“How important are these friends of yours?” Matt asked.
Watching as the infected moved toward their vehicle, he couldn’t see a clear way of getting into the building. Seeing the number of dead outside, made Matt doubt there was any way of getting through the inside of the hotel either. He watched in fascinated horror as a small woman, who could only have been a stripper, ambled toward his car. Her left leg was twisted at an odd angle and she was walking on her ankle. He couldn’t understand how she was still balancing on one six-inch stripper heel and a broken leg. But her desire for food was stronger than anything else she may feel.
The worst part of seeing the infected was seeing the destruction of their bodies. The stripper’s barely there outfit had somehow stayed in place. But her thigh was half missing with the muscle and sinew still hanging from the bone. It was as if the infected that attacked her had dug into her flesh and torn it apart. Pieces were clearly missing, taken by the infected that had dined on the stripper meat. Matt choked on the idea that the woman may not have been dead when she was eaten. He didn’t see any other deadly wounds to her body.
“They’re all I have,” Karly replied quietly from the passenger seat, pulling Matt from his musings about stripper zombie.
Her answer made Matt wince. He was worried she was going to say something like that. He looked at her pale face trying to decide how to tell her there was no way in hell they were trying to get into the hotel. As he contemplated he heard the loud noise of glass shattering and raining down on the pavement in front of them. He whipped his head back to look through the windshield, not sure what he was looking for.
The answer came quickly, as a body thudded to the asphalt outside of the doors to the hotel. Karly’s hands flew to her mouth, muffling the scream she let loose. Matt cursed and sat back hard, giving himself whiplash trying to get away from the scene. He couldn’t stop staring at the body, waiting to see if it was going to move again, or if it was truly dead. Leaning forward he watched as some of the nearby infected walked that direction.
“The zombies won’t feed on other zombies, right?” Karly asked, voicing Matt’s own line of thinking.
“I don’t think so.”
Looking up toward the hotel tower, Matt found the window that was busted out. In the open space, he could clearly see a man pacing back and forth, grabbing at his hair. Matt judged they were only on the second floor. As the infected began to fall onto the body on the asphalt, a wail split the air from the open window. The man knelt at the edge, watching as what Matt assumed was his companion, be eaten by the infected.
“I don’t think the fall killed that man,” Matt said.
“Oh my god. He’s alive?”
“Well, hopefully not anymore. And hopefully, he wasn’t conscious to feel anything,” he replied, trying to calm her before the waterworks turned on again.
He couldn’t handle seeing women cry. And with Karly, he already had a soft spot for her because she didn’t have anyone else in the world to look out for her. He didn’t want to see her upset more than necessary. This disaster couldn’t be helped though, so Matt knew he needed to just toughen up and force Karly to as well.
“I’m not sure how we’re going to get into the hotel,” Matt said.
“Drive around back. There’s a small parking garage. Maybe there’s some sort of access to the fire escape. Like the exit we took from the Venetian,” Karly suggested.
Matt put the car into drive. It wasn’t a moment too soon as the infected that hadn’t been distracted by the jumping man, started to reach the car. Matt slowly pushed the car through the infected directly in front of them. Once clear he sped up and went to the side of the hotel. He avoided looking at the grotesque scene of the infected eating the suicidal man.
Pulling around behind the hotel, Matt found an access point that looked promising. He slowed the car next to a fence and looked through the bars. The pool area was empty from what he could see, no movement of the living or infected. With the car pulled up next to the fence, they could use the vehicle to easily climb over. He waited, weighing their options.
“Matt?” Karly asked.
“Thinking this might be the best way to get into the hotel. There’s nothing out here that I can see. The infected would be moving toward the car if they were in there. We jump over and access the hotel through the inner door. When we come back out, we can just go through the gate if it’s clear,” Matt explained.
“Better make a decision quick, they’re coming,” Karly said, pointing out of her window.
Matt turned to see the infected that had followed the movement of the car. They were slowly ambling their way and Matt didn’t want to be there when they finally reached their destination. Without any additional hesitation, Matt got out of the car. He heard Karly’s door and was glad he didn’t have to convince her of the plan. There wasn’t time for it.
He quickly climbed to the roof of the car. Karly scrambled up behind him, her bare feet squeaking on the windshield.
“I’ll go over first. I’ll need to help you down since you don’t have shoes,” Matt said.
“Hurry,” Karly replied.
Matt grabbed the top rung of the fence and hoisted himself over. Balancing on the top he checked the area of the pool once more, confirming that it was blissfully empty. He carefully lowered himself to a lounge that was sitting right next to the fence. Turning, he saw Karly was already positioned to pull herself over. Matt motioned for her to come and she quickly threw her legs over to him.
His hands slid over her hips to her waist. He almost pulled away when his fingers brushed across the skin on her middle. However, he didn’t want her to fall and break something. Tightening his grip, he slowly helped her to the concrete ground next to him. When she looked over at him, her cheeks held a slight flush. Matt avoided her eyes, not sure how he felt about the attraction between them. Especially as they were being hunted by dead people that wanted to eat them.
With caution, they approached the hotel entrance. Matt cupped his hands around his face to look into the tinted windows. Cursing he leaned back.
“I can’t see anything inside. There could be hundreds of them. Or none.”
“Well, we made it this far. Maybe we take the chance?” Karly suggested.
Matt had to agree. Looking back to the car he could see where the infected were now at the fence. Their exit was going to be more complicated than he had hoped. Turning to the door, he decided all they could do was keep going forward. He took a few deep breaths, working to calm his nerves. Finally steeling himself for whatever was on the other side of the door, he opened it slowly so he could peek in.
It took a moment for Matt’s mind to accept what he was seeing in the hotel lobby. He had an expectation of death and gore everywhere. His heart hammered in his chest with the assumption he had held. However, as he opened the door he accepted that his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him and he wasn’t imagining things. Karly’s sound of surprise only pushed him to walk into the hotel and look around more.
What he assumed would be full of walking dead eaters, was completely empty. Karly and Matt were the only moving things in the lobby. The pool door shut behind them with a quiet click and Matt continued to wait for something to jump out at them. They moved further into the lobby and Matt inspected the area. Now that he could look closer he could see where blood was smeared in places, splatters on the ground as if someone passed through that was bleeding.
“Oh, what I wouldn’t do for a tall caramel macchiato right now,” Karly said.
Matt turned to find her slowly walking toward the Starbucks that was inside the hotel. She carefully looked over the counter, making sure nothing was hiding behind. Then she turned to the pastry case and pulled a cake pop out of it. She moaned quietly as she bit into the sweet treat. It made Matt smile to see her enjoying something so small. He joined her, grabbing a chocolate croissant to eat.
As they each quietly enjoyed their snack, Matt’s mind began to turn. With no infected in the lobby, he worried what that would mean for the hotel tower. Did people get bit outside and go to their rooms, only to die and turn? If they made it to their rooms, Matt guessed they would still be stuck inside and it would be safe for them. But, as the city was falling apart, Matt knew their luck would only stretch so far.
“What floor were you guys on?” Matt asked.
He watched as Karly stepped close to him. He almost pulled back as she reached up to his face, but he forced himself to stay still. Using her thumb, she swiped near the corner of his lip and then put her thumb in her mouth. The action was so utterly personal, Matt was left stunned.
“You had some chocolate…” Karly said quietly, trailing off as if she just realized what she had done.
“Thanks. So, umm, what floor?”
“Well let’s get started. Let’s hope the keycard still works. I think it’s battery powered and not hardwired. So the door should open. You do have the key right?” Matt said and he knew he was rambling.
Karly held up the little card and then slipped it back into her pocket. Matt started for the door that had a stairs symbol next to it. It had a small window that he looked through before opening the door. He could see blood along the railing and wall inside the stairwell. It made him anxious to be closed into a stairwell with any infected. Looking down at the pole he held, that no longer had a point, he reconsidered. Looking back around the lobby he began to think of places he might find a better weapon.
“Do they have a restaurant or anything here?” Matt asked.
“Yes. Down beyond the elevators. Why?”
“A restaurant would have knives,” he replied as he held up the pole that was practically useless now.
Making their way to the restaurant, Matt was still on edge, expecting something to jump out at any time. When they entered the seating area of the buffet the hotel housed, it was clear that people had been there since the outbreak. Dirty dishes littered most surfaces. Trash was casually discarded across the floor. Matt walked toward the back of the room, finding the entrance to the kitchen.
Again, he was careful as he pushed the door open to peek in. The kitchen was dark, with no windows lighting the area. One light that must have run on some sort of emergency power source, blinked on and off at the back of the room. The strobe effect gave the whole kitchen a horror movie vibe. Matt found himself swallowing hard. He tried to be quiet to listen for any movement. He realized he couldn’t be sure he was hearing anything over the roar of his heart in his ears.
Taking a chance, Matt stepped into the kitchen. Karly stayed close behind him, her hand clutching the back of his shirt. Matt was glad he had thrown the shirt on after he lost his to Helen’s wounds. He didn’t want to face any infected while shirtless. Though he was sure his thin cotton wasn’t going to stop teeth from sinking into him, the false security helped him.
Together they rounded the preparation counter. Matt quickly located a magnetic strip above the area that held large knives. He pulled a large butcher knife down. He looked at the handle and approved of the way the handle curved near the blade. It created a lip that would stop the hand from sliding down. Matt was sure it would come in handy were he found in the position to use the knife against an infected.
Matt imagined having to slam the blade into the head of an infected and his stomach roiled. He knew it was a necessary evil. The process of killing the infected was a part of survival for now and Matt knew he needed to step up to be that defender for Karly. He looked over at her now and found her holding a smaller knife. She looked at it strangely, but then adjusted her grip and nodded to herself. Matt knew she was picturing how she would need to use the blade should the occasion arise.
They stepped back out into the dining area and Matt had to blink for a moment to adjust to the bright light again. Movement near the entrance of the restaurant caught his attention for a moment and he froze. He stood staring in the direction of the movement, but when he saw nothing else he decided that it was probably his eyes playing tricks on him as they dealt with the sunlight.
Karly had a handful of his shirt again as they walked toward the door. Something in Matt’s subconscious had him slowing at the door and peering around into the lobby before stepping through. Seeing the hotel still empty, he pulled the door open and stepped quietly in. Nothing had changed during their walk into the restaurant kitchen. No infected had found their way into the lobby. Everything was still and silent as they had left it.
Yet, Matt still couldn’t get the movement out of his mind. The flash was too quick to be one of the sick. And if it were one of them, it wouldn’t have wandered off knowing there was a meal nearby. Trying to make the image more clear in his mind, Matt almost believed it was the face of someone watching them in the restaurant. A person that clearly didn’t want Matt and Karly to see them. Someone that took off as soon as Matt turned their direction.
Matt decided in his mind that if they wanted to hide, he and Karly should let them. No good could come out of searching out someone that wanted to be left alone. He wondered why a living person wouldn’t have approached them. All Matt wanted was to be near other living people. In his gut, he knew safety would be in numbers, numbers of living people to fight off the infected. But he wouldn’t chase people if they didn’t want to be found.
A soft thump reached Matt’s ears and he froze again, causing Karly to bump into him.
“What?” Karly whispered as if the silence was weighing down on her too.
“I’m not sure. I heard something. But can’t be sure where it came from,” he replied.
Breathing as shallow as possible, Matt tried to strain his hearing. The sound didn’t come again. He looked over his shoulder at Karly. Her face was pale and drawn as she waited for him.
“I don’t hear anything else. Let’s keep moving,” Matt said.
Karly just nodded her head. Her grip didn’t loosen on his shirt as he led them back to the stairwell entrance. At the small window, Matt peering in again. With the coast clear, he carefully opened the door. The sound of the metal hinge squealing made his nerves jump. Once inside the small interior landing, he held the door as it clicked softly closed.
The silence inside the stairwell seemed even more thick, with no air circulating through the tall shaft. Now that they were closer to the doors of the floors, quiet sounds could be heard. At the distance they were, Matt couldn’t distinguish what they were actually hearing. Carefully, he began to climb the concrete staircase, checking the landings carefully before they crossed into them.
At the door of the second floor, Matt froze at the sound of breaking glass. He remembered the man that jumped from the window in front of their car. In his mind, he had to wonder what pushed the man to that action. Had he been bit and knew he would turn and die? Or was the idea of fighting to survive too much for his mind to handle. Either way, that man was dead. And Matt knew there was at least one living man on the second floor.
“Do we go look?” Karly asked from behind him.
She was leaning against the wall, massaging her bare feet. He knew the soles had to be getting tender from all the running and walking without shoes. He hoped they were able to get into her hotel room at least. Thinking of the shoes he saw her wearing when they met, he changed his hope to her having reliable shoes for running away from flesh-eating zombies.
“I’m not sure. The glass breaking could be a sick one,” Matt finally answered.
Before he could make a decision, the door to the second floor flew open. Karly let out a shrill scream in shock and Matt cursed as he had to dance backward to avoid being struck by the metal door. His move back also helped him avoid the ax-wielding maniac that was coming through the door at them. A large fireman’s ax was held high above the head of a man coming straight at Matt.
Matt couldn’t be sure, but his first guess was this was the man they saw in the broken out window. His hair stuck out in all angles and the clothes looked similar. Now that they were closer, Matt could see the man’s eyes. They were a deep hazel. And they were wild with fear and anger. The moment seemed to freeze as the ax came whistling down. Matt waited for the burning blade of pain to cut into his mind.