The closet door shuddered.
Teddy Burton paid it no mind. The chair wedged beneath the handle continued to do its job. Henry wouldn’t be able to get out without an axe. And Teddy didn’t think he could use one of those, even if he possessed one. Either before or after. Teddy had once watched him try — and fail — to use a tin opener on a can with an easy pull tab.
Headphones on, computer screen bright. The chatter and clatter of buttons. The squeak of the joystick as it wiggled back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth forever. The reflections of the plasma blue mirrored in the lenses of his glasses.
A cure. Not an impossible thing to desire. It could happen. Could happen any day now. How knew what those science types got up to, in their secret underground laboratories? Hell, a good chance this would all turn out to be one big science experiment. They’d spray a gas over the city and the ragers would return to normal. “Thanks for participating,” they’d say. “We obtained lots of useful data.”
No harm in his plan. So what if he kept his rager of a brother locked in a closet? So what? He couldn’t hurt anyone in there. All quite safe. Teddy wasn’t stupid. He knew what to do. Knew what precautions to take. Fine. All above board. A zombie couldn’t outsmart him. And if it could — well, damn — they deserved to eat him. Earned the right.
The alternative mode of action would be monstrous. Teddy understood, in theory, how you should deal with the hula-hoopers. Even if he’d never executed it in practice. What had the man on the news said? Remove the head or destroy the brain. Yes. Fantastic. All well and good, that. But what if you’d shared a womb with the person in question? They didn’t mean for you to decapitate your brother, right?
What if he killed Henry? What then? He’d be no safer. Still have a city on fire with HuLa, right outside his front door. Still had a population of millions to contend with. God knew how many of those raged. And what if — dear God, what if — he murdered his brother and they found the cure the day after? What if they rolled out the vaccine, administered treatment to the infected? Of course, they wouldn’t be able to help poor old Henry. Can’t exactly sew a head back on.
Teddy wouldn’t be able to live with himself.
So, he kept Henry in the closet.
Screw what the people on the TV said. Since when had they ever had anything worthwhile to add? Rising rates this and inflation that. Crashing economy here and population boom there. Vote for me, buy this, don’t do that. Everything’s terrible, and you’re to blame, he’s to blame, she’s to blame. But don’t you dare point the finger at me!
Teddy and Henry.
Brothers for life.
Even in death.
Teddy flew his digital aeroplanes, from one side of the electronic planet to the other. A planet that had never even heard the words Human lyssavirus. The people in his flight simulator didn’t worry about disease and pandemics. Didn’t fret over your sibling ripping your throat out. He’d tried to play some shooter games, but none of those felt right, given recent events.
So, he flew.
And the closet door shuddered and juddered, shook and jived.
And the chair wedged beneath the handle remained firm in place.
Until, of course, the lights went out.
One moment, pale blue light from his monitor. A fake version of the skies above Western Europe, as he commanded an electronic copy of a Boeing 747. Endless baby blue stretched out into infinity. Clouds so real, you could almost reach out and touch them. And far below, a continent where life continued as it always had. As it always should.
The next, darkness.
A small zap. Pew.
A little buzz. Bzzt.
“Hey, what th—”
Teddy stood up, eyes blind. His head jerked, the headphone cable pulled. Taut. The headphones — big, over the ear ones — yanked away and clattered to the floor. The released tension pinged him away, like an elastic band.
He stumbled backwards into his gaming chair. It thudded into the base of his spine then crashed over in the darkness. A cacophony of twirling wheels and derailed plastic. The weight of the chair thudded to the ground.
Teddy landed on the floor with a thump and a wounded little, “Oof!” Not hurt — only his pride took a hit.
The clatter died down. It seemed to go on for ten seconds, a lot of noise for a single chair. Teddy sat there in the ink, as somewhere off to his right the upended wheels of the chair spun.
No need to panic. Only the breakers. He’d flip them the way he’d done a thousand times before. With two electronics nerds home, the Burtons often found themselves flipping switches. Teddy knew where they were, but he had to find his way there in the darkness. Why hadn’t he left a torch handy, every time h—
Teddy froze, breath caught in his throat.
The microseconds tick-tick-ticked away into eternity.
All the moisture in his mouth evaporated.
Every hair stood on end.
A wave of ice rippled through his core.
The tenebrosity encroached. Blanketed. Smothered. The shadows seemed to cling to him, to stretch out over his skin and plunge down his throat.
The closet door had stopped banging.
And — now that his eyes adjusted to the gloom — were there two chairs on the floor? In a mangled heap of legs and wheels and armrests and faux leather? He squinted, eyes still bleary from too much screen time. It’ll give you square eyes, his mother had told them both. Not that they’d ever listened.
A click at the back of his throat.
Both on the floor.
More than that.
The door of the closet yawned open like the mouth of a snake.
The shadows seemed to bleed from within, seemed to stain the world around them.
The whisper of cloth.
A shuffle against the carpet.
A low moan, dry and mournful.
In the darkness of the post-screen glow, Teddy realised he’d been wrong about the safety of his plan. Even now, the thought of killing his brother appalled him. But something else. Anything else. He could have hogtied him, knocked him out. Could have Googled a thousand ways to do that. Could have Googled a million ways to secure the door with something other than an office chair. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. RIP Teddy — He procrastinated until the last.
As the shadow that had been his brother shuffled closer, Teddy made a wish.
Please God, don’t let me be wrong about the cure, too.
This is part of my project (novella?) for April’s Camp NaNo. The plan is 30 short stories, 30 characters, 30,000 words. Give or take. All set in the same city. All focused on the same event.
This is actually #30 in the project. I also submitted part #1 to the monthly #BlogBattle, and parts #3, #10, #17, and #23 to Reedsy.