It should have been Ode to Soy, I told myself for the five-thousandth and fifth time. On the food truck circuit, puns and health conscious offerings were all the rage. My fiancé had been one hundred percent on the side of the angels there, telling me exactly why vegetarian would bring in the customers. I had listened to the chubby overweight devil on my shoulder and went the other way. And that is how I ended up trapped inside Sex, Lies, and Bacon Burgers for the last two days.
It wasn’t as bad at first. I was scared out of my ever-loving mind, sure. But the fries were still fresh and my phone was still cranking out all the 90s hits via Pandora. Now my battery is dead and all l can smell is congealed grease and rotting flesh. My fiance also told me I should buy the solar panels to help run the appliances, but no, me and the portable diesel generator would be just fine, thank you. At least, I hoped the rotting smell was from the dead refrigerator. Somehow it was more comforting to think that all-pervasive smell was in here with me and not wafting in from the dead outside.
I had spent the first 15 minutes curled up in a ball at the base of my grill. It had been a normal day with a good, solid, rent making line outside the downtown offices on Pearl. Amateurs always think construction sites is where the trucks make their most money, but for my stuff, the unhealthy stuff, it’s the office parks where people cheat on their diets when the spouse isn’t around to see. Yosef had called in sick and I was doing my normal solo routine: take 3 orders, wash my hands, hand food out for the last 3, and start the next 3 orders on the grill. I was handing out the second order when this guy out of nowhere tackles my customer, ripping the bag right out of my hand.
I don’t remember what I said. Whatever my words, they got swallowed up when the screaming started. My long line of making rent this month evaporated as more assailants ran up and wrestled them down, or they took off running and screaming or… it was crazy. I remember grabbing my Grandpa’s baseball bat, the one he kept in his barbershop for protection, ready to head out there and do something, when the thing that attacked Second Order Guy stood up. It looked human… but his lips were gone, like they had been ripped off. The tip of his nose had a dot of blood on it. Below that was a sea of gore and goo, coating his entire front.
The creature sniffed at my window and lunged. I screamed like only a terrified overweight man in his thirties can scream (because no little girl will ever hit that high note) and swung at his leading toothy maw. I missed completely and instead knocked over my cash register and the support holding open the window. The window swung shut, slamming on the back of his neck. Those awful, chomping teeth stopped and the creature slumped its head, the hair momentarily grazing the grill. I poked it with the bat, then pushed harder, forcing its awful visage out beyond the window and letting it settle all the way shut.
After that, me, baseball bat, and spilled pennies sat on the floor of the truck, crying. All around me, the metal body of the truck took the yelling and screaming and amplified it, distorted it till it felt like my truck itself, my baby, was in agony. I didn’t pull myself together enough to do anything until the gunshots started. I heard those gruff trained police voices shouting, commands being given, and shots being fired. Then more screaming. Tires squealing. More screaming. And more screaming.
By the third round of deathcries, I was sitting there shoving one fry after another into my tear stained face and scrolling social media to find out anything about what was going outside my box. I already knew the answer, but I wanted to see somebody, anybody, put the word into print. Everybody knew, right? I mean, Brad Pitt starred in a movie about them, so did that wrestler dude. And, umm, that girl I had a crush on when the one with the survivors trapped in the mall came out. But I wanted to see the word Zombie in print before my very eyes linked to a reputable media site. Hell, I even would have settled for a Fox News link.
By the time I did see it, on a notification from CNN, it was quiet outside and had been for some time. “Zombie Apocalypse?” It read and it didn’t take long reading it to discover that this was a lot bigger than just downtown, with outbreaks reported in 17 major cities today. They didn’t know what had caused it, but every city hit had a major airport and the government was suspending all air travel until they knew more. The article confirmed the things everyone already knew from all those movies: aim for the head and don’t get bit.
I went up front to see what outside was like. My optimistic ass thought maybe it was over or had moved on. My windshield had been splattered in a dark brown that I suspected had been scarlet. What gaps there were among the dried and drying blood showed shapes slowly swaying in the evening light. I thought I recognized one of them as one of my regulars, just standing there, rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet. She turned, looking off towards the buildings suddenly, giving me a decent look at the side of her face… or what should have been her face. Skin and muscle had been ripped away, leaving her skull clearly visible.
I made sure the doors were locked and quietly slunk back into my kitchen prison. I tried to sit there in silence, telling myself that the army, the national guard, Chris Evans, sonebody would be showing up and saving the day. I had food and water and a metal barrier between me and them. I just had to wait it out.
It was dark dark by the time the cold fries were no longer enough to hush my grumbling belly. I stood up and listened near the window. Not hearing anything, I turned the grill back on and did what I do best: threw some ground meat on the grill. Some onions and peppers too, a pair of buns… I was digging around in the cooler for some of the good cheese when the banging started. Not the frantic pounding of a survivor begging for admission to my fortress, but the solemn, steady repetitive pounding of a persistent predator testing for a weak spot. An instant later, it was five different poundings at five different spots. I killed the grill and settled back into my ball on the floor.
My hunger wouldn’t be denied. I waited and I waited and I waited before turning the grill on again. A health inspector would have killed me for just leaving half-cooked meat on there for hours… but I was pretty sure the health department had bigger problems just then. The grill started sizzling and it still smelled good, so stomach said play ball. It was the smell, that aroma of burger in progress that immediately preceded the banging, first one zombie pounding, then many. I needed to eat. I cut on Pandora, cranked up my phone’s volume, and let it run, trying to drown them out. It half worked, if I ignored the way the truck rocked back and forth. I killed the grill, ate my burger, sadly without the cheese I had forgotten in my earlier fright. I let the music run, because…. I guess it was less scary that way. The banging stopped a little after my dinner was done. That was weird. Wasn’t the loud music enough to encourage them to keep attacking? Did they get bored and give up? Or was there a more attainable victim elsewhere? Fat kid that I am, I fell asleep on the floor of my truck with a full belly way faster than anyone should in the middle of the apocalypse.
The next day was more of the same. The music ran and I kept waiting for the cavalry to come. If the zombies cared at all about my box, it didn’t show… until I tried to cook. Every time I put meat on the grill, the attack began. I wondered if they were drawn to the smell. I thought about going to Reddit to share this… when my phone died because I was too cheap to spring for solar panels. Lunch went the same way as breakfast: pounding walls as soon as I started cooking. I would never know how dinner would have gone. By that point, the food in all the coolers stank too much. Even without the health department, I knew better than to eat any more of it.
I waited all day and all night for the cavalry to come. They didn’t. In the pit of my stomach, I knew this had to be a lot bigger than just 17 cities. Maybe the whole world was one big ball of undead by now. It took a lot longer to get to sleep that night.
My stomach woke me at dawn, demanding food. I tried to explain the situation, but my hunger didn’t give a damn. I needed to get out of here somehow. I thought about the gore splattered windshield and wondered if I was brave enough to get out long enough to clean a spot to let me drive. But what if I started it up and drove into a police barricade? Sex, Lies, and Bacon Burgers might have looked big, but it couldn’t drive through a park bench, let alone a police car.
I pondered my options. I just didn’t know enough to make a smart plan. I wanted, needed to get out of this greasy death trap and try to make it back to my apartment. Maybe my fiance was there, maybe not, but I could hope. And we always took blizzard prep plans seriously and kept a few weeks of canned goods for just in case. We could hold up there and wait for rescuers for a lot longer than I could last here. My brain asked what I would do if my fiance wasn’t there and I brushed it off not wanting to deal with more than one disaster at a time. I thought about where I was. It was a little over a mile to home. I wasn’t in great shape but that was do-able by foot. But how to know if it was safe? For all I knew they had surrounded the truck on all sides.
I told myself it was a dumb plan… then tried it anyway because I was hungry and couldn’t think of anything better. I carefully crawled up front and rolled down the driver’s window a few inches. I peered through the crack and saw that yes, there were indeed the living dead swaying unsteadily on their feet at random positions near the truck.
I crept back to the grill and dumped a large handfull of rancid meat on it before cutting it on. No sooner did it start sizzling, its scent nauseating beyond all imaginable horrors, then the banging began again. I let it cook another minute, getting it hot and smelly. I scooped the meat up in the ladel usually reserved for circus cheese sauce day and ran to the driver’s seat.
One shot I thought. Don’t fuck it up. I threw the ladel as far as I could to the front of the truck, letting it carry its pungent stink with it. I quickly slunk to the back of the truck as quietly as I could. I should have watched to see if it worked… but I couldn’t. I was too much of a coward. Either it worked and I had a brief window to escape or I was about to die. I didn’t want to know which ahead of time. I might have lost what little courage I had.
I reached for the handle on the back door. Grabbed my baseball bat. Took a deep breath… and pulled the handle. I dared a step down and out. I could hear them, swarming each other and the thrown meat, biting, growling, and clawing. But there were none at the back of the truck anymore. I took a step and then another. I wanted to be quiet, but I couldn’t take the suspense. I ran. I hadn’t run since high school but damn it I ran.
Joshua Bader is the author of the Modern Knights urban fantasy trilogy, a Publisher’s Weekly starred review series. When he”s not pondering what it would be like to be trapped in a food truck, he spends time with his fiance and watches zombie movies.