The Prompt (from sarahselecky.com): Write the scene as if you were writing it to your best friend.
Just You and Me
I’m awake and my head’s pounding.
We hadn’t been up late the night before, it’s just that I get these migraines that sometimes last for days. Our bedroom window faces east and the light from the sun is shining though the sheer red curtains casting the room in a rusty hue.
It’s freezing in here. The heat comes from old rads that are chipped and cracked with sedimentary layers of paint. Sometimes they’ll go off for hours and only come on right before you think you’re going to turn to ice. The charms of living in a hundred year old building never end. At least it has character.
I roll out of bed and pull on my clothes, feeling a bit isolated in the bedroom. It used to be that we lived in a bachelor, my husband and I. Our desk was right across from the bed and so when I opened my eyes in the morning I would see Ben sitting at his computer. He always gets up before me. He’s an early riser. Now that we have a bedroom he’s not the first thing I see in the morning and it feels a bit odd.
I open the curtains and get blasted with winter sunshine, it pierces my skull and I close my eyes against the harsh glow. I step into my dirty old blue slippers and shuffle into the living room. Ben’s sitting at his computer and he smiles at me.
“Hi baby,” I say and shamble over for a kiss.
Ben’s kisses are drugs, they relax me and provide a momentary cure for my migraines.
The window in the living room is bigger and the light is diffused across multiple panes so it’s easier to see out. It didn’t snow last night, but there are still crystalline piles of old ice nested along the street. It’s very still outside, not uncommon for a Sunday morning. I listen for a moment, waiting to hear the reassuring sounds of cars on the road, they sound like waves crashing against the shore. I hear nothing but a dog barking in a distant steady pulse. I shrug and rub Ben’s shaved head before I continue my plodding journey towards the kitchen.
My dilapidated slippers slide along the hardwood and before I can make it to the kitchen I hear a low, strangulated groan coming up through the floorboards. It’s our damn neighbour again. On the first night we moved in we met our neighbour unceremoniously. He banged on our door at midnight telling us to turn down our TV. We didn’t open up to talk to him, Ben just communicated through the cracks in the door. We didn’t have a peephole and there was no way we were going to let some angry guy in at midnight. We keep the volume low now but he doesn’t seem practice what he preaches because for the last couple of weeks we’ve been hearing his moans and groans from below, seeping up through the plumbing, through the floorboards and into our lives. We speculate daily on what he’s doing down there as the volume of his strange bleating rises and falls. Perhaps he’s having sex. Maybe he’s snoring, coughing, in pain?
I continue my journey to the kitchen and put on the kettle. Tea is the most important part of breakfast. Ben wanders in a moment later and we stand in the grey glow of the kitchen together listening to the unnerving groans of the neighbour below and cutting fruit for our morning meal.
Ben opens the kitchen window wide and a rush of cold air sweeps into the room, sneaking into the pores of the fabric of my clothes and chilling me. He leans out the window.
“Good morning!” he says to the pigeon who lives in the roof. The pigeon just stares at him and Ben scans the rest of the street.
“It’s quiet out here today,” he comments and I grunt an affirmative response, deeply focused on the apple I’m cutting. He shuts the window and the cold lingers.
We sit cross legged on the floor to eat breakfast, our mugs of tea steaming in the frigid air. We watch This Hour Has 22 Minutes and our laughter drowns out the barking dog in the distance and the groans from below.
When we’re done our meal Ben does the dishes and I move to my computer to check e-mails and organize our day. The sound of the running water is soothing and I get lost for a little while in the glow of the screen. I am so distracted that I fail to notice that the water is flowing but I can’t hear the sounds of clanking cutlery or the chime of glass on glass.
“Shit,” Ben says from the kitchen, the intensity in his voice pulling me out of my reverie. He leaves the water on and races into the living room. I watch him as he moves. He leads with his shoulders, as though hurling himself through space is the most optimal way to travel.
“What’s wrong?” I ask and he pauses a moment to look at me. He looks serious and concerned and earnest. He goes to his computer and fiddles for a moment. I watch him and listen to the groaning below, allowing my mind to wander across the possibilities once more. Sex, pain, sleep.
My thoughts are interrupted by the urgent driving tones of music emanating from the speakers. Eye of the Tiger changes everything. All of a sudden my groggy day kicks into high gear. Puzzled, I look to Ben for answers. He comes towards me and pulls me from my chair, drawing me into the kitchen as the song revs up. It’s loud and I’m about to tell him to turn it down, in case the neighbour comes to complain when he points out the kitchen window.
My eyes adjust to the natural light. There are still no cars, the dog is still sounding like an alarm in the distance and the groans from below seep up between the beats of the song. There is nothing out of the ordinary except a solitary figure slowly making it’s way down the street. I squint into the distance and it all becomes clear. It’s like looking at soil and then suddenly realizing it’s not earth you’re seeing but insects writhing and crawling all over each other.
Ben and I lock eyes and he moves to the kitchen drawers. The song matches the pounding of my heart. He pulls all of our knives out and lays them side by side in an orderly row. I run to the bedroom and pile on my most reliable clothing, then I dig in the closet and pull out a spanish replica sword that I had foolishly sharpened years ago. We never put it on the wall, because it was so sharp we didn’t want to hurt anyone.
Ben fashions a makeshift sheath for the sword out of an old umbrella holder and some rope.
“We have to secure the building,” he says as the last notes of the song blast through the speakers. I look down at the floor and run through the possibilities in my mind one more time. Sex, pain, sleep, undead.
“Crap,” I reply.
We load bags with knives and tools and I silently curse myself for making Ben get rid of the pellet guns he wanted to keep. We’ll never need to shoot anything, I had said.
Ben puts Eye of the Tiger on repeat and we do some jumping jacks to psyche ourselves up.
We pause at the front door and he sweeps me into his arms.
“It’s just you and me now baby,” he says, as though this is a movie and we’re the stars.
“It’s just you and me,” I repeat.
We kiss but this time it’s not relaxing.
We unlock the door and move silently into the hall.
I’m awake and my head’s pounding.
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