Jennifer was hungry. So, so hungry. She gazed out the 13th story window of the office tower in which she was trapped. The police cars that blocked each cross street sent beacons of blue and red spinning into the urban, autumn night.
Tonight was Halloween. The night of the annual Dress Like a Zombie 5K Stagger/Walk. Working the overnight shift at the Post meant a midnight lunchtime. Just in time for the “race”.
Her stomach rumbled, and she death-gripped her wireless mouse until the internal earthquake ceased.
“Stupid Master Cleanse,” she said, and entered her password to clock out. Walking down the hall, she mumbled, “Five days down, five to go.” A co-worker eyed her as he passed.
The book said this diet would get easier as the days went on. The book lied. She’d only grown hungrier.
Inside the break room she opened the fridge and found an empty plastic bag with her name on it. “Seriously? Someone stole my lemons, syrup, and cayenne pepper?”
She’d file another report, but that wouldn’t help on this night. She’d have to go home and… She couldn’t. The police cars had all the roads blocked off.
“Well, Diet, I’m afraid you’re done.” Relieved, she approached the vending machine and found only one repeated item lining the top shelf. “Pork rinds?” She smacked her forehead. “Great, I’m a strict vegetarian.”
“Sorry to hear that,” said her boss while snapping into a slim meat stick.
She stalked past him. She’d have to find food outside. The local diner, perhaps. They’d have greens fit for an herbivore.
She went to retrieve her sweater from the coatrack and found that someone had bombed the entire area with wet toilet paper.
“I work with a bunch of children!” she yelled, but heard only the distant sounds of keyboards clicking and ringing phones.
So, fetid and funk-filled sweater on, Jennifer pocketed a twenty-dollar bill from her purse and headed to the elevator.
Outside, she heard moaning, low and guttural, loud and pained, interspersed with an occasional giggle. The race had started, and the first wave of zombies were stagger/shuffling along. Behind them came a horde of slow-moving “undead”.
She walked stiff-postured among them, watching for the lights of the Bright Star Diner, but they never came. “Closed due to race,” read a sign on the door.
Her stomach gurgled, as if it too had read the sign.
She reentered the moaning masses, occasionally doubling over and hobbling a few steps when her stomach clenched.
“Boy, I can’t wait for the flesh barbeque,” a young man said.
“Shh, stay in character,” someone said/moaned.
Jennifer’s ears perked up. “I’m sorry, the what?”
“Hey, nice costume.”
“Tell me about the barbeque!”
“Just saying. I mean, it actually stinks.”
“Okay! It’s a free dinner at the finish line, you know, racks of ribs slathered in barbeque sauce sizzling over flaming pits. Spit-roasted chickens rotating slowly above open flames. Pulled pork sandwiches–”
And then — Jennifer cracked. Adrenaline pumped through her veins, her senses heightened, and suddenly she could smell the corn syrup blood makeup on those around her.
“Muuuhhhh,” she said, not pretending.
The man to her left shuffled away, but she followed, raising her nose into the wind. Sniffing. Searching.
She smelled meat everywhere. Glorious, succulent meat! She moaned, and she groaned, and she pushed her way through the crowd. There! Sausages meant to look like intestines draped around a woman’s neck like a scarf.
Jennifer leapt, tackling the woman to the ground, teeth snapping at the emulsified meat. A rational part of her mind rose up to tell her that vegetables were the way, but her animal instinct browbeat the internal plant lover back into a huddling corner of her crazed psyche.
Several hands pulled her off her prey.
“A costume is not consent!” someone yelled. “Behave.”
She lowered her head but kept her eyes fixed on the goody-two-shoes who had interrupted her almost-meal. Was he also wearing meat?
The sausage woman loped ahead, melting into the cavalcade of zombies. Jennifer smiled disarmingly. The man was lucky his makeup was latex.
Jennifer picked up the pace. Her stomach felt like it was eating itself. Madness consumed her muddled mind. She hobbled/jogged/ran past the others’ dragging feet and tan-gray clothing. She pushed through until nothing but a chill wind blew against her forehead, and none stood in her way.
When only a tenth of a mile remained, Jennifer noticed columns of smoke rising from beyond the finish line. She could almost… taste… the…
Jennifer broke the tape under a ticking yellow clock that read 26:25. She ignored the female official who asked for her race number and approached the barbeque line.
She smacked her lips, sampling the tastes that wafted from every grill and pit and stove that cooked chicken, giant turkey legs, burgers, and a roasting pig with a bright red apple in its mouth.
“Ma’am?” The voice seemed to come from a great distance. Jennifer, hunched over, turned and glared up at he-who-interrupted. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we can’t serve you without a race number.” He shrugged. “You ran a pretty good time, though. Came in first.”
Insanity overcame Jennifer. She gripped the kid’s shirt with both hands, bared her teeth and pulled his neck toward her.
“Or.” He gulped. “You could buy a meal ticket. It’s only twenty bucks.”
Jennifer released him and reached in her pocket. Inside was the twenty she’d stuffed there earlier. She brandished it for him. He plucked it from her trembling fingers and smacked an oval “paid” sticker onto the back of her hand.
“Go nuts,” he said.
Jennifer paused before the myriad flaming grills. Not a roasted vegetable to be found.
Zombies eat meat.
Dustin Adams’ stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, and forthcoming in Dimension6. He’s a multiple finalist in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest and has served as an editorial assistant right here at Every Day Fiction.