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The Vending Machine

I’ve eaten all the Caramac bars, all the wheat tube crisp things and all the Kit-Kats. It leaves a disappointing selection in the vending machine, but I guess that’s just what a lack of self-restraint gives you. I told myself I should have been practicing the whole delayed gratification thing, but frankly when there are zombies pounding on the doors outside and grunting like the worst lover imaginable, I think I’m OK with the occasional treat. Serves me right for coming in to work on a Sunday I suppose.

One of the great things about a serviced office is that you can sometimes get the whole empty space to yourself. Being free of the endless distraction of people wanting to talk to you, either about work or whatever dreadful television experience they suffered through (those are my words, not theirs; they seem genuinely excited by the interaction of hand-picked wankers pretending to date on an island), and just the sight and sound of them. Really, an office to myself is an absolute dream. It’s not that I don’t like other people (despite claims of misanthropy), it’s just that they’re fucking annoying when you’re trying to get something done, and if I’m not ready to chat then the whole social hell is massively oppressive. So I’d taken to sloping in late and leaving early during the week, hiding as best I could in a little cubicle farm in the far corner from the entrance, where, if you hunker down and stay quiet, they might not even know you’re there. I might get interrupted by someone looking for a free desk, and have them look at me like I’m mad, sitting on the floor cross-legged with laptop actually on my lap. Then at the weekend I can both catch up on work, get some general peace and quiet and fit in a few hours of doing whatever I want. Ideally that’s getting loose and lazy leaning out of the window in the kitchenette with a vape and watching some kung fu movies. I’ll concede that this maybe doesn’t sound like the life you’d want to have, but I quite liked it.

Last Sunday I was in as usual at eight in the morning. Let myself in at the front faux-reception area which has swapped actual reception functions for a bank of buzzer buttons next to the elevator, not that you can even get that far without a key and keycard. No one likes unexpected visitors. From there it’s three floors up. The lift doors open onto the tiniest hallway, occupied by an emergency door to the utterly unused stairwell, my beloved snacks machine, the most plastic rubber plant imaginable, and the door into the maze of cubicles. We’re not a big outfit, or at least this little niche of it – twenty desks, maybe twenty-five staff rotating in and out including day to day managers. That Sunday I was once more alone, though I always held my breath going out from the lift to the office, just in case there was someone else there. If there’s just two of you it’s even worse. Like fucking magnets that have to smash into each other with trivia and banal exchanges of passive aggression. Fuck all of that. Mine, all mine! It had been the easiest cycle ride in, too. Dead quiet, hardly any traffic, not that that’s especially unusual first thing on a Sunday morning. It’s only the poor bastards with kids or an exercise dependency that have to get up early; or those whose bodies are too broken to lie in properly.

I did some work for a few hours, completing half the week’s jobs in under a morning (they really ought to just let us work from home), having selected the cubicle bang in the middle of the labyrinth, with a good view of the front door in case I needed to pretend I wasn’t there, and easy access to the kitchenette and the loos. Prime location. I was making my third or fourth dirty chai latte (my absolute favourite, something about despoiling an already perfect caffeine-free drink with espresso makes my heart sing), and wondering whether I could be arsed to do any more work if I should just drag my laptop in here and perch on the window sill for a vape. No, not that tedious nicotine stuff with the billowing clouds of candy floss vapour – a proper THC vape. It’s not always conducive to work, but I had a bunch of rote tasks that I could probably handle a bit stoned, with an appropriate soundtrack. I got myself balanced on the window sill, half-sitting across the window so I could exhale outwards, while watching a Donnie Yen film, and still have access to that glorious chai latte. The sound of a car crash outside gave me a fright and spanner that I am, I dropped the vape. Straight out of the window. Absolute motherfucker. Well, I wasn’t leaving that out there, so I awkwardly climbed back in, grabbed my keys and headed downstairs. The window I’d been leaning out of looks out on to a shitty little quadrangle between four identical micro office blocks. They must have been flats once, but some fuckwit decided to buck the trend for making billions off residential letting and had this half-empty set of offices instead. Smart people, everywhere. The quad is only accessible through a weird gate to one side of the main door, must have been a garage entrance or something. It was still very quiet for nearly midday, just a few cars racing past, seeking out adventure at Ikea, I imagined. The quad was as empty as ever, and my vape was unbroken, nestled between a sad attempt at a dandelion and an old Pepsi bottle. Win.

Less of a win was the guy staggering around the corner as I reached the main road again. I’m used to drunks, and weird fucked-up guys who aren’t actually homeless but they’re exactly what we’ve been told for years are what homeless guys look like. I suspect they’re actually landlords. This guy looked beyond fucked though. Belatedly I remembered the sound of crunching cars which had led me to this spot, and for a couple of seconds I wondered if he’d been involved. One side of his head looked kind of concave, and his left arm was all mangled, like it had been caught in a seat belt while he was thrown out of the windscreen (I watch a lot of action movies). Lots of blood. I hesitantly started towards him, and I guess he hadn’t noticed me until then, because I was dead sure I had his attention after that. His jaw dropped, like halfway down his neck, drooling like that dog we had when I was fourteen. His non-wrecked arm came right up, grasping fingers outstretched and he roared. I mean, big cats roar, and maybe bears, but it’s the best word for this outraged noise that emerged from him. He came right for me, and there was nowhere to go but back into the quad.

I pulled the gate shut right behind me, and dropped the latch. I was so freaked out that I just stood there for a second as he slammed into the gate, trying to shove his arm and shoulder through it. I was under no illusions though, this guy hadn’t been in a car crash – or maybe he had – but this was quite definitely a zombie, or zombie-adjacent murderous fuck. Thankfully he looked like he’d been pretty thick before whatever had happened to make him like this, and he wasn’t even trying for the catch. Enough banging against it might make it jump up though… I snapped a pic with my phone, because why not? Insta would need to know what was going on. I backed off, but he was pretty keen, and I realised I’d trapped myself in the quad with only a drop-catch as protection. I’ve seen zombie movies where they trick the zombies and do lots of running around. I’m not a runner, and that never ends well. As he managed to make the catch give a tiny bit, I made up my mind. My kitchen window was still open three stories above. I cycle, have very occasionally done a spot of recreational rock climbing and used to be able to do pull ups. Here we’ve got classic old hardcore drain pipes (none of that plastic crap), a bunch of window ledges and some decorative architectural things. I could do this. As the gate burst open, with the zombie guy blissfully caught with his wrecked arm stuck in it, I did it. I got up above the first floor as the zombie wrenched his whole damn arm off and came running to mash himself against the wall beneath me.

I might have been good at exercise when I was younger if a one-armed slavering madman stood screaming below me until I got to the top of the rope. It certainly worked now. Sweating like it was peak summer, my heart racing like I’d done genuine exercise so much that I thought I might be about to have a heart attack, I hauled myself in through the window and tumbled to the floor, knocking my latte and laptop flying. Still, I had my vape back. I peered back outside, and could just see the flailing arm of the zombie below. He hadn’t given up yet. Obviously I checked Twitter and the news immediately: we were fucked. The news was a bit worried about some ill people and telling everyone to stay inside; Twitter was screaming ZOMBIES. I uploaded my pic and wondered what to do. I was relatively safe. The adrenaline and the THC had kicked in and the munchies were coming on strong. That’s when I remembered about the Caramacs in the vending machine – an object I generally try to ignore, because a Caramac costs ninety fucking pence – but this seemed like an emergency.

It’s now Wednesday. The catastrophe continues to unfold outside, but the internet and power are still on. I’ve got a kitchen and the loos have a creepy “come watch me wash” shower corner, so it’s not too grim yet. However, I’ve completely run out of change, as has the tea jar in the kitchen, and all the drawers in the desks, and I’m not prepared to bankrupt my debit card. Fuck it, this is a zombie plague situation: I’m going to break into the vending machine.

Daily Stories

Daily Stories

A new series of very short stories, written very first thing in the morning with no planning or preparation, as an exercise in daily creativity. Unedited and unproofed (sorry!) Enjoy at your peril…

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The Vending Machine

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