Hot tears seemed to burn his neck. Karly clung to him, her sobs wracking both of their bodies. Matt looked over her head to where Stuart stood, his back propped against the bathroom door. He knew he shouldn’t have let Karly see the room. But he detected a stubborn streak in her and believed she wouldn’t let it go until she saw everything.
When he and Stuart entered the hotel room, part of him assumed they would find women huddled and scared just waiting for rescue. That was the optimist in him. If he was being honest he knew whatever they found wouldn’t be good. The likelihood of finding anyone healthy in the illness that was sweeping Las Vegas was slim. The thought made him wonder about his friend Jude. He hoped he and his fiancé were safe, as they were in their home away from the strip.
What they did find when they entered the room was right out of a horror movie. The amount of blood in the room indicated that all three women had bled heavily while inside. Everything was in complete disarray, some pointing toward a violent fight between people. Matt could only guess what had happened when the women were alone inside the room. But knowing now that all three were in the hallway as the infected, the path to the ending no longer mattered. They all ended up in the same place.
He carefully led Karly to a clear spot near the closet. It was the only place to sit without blood. Together they sat and Karly almost crawled into his lap. As he held her, the thumping at the door was incessant, the infected knowing their promised meal wasn’t far away. He knew there was no stopping them unless someone else came along and grabbed their attention.
Karly’s hands came up to cover her ears and Matt wondered if he was losing her. The infection was too much for anyone to handle. Now Karly was having to face the real situation of losing people close to her and seeing them as infected. Matt looked over to Stuart, realizing he was experiencing something very similar. He had to admit to himself now that this was clearly the reason Karly was taken with him. Matt felt slightly guilty for being distrusting toward him. But only slightly. The man had tried to attack him with an ax.
“What do we do?” Stuart asked, pitching his voice low. Matt wasn’t sure if he did that for Karly’s sake, or to be sure the infected couldn’t hear them.
“I’m not sure. We have to wait until they settle some.”
“How long will that take?” Stuart asked.
Matt just shrugged as best he could with Karly in his arms. He didn’t know anything more than the next person. People were sick. Dead. And attacking the living. That seemed simple enough. But when he tried to dig deeper into the meaning of the outbreak, answers eluded him.
“No one is coming to help,” Stuart said, as he slid to the ground next to them.
“How do you know?” Matt asked.
“When I drove here. I saw a lot of police vehicles. But the police were infected, just like those,” Stuart replied, gesturing toward the banging at the door.
“All of them?”
“All that I saw. And that was a lot. I was in a hurry to get here to my husband, but I noticed what was happening.”
Matt found himself thinking again. No one was coming. Part of him already knew that to be true. It explained the lack of emergency services anywhere near The Strip. Being overran made sense, how did anyone know how to deal with this infection? The police, firefighters, paramedics and others would have no idea what they faced. Approaching an infected as if they were just a sick crazy person would only lead to attacks and more infected. The process just grew from there.
“Did you see any food or water bottles?” Matt asked.
He realized if they were going to stay they would need something to eat. He cursed himself for leaving the duffel bag in his car. It would have hampered his movements some, but it would have helped them survive. There was no knowing how long the infected would stay at the door. Again his optimistic side tried to rear its head, thinking maybe they would lose interest if they forgot there was living meat in the room. He told himself that it would be the death of him if he continued to listen to the optimist in him.
Stuart stood and began to search the room. The blood didn’t seem to bother him much. Matt figured not much did after losing the love of your life. Searching was probably a way to keep his mind off of what had happened that day. When Stuart spoke it was as if he was reading Matt’s mind.
“I left a bunch of food in my bus. I should have brought it with me.”
“I was just thinking about the food I left in my car. Wait, a bus?” Matt asked, slightly astonished.
“Yeah. Party bus. When this all started, my husband got stranded here. He was an assistant hotel manager. He was driven up into the hotel tower by the infected somehow. He called me before the service cut off and I knew I had to get here. But I drive a little Prius. That wasn’t going to work. So I first went to my office, grabbed the bus. Who was going to stop me? Not drunk Brenda, our receptionist. She was useless on a normal day, let alone at the start of the apocalypse. Anyway, grabbed the bus and came here. I thought I would get my Benny and go right back to the bus. I was wrong,” Stuart finished.
Matt stood just listening to how the man had come to be in the hotel. Hearing someone else’s story didn’t add much to where they were. But it added a human companionship that Matt felt they needed right then. They would need to protect each other and survive if they were going to make it. Not only out of the hotel room, but out of the hotel and out of Las Vegas.
Karly had begun to calm, her sniffling was slowing and she wasn’t leaning as heavily against Matt. With her so close, Matt had a hard time fighting the attraction he felt toward her. He realized it was completely inappropriate for their situation. But she was soft and warm against him. And when she clung to him, it made him feel like her rope to sanity and safety. He wanted to be that for her.
Slowly she sat up and looked at Matt. Her face was puffy and red from the sobs. Yet, she was still beautiful. He watched her look around the room a bit and saw her wince when she saw the bed again. She quickly looked away and her eyes met Matt’s.
“I’m sorry I lost it,” she whispered.
“It’s ok. And it’s understandable,” Matt said in response.
“Seeing them like that. I should have been here.”
“Why? Karly, look around. If you had been in this room you would be in that hallway with them right now. Your friends were lost the moment one of them was bitten,” Matt explained.
Matt watched as her face changed, the information processing through the more rational part of her thinking. Her emotions were winning in her mind. He couldn’t put himself in her shoes, but he could understand what loss must be. The loss had to be so much more difficult when you saw your loved ones as zombies. As he thought about that, Stuart came and crouched in front of Karly. He had a candy bar in his hand.
“Honey, there’s nothing you could have done to change what happened to your friends. Just like I probably couldn’t do anything to help my Benny before he was bitten and then decided to end his life. We are the left behind, the ones that have to suffer through this plague,” Stuart said. He held out the candy bar and Karly shook her head.
“I can’t imagine eating anything right now.”
“You will need to eventually,” Stuart replied.
Karly agreed but still didn’t want to take the candy bar yet. Stuart settled with her on the ground and Matt decided the two of them could more easily comfort each other right then. Standing, he looked around the room trying to decide where they went now. First, he went to the bed and began stripping away the sheets. The bloodstained mattress under wasn’t much of an improvement. He used a blanket from the closet to hide the mess. There was nothing he could do about the majority of the room. But he wanted to make it a little easier to handle for Karly.
Matt went to the bathroom. He hadn’t stepped inside the room yet, but after seeing Karly’s reaction he was braced for whatever might be inside. The gruesome story the room told was as bad as he assumed. He made a path from the door to the small toilet area with towels. At least they could not walk across the blood. Looking around the rest of the white bathroom, now painted with blood red artistry, Matt admitted there wasn’t anything else he could do.
Stepped back into the room he found Stuart and Karly where he had left them. Karly leaned against Stuart, her eyes closed. Stuart tried to smile weakly as Matt approached but he failed. He put his finger to his lips, warning Matt that Karly was sleeping. Stooping down, Matt slid his arms under Karly’s legs and back. She immediately startled and looked at Matt.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t want you sleeping on the ground,” Matt said quietly.
“I don’t know why I’m so exhausted,” she replied.
“It’s been an emotional day.”
“I don’t want to stay here,” she said, tears shimmering in her eyes.
She put her arms around Matt’s neck and hugged herself to him. He stood with her in his arms and held her tightly. He took her to the bed and sat down with her on his lap.
“I know you don’t want to stay. But until the infected wander off, we don’t have much chance in the hallway.”
As if to punctuate his words the banging on the door increased for a moment before going back to the dull thumping it was before. Stuart moved away from the closet and busied himself using other spare bedding to make a place to sit on the small loveseat that was across from the bed. The man sat down and moved around until he was comfortable. A quiet sob came from his direction and Matt turned to look at his back. Matt tried to remember that Stuart’s day had been a nightmare as well and he felt himself soften toward the ax-wielder.
“Will you lay with me?” Karly whispered, pulling his attention back to her.
Matt hadn’t planned on sleeping. He wanted to search the room and find anything useful. He needed to plan their next move. However, Karly’s grip around his neck was tight and he knew she wouldn’t lay down on her own. It only took a moment for him to decide that he could take a break for a nap. He leaned to the side to lay Karly in the middle of the blanket he had laid down. She released him only long enough for him to crawl up next to her.
Her tears began again as she laid her head on his chest. He tried to comfort her, smoothing her hair from her face and kissing the top of her head. When she snuggled in deeper, Matt wrapped his arms tighter around her. It was as if she wanted to share his skin, be away from the world and hide. He wished he could do something more to help her. Instead, he did all he knew and that was to hold her as long as she wanted.
Matt wasn’t sure how much time passed. When he opened his eyes, he realized he had actually fallen asleep. He blinked his eyes, trying to clear his vision. The sun had dropped low in the sky, casting shadows across the small hotel room. Stuart was sitting on the loveseat, reading a travel magazine. When Matt shifted he looked up and met his eyes.
“I was wondering if you two would sleep into the night,” Stuart said quietly.
“I think the emotional day has taken a toll,” Matt replied.
“The banging stopped a little while ago. I looked out the peephole. I can’t see anything at the door.”
“Where are you heading after this?” Matt asked, his own plans unclear in his mind.
“I’m not sure. There’s nothing here for me anymore,” Stuart replied, looking away. Matt could see he was fighting the grief that wanted to bubble to the surface.
“We are going to get out of town. From there I’m not sure. But away from Las Vegas seems the first step. I have a friend I want to check on, then leave straight away.”
As Matt spoke sporadic gunfire could be heard from outside. Stuart stood and went to the window, leaning against the glass trying to catch a glimpse of where the sound was coming from. Matt attempted to slide away from Karly, but he knew the moment she woke up because her hands fisted in his shirt to stop him from moving.
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
“It’s ok. I’ve been awake,” she said.
She sat up, her hair ratted from where she had laid. Matt automatically reached up to smooth it and he felt surprised when she leaned into his hand. She tried to smile at him, but he could see the emotion didn’t reach her eyes. Standing, Karly looked around the room again, taking in the destruction. She moved back to the closet, carefully sliding the door open. Matt watched as she pulled out a suitcase and started rifling through things.
Stretching, Matt joined Stuart at the window. The two of them listened as what sounded like heavy caliber automatic gunfire echoed between buildings.
“Police?” Stuart asked.
“Maybe. Or the military. There has to be some response to this madness,” Matt replied.
“We should go together. Get out of here together,” Stuart suddenly said. Matt looked at him warily for a moment, and he continued. “I have no one. But I have my bus, with plenty of supplies and room. It’s not the best apocalypse vehicle I guess, but we can sleep in it and store plenty inside. I….I don’t want to be alone,” he finally finished in a whisper.
“You don’t have to be,” Karly replied, joining them at the window.
Matt looked at her. She had brushed her hair and put on tennis shoes. In her hand, she held additional clothes that must have come from her suitcase. Her face seemed to be set in some sort of determination. Matt couldn’t be sure if it was about the situation, or about Stuart joining them. Either way, Matt knew he would never win an argument with her.
“My car is by the pool. It was almost overrun when we left it. Maybe the infected got distracted and moved away,” Matt replied.
“How far is a small car going to get us?” Karly asked.
“As far as we want, if I don’t hit anything,” Matt replied.
“Seems that sticking together would be safer. And we can go by the car to get the supplies to add it to the bus. Something larger would be good. What if we find other survivors that need our help?” Karly asked.
“We can barely help ourselves, I don’t think we’re in the business of helping others,” Matt scoffed.
“You helped me,” Stuart cut in.
“We didn’t do anything. You came to help us,” Matt said, turning to him, exasperated.
But the fight wasn’t really in him. Matt didn’t see any reason to stick to the plan alone. Stuart seemed lost and Karly was determined to save him however she could. And Matt knew he was strong, after seeing the way he swung the ax at him in the stairwell. If they were faced with a fight he had a feeling that Stuart could hold his own and support the needs of the group.
“Tell me about this bus,” Matt said with a sigh. Karly finally did find a small smile then.
Stuart sat across from Matt as they laid out the plan for escape to the bus. If the lobby was still empty of the infected, getting to the bus should be simple enough. Matt wasn’t sure why he hadn’t noticed the large black vehicle sitting near the front door. Stuart explained that he parked as close as possible so he could avoid an attack and he and Benny could get back in easily. The window between the passenger section and drivers section was large enough for Stuart to climb through, so he lined the side door up with the front lobby doors.
Matt began to create the picture in his head. They had to escape the floor they were on. Get down the five flights of stairs to the lobby. Then head through the lobby doors to get directly into the bus. All of this had to happen carefully and with the hopes that the stairwell and lobby were still empty of the infected. Or any living that wanted to take what they had. Matt still had that thought in the back of his mind as he thought of them driving a party bus through Las Vegas.
“There’s one more thing,” Karly said. She had stood quietly near them as they spoke, never giving her opinion or input. But Matt knew she was listening intently as her eyes went back and forth throughout the conversation. Matt looked up at her questioningly.
“I can’t leave my friends, infected, wandering the hotel. We have to kill them.”