“You know why they called them 49er’s right?” Mario asked.
My voice was sore from screaming. So my answer was painful and hoarse.
“Honestly, no idea.”
“Well,” Mario dug in his pocket for a cigarette. “It’s cause they came to California for the gold rush in 1849. Sometimes things are just cut and dry.”
He popped a wrinkled cigarette into his mouth. I flicked a flame into existence from a neon green Bic lighter and touched it to the end. Mario took a puff and grunted in thanks.
The door banged. We had barricaded it with tables, chairs, half-empty waste bins, anything made of metal, wood, or plastic was crammed in front of the doorframe. We couldn’t risk it getting into the conference room. Though days had gone by, and our resolve had not been weathered, we were dangerously low on water.
The banging continued for a few minutes and then subsided. Without moving my neck, I shifted my eyes to Mario.
“You know we can’t survive in here right?”
“Yep.” Mario tapped the ash from his cigarette onto the bright white linoleum. “Good thing I don’t plan on living.”
A vein in my head pulsed. What?
“Wait. So you don’t even want to try?”
“So you’d rather die sitting on your ass?”
“I don’t know man. Did you see that thing out there? I just want my death to not involve teeth. I feel like that’s not a big ask.”
I sighed. “Well I don’t want to die of dehydration in a room with a pile of human shit in the corner.”
We stared blankly at the wall opposite us in silence. Mario licked his lips in thought, and after a few minutes he put out his cigarette against the drywall.
“There’s still a chance someone will find us.” He tightened his cheek into a half smile.
“It’s not likely. I don’t think we’ll last the night without water.”
Another few minutes went by. It was a tense quietness. A burning at the bottom of my throat manifested in a furious rage.
“Well I’m NOT just going to sit here! I want to die fighting like a fucking MAN!”
I groaned while I stood up. I brushed off my jeans and casually started pulling chairs from the doorway. I looked back at Mario, he was visibly irked.
“What are you doing?!” Mario exclaimed with arms outstretched.
“What does it look like? I’m leaving.”
Mario grabbed hold of my ankle and pulled my leg back. I fell forward, smashing my head against a half-full waste bin. Mario’s eyes widened.
“I- I didn’t mean to-”
I sprung off the ground, onto him. I attacked unashamedly clawing at his face with my fingernails, biting the fingers he used to shove my face away, and flailing my legs trying to get in the occasional kick. I started to draw blood.
Thin strips of skin and flesh accreted under my nails. Mario’s face looked like it had met an angry cheese grater. One of his eyes refused to open.
I pushed off the ground and onto my feet once again. Mario looked up at me with fear on his mutilated face. I stomped with my bare foot.
Each hard step saw a little life escape from Mario’s eyes. I kept stomping until his face lost its sparkle, replaced by short, primal twitches.
I did not hesitate to resume throwing pieces of our makeshift barricade aside. Once I made it to the door it looked naked. I felt dirty for taking away all of it’s protective dressing.
I heard a pounding at the door. And I was ready for it, I was ready to face the beast.
The pounding continued until the sweet releasing sound of splintering wood gave way. I covered my eyes from an assault of flashlights at the end of rifle barrels.
“WE GOT A LIVE ONE!” A voice from one of the men dressed in black body armor boomed.
As the men passed by me I felt safe. It was over. I had survived.
That’s when they found Mario. Laying on his back, disfigured beyond recognition.
“What happened to him?” One of the men locked eyes with me.
I raised my pulpy, blood covered hands above my head and flexed my cheek to form a half smile.
“It’s pretty cut and dry”