Here’s the first chapter of Dave vs the Apocalypse! Hope you like it.
1 – Vs the Gas Station Catastrophe
I had thirteen dollars in my pocket, a stack of overdue bills, and a rip-roaring hangover the day the apocalypse started. All in all, not a bad time to hit the reset button on life.
When you hear the world ‘apocalypse’, the first thing that pops in your head is probably meteors falling from the sky, zombies munching on brains, or ancient Aztec prophecies. That’s not the way it happened. This apocalypse started with a simple news report that I barely paid attention to on my drive to work.
‘Scientists in Germany have announced the creation of a metamaterial that attracts and bonds with antimatter. The creators say that this synthetic material could give us insight into the origin of planets, and answer some questions about gravity that have puzzled physicists for decades.’
That was it. The next blurb in the report was about how some reality TV star was suing the makers of his show because they didn’t blur his butt crack. The news about the experiment about to threaten the entire world was breezed past. It was as innocuous as a fart in church, leaving everyone crinkling their noses and asking themselves, ‘What’s that smell?’
You can hardly blame me for not paying attention. I was late to work, and I’d already been written up twice. I knew I was in trouble when I pulled into the parking lot and saw Otis waiting for me.
He approached the car as I parked and said, “Hey Dave.”
I knew there was trouble the moment he called me by my name instead of the nickname he preferred. Usually he greeted me with a jubilant, ‘Double D’ because both my first and last names start with a ‘D’.
Otis was an assistant supervisor at the warehouse. Some begrudged coworkers suspected it was an affirmative action appointment, but I knew it was really because our boss was a sniveling puke of a coward who tried to avoid conflict any way he could. Otis got promoted because of his size, not his skin color. Otis stood somewhere between six and seven feet tall, with shoulders as wide as a fridge and a chest that put barrels to shame. He was an imposing figure, with arms that dwarfed most men’s thighs and hands that could palm watermelons. That’s not racist, he really could. I saw him do it once.
“How’s it going, Oatmeal?” I asked with a lighthearted smile as I headed towards the warehouse.
Otis took a step to the side to stand in my path.
“Don’t tell me,” I said as my shoulders sunk.
“Sorry, brother,” said Otis.
“Let me talk to him. I can change his mind. Trust me.” I looked around the titan in my path, searching for our chicken-heart employer’s frightened face peering around a corner to watch as his lackey did his dirty work.
“Not going to happen,” said Otis. It was a mistake to assume that Otis was one of those kind-hearted giant stereotypes you see in popular fiction. He was willing and able to deliver a punishing beat down to anyone who deserved it. Even though we were friends, I knew better than to cross him.
“Is it because I’m ten minutes late?” I asked as I checked the time.
“You’re not being fired,” said Otis, and I could tell by his tone that he knew he was serving up a load of bull. We used to joke about how the majority of his job was what he called shining turds. The boss would make a crumby decision that negatively affected his employees, and it was Otis’s job to figure out a way to sell it to them. “It’s a lay off.”
“A lay off?”
“Jim got word from up high that they’re restructuring the department. It’s not just you. I had to let Chris and Jay go too. I’ve been out here waiting for you to show up.”
“What about Tony?” I asked about a mutual friend.
“He’s one of the three of us keeping our jobs. He’s inside.”
“Jim’s too scared to come out here and tell me himself?”
Otis glanced over his shoulder to make sure our boss wasn’t eavesdropping. “Of course he is. You know how it goes.”
“Man, this really sucks,” I said. “Is there a severance or anything like that?”
“Not unless you’ve been here a year, so you’re out of luck.”
“What about vacation time? Do I get paid for that?”
“Vacation time?” asked Otis with a smirk. “You used all two days you’ve earned after you ran out of sick days.”
“Don’t go feeling sorry for yourself,” said Otis with a characteristic lack of sympathy. One of the things that made him a good fit for his position was how he refused to accept excuses and didn’t pity anyone. He worked hard, and didn’t have any patience for laziness. “You knew you were on thin ice as it was. And then you show up all late like a jackass. What’d you expect?”
“You don’t get to bitch at me, Otis. I don’t work here anymore. Remember?”
“Yeah, all right. Then I’ll bitch at you ‘cause you’re my friend. Stop being a jackass. Go get another job, and try getting to it on time for once in your life. You’re not a kid anymore. Stop acting like one.”
“All right, Dad,” I joked.
“Shoot,” Otis snickered. “If I was your pop, you’d have a size fourteen steel toe shoved up your ass.”
“I’m not interested in your weird sex fantasies.”
“That’s not what I heard,” said Otis, continuing our light-hearted banter. Despite the fact he was my boss, Otis was still a friend. “You going home to sulk? Or are you going to get out there and try to find another job?”
“The way my life’s going, I’ll be flipping burgers at noon and back on my ass by five.”
Otis rolled his eyes and said, “Oh brother, give me a break. Quit your belly-aching. You’re a middle class white dude in the suburbs. No matter how tough you think you’ve got it, trust me it could be a whole lot worse.”
“Otis, you suck at pep talks.”
“And you suck at keeping a job.”
He had me there. There’s nothing I hate more than going to work. I wish I had that fabled Midwestern work ethic that my grandfather did, and that I could whistle my way through the drudgery of a work week so that I could try and enjoy life a little on the weekends, but that’s just not me. I abhor every minute that gets wasted in a warehouse, or a kitchen, or a factory chugging along like a cog in a machine that’s making money for the fat cats up top. Of course, the downside to that sort of attitude is that those fat cats up top are more than happy to bury a shit like me in the litter box.
“I’ll give you a call tonight,” said Otis. “Maybe you, and me, and Tony can go out for a drink or something.”
I laughed and said, “Not unless you guys are buying. I don’t have a job, remember?”
“You can drink water.”
“You know, the friendly thing to do would be to offer to buy me a beer.”
“Nah, I’m not enabling your lazy ass.” He clopped that thick paw of his on my shoulder and squeezed. He meant the gesture as a kind one, but it hurt more than helped. I’m pretty sure he left bruises where his fingers had been. “I’ll talk to you tonight.”
I said goodbye and then walked back to my car. I had no idea where to head next, and sat in the driver’s seat as I tried to decide. The hangover headache that’d caused an ever-present throbbing behind my eyeballs had spread to my temples, and I decided the best thing for it was the tallest cup of coffee I could buy. There was a specialty coffee shop down the street, but considering I had to stretch the thirteen dollars in my pocket to near miraculous lengths, I decided it was a gas-station-coffee sort of day.
I drove over to the Kum and Go (which I still think is the worst name for a respectable business I’ve ever heard) and went in to plunder their burned coffee selection, a taste sensation that I’d mask with a zealous helping of hazelnut creamer. The coffee station was set up beside the rotating hot dog rack, and the smell of those sweaty meat sticks made my stomach churn even faster than they were. As poor as I was, I couldn’t fathom resorting to buying a hot dog at a gas station. That was a low I hadn’t yet reached.
“No dogs,” said the Middle-Eastern gas station attendant behind the counter. I looked up at him, befuddled by his declaration and wondering if he’d somehow read my mind.
“He’s a service dog,” said the woman at the entrance holding the leash of a friendly looking German Shephard.
The attendant appeared ready to argue, but relented in a huff as he went about his business behind the counter. The lady and her dog came in and walked past me on their way to the wall of coolers. I smiled and nodded at the fragile little woman, but either she couldn’t see me or had no interest in pleasantries. She wasn’t blind, but by the look of her inch-thick glasses she wasn’t far from it either.
I tasted my coffee, and was satisfied with the excessive sugar to liquid ratio that I’d concocted. It looked more like milk than coffee by the time I was done with it. I’m sure gas stations hate patrons like me, who take full advantage of the free creamers and all but erase any profit gleaned from the sale of a half-gallon tub of coffee. I swept the mound of emptied creamers into the garbage and headed up to the counter to pay.
That’s the first time I felt the sensation of what would eventually become known as a rift-buzz.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and a tingling sensation ran down my spine with enough force to cause me to wiggle my hips, as if my body had suddenly been invaded by the entirely foreign desire to break into dance. The smell of ozone was suddenly pervasive, and it felt like I was moving in slow motion as I began to turn around. My first thought was that one of the freezers behind me was about to explode. I began to hunch forward and curl up to shield myself.
There was a quick ‘zip’ sound and then a muffled pop. The smell of ozone got worse, but there was no explosion. I looked back fretfully, but there didn’t seem to be anything awry.
“What was that?” asked the attendant.
“I don’t know.”
“Did you break something?” he asked.
I didn’t answer because my attention was stolen by the service dog trotting into view as it walked unguided along the length of the coolers and out of my view again. Where was the dog’s owner?
“Did you break something?” asked the attendant again, but I continued to ignore him.
There was a noise coming from near the coolers that I needed to investigate. It was a wet, sloshing sound followed by a muted gurgle.
“Ma’am?” I asked, convinced the owner of the service dog had hurt herself. “Are you all right?”
The dog started to bark. It was to my right, out of view, and the wet, slapping sound was to the left as I approached the end of my aisle. The smell of sweaty, day-old hot dogs overcame the pervasive ozone. I set my coffee on the counter and inched closer to the end of the aisle.
I’m not going to lie, I was really freaking scared. The electrical charge that’d sent shivers up my spine had convinced me that something bad was happening, and the madly barking dog didn’t help either. I searched the corners of the store for a concaved mirror that would reveal what was going on along the coolers beyond my aisle, but there were cameras installed instead of mirrors. I asked again, “Ma’am, are you okay?”
Wet slaps on linoleum answered me. I walked to the edge of the aisle and saw a brown pool of fluid expanding on the linoleum. At first I assumed it was soda, and that the movement I saw within it was carbonated bubbles popping. It wasn’t until I was nearly out of the aisle that I realized those weren’t bubbles. They were tiny, writhing worms.
The attendant screamed, “Watch out!”
I assumed he’d seen what happened to the woman through the cameras and was trying to warn me. I backed away as the pool of wormy liquid spread.
A thunderous crash shook the entire building and sent shards of glass careening through the air. I fell against the plastic shield protecting the rotating hot dogs, which subsequently burned the crap out of my arm, and then I curled into a ball to protect myself as a light fixture broke free of its mount above and fell. The electrical cord stopped the fixture from tumbling onto me, but the fluorescent light bulbs snapped free and crashed down. They exploded into tiny shards of glass and dust, adding to the madness of the moment as I tried to figure out what the hell just happened.
I could smell exhaust, and heard an engine rumbling. When I stood back up I saw that a station wagon had crashed through the front of the gas station. It would’ve plowed through the aisles and over me if not for a particularly sturdy energy drink cooler that was now tipped on its side against a shelf of crushed chips and beef jerky. Several cans of energy drinks had broken open and were spinning on the floor, spraying their contents around the store like a series of sugary, guarana-enhanced sprinklers.
“What’s happening?” asked the attendant in a panic as he grasped at the sparse hair on the side of his head.
The dog started barking again, but I was focused on the crashed car. The radiator had busted, and steam was jetting up, clouding my vision as I tried to see if the driver was okay. I saw movement behind the cracked windshield, but it wasn’t what I expected. My brain couldn’t fathom what I was looking at. There were several quickly snapping cords lashing about within the station wagon, and as I tried to figure out what it could be I foolishly wondered if wires in the dashboard had broken free and were whipping around. As stupid as that thought might be, it made a lot more sense than what I was about to discover was really going on.
My first clue that things were about to get weird (as if the brown pool of worms wasn’t enough) was when I saw what looked like an octopus tentacle slap against the inside of the station wagon’s windshield. The white suction cups affixed to the glass just long enough for me to recognize what they were, and then the tentacle pulled away, leaving behind circular marks.
“What the…” I muttered.
I was interrupted by an ear-piercing shriek behind me. I turned and was shocked to see a humanoid creature in the aisle. I recognized the basic shape of the person. It was the owner of the guide dog, but her body had been twisted and mangled. Her head bobbed to the side, her shoulder and left arm drooping beside it. Her right arm was up in the air and twisted so that it was pointing slightly backward as her hand grasped uselessly at the air. A fleshy, translucent sac filled with brown fluid was growing beside her head, filled with the writhing worms that I’d seen on the floor moments earlier. The sac was ballooning at an alarming rate, and the woman watched it grow on her as if she was just as horrified as I was.
The fluid-filled sac was formed near her neck and chest, and below it her shirt was moving as if a family of squirrels was hiding beneath it, battling with the resilient material to make their escape. The woman gasped in an attempt to say something, but the growths affected her ability to speak. The brown fluid that covered the floor flowed down her chin, dripping like melting gelatin as the little worms swam around within it.
I let loose a litany of curses that would make a lifelong bartender blush. The dog was still barking, and I assumed if he could speak he’d be cursing the same as me.
I grabbed the sugary coffee I’d made for myself and threw the massive Styrofoam container at the woman. The cup hit her in the bulbous sac and spilled the hot contents all over her face and chest. The sac undulated and hissed before popping, sending a gush of fetid liquid over me. It smelled like someone dunked me in a Porta Potty filled with baby poop.
I staggered back, swiping at the sticky liquid that covered me, and nearly tripped over a spewing can of energy drink as the gas station attendant screamed words in his native tongue that I knew instinctually were curses as foul as my own (and perhaps the dog).
The diseased monstrosity in the aisle was coming at me. The deflated sac flopped around like an elderly pornstar’s breast, and now I could see what’d been struggling to free itself of her shirt. There was a creature emerging from the woman. The closest thing I could compare it to would be an octopus, but this creature had a face full of small, black, pupil-less eyes and a purplish beak that was snapping open and shut. Tentacles slithered like snakes around the woman’s body, their suction cups tearing at her skin and leaving behind bloody welts.
Desperation took hold as I floundered in a lake of energy drink and hellish baby/tentacle-monster diarrhea. I reached for the closest thing I could grab to defend myself with, which happened to be a box of Slim Jims. I whipped the foot long meat sticks at the creature as it came at me, which had exactly the sort of effect you might expect. The monster’s advance was unfazed by the spicy pseudo-meat. The creature’s beak opened wide and emitted a piercing screech as the multitude of tentacles stiffened and stretched out at me.
I didn’t have the time (or the dexterity) to get to my feet, so I grabbed the side of the counter and pulled myself across the slick floor like a fat kid desperately trying to make it down the final few feet of a Slip ‘N Slide.
I heard the woman’s feet slapping on the wet floor as she chased me. One of her tentacles wrapped around my ankle and started to pull me back. I reached out for something to hold onto, and grasped the edge of the beef jerky endcap. I had hold of a giant, plastic Slim Jim that was, unfortunately, only attached to the shelving unit by a series of flimsy twist ties. The display piece broke free in my grip, leaving me sliding backward through the grime while holding onto the most useless sword ever conceived.
I turned and whacked at the creature with the plastic Slim Jim, which produced a loud, hollow noise akin to a Wiffle ball bat, but did little to impede the retracting tentacle as it pulled me along. I felt like Lando in search of my blind Han Solo rescue as I slid through the goop on my way towards the snapping beak of the demonic mutation.
The guide dog leapt to my rescue and attacked the tentacle that was wrapped around my leg. His teeth punctured the squishy flesh, producing founts of black blood like a Texas oil dike. The tentacle released its grip on me as the monster focused on the poor animal. The dog yelped in pain and shock as the appendage wrapped around his midsection.
I got to my feet, safely out of danger. The dog had earned the demon’s full attention, giving me the opportunity to get the hell out of there. To my shame, for a brief moment I considered bailing on the dog that’d saved my life. Instead, I gripped that Slim Jim Wiffle ball bat with both hands and steeled myself for some foolhardy heroics.
“Hey,” I shouted to get the creature’s attention. “You squid-looking fetish-porn freak, suck my meat stick.” I speared her with my plastic weapon with all the ferocity I could muster.
Not my smartest moment.