Authors: Tom Hartill
Tags: #Zombie Apocalypse
PART 2; TESS
It’s seven-thirty in the morning and I’m staring into my cereal wondering what the hell I’m doing with my life.
I’m twenty eight years old, a failed artist now working as a PA for a man who spends most of his time walking a fine line between sexual harassment and being just plain creepy.
When I moved to London I had this vision –pretty grandiose huh?- that I’d live this cool bohemian life where I was able to paint and draw every day, meet other arty types to debate the finer points of abstract composition whilst every major gallery clamoured for my latest masterpiece.
Okay, so I knew that was far-fetched but I at least thought I could scratch a living at it.
I push the half finished bowl of cereal away and grab my coat and bag.
I have to be as quiet as I can this morning, Cass was working until the early hours again and she’s always in a foul mood if she doesn’t get enough sleep. I glance at my phone.
Nothing from Mike.
God he’s been such an arsehole recently. I guess we’re both to stubborn to apologise.
But then why should I?
I put my phone in my bag and head out the door, locking it gently behind me. I hate going in early. Gerry tries to masquerade these pre-work coffees as ‘business meetings’ but all it ever turns out to be is an excuse to get me on my own.
I stopped wearing skirts after the first few days of working with him. I could feel him ogling my legs at every opportunity. I hate the way he does that. His eyes creeping over me, I can almost feel them on my skin. It makes me shudder.
Now it’s trouser-suits all the way, ha!
God I hate this job.
The money’s good but it was supposed to be a temporary thing. Four months in and I’m still there, my portfolio of paintings, drawings and sketches starting to gather dust in my room. Between work and seeing Mike, there’s been no time for anything else.
Something needs to change.
I’m in a crappy mood, the fight with Mike hasn’t helped and the prospect of going to work fills me with unease.
Maybe I should take the day off, get some drawing done?
No best not. I have zero inspiration at the moment and nothing I do today will turn out well.
I suppose that sounds like an excuse.
Maybe it is.
I notice that the street is quiet this morning, and there are only two other people waiting at my bus stop, a man and a woman. Both wear identical glum expressions, neither acknowledging the other, as is the way of the Londoner, it seems.
I imagine David Attenborough doing a special on London Commuters and it raises a little smile.
“Here we see the lesser spotted Corporate Banker…”
Mike would’ve liked that one.
Stop thinking about him, you’re done with that now.
Yeah I guess I am.
When the bus pulls up to the stop it’s almost empty. I suppose it’s because I’m up earlier but still, it seems quiet.
The bus driver, a small African man, is looking nervously in his mirror at a passenger on the back seat. As I board the bus I see that it’s a young man in a hoodie. He is hunched over and coughing steadily into his hand. He looks very pale.
I scan my oyster card and head up to the upstairs deck. The young guy seems pretty ill and I really could do without a dose of the flu. Once there I take my phone out of my bag again.
Still nothing from Mike.
You’d best turn it off. You’re just going to be staring at it all day otherwise.
I push the button and watch the screen fade to black, then I tie my hair up with a band and give myself a quick once over in the mirror on my Compaq. I don’t like wearing my hair up, (I’m a little vain about it to tell the truth) but I don’t want to give Gerry any more excuse to stare at me. I don’t wear much makeup to work either. I’d rather look washed out than let Gerry think I’m making an effort for him.
My bus ride is usually twenty minutes in a morning, but today it’s closer to ten. Not many people getting on today. I worry for a moment that there’s a tube strike or something, but when the bus pulls into Finsbury Park I see that it’s still open.
Just a quiet day then?
Maybe people are put off by the rioting that’s been going on, or using it as an excuse, good on them.
The tube is quieter too. There’re people on it but I’m not used to getting a seat in the morning. It makes a pleasant change. I close my eyes and lean my head back.
I should just quit. I don’t want this job and I don’t want this to be my life. Christ, Cassie works in that seedy nightclub for half the money I make and she’s still happier than me.
That’s it, I’m decided. I’ll tell Gerry today, I’m leaving.
I mean this absolutely, but I know by lunchtime I’ll have talked myself out of it.
God that’s depressing.
I get off the tube at Warren Street. I hear sirens as a couple of ambulances go past. I shouldn’t be surprised, the hospital is close by and I’m routinely deafened by emergency vehicles forcing their way through the London traffic.
I’ve agreed to meet Gerry at a coffee shop nearby. As I arrive I hope he isn’t there, but of course, he is. He watches me walk in. (He will have been staring at the door like a hawk, I’ve caught him doing it before. The paper in front of him is no more than a prop.) He stands up and beams at me. He is the same height as me, about five-ten, -Yes, I’m tall for a girl- and kisses me on both cheeks.
Every day he does this, and it drives me absolutely insane.
“Ah my beautiful Tess! How are you this fine morning my dear?”
God what a creep.
“I’m fine Gerry. What did you need this morning?”
“Oh there’s plenty of time to talk business. I’ve ordered you a drink, Cappuccino isn’t it?”
“So…” He rubs his hands together and grins. His teeth are too big for his mouth making him look horse-faced. They’re also unnaturally white, probably capped.
“What’s going on with Tess?”
“I’m fine thanks Gerry.”
He mock pouts at me. “Now come, come my dear, we’ve known each other a while haven’t we?”
‘My dear?’ For God’s sake he’s only about four years older than me.
He reaches for my hand, just as the waiter comes with my coffee. The waiter is a young guy with a pleasant face and I smile as I take the cup from him.
I catch the flash of irritation in Gerry’s expression as I settle back in my seat, coffee in both hands like a shield. He rallies quickly and that sickly grin reasserts itself.
I realise that when he does that, he looks like a giant rat. I suppress a shiver.
“Could it be your having problems with that boyfriend of yours? What’s his name? Mike?”
This catches me off-guard and I see his grin widen as he knows he’s hit the mark. I mentioned Mike once before now, he’d wound me up over some stupid thing and now Gerry is fixated on the prospect of us splitting up.
He looks at me with a pitying expression that makes me want to throw my cup off coffee straight into his stupid face.
“I’d rather not discuss my private life Gerry. I thought this was a business meeting?”
He sits back, looking wounded.
“Tess I was merely offering my support as a friend. I wouldn’t want you to feel like you can’t come to me with any issues you’re having, whether they’re work related or ……personal, especially if they hinder your ability to do your job?”
He lets this statement hang ominously for a moment.
My blood starts to boil, and I’m at the point where I just might throw my coffee after all, when a man stumbles into the shop. He is dressed in a business suit, about fifty years old, coughing violently, trying to cover his mouth with his sleeve. He is sweating profusely and his skin has a waxy sheen that makes him look like he’s about to vomit. He stumbles into a table and people turn to look.
Gerry says something but I don’t hear him. The man gets to the counter, and tries to talk to the pleasant-faced waiter behind it.
“Please….I need…I need….”
He drops to his knees and collapses against the counter, breathing hard. Several people stand up, myself included and the young waiter runs around from behind the till.
I go to move towards the fallen man but Gerry grabs my arm. I turn and look at him. His eyes are wide and he licks his lips nervously. “Best not go near, he looks pretty sick-”
I shake him off and kneel down by the man, the young waiter beside me.
“Has somebody called an ambulance?” I ask, and a couple of people start fumbling for their phones. I put a hand to the man’s forehead, it’s like a furnace.
The young waiter looks at me with panic in his eyes, but I have no idea what to say to him, I’m not a doctor.
The sick man on the floor gives one last laboured breath and goes limp. I sit back on my heels. I don’t know what to do! Should I try CPR? I don’t know how to do it properly and I could just make things worse.
Worse than dead?
I almost go to try anyway but then Gerry is grabbing me, trying to pull me upright. He has my bag in his hand and he forces it into my arms.
“Tess I think it’s best if we get out of here-” He bleats.
“Oh my God is he dead?!” A young woman screeches behind me.
“I don’t know-” The waiter replies.
“Check if he’s breathing.” A balding guy with glasses says, joining the gathering of people around the stricken man.
The waiter leans over the man’s mouth as Gerry tries to bundle me out of the door.
The man’s foot twitches.
“Gerry stop! I think that guy’s still alive-”
The man’s eyes flick open. As soon as he sees the young waiter in front of him, he lunges his head forward-
The waiter screams, a high pitched wail. He sounds almost like a girl.
Oh my God! Is he- Is he biting him?!
The young waiter pulls back and there is an awful tearing sound, blood seems to be everywhere, and he paws frantically at a ragged hole in his neck.
His eyes lock with mine and for an instant I see the look of bewildered terror in them before Gerry is dragging me out the door.
I didn’t just see that, did I?
Someone is screaming and my legs feel numb, like I might fall. I am so stunned that I let Gerry pull me twenty yards down the street before I stop him.
“Let me go! We have to go back, we have to-”
“Don’t be stupid!” He snaps, “You saw what that guy did, he was crazed, dangerous, let the police deal with it!”
“That boy needs help, we have to-”
He pulls me hard, hurting my shoulder, and I suddenly see red. I slap him hard across the cheek and he lets go of me, more in surprise than pain. He touches his face, eyes wide.
“You slapped me…” He says in disbelief. His looks so hurt that I have to stifle an urge to apologise, and then I remember who he is.
“I may be your assistant Gerry but that does
give you the right to manhandle me in the street. If you ever touch me like that again then I’ll-”
What would Mike say?
“-I’ll rip your fucking balls off, are we clear?”