Vashta sat at her computer; it was a lovely autumn day outside but the hours were dwindling away quickly. There were assignments to write, but all she could think about was the tub of ice cream in the fridge. The journey downstairs could be a strenuous one where there were obstacles to be faced; a mother with a disapproving look, yelling at her to get back to work and a little sister stalking the hallways with a bottle of vodka in hand manically asking the walls, ’who’s ya daddy?’
The sneakily hidden pack of menthol cigarettes in the bottom draw was all too tempting at this stage. The balcony was only five meters away, with the trees swaying and birds singing, it was as though the outdoors were beckoning her to come a little closer. She took a deep breath staring at her keyboard her focus shifting from the dimly backlit keys, to the curved beveled edges of the track pad. It was time for Facebook. She clumsily navigated the mouse to the circular red, yellow and green blur in the dock; her deep brown eyes fixated on the blue center of the Google chrome icon as it jumped up and down, begging for her attention. With eyesight that was well below par and her hatred for the thick black frames which surrounded the prescription lenses her mother had picked out, computer screens always gave her a headache. The web browser loaded her previously opened pages as she fumbled around her bag for those wretched glasses.
Once nestled on her face the world around her became clearer. She smirked at the fact that all the sites that popped up either led to social networks or a slew of online shopping catalogs. She flipped through the tabs closing them as she went along until only one remained, Facebook. Scrolling down her newsfeed, hitting ‘like’ on anything that seemed vaguely interesting it dawned on her that at least half an hour had passed. What an atrocious use of time the day before an assignment is due. She was clearly a hard worker; then again, time management was never her forte.
Buzzed, Buzzed. Her phone vibrated on her bed followed by Avril Lavigne repeatedly singing the line: ’He was a skater boy, she said: See ya later boy. He wasn’t good enough for her’; the ringtone of a girl who hadn’t left her childhood behind. ‘Yay! A phone call!’ Vashta bound across the room towards the muffled ringing and picked up her phone that lay on the edge of her bed.
“Hello?” Vashta asked curiously, not bothering to check caller ID amidst the excitement.
“Hi babe, whatcha doing?”, came the reply. It was Sharon, her best friend.
“Oh nothing, just sitting here, thinking of you obviously.”
“Well, then you know it’s my Birthday!”
“Uh Duh! Of course! How could I forget?” Vashta lied.
“Well… so you are coming out tonight, right?”
Shit. “Oh com’on, how can you do this to me? You know I have my essay on Roosevelt due tomorrow.”
There was a disapproving silence in response to her lack of eagerness. Vashta conceded, “Of course I’ll be there! You are like, my best friend!”
You could almost hear Sharon jumping with glee on the other side of the phone line. “Great! I’ll see you at eight. We’ll meet at the chancellor. Deal?”
Vashta rummaged through her closet and got dressed. She stood in front of the mirror. A grin crawled across her face, “Damn I look good!” she told her reflection which seemed to raise an eyebrow in approval at her outburst. She was wearing her favorite wine red velvet leggings with a white top that had a giant letter X printed in a faded black. On top of it she had on her favorite Vero Moda Blazer that she had gotten whilst on holiday in Denmark. With its freshly dry cleaned creases and the leather band that stretched across the back, it felt very safe inside the surprisingly light polyester blend fabric, even if it got a bit itchy at times. There was still something missing though. She ran her fingers across the top row of her jewelry box deciding what would best compliment her apparel and settled on an antique gold ring with delicately crafted elongated wings that protruded out. Sharon had gotten it for her birthday the previous year. ‘These are the wings of an Archangel’, she had told Vashta. It seemed fitting for the occasion. She slipped it on her middle finger and took one last twirl in front of the mirror before she headed down the stairs. Little did she know this was the last time she would ever admire herself in her room.
At the bottom of the stairs she picked out a pair of charcoal ankle boots that matched her top. They weren’t the most stylish in her collection that lined the wall but with its pointed toe, smooth leather straps that criss-crossed across her ankle with metallic buckles and a heel that gave her the height she so desired – without being uncomfortable – it was the right choice for the night. As she was sneaking out the front door the inevitable happened.
“And where do you think you are going young lady?” barked a distinctly Indian accent.
“Nowhere mom, I have to get to Uni and finish the stupid assignment!” Vashta snapped back.
“Why can’t you do it at home?” her mother replied curiously.
“Urgh I can’t concentrate here! Your other daughter is singing love songs in her room again.” Vashta knew how to push her mother’s buttons.
With a disgruntled look her mother gave in “Okay, but try and get home early tonight.” And with that Vashta stormed out of the house towards the bus stop.
It may have been autumn but it was still very chilly outside. Vashta reached into her handbag and pulled out a cigarette and held it gently between her lips rummaging around her bag for a lighter.
As night drew nearer Vashta’s friends Sharon, Ollie and Jess waited outside the chancellor, as usual her tardiness knew no bounds. The windy day had progressed into a chilly night and the three dressed to impress stood huddled together, cursing the weather. As the line slowly dwindled towards the door, it was finally time to enter a night of hedonistic gluttony that only a venue that plays music loud enough to make you think your ears are going to bleed can award you with.
The bouncer looked at Ollie’s shoes. “Sorry mate, we have a strict dress code.” Ollie looked puzzled; there was nothing wrong with his shoes. They were vintage sneakers that cost more than his
entire outfit put together. Sharon was not having it. “Um, excuse me! It is my birthday; you have to let my boyfriend in! Pretty please? You wouldn’t want to ruin my night now would you?” The bouncer seemed conflicted, here was this gorgeous girl begging him to let her boyfriend in, her low cut top which was revealing just enough cleavage to maybe suggest that she had a bit of a wild side. Maybe there was a possibility that when things blew over with Mr. Sneakers there was chance for him.
She was one of the regulars after all. He let out a sigh “Alright, but only because it is your birthday.” Sharon knew how to get what she wanted. She awkwardly stuck out both of her arms, scuttled over in her high heels and gave the man a lingering hug. “Thank you so much! You’re the best”, she said slyly.
The three headed inside and without a word immediately split up. Ollie headed straight for the bar where he would order the usual cocktail, a blend of different grades of rum ranging from the clear vodka-like Bacardi 151 to the dark spiced 100 proof that is Captain Morgan which burns less with each sip. A base concoction that pop culture guarantees will let your wild side out. The somewhat lethal mix is then disguised with a sharp acidic pineapple juice and topped off with lime zest in a feeble attempt to disguise the alcohol vapours that tickle the nose and numb the mind well before the glass even reaches ones lips.
Jess made a bee-line for the nearest toilets towards the right of the venue, resisting every urge to hold her purse any closer to her crotch. Whilst Sharon on the other hand, strutted off to find a table. A decision that she had spent a great deal of time on; she needed somewhere away from the amber lighting yet still far away from the neon blues that lined the back walls that subliminally guided patrons towards the bar. Looking for a seat that would make the most of the measly 1.2 megapixel front-facing camera on her phone and Instagram filters was top priority.
As the three were regrouping, Vashta arrived outside the Chancellor. Her socialite senses tingling with prophecies of frantic last minute text messages that had undoubtedly been sent out that morning, inviting one and all to a night that most who showed up to, did so out of obligation, boredom, convenience or just looking to score a free drink. Then there would be the seedy sorts, the type looking to get handsy or score. Thankfully her friends slutted it up a lot more than she did so she got to fly under the radar. She lit up another cigarette as she waited in line, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. She wasn’t used to showing up by herself. It wasn’t scary in the sense that she was a girl all by herself in public, but more that she could feel pairs of eyes paying a quick glance in her direction; eyes that belonged to people who had already made up their minds about who she was. It wasn’t like she was much better though, her gaze jumping between the couple in front of her and a tall bearded man with dark skin. He was carrying a pen-like object in his hand that he would periodically raise to his lips, take a long drag on and blow out clouds of smoke that wafted in the breeze bringing a distinct scent of apple and coffee.
The couple in-front was an oddly dressed pair, although that wasn’t uncommon for this type of venue. The lady had blue and green streaks through her hair that matched the stripes on her knee high socks. She wore her belt up high around a purple low cut silk dress. Her escort for the night – who could either be her cousin or boyfriend- stood with one arm draped around her neck, like he was using her to support his own weight and the other on his hip. He looked like he was struggling to breathe.
The sight was so repulsive that Vashta chucked her half smoked cigarette on the ground and put it outwith the heel of her shoe fearing that she too would one day follow in the path of the weirdo in front of her. She took a few deep breathes to clear her lungs; she ran her fingers through her hair with her lips curled back in disgust. As she was regaining her composure she made eye contact with the tall bearded man. He must have seen her go through the motions –observation, judgment, and repulsion then guilt because he was smirking in her direction. Or maybe he fancied her.
Vashta blushed, with her hand hovering limp-wristed in front of her lips. He was kind of cute, with his deep brown eyes and slim figure. He looked a little panicked once he realized he was probably making her uncomfortable and turned around scratching the back of his head. He didn’t turn around again, as though savoring the brief moment of intimacy he had had with a stranger.
Once in the venue, Vashta made her way past the crowd and started looking for her friends. The place wasn’t as crowded as it usually was but the music was more intolerable than usual. The loud booming bass rattled the floorboards and the rafters creating a buzz that would distort the most delicately balanced songs. The clean, crisp, lingering bass tones that usually rattled your ribcage and melted your heart sounded gargled. It was not the high fidelity experience that anyone who appreciated music could enjoy.
Cutting through the muddy sound, a high pitched squeal emanated from the corner of the room ‘VAAAASH! Before Vashta could even register that it was her name in the wind, a pair of arms began groping her waist and physically turning her around. Vashta’s heart sank, her eyes wide with panic, she clenched her fist ready to swing just like her daddy showed her. “Where have you been all my life!” a chirpy voice echoed.
It was Jess, her red hair tied back in a ponytail and sharp blue eyes with flecks of green poking through a fringe that fell to one side.
“Shit, you scared me half to death, girl.” Vashta responded. Jess’s lips stretched back into a smile as she hugged her.
“Your fault! You should make more of an effort to get your skinny ass out here.”
“Yeah, my bad. Where’s everyone else hiding?”
“Follow me.” Jess replied looping her arm in Vashta’s as she walked towards the back of the room. The floors were already sticky in some places from the drinks that had been spilt on the checkered linoleum flooring, a side effect of having a happy hour that lasted three.
As they approached the designated table for the venue Sharon jumped to her feet in glee “I knew you’d make it.” Vashta went in for the embrace “Happy Birthday, sweetie.” It lasted a little longer than it should have. Jess watched as the awkwardness slowly built “Right, well you two need to get a room! Actually, even better I’ll go see why Ollie’s taking so long with the drinks. Be back soon.”
Jess said as she flicked her hair to one side and followed the neon blue lights to the bar.
Vashta broke away “So! How have you been babe?”
“Oh you know, the usual. Ollie’s been getting really clingy again.” She complained. “I just have no idea how to break it off.”
She was still singing the same tune. The continuous to and fro they had going was really getting boring. “Yeah? Well today is your birthday, so no worrying about anything! Let us just get drunk like skunks.”
“Y’know what? You’re right. God what would I do without you Vashy?”
“Um. Probably end up in a ditch. Duh.”
They both exchanged looks and burst out in laughter. Exchanges like this could go on for hours, one complaining, and the other consoling. If the Chancellor had one good thing going for it, it was that it gave you a place to unwind. Be it two drinks or ten drinks.
“So you finished that assignment you were working on right?” Sharon hesitantly asked.
“Yeah. Let’s worry about that in the morning. What’s twenty percent of my grade when my bestie is celebrating without me?” Sharon chuckled but there was a small amount of guilt behind that smile. She nodded in the direction of a guy making his way towards them “How’d your stalker find us?” Vashta looked around curiously.
Vashta spotted Neal making his way across the dance floor nervously shaking. The closer he got the more courage he seemed to be able to muster until he was three steps away, at which point it all fell apart. His lips trembling he managed to mutter “H-h-hi, Y-you look nice today.” He always said that, a creature of habit who endlessly consumed whatever MTV shoved down his throat. Maybe it was because he had a broken childhood that he clung on to such superficial ideals. Or maybe he was just plain retarded. Vashta was fairly sure it was the latter, which she conveyed with a blank stare. Neal hesitantly took another step forward, in case she couldn’t hear him over the blaring music. “W-would you like to dance?”
Vashta was baffled. She’d been through this before with Neal, the kid could not take a hint. Her eyes darted left and right then fixated on Neal like a physical cue that she had made up her mind. She had had enough; it was time for this to end. Now.
“Um, what the fuck is wrong with you? You know I have a boyfriend! I’ve told you this a million times”, she blurted out much louder than necessary. This drew attention. Neal -embarrassed by the commotion that had been caused – quickly turned around with his tail between his legs and headed back to the table where his curly red haired friend sat.
Vashta blushed. That came out a little too harsh. What she had said was not entirely true either. There was this guy she had met ages ago but he had moved away. They stayed in touch and talked to each other often enough on the phone but he wasn’t really there and he didn’t know how she felt about him. Though as far as her friends were concerned, he was a creep and when it came down to it, most of the appeal was in the fact that he wasn’t available; a commitment-phobe’s ideal guy, all that potential future but no real commitment. Still, it was enough to call him her boyfriend to ward off the slew of bastards that just saw a pretty face and wanted to get in her pants.
“Ugh, what is wrong with that guy?” Sharon whined “Can’t he just take a hint?” Before Vashta could reply someone let out a screech. The girl’s heads snapped to attention. There was a man flailing on
the ground. It looked like he was having a seizure. A crowd was gathering around him and a girl was trying to get him to wake up. “Please, oh please no. Wake up. Please just, please WAKE up.” There were tears streaming down her face. Sharon looked over at Vashta confused, “Should we help them?” Vashta had no idea what to do. “I don’t think we should, there are so many people there already” she said. Besides what could they possibly do? Neither of them had any medical training and the closest either of them had gotten to first aid was putting on a Band-Aid. It was pretty obvious that a Band-Aid was not what that guy needed.
Jess got back from the bar, a half full jug in one hand and two empty glasses in the other. “Did you see how much blood there is? We saw him go down. Ollie’s still back there trying to call an ambulance, he can’t get through though.”
“We should go help them”, Sharon replied getting up, walking closer towards the commotion. Vashta followed along, still thinking getting closer was a bad idea. She hated the sight of
blood. Ollie snuck up from behind Sharon and put his arm around her waist scaring her half to death. He started pecking at her neck “Fuck, do you really think this is the right time? That dude is in some serious trouble. Is the ambulance coming?” responded a clearly agitated Sharon.
“I tried calling several times, I couldn’t get through. That’s emergency services for you, always available except for when you need them. Their one operator is probably on a break or something”, he replied. The girl was still sitting there rocking back and forth; Sharon broke away from Ollie and made her way over to her kneeling down and putting her hand on the girls shoulder.
“Calm down sweetie, I’m sure he’ll be fine. My friend just called the ambulance; they’ll be here any moment.” She spoke with a warmth that most would find hard to muster in the situation. “He probably just fainted and hit his head.” As though on queue Ollie appeared with a glass of water and
handed it to the crying girl. They made a great team. Vashta hadn’t even notice him leave. She was still woozy at the scene. The man’s shirt had a red stained patch that looked like it was slowly growing. This was no head wound. Jess was a little more proactive getting the crowd to move away at the same time. Vashta felt a little useless in the situation. As Sharon handed her the bottle, Vashta noticed something peculiar on the girls arm. There was a bite mark on her wrist.
Not deep but a definable set of teeth had at some point left a mark. Even more noticeable were the distinctive green and blue streaks going through her hair.‘My god’ Vashta thought, It’s the odd couple that were in line with her. Looking closer at the man on the ground he had piercings around his lips and a cannibal corpse shirt on, he looked like he would enjoy playing rough.
The girl had stopped crying but her eyes were still red and looked like they were deepening in colour. Bloodshot eyes weren’t a common sight but Vashta had seen enough projectile vomiting scenes from Jersey Shore to know that they shouldn’t be this red. The whites of her eyes had all but turned to crimson. The girls long panicked breathes became shallow and then slowed down. It was like she stopped breathing altogether. She looked up at Sharon and her head began jolting back and forth. Was she seizing as well? All of a sudden her head flipped back and she began convulsing. Vomit ran down her chin and dribbling onto her purple dress soaking through making the material transparent. She hunched over gasping for breath as a torrent of vomit came pouring out. Her pale, white skin turning redder by the moment as her blood vessels contracted under the pressure of her violent head movements as bile was now coming out of her mouth. She was spewing her guts
out. As though awakened by the stench that was now filling the venue, the man that had previously been on the ground shot upright. His head turned to the nearest living person and his hands slowly followed in the same direction. It was Sharon. He was grabbing at her neck, his right hand tightly clenched in a fist, his left groping her neck. His movements were primal -like an animal that had caught its first meal in months. He tightened his fingers around her throat, his fingernails digging in before she could even scream.
Ollie leaped forward and kicked the man in the face. It had no effect. “Let her go you wanker!” he yelled. The man didn’t even acknowledge him, his fingernails digging even deeper into Sharon’s neck. Ollie was now visibly angry. If this were a cartoon there would be smoke coming out of his ears. He gritted his teeth and planted a roundhouse kick to the man’s elbow.
The sound echoed in Vashta’s ears as she stood there frozen. He had broken the man’s arm. It went limp from elbow to wrist. The man’s arm dangled in an awkward position, his hand still clutching Sharon’s throat suspended only by his fingernails that had made its way deep into her flesh. She was still gasping for breath her legs flailing in panic as they tried to run away on their own accord. She was pulling away at the hand that was still clutching her neck. As she heaved with all her strength it finally came free tearing away at the skin stuck between the man’s fingernails in the process. ‘This isn’t happening’ Vashta thought as blood began pooling around Sharon’s neck.
Ollie was so enraged he didn’t even look to see what was happening to the person he was protecting as he leapt on top of the man and began punching in his face. The first hit broke his nose, the second left it mangled. His fists were bloody. The man was bloodier. None of this seemed to deter Ollie at the slightest as he kept pounding away at the mound of bloody flesh where a face once was. It was the bouncer from the door that was so hesitant to let Ollie in that finally pulled him off. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” he asked, his tone more annoyed that he had let the man in sneakers into his venue in the first place. Seemingly unaware of what had just happened. As the bouncer shoved a still violent Ollie against the bar yelling at him to calm down, the man on the ground got up onto his feet. This wasn’t possible, his broken arm dangling by his side and a look of vengeance in what was left of his face.
Ollie froze. His bottom lip started trembling. The bouncer looked pleased with himself “aww, what’s this? You gonna cry?” Ollie didn’t respond; his eyes fixated on the hulking mass that was now towering over them. With saliva pouring out of his mouth, the man started stumbling towards the bouncer and with the one good hand he had left he thrust it into the bouncer’s side. It went through. The satisfied smile that once adorned the bouncers face faded, his eyes went cold as he collapsed onto the ground.
That was the only word in Vashta’s head. Run. They had to get out. Sharon was hurt. There was so much blood. This wasn’t happening. It had to be a dream. Jess and Vashta ran out of the venue arms flailing down the street, they didn’t know where they were going but they had to get away. They weren’t alone though, everyone was running, it was madness. It was beyond madness, it was chaos.
Jess, the slightly more clear-headed of the two grabbed Vashta’s hand and started leading her towards a door. The streets weren’t safe; she had seen enough carnage with her time volunteering in the ER to know that without a plan they were going to join the others.
Jess rammed herself into the nearest door she could find still taking deep panicked breathes; it opened with such ease they basically fell through the opening. The room they were in had rows of shelves but not a person in sight, deserted, as the though owners had fled out onto the street like everyone else. The lights were on and that was a good thing. At least they knew where they were now. The convenience store’s door shut behind them. Disorientated they wrapped their arms around each other and began to cry. Somewhere between mourning for their friends and fearing for their lives, it felt like the right thing to do. Vashta and Jess were taking deep panicked breaths. The gash in Jess’s arm had begun to fester and puss was starting to ooze out. Neither of them had ever seen a wound like it before.
What the hell was going on?
All those people, all that blood. Was this the end of the world? You see apocalypse movies and laugh them off as a cheap scare by cinematographers showing off all the special effects they could sneak into the budget, showing you the worst of the worst. Neither of them imagined it would ever happen, let alone ever happen to them.
They made their way to the back of the store, bumping into the aisles of preserved and packaged food. The sort of food if left outside even wild animals wouldn’t eat.
There was a banging on the door. The girls quickly slumped down behind a row of shelves; they huddled together, holding each other closely cowering in the corner. If this were a cheesy homage to Hitchcock films you would hear the soundtrack from the shower scene in ‘Psycho’ in an abysmal attempt to build suspense. Alas this wasn’t the case. This was real. There was no cheesiness to lighten the mood. The door creaked open and a distinct odour filled the room. Vashta knew this smell. It smelt familiar like a memory that had crept into her mind over years of exposure. Whichever memories it was evoking, they weren’t pleasant ones and the fear of their current predicament made it difficult to pinpoint. They could die at any moment. No. They would die at any moment.
The breathing got heavier and a groan was heard. Something metallic was knocked over, hitting shelves as it fell to the floor. The sound resonated throughout the entire room. The girls tightened their grip on each other not daring to make a sound, their teeth clenched hard yet their breathing
was uncontrollably shallow their nostrils flaring with every panicked breath. The thing was getting closer. Jess – as though coming to terms with the situation – looked at her trembling friend. “We have to see what’s happening” she whispered. Vashta looked at her like she was insane. She shook her head. “No way.”