Her mind couldn’t seem to comprehend what was happening. Karly had done what Matt asked, kept the door open and watched out for her. She tried to not look at the dead man in the hallway. Watching Matt gather supplies was easier. But her eyes caught the movement of the dead man and she watched in horror as his eyes opened suddenly and they zeroed in on Matt.
Matt busied himself putting away the food he had brought in. He didn’t fool Karly with his composure. She could see his hands shake every few moments, his mind also full of the gruesome realization that they were surrounded by dead people that weren’t actually dead. Karly pulled the robe tighter around her, trying to burrow away from the nightmare she seemed to have wakened up in.
Strangers, that’s what Matt and Karly were. She wanted to trust Matt to help her, make the right decisions for them. But in the end, she had to admit that she knew nothing about the man, nothing to tell her he could be trusted.
“Where are you from?” Karly asked.
Matt stopped what he was doing and turned around to face her.
“Texas. You said you were here for a bachelor party right?”
“Yes. Are we having a getting to know you session right now?” Matt asked.
“It’s just, well, we’re virtually strangers. We are stuck here together, having to rely on each other. I thought maybe we should know something about each other. At least until we can get out of here and back to our lives,” she replied.
“You think that’s going to happen?”
“I think it seems something like this will spread like wildfire. Getting out of this tower is going to be a challenge. If the people that die after being attacked turn, there are four more down the opposite hall,” Matt said, as he continued to put away the food.
“Four more? How are we going to get out of here?” Karly’s voice shook as she started to panic.
Matt brought a water to Karly and sat with her on the couch. Taking a deep drink, she tried to calm her stomach. Fear was coursing through her veins. Karly wasn’t one to sit around without a plan. She was a doer. Throughout her life, she had learned and evolved to handle whatever was thrown at her. Inside her mind, she tried to compartmentalize this outbreak, making it just another challenge for her to overcome.
She stood, tightening the strap of the robe. Looking down at herself, she realized she couldn’t escape walking dead wearing a robe. She looked back at Matt and was pretty sure he didn’t have clothes that would fit her. Seeming to read her mind, Matt stood and went to the dresser. He pulled out a set of sweats with a waist that tied and a plain white shirt. Karly smiled at him shyly before going to the bathroom.
Dressed, Karly started feeling more in control of herself. The panic began to release and her mind was able to work again. She thought about her friends staying off the strip. Were they safe? Did they try to leave and get back to her? There were too many scenarios for her to sift through. Ultimately she was only in control of what she did. And right now that included whatever Matt chose to do.
She found Matt back at the table where he had set out sandwiches, chips and candy bars. There were also sodas and little bottles of liquor. The room was starting to dim and Karly realized they had been in the room all day and evening was coming. She wasn’t sure why, but night scared her a bit more. She went to the door and rechecked the locks, reassuring herself that no one was getting into their room that night without them opening the door.
The two sat in silence as they ate. Karly was sure drinking wasn’t the smartest choice right then, but the idea of dulling her fear just a little was too hard to resist. They each had one drink and agreed to not overdo it. She continued to ask Matt questions about himself, wanting to know this man she was closed in with. He was unattached, no children. His parents were still alive, or they were, a point that made him extremely sad, Karly had taken his hand, squeezing it between hers. The conversation then left important topics, neither of them wanting to face the reality of what might be outside of their Las Vegas hotel.
Darkness overtook the hotel and the two stood at the window waiting. They turned on their light, surprised to find it still working. Throughout the opposite tower, they could see, lights turned on and people could be seen moving. The sight brought Karly to tears and Matt put his arm around her.
“What?” He asked her.
“There are so many living people still. I was afraid…” she trailed off.
“Afraid we were completely alone?” Matt finished for her.
“Yes. If there are so many alive, doesn’t that mean we can fight back? And win?”
“I don’t know. Of all of these people, how many are capable of fighting? My guess no one has weapons. Avoidance is going to be key. And has everyone figured out to stay away from the sick ones?” He answered and then he squeezed her to him a little, comforting.
Karly couldn’t exactly say why, but she did feel comfort with Matt. The same attraction she had found the night before was there. Yet, it wasn’t just that. He hadn’t kicked her out of his room. He had shared the food he had with her and made sure she was taken care of. He was smart enough to fill the tub with water so they would have it later. For these reasons, he made her feel safe.
For a long while, they sat on the floor in front of the wall length windows, just watching the living moving around. Matt brought out a set of cards he had in his bag and the two played a few spirited games of war. A sense of normalcy was what Karly was reaching for, but it was just out of grasp. She was sitting on the floor of a hotel room, with a man she barely knew, hiding from things that wanted to eat them. No, this wasn’t normal.
When they decided to go to bed, the two stood on opposite sides of the bed and looked at each other. Karly wanted to laugh out loud at the awkwardness of the situation. Technically, it wasn’t the first time they had slept next to each other. This time, Karly would actually know she was falling asleep next to Matt. Not just passing out in an alcohol-induced coma.
Making a decision, Karly slipped off the sweatpants she was wearing. She knew that she couldn’t sleep in them, she was a hot sleeper. If they were sticking together, they needed to be comfortable with each other. Matt’s white shirt was long, reaching further down her legs than her clubbing dress did. Matt raised an eyebrow at her but didn’t say anything as he pulled back the comforter and straightened the sheets they had never made that afternoon.
Sliding into bed, Karly turned to watch Matt get comfortable.
“Can I cuddle with you?” She asked.
“Yes. Cuddle. You know when two people sleep next to each other, touching?”
“Smartass. Yes, you can cuddle, come here,” he replied by holding out an arm.
Karly slid into his embrace, laying her head on his chest. The touch of human skin against hers seemed to calm her nerves and fears. At least I’m not alone, she thought to herself. The idea of being alone was a fear she didn’t want to think about facing. Even if she had been in the small hotel room she had shared with her girlfriends, she wasn’t sure they would have survived the day. Being with Matt felt safer than any other scenario she could come up with in her mind.
She was dozing off when a loud noise shocked her awake. Matt slid out from under her and was on his feet before Karly thought of getting up. Part of her believed it was another infected banging around in the hallway. Quietly, Matt crept to the door and looked through the peephole.
“I think it’s a woman. But not a sick one. She’s looking around scared,” Matt reported back to Karly.
“We should let her in,” she replied.
“Because the last person we didn’t let in died!” Karly exclaimed.
Matt pondered it for a moment before flipping the locks. Opening the door slowly, Matt looked out to see beyond the woman. He didn’t see the infected in the hall.
“Please. I can’t be alone,” the woman said softly.
“Have you been bitten?” Matt asked.
“Bitten? No! I haven’t left my room. I saw you walking around and just now saw it was clear to try and come here.”
Karly waited, nervous on the bed. Ultimately, she knew she trusted Matt to make the right decision. Yet, she couldn’t forget the dead man in the hall. The man that had begged to come into their room but was attacked instead. Karly had seen his dead body come to life and she couldn’t handle seeing that happen to another living person. As that thought passed her mind she realized that during this illness, she was probably going to see a lot more than she wanted to.
Matt had stepped aside and let the small woman into the room. Her eyes looked around wildly and she looked over Karly twice before seeming to realize there was someone else in the room. She was short and slightly pudgy. Karly guessed her age was somewhere in her mid-forties, maybe early fifties, with graying hair at her temples. She stepped further into the room as Matt closed and locked the door. She dropped a bag on the table in front of the couch.
“Hi,” she said to Karly.
“Hello. I’m Karly.”
“Nice to meet you, Helen. That’s Matt,” Karly said pointing.
Matt just nodded to the woman, while he leaned against a wall. With his arms crossed over his chest, he seemed formidable.
“Thank you for letting me in. I was alone in my room. I’m not sure where my sister went. But she never came back last night,” Helen said with a sniff.
“Where was she?” Karly asked.
“Downstairs gambling. I saw….the attacks….”
“What attacks?” Matt pressed.
“I had just come downstairs to find my sister. It was getting late and she can be a little extreme at the slots sometimes. I had just stepped out of the elevators when I saw blood. I thought maybe someone had spilled food or a drink. But I could hear the screams and people started running into the elevator lobby. Some had blood on them. And then, those things came….”
“How did you get back upstairs?” Matt asked.
“With all the people crowding in, I ended up pressed against the elevator doors. When the doors opened I was pushed in. I pressed the floor and waited. I thought the elevator would fall with the number of people packing in. But luckily the door shut and we started to move. And none of those people got in.”
“Did anyone else get off on our floor?”
“Yes. One man. He was covered in blood. He said he got into a fight with someone and the guy actually bit him. I think he was kinda in shock. He went to his room. Said he would call security for medical attention.”
“That must have been the infected that killed the man outside our door,” Matt said, looking at Karly. All she did was nod, riveted to Helen’s story.
“Yeah, I saw him in the hallway. He looked different. His eyes…”
“Black,” Matt finished her sentence.
Helen nodded as she sat down heavily. She pushed the bag toward Matt, offering to him what she had brought.
“It’s the food I had in my room, what was on my tray and the tray next to mine.”
Matt added to the items to their current store of food. He stood for a moment and Karly waited to see what they would do now that they had an additional person in the room. However, Helen decided for them.
“I’m going to just sleep on your couch if you don’t mind? I think there are extra pillows in the closet. Could I use those?”
“Oh, of course,” Matt said, going to the closet. Karly guessed Matt was going to be chivalrous and offer the bed to Helen. Part of Karly was glad that he never got the chance to offer. Selfishly she wanted Matt next to her.
“What are you two planning on doing?” Helen asked as she took the items from Matt to make a bed on the couch.
“We hadn’t really come up with a plan yet,” Karly answered.
“Where are you all from?”
“I’m from Texas. Matt is from Montana.”
This answer made Helen’s head cock slightly as she looked at Karly.
“Long distance relationship?” She asked.
Karly laughed out loud, cutting it short when she realized how out of place laughter seemed.
“We just met,” Matt said, with a small grin.
“Oh, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas huh?” Helen asked.
“Not exactly how it happened. He offered me a drink, I passed out. That was our great love story,” Karly explained.
“So you don’t have a plan to get home? To your families?”
“We hadn’t really gotten that far. I was hoping something would happen here, something would clear up. And we could leave easily,” Karly said. Admitting her hopes out loud made them sound even more ridiculous than in her own mind.
“Where are you from?” Matt asked.
“Reno. I’m getting home somehow. I have a daughter that lives with me up there. We talked this morning, as all of this was breaking out everywhere. She knows to not leave the house and that I’m coming for her.”
“How do you plan on doing that?” Matt leaned against the wall again, his face holding expectation.
“Well, as I’m sure you guessed son, I was going to see if you wanted to help me.”
Matt didn’t say anything. His nod just confirmed he already knew Helen would ask for their help. He walked back to his side of the bed. Karly hadn’t left her space, feeling unsure of what she should be doing. When Matt sat back down, he reached over to take her hand. Karly looked down at their hands and then at him. He squeezed without looking at her and she knew he realized how she was feeling and he wanted to reassure her.
“I can imagine if I decide to go back to Montana, I could help you to Reno first. But it’s something I need to discuss with Karly. I won’t just leave her anywhere. She needs to get home if that’s what she wants,” Matt finally said.
Karly squeezed his hand tightly, feeling that attraction well up in her again. She was young, hadn’t been in many serious relationships. Yet, she had never met a man that put her needs first or even really considered what she needed. Here in the middle of what seemed like the apocalypse, there was this man thinking of what was best for her. Karly didn’t question his sincerity. She knew that he would get her all the way home to Texas if she wanted.
“I don’t really know,” Karly said. “I don’t have family back home. I mean my girlfriends I was here with, they were the most I have.”
“Parents?” Helen asked.
“Don’t have parents. I lived in an orphanage for most of my life. Some foster care.”
Karly could see Matt looking at her with surprise on his face. She averted her face, not wanting to see the pity she always saw when people found out she was abandoned as a baby.
“Oh dear, I’m sorry,” Helen said, speaking out loud exactly what Karly hated to hear. She took a deep breath, ready to give the same standard answer she always gave.
“It’s ok. I was usually treated very well. I studied hard and behaved. When I was eighteen I had two part-time jobs and could afford to live on my own. One of my girlfriends I came here with, she was my first roommate back then.”
“You’re strong,” Matt said quietly.
“Well, I better be. Especially to survive this.”
“Where do you want to go then?” Helen asked.
“I want to check the hotel I was staying at with my friends. See if any of them are alive. After that, I just want to survive.”
Helen laid down on her bed and looked over at Karly and Matt.
“Goodnight you beautiful non-couple. I’m so happy you let me in.”
“I am too Helen. Goodnight,” Karly responded.
Matt turned off the side light he had flicked on earlier. Laying back down, Karly didn’t have to ask, he pulled her to his side and wrapped an arm around her. His warmth, the beating of his heart and the life in his skin, were all things Karly needed to start feeling better about where they were.
“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you,” Matt whispered into her hair. Karly wondered if he had meant her to hear him or not. She didn’t really care. Warmth spread to her toes and she knew that together they would face the world falling apart. From there, she didn’t know what the future held. She just hoped she was alive to decide.