The day was ending horribly for Lindy. She scraped the mud off her tattered jeans and tried to not swear aloud. The blue jeans were now frayed and splattered with black tar and something ugly yellow. They had been brand new yesterday. She still didn't remember falling into anything yellow. Shrugging, she smacked some of the fast drying dirt from her shirt and pulled the ripped sleeve up, making sure her shoulder was covered. That scratch needed to be cleaned soon or she would definitely be looking at a major scar and possibly infection.
Just when she thought it couldn't get any worse, the skies opened up again. The downpour was icy and stung where it hit her skin. Her clothes were already pretty well saturated from the last half hour of sudden cloud bursts and chilling rainfall. She really should have expected more rain once her car broke down. The cell phone she had just bought last week had decided that working in this new area wasn't part of the plan. She was not going to pay for any of that once she got the first bill. What kind of nation-to-nationwide plan didn't include this little dump of real estate in the middle of the mountains? Besides the one she just got. She hated her job. This whole 'adventure' had started out so normal.
Her boss had called her to his office earlier and said, "It will be in and out. A quick and easy trip. No need to even pack an overnight bag. Trust me."
That had been her undoing. His big sorrow-filled puppy dog eyes and the very liberal expense account policy for company travel fooled her yet again. All she had to do was check out the new place they wanted to acquire. How hard was that going to be? She should have remembered a basic rule. Nothing was ever quick and easy. And of course the real fact, when was that blowhard ever right? Never.
When she hit the road, she didn't have her own car, but a more rugged company car. That was her second mistake of the day. The gas tank was full, but apparently nobody ever looked under the hood.
The rolling plume of pitch smoke coming from under the hood and sputtering sounds had caused her to pull over and check out the problem. After yanking on the hood release, she had slammed the door and went to check what was wrong.
Her third mistake was opening the hood. Wires and smoke everywhere. They were splayed in the wrong directions with unusual amounts of black haze rising from the engine block. She knew that wasn't ever good. Once she had looked, she knew the car wasn't going anywhere; she went to sit back in the car. That was when she'd discovered that the door was stuck and so was she. With the driver's side door stuck closed, she went around the back of the heap ... to find the passenger side firmly locked. And Lindy could see the keys plainly from that side, dangling in the ignition, taunting her for her stupidity.
At least she had her fully-charged brand new cell phone.
That was when the mildly overcast evening had allowed the clouds to roll in and cover the world as she knew it.
That was when she discovered her phone plan lacked any connection between where she was now stranded and the rest of the known world. The bars that usually lit up on the face of the phone weren't even a consideration, which she figured out when she tried to call the roadside service, to no avail. She even tried to text message. After frantically punching out her SOS to her boss, she'd found out that, too, was blocked by the mountains.
The debris under the hood pretty much ruled out any sort of roadside repair in her repertoire, and the possibility of anyone coming to her aid at the side of the road was unlikely, as she hadn't seen anyone for the past half hour driving in either direction on the road.
Then a crack of thunder followed by an amazingly huge bolt of lightning hitting the tree next to the road had her diving for the other side of the highway. One of the branches reached out and tore at her. Branch, hell, who was she kidding, it was half the damn tree. She rolled out from under the tree and found she was torn up. The first droplets of water began to fall once she emerged from beneath the fried tree.
At first Lindy figured it was just a smattering of drops, and there was nothing to be worried about since it wasn't really the rainy season. She gave up on the car and began to walk down the road back towards the town she had driven through a few minutes ago. Mentally she tried to figure out how long ago it had been and how fast she'd been driving. It didn't matter; she still had to walk and it wasn't like she ever solved any of those types of math puzzles in school. She would get there when she got there.
The first mile went pretty quickly as she dodged stray drops and still had yet to see a car. The trees along the roadside were shadowy and she remembered the lightning when another boom of thunder shattered the silence. Lindy crossed back to the other side of the road where there were less trees and she was facing traffic, in theory. Not a single car passed her.
Admittedly, Lindy wasn't a country girl by any stretch of the imagination, but she always thought outside the city it was noisier. Like nature kinds of sounds. She didn't hear much of anything but the storm and her pathetic footsteps. Given the rain, she supposed that kept the little bunnies and birds out of the elements, but she kept expecting to hear something. The lack of sounds was starting to spook her. One too many late night horror films played scenes in her mind.
Another massive bolt lit the sky in front of her and a huge pine tree from the other side of the highway seemed to aim for her as electricity raced crackling around the wood and scented the very air she breathed. She launched her body off the road and into the thick brush next to the roadside. It was then she hit her head on something. The something turned out to be a heavily dented guardrail. Had she missed the rail she would have plunged down into a chasm of boulders and brush. That made her pause. Well, that and the nasty bump rising under her fingertips. Her boss was so dead. Slowly she made her way back to the highway.
Lindy tried to remember if there was a moon up to light the way as she hit a patch of slippery road and ended up slammed down on her backside, swearing softly. Nevertheless she continued on to the town she had breezed past well over an hour ago now. It was a glimmering diamond far off down the road. She stumbled and made her way forward. She was exhausted.
It seemed like forever had passed before she saw the hotel. The storm finished dumping another bucket of ice water on her and she just had discovered the yellow smudges. Shaking her head at the horrible past few hours she went for the front door, relieved that her ordeal was drawing to a close. Her purse was still in the car, but she knew her boss' home number by heart and would wake his ass up to vouch for her so she could get a room. A safe haven from the storm and she would be fine. By tomorrow all of this would be a forgotten nightmare.
Another flash from the sky made her duck instinctively -- she fell into the doorway, and the lights went out. Not just in front of her but everywhere. The last strike must have hit a nearby transformer, killing the power in the area. The lobby of the hotel was silent. Lindy blinked her eyes with spirals of green and white dancing in her vision. She could see dark shadows in front of her but nothing was clear.
"Hello?" her voice sounded old and scratchy. There was the slap of rain hitting the window to keep her company. Nobody replied. Goosebumps raised on her arms as she heard the thumping of heavy footsteps.
A flickering yellow blob moved towards her. Her eyes focused and found a pair of dark ringed eyes staring at her. She backed up and hit something very solid.
"Owwww," she moaned out. She stumbled into another piece of furniture and groaned louder. The eyes regarding her blinked and said, "Oh, don't come any closer. You must be hungry. You want pizza?" The voice from behind the candle sing-songed to her like she was a small child.
"Yes," she really was. Her body hurt and she remembered she had jammed a twenty dollar bill in her pocket earlier so food did sound ideal. A nice slice of pizza would be perfect.
Her eyes slowly adjusted to the candle flickering and she could see the small man behind the light. He was holding a large book in his other hand. Actually he was more like brandishing it at her. As she made out the heavy engraved cross on the cover embossed into the black leather she figured it was a well-used Bible.
"Go now. Two doors down. Just go!" He frantically waved her off with the Good Book. Shrugging, she shuffled out the door and was stunned to hear the locks being engaged behind her. To her stunned eyes she watched as the man snapped the Open sign around to say Closed. Maybe they ran out of rooms? Pizza did sound tasty and she would use the phone there to call her boss.
Candles flickered in the window of a building. The air was scented with a yeasty aroma and a sharp elusive smell pushed at her brain, unidentifiable yet somehow familiar. That had to be the pizza parlor the rude hotel man had meant.
Right before the entrance she tripped on a raised section of the sidewalk and brutally twisted her right ankle. Biting back a sob she dragged her foot behind her as she could see people milling around inside the structure. Lurching into the restaurant, she moaned and heard an answering swell of moaning. Dancingly the candles lit on the tabletops flickered and pulsed, distracting Lindy from her pain for a moment.
She shook her head as she began to understand what her eyes were seeing. Scattered at the tables were a few rough looking men and women. They were wearing clothes more tattered and torn than hers. All of them were groaning and devouring slices of pizza at a frantic pace. Her eyes burned from the smell of burnt charred meat and blurred her vision. That blow to her head must have been worse than she thought.
Lindy blinked the tears from her eyes and looked to the front counter. A small wizened woman with matted hair stood in line before her while rocking back and forth. The kid behind the counter was in his late twenties and nodding at the woman's mumbled order.
"I got ya, Silvia, you want the works. Not a problem." He turned quickly and snagged a plate off the stack on the counter behind him and placed a large meat-covered slice on it from a pre-cut pan under a heating lamp. He made the movement fast and gracefully. Lindy couldn't tell what the toppings were, but Silvia moaned and hopped up and down. The boy waved her to a nearby table saying, "It's to die for darling, you just have a seat next to old Eddie over there, okay?"
Eddie growled, lifting his head. Lindy was disgusted to see sauce covering his face thickly and a piece of something hanging on his lip. His eyes were unfocused and he returned to slobbering on his food as Silvia held her plate with both hands and sat roughly into a chair at Eddie's table.
Looking up, Lindy found the boy looking at her with a puzzled look on his face.
"Wow, you're a new one." His eyes kept running up and down Lindy's body with a detached, nearly clinical air. "Wonder which of these idiots made you. It doesn't matter, I'll call you Carol Sue." He spun around, still chattering while Lindy went up to the counter. She looked at the Plexiglas-covered menu trying to focus when a plate slid in front of her. Her eyes unblurred just as the food came into view. Blue-gray toppings covered a blood red sauced slice of pizza. The plate slid a tad closer to her, and she could clearly see the name of the restaurant. To her horror the words, "Zombie Pizza" came into view as the screams began escaping from her throat.
To be continued ...
Originally appeared 2006-08-21