’t noticed what Claire was doing. Neither had the zombie.
With the zombie’s hulking presence in the entryway of the house still focused on Eric, Claire had grabbed a knife from the kitchen.
With that, Claire hurled the pointed knife with all of her might across the kitchen and towards to zombie. Caught off guard by yet another human in the room, the zombie fixed its eyes on Claire just in time to see, as if it was guided by a godly hand, the knife fly directly into his right eye, penetrating deep passed the socket and into the brain.
With a wide-eyed look of dumfounded surprise on its face, the zombie toppled backwards, falling flat on his back, with its bloodstained, yellow construction hat tossed off its head. It didn’t even scream.
Eric, still comically standing still, slowly turned to face Claire, his mouth agape with astonishment. I lifted my head slightly to get a better look of Claire; looking fierce and fearless, Claire had a look of power and concentration in her eyes that I had never seen before. She took a deep breath as I thought it to be the best time to pass out from pain.