He woke from a thin nightmare at dawn, his heart pounding, gasping for stale air. For a moment the visions raced before his open eyes like a vile blue river, but soon faded into the gloom.
He sat stiffly up and fumbled for the cigarettes on the nightstand. He found the packet, shook one out, and lit it. The smoke was harsh in his lungs, almost sending him into a couching spasm. They’d been in the basement for six months, stacked along one chilly limestone wall in a dusty cardboard box. They were nearly unsmokeable now, but he sucked down two nonetheless.
He showered, dressed in a fresh change of clothes, and made a round of the building. It was dark and quiet, a throbbing sense of desertion clinging overhead like radioactive haze over Hiroshima. At the front door, bricked from top to bottom, he listened but didn’t hear anything beyond.
Back on the top floor, he went out onto the balcony to smoke another cigarette. He stood at the rail, gazing over the city and the desert and the mountains nearer Utah. The Strip was jammed and silent as it had been since the second month, the side streets were either as bad or stood empty, and some of the grand hotels and casinos were nothing but blackened rubble now.
The gritty desert breeze swept litter along the pavement below-
-and blew the stench of decomposition into his nostrils. A faint sound, like cows grazing in a field, was pushed over him, made him shudder. A few of them were in the street, stumbling along the traffic or clawing at doors and blank walls. Later he would return with his PSG1 and shoot as many of them as he could. He did this not in hopes of thinning the herd- that was hopeless –but for something to do. The generator gave him electricity, but he could only listen to dead air on the ham, watch the same DVDs, and listen to the same dead music. Several times in the past he ventured out to a public library in North Vegas, but that was too dangerous.
Inside, he sat on the sofa and had a glass of liquor. When that was done he had another, and another. When he was feeling light-headed, he made himself a cold breakfast and ate at the table, looking at the pictures on the back of the Cap’N Crunch box. He sat it aside. It was too painful. It conjured up thoughts of the world before. It made him think of children. And what happened to most of them. He had horrible nightmares about a legion of toddlers and infants coming for him, faces rotted and ashen, eyes dark and dead. He woke from these crying and terrified.
He got his rifle and spent several straight hours on the balcony over the city, picking the dead off whenever they presented themselves. Sometimes he shot lower than the head. He usually found them spinning and jerking amusing, but today he wasn’t in his usual mood.
He took a walk around the building again. He thought of the people who had once filled the hotel with life. At the elevator, he pressed the button that sent it down to the basement. He paced back and forth.
In one of the rooms, he shattered a window with a chair and looked down at a parking lot. A red hatchback sat crookedly under a dead palm tree. Further away, a horde of the undead lurched along like terrible dancers in a Michael Jackson video. From his vantage point they all looked the same. They were all dark.
He went back to the penthouse and brooded for an excruciating hour. He made lunch and ate it out on the balcony. When he was done he tossed the plate like a Frisbee and watched it smash into a streetlamp.
He went back in and sat at the table for a long time, gazing into space. He got a bottle of Captain Morgan from a cupboard and drank it with Coke.
Like every night, he took the revolver from his hip and studied it. It was a beautiful thing, black rubber grip, shiny chrome finish. He stole it from a drug dealer he knew in Reno just as things were going south. He was dead anyway, lying in the bed, sweating and screaming as the infection gnawed at his body. He took his ’05 Mustang, too, and came through the badlands with that instead of his own piece of shit Honda.
He wrecked the car near Indian Springs and had to leave it and his supplies. Too bad.
Sighing, he opened the chamber and shakily removed all but one of the rounds. He sat them on the table, one falling off and spinning away under the refrigerator. He took another drink of rum.
He spun the chamber and snapped it back into place. Dusk began to pool in the room. Moving loose, sloppy, he opened my mouth and put the barrel against the roof.
Then he pulled the trigger.
© Joseph Rubas
Joseph Rubas, devoted student of the “weird,” has written over 100 short stories since 2007. His work has appeared in The Storyteller; Horror Bound Online; Short Story Me!. He currently resides in Colonial Beach, Virginia
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