Black Coffee: A Tale of Priorities in the Zombie Apocalypse
My hands are shaking.
All I want is a goddamned cup of coffee.
The kitchen is washed out in the hazy morning light, everything looks off-white, the light being shuttered by the taller buildings that surround mine. The counters are cluttered. I’m only now realizing how grungy I’ve let the place become.
The sink is full of dishes; I don’t think I’ll do them now.
I fumbled one of the two clean mugs left in my house-my hands feel numb and bloated, like I’ve run them under cold water-it exploded into shards on contact with the linoleum. I tried to swear, but my throat was dry. It comes out as a rasp, harsh and broken.
Even if I wanted to wash another one, I’m not sure I’m dexterous enough any more. My hands are numb and shakier than they were just ten minutes ago when I struggled with my keys.
It’s getting worse.
I need my goddamned coffee.
The last clean mug in my house is in my hands now, I’m cradling it like an egg. It might as well be the last clean mug in the world.
Maybe it is.
The ceramic is trembling as I set it down. I should feel relieved, I know I should fell relieved, but I can’t-it’s like my brain is disconnecting. Shutting down elements piece-by-piece…
I’m starting to get hungry, but coffee first; it’s harder to make. Can still feel that; strange.
Blood is pooling at my left foot, the wound still soaking through the leg of my jeans. The fabric is wet enough to drip; the wound is still stinging, despite the numbness spreading through my limbs. I try to ignore it as I did during my wanton sprint home to safety.
There’s an explosion in the distance.
A few days after The Incident, we were warned that as substations were overrun, the grid would gradually be fail and we would be on emergency generators until order was restored. The building across the street is already blackened, dead.
I’ve got to get the machine brewing soon. Cold coffee isn’t really coffee.
My lights are off, saving power. The off-white machine –why is everything off-white now?- is blinking 12:00 angrily at me, off-white blinking against darker off-white; and I realize that I don’t know what time it is anymore.
I try to reach for the beans, pre-ground thank God, left cupboard, top shelf. I’ve reached for these beans in any number of states-tired, hungover, drunk, happy, sad- this is the first time I’ve been genuinely concerned that I might not be able to get them. My left shoulder won’t rotate very far anymore, and I have trouble reaching them. I drag my numbed fingers across the cupboard door, awkwardly trying to bend them far enough to grip the door’s edge.
On the fifth try, I got it, tearing the door open. I lose a fingernail in the process, but it doesn’t hurt.
Reaching in, I sweep the filters to the kitchen floor; they land amid the mug shards. I fail to grasp the bag of beans and inadvertently send it to the floor in a puff of grounds.
I drop awkwardly to my knees, feeling dull impact as the shards drive into my flesh. Again, no pain. Or blood.
The beans smell rich and earthy, the one luxury good I insist on. It was a fine Guatemalan dark roast, ground the day of The Incident. It smelled of energy, vitality…
I realized it was the only thing I’d smelt since being bitten.
With my cumbersome hands, I sweep as much of the coffee as I can into a small pile. I jam my index finger onto the filter and drag it into the file.
The beans smell of perfection.
My fingers have stopped shaking and started spasming, curling inward, twitching. I use them to scoop coffee onto a filter. It probably mixed a bit with the broken ceramic, but I don’t care: there’s no time.
I crush the filter between my spasmodic hands and lurch to the counter. I dump it there and fight my way to standing, using my arms for leverage, feeling the flesh and muscle of my knees close around the shards lodged in them. There’s a discomfort of the foreign substance intruding into my skin, but no pain.
Just need a coffee.
Just need food.
I’m not out of breath, despite the effort. I can’t remember breathing in a while. I don’t want to now.
My left hand is starting to respond again; not accurately, but enough to snag the filter. My right hand responds less well, but enough to open the lid of the coffee maker. I stuff the filter and grinds in, and reach for the pot.
I need water.
My arm is numb as I clumsily swing the pot under the tap, my left fingers clamping on the tap.
It responds. Water flows.
The pot is full, I don’t bother to turn off the tap; the power will be out soon enough. The off-white water continues to cascade over the dishes.
I spill half of it trying to fill the maker’s tank, but I got more than enough in.
I slap the lid shut with my right hand, the fingers beginning to respond. It’s easier to maneuver the now empty pot, dotted with water, under the spout.
Mashing the button, the coffee begins to brew.
I sigh contentedly.
No air comes out.
My jaw is growing slack, reacting in slow motion…I must look like a cow chewing cud.
The sting of the bite is gone, a comfortable throbbing now.
I don’t feel time pass-suddenly the coffee is ready.
Trembling only slightly, my fingers half-close around the pot’s handle and I pour as carefully as I can into the mug. The off-white liquid smells of fresh earth.
I drop the pot and it explodes into glass and hot fluid. It mingles with the clotting blood pool at my foot, the caffeine and blood mixing out –of–vein. The 12:00 blinks one final time and then goes dark.
The air is silent and still.
My hand, still numb, remembers how to loop two fingers through the handle of the mug.
Best as I can, I tense the muscles and raise it to my dry lips. Forcing my jaw shut, I sip.
The flavor rolls across my taste buds, rich, full, and bold, coursing into my throat.
It’s great, but wrong somehow. I drink it black, but something is missing.
And then I realized what, and my mouth begins to water.
Clutching my mug in hand, I shuffle out of my apartment into the hallway and drag my free hand down the door of the next apartment over.
Hey neighbor, can you spare a cup of brains?