Waking Up From the Apocalypse (Short Story: 3660 words)

They call it The Roseate Spoonbill Hotel, though it reminded me a lot more of a pink Salmon. Even the people seemed to change color and become salmon pink there, of course this applied especially to the people who stayed too long in the sun, but also to the others that stayed in the shade, kept their sunhat on and spent most of their time in the bar.

I wasn’t there on vacation, if that’s what you think. People were still trying to keep some sort of routine, they went out of their rooms in the morning and they sat on the damned sun beds all day beside the pool, smearing themselves with whatever was left of the sunscreen. They took the occasional dip in the pool and at lunchtime they headed back inside, showing off their dining passes, hoping that the buffet would be better than previous day.
Of course it never was.

The staff still tried, strangely enough, to keep up the appearances, as if it mattered anymore. I guess we were all hoping, somehow, that all this nonsense would magically revert itself and that everything would go back to normal. But this gave me the unique ability to do what I most want to do.

One of the blond hotel managers was of special interest to me, you see. She had an aura of authority wearing her blue-skirt suit and high heels. She always wore her hair in a bun, though I was sure that as soon as she was off duty she’d kick those heels off and wear her hair down like she used to do.

She oozed sensuality when she did. I know that much, I had seen it, though not recently, not at the hotel. She never wore her hair down there, the only vibe coming from her was that of stern leadership and calm authority. She knew what to do and how to do it and while everything was going under out there, at least she could do this, she could run her hotel the best way she knew how.

I admired that, but I wished she’d let her hair down once in a while. That’s the side of her that I love. Always have. Always will.

Mind you, I didn’t tell her that. She wouldn’t have appreciated it. She tended to become intense, frustrated, angry even. I knew that from experience. She wouldn’t be particularly happy if she knew I was there at all. So I registered under one of my aliases and I crept under her radar, trying to get a glimpse of her whenever I could.

I was stuck there. I couldn’t go anywhere and the proximity to her fed my obsession. I knew it was an obsession, but what can you do, you know?

I spent time in the garden or in the large dining room hoping to catch a glimpse of her as she walked through the room. It could happen at all hours,  as if she never slept, but who has time to sleep in a mad world?

The outside really had gone insane. Luckily for us, at this resort, it didn’t seem to touch us. There had been a lot of theories as to why, but the people who left were unable to come back. We saw them look back in horror as if something had already taken over their bodies, some of them managed to try to run back, but it was as if their limbs suddenly became stiff and their minds foggy. They looked at us in puzzlement and then they wandered off, looking for someone to bite. That’s what they did out there. They bit each other. Ate each other. It was revolting to watch. Some of us couldn’t help but to check from time to time, if it was over. But it never was.

There was no way out, it seemed, except to walk straight into the apocalypse.

So we sat here, wondering what would happen when the hotel ran out of stuff to feed us with. They still tried to keep up appearances, they expected us to pay for each night as if we had any other options. A fat man in dark shades wearing an important looking suit said, one day, that he wouldn’t pay and my queen carelessly told security to make him leave the premisses.

He pleaded with her, but it didn’t help. He was escorted out.

Of course, I didn’t have the money to stick around for a long time. So when I saw the scene I went even deeper under the radar. I checked out of the hotel and I pretended to walk away. People weren’t exactly willing to watch as others walked out towards their own demise, which I was counting on, because I jumped into the bushes and stayed there until I was sure no one saw me.

Then I went into the rooms that I knew weren’t occupied at night. There were many of them. The staff needed rooms too, but the hotel had great capacity and a few of the floors were entirely deserted.

No one cared if I was there really, and as long as I stayed incognito and my queen didn’t recognise me all was well. Or as well as it could be, under the circumstances.

I saw a few of the others organise a group to try and inspect what was happening on the outside. Apparently the outcome wasn’t very appealing because whenever someone asked what they had gathered from their little investigation they all changed the subject and started talking about the weather.

We were stuck and it was only a matter of time before shit hit the fan I gathered. So I decided I would make a dream of mine come true. I wouldn’t just talk to her this time. I would talk to her – properly, so to speak.

I knew what room she was staying in and one evening, when I knew she would be working late, I snuck in there and waited for her. I hadn’t decided what to say but I had a knife in my pocket. I expected that what would come of my experiment would find me roaming the outside with the other zombies, but I figured that was our fate. I was sure that we would all, sooner or later, become a part of the apocalypse that seemed not to touch this damned hotel at all.

I hid in her room and I made sure she would recognise me right away. I sat there in the dark, drinking whiskey sour, waiting for my queen to arrive. I wanted to see if she’d let her hair down as she came into the room. I wanted to see if she’d take her jacket off and carefully place it on a hanger in the closet and then take her skirt off and do the same thing with that and her blouse. Surely the staff would have found some kind of comfortable clothing within the boundaries of the hotel to wear when they were off duty?

I wanted to see if she’d scream when she saw me. I honestly thought she would. I thought she would be afraid and as I was sitting there thinking these thoughts the idea delighted me. I thought I had intimidated her so much the last time we saw each other, unintentionally mind you, that she would immediately call for hotel security.

And I knew the on-duty guards took their jobs very seriously.

She didn’t call security when she saw me. I must admit that I was a bit disappointed. I guess I had self-destructive reasons for doing what I did. I guess there was a part of me that wanted to be thrown out, to become one of those mindless monsters outside of the hotel whose only thoughts seemed to involve who they were going to bite next. Seeing two of those go against each other was one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen in my life, and yet I couldn’t tear my eyes off it. It was the strangest love story I’d ever seen.

She did indeed let her hair down. It was the first thing she did. She pulled something and her hair popped down like one of those marionettes on strings.

It was beautiful.

Then she saw me sitting in one of the chairs. It startled her, but not so much that I got the satisfaction of seeing her jump. I didn’t seem to frighten her particularly.

“Oh, it’s you,” she said unimpressed.

I was quiet. I thought it was better to have her conduct the opening of our current exchange. It was the logical thing to do, I thought.

She didn’t seem to mind me being there, in fact she embraced it. This puzzled me, even startled me, I can tell you that. Our last exchange hadn’t exactly been amicable. But instead of shouting at me to get the hell out of her room she sat down on the chair next to mine, put her feet on the table, leaving her black high heels on the floor and she asked if I had more of whatever it was I was drinking.

Speechless is what I was, but I got up, fetched a glass and poured her some from the bottle. She smiled at me, took the bottle and sighed pleasurably when she took her first sip.

“I’m so tired,” she said, leaning her head backwards in the chair, looking up at the ceiling.

I must admit I was too astonished to say anything. I just sat there and continued to drink from my glass, a little faster than before. I didn’t know what to say. I thought she would be furious. I thought that all I had to do was react to her anger.

“It’s exhausting,” she said. “Half the time I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“You’re doing fine,” I told her. And it was true. She emanated a sense of calm and authority that the place needed to survive, and though this survival was only temporary, it was still something.
“Will you massage my shoulders?” she asked. “You were always so skilled at that.”
 As if I wasn’t confused enough.

I just nodded, moved towards her, not knowing how to approach her or what to do. She just leaned forward and let me crawl into the small space behind her and then I started to massage her shoulders the best way I could.

Touching her was strange. I had fantasised about it for so long, but the physical exchange we’d had before was in such a distant past that I didn’t quite remember what that had felt like.

Had I really been good at massaging her? I had no recollection of that.

She moaned in that special way people do when they’re very tired and suddenly get touched in a way that makes them relax and become comfortable.
“Oh,” she whispered, “I have’t felt like this in a long time, please don’t stop.”

I became bold and asked her if she wanted to take it to the bedroom. To my astonishment she just whispered a casual “Mhmm,” to my suggestion, got up, took her jacket and threw it over the back of a chair, her skirt and shirt went the same way and then she was on the bed, bra thrown on the floor next to the bed.

I was flabbergasted, but I didn’t need to be told twice. I pulled my tie off, put it neatly on the nightstand beside the bed, took my pants off and lay them folded on chair, I hung the shirt on the back of the chair and then I straddled her and continued to massage her back.

She moaned like she was already halfway towards ecstasy. I became bold. I didn’t want to break this spell, but I figured that if I didn’t start to show some initiative she would start to get suspicious.

Of what I wasn’t sure, because all this was out of the ordinary and quite exceptionally strange. I started kissing the back of her neck and the area behind her ear. She was leaning forward with her head over the edge of the bed and I had an exceptional chance of snuggling her. Her reactions were violent, but not in a bad way.

“OH, you know what that does to me,” she even giggled in a way I had never heard her do before. So I continued my work and I kissed her neck, nippled at her earlobe while I tried to massage her back as well.

Then she turned around. She was smiling, a pleasant radiant smile I had rarely seen before.
“You’re different today,” she said in a low, husky voice.
I didn’t answer her, obviously. But I kissed her.

It was heavenly. It was everything I’d ever thought it would be. It was more. It was familiar in a strange way, yet it was like that time when you were a teenager and you didn’t quite know how to proceed so you just made out until your mouth was sore and you had examined every inch of the persons face. Something came to life in me.

She took command and we made love in a way I don’t remember us doing before.
When we were done, both sweaty and exhausted after the extravagant display, she lay on the pillow and looked at me, examined my face and smiled.
“I love you,” she said and put her hand on my cheek.
Then she fell asleep.

I lay there looking at her. I didn’t want to move a muscle, didn’t want to move because I was afraid that this strange spell would be broken, but I couldn’t very well just lay there and wait for time to pass. I tried to sleep. That would have been the normal thing to do after that, but my mind was exalted and I couldn’t even close my eyes.

So I got up, got dressed and I snuck out of the room, leaving the door unlocked so I could sneak in again after a while. I went out and walked the Event Horizon as we had started calling it. There were just a few zombies roaming in the vicinity which was rather unusual. I saw a man and a woman go at each other. He got eaten. She stumbled onwards with a bloody face and a half eaten arm.
It was grotesque.

I went back to the room and lay down beside her and despite the state of my psyche I was able to sleep until she started moving about.

Nothing had changed when we woke up. It was as if this was the way we woke up every morning. It was nice to get up and go down to the food court together. She just grabbed a cup of coffee and kissed me as she went to work. I was left alone eating newly baked bread with cheese wondering what was happening to me.

I didn’t change my routine much, but that day I tried to stay clear of her thinking that if I didn’t follow exact routine then maybe the spell wouldn’t be broken.

In the evening I was in her room again when she finished work. I half expected her to react the way I had been expecting her to react the night before, but she didn’t. She just kissed me on the mouth, a long lingering kiss and then she said she’d take a shower.

I called room service and had a little dinner sent up, and to my astonishment they didn’t think there was any problem with that. I had been so sure that they were understaffed and that such requirements were no longer being acknowledged, but before I knew it there was a wagon with dinner that I’d ordered at the door. Sometimes it’s good to be manager apparently.

The woman who delivered it didn’t seem to think it was strange that I was in the room. She just smiled, left the wagon and said she hoped we enjoyed it.

Nothing made sense. But when my … queen came out of the shower we ate, she even made jokes and then we made love, like the night before with intensity I had never thought possible.

I loved her. I had for a long time, but it surprised me a little that she seemed to love me still.

It was as if all the bad years had been whisked away. All the craziness, the fights, the restraining order, the stalking – all gone as if the world had decided that enough was enough.
A last wish, before I died, perhaps?

And as I was trying to sleep that night. Unable to shut my eyes because I couldn’t believe that she, that beautiful creature I had loved so deeply for so long was by my side again – that’s when I realised what I had become.
It was a shock.

I was the salmon swimming upstream to get back to where it used to be. I was the one going against the current, up against all odds. I was the monster here, not those things on the outside. I was the one who had eaten at the seams, tearing apart the construct that had been my reality.

Now it was broken, but in breaking it I had created the very situation I had always longed for. Now if I could just push pause to keep it that way forever. Be the monster of my own nightmares? I was the monster of my own nightmares, the jealous, the irrational, the hopeless – and this was the insane fear come true, because what happens when the dream comes true? What happens when you get just what you want? What happens when your irrational behaviour, your threats and your acts of slow, quiet violence slowly turns on you.

You think you’re getting everything you wish for, but then the prison bars fall and you’re stuck.

And I was. I was stuck. Hopelessly stuck in a situation there was no way out of. The world had fallen around me, while I stayed focused on the one thing I should have let go of a long time ago.

The world had broken all around me and all I thought about was my ex-wife and her delicious hair.

Seeing yourself from the outside is awful. It’s even worse than you’d think. Regaining your sanity after the world has fallen apart, after you passed that sign that says “Point of No Return”.

I had passed that sign a long time ago. Now where was I?

Could I just continue like nothing had happened? Could I just go on living this life that I had not deserved at all? Could I just go on?

I kissed her on the forehead as she slept. I breathed in her delicious smell, the smell I had thought about for so long, obsessed about and I bitterly regretted the things that I had done. The fear I had caused.

How had this come to pass? How had she forgotten all the bad things I’d done to her? 

I walked out towards the Event Horizon and I looked at the army of zombies outside the barrier. They didn’t seem especially dangerous that evening, but they seemed to all be determined to get wherever it was they were headed. All in the same direction, this time leaving each other alone.

My heart thumped. I was afraid, but I couldn’t stay at the salmon coloured hotel anymore. I couldn’t stay watching the people behaving like Roseate Spoonbills anymore, trying to hide in plain sight, blubbering strangely.

I touched the barrier. I knew it was delicate and that it would let me out easily. Somehow the things couldn’t get through it though, and I knew that once I was out there was no turning back.

It was terrifying. The most terrifying step I ever took.

Out into the open. One step. They said it was a small step for man, but a giant leap for mankind when a man walked on the moon. This was similar, except mankind may not have been involved just the inner peace of one human being.

What happened was even more terrifying than I expected.

Everything went back to normal.

There were never any zombies roaming the streets of the city. There was never any apocalypse. My ex-wife had forgiven me, in some insane way, and I had, in that unquestioning forgiveness she had handed me, regained my posture and my sanity.

I went home.

That’s all that happened. I went back to the damned old apartment that I now hated with all my heart. I pulled down all the pictures. I cleaned the place up of all memorabilia and I told the landlord I would be moving as soon as I found another place.

She came to see me a week later.

Asked me what had happened.

I begged her forgiveness. Told her that I would leave her alone from now on, that I wasn’t worthy of her forgiveness.

She shrugged her shoulders, cocked her head and said: “I told you there was something different about you.”  Then she walked towards me and kissed me on the forehead, like a forgiving mother.

A spark went through me. But I didn’t have it in me to attempt to smooth things over. I didn’t deserve this forgiveness.
“When you’ve forgiven yourself,” she said as she was going, “come see me.”

I still wish that the zombies had been real. That I had transformed into one of them as I passed the Event Horizon, that I was now roaming around the world looking for flesh to eat. It would be a much easier existence than finding the energy to forgive myself.

I’m not sure I will ever be able to do that.

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