Excerpt: ACAPULCALYPSE NOW by Alison Littlewood (Robinson)

LittlewoodA-ZA-AcapulcalypseNowToday, Robinson has allowed me to share an excerpt from Alison Littlewood’s contribution the the publisher’s Zombie Apocalypse Series (created by Stephen Jones): ACAPULCALYPSE NOW. Here’s the synopsis:

The Hotel Baktun is an exclusive vacation complex that is about to open on the coast of Acapulco, Mexico. Owned by a mysterious multi-millionaire businessman, it is shaped like an ancient Mayan pyramid and its halls are lined with rare and expensive artefacts.

For Stacy Keenan, the hotel’s new Head of Security, things are already chaotic as the locals continue to put the finishing touches to the festivities while VIPs begin to arrive for the grand opening. When a Russian cruise ship turns along the shore and disgorges its cargo of flesh-eating zombies, the guests and staff soon fragment into various factions as they struggle to withstand the spread of HRV (Human Reanimation Virus).

As the armies of the dead conquer all that stand before them, and the human survivors prepare for a final battle against an unstoppable enemy, a horror even more ancient and terrible is revealed when ‘The Death’ comes to Paradise…

*

Chapter One

IF MICK HALF-closed his eyes, the pyramid could almost appear to be real. The sun was behind it, the sky a deep, perfect blue, and it was easy to imagine that it was over 1,000 years ago, the monument rising high to honour the ancient gods of the land.

But it was not 1,000 years ago.

The pyramid’s steps were a little too even and a little too high to climb. If it hadn’t been cast into a jagged silhouette he could have seen that its walls were actually, in the main, windows; their purpose was to be looked out of, not at. If he’d been standing closer still he would have been able to see the balconies that wrapped around every level.

The structure was what he had learned to think of with disdain as a theme hotel. Still, its purpose was grand enough – to inject new life into tourism on this once-desirable stretch of coastline, to resurrect the ghost of its glamorous past.

Acapulco was once the playground of Hollywood stars, the gorgeous and talented and the fabulously wealthy. It hadn’t been that way for a long time.

For a moment hope stirred in his chest, something that at once surprised him and made him wrinkle his nose.

Somewhere, a power drill started up with a manic shrieking. A voice was shouting something, over and over: “Suntan, suntan!”

Where the magic never ends, he thought. That was how they were selling the new hotel, the words embroidered in small script across the pocket of the shirt he wore, just beneath its freshly minted logo.

The sound of the sea, soothing and always there, intruded on his thoughts, and he remembered that there was something real here after all. The final piece of the structure, the blocky shape set upon the pyramid’s flattened top, was an actual ruin. It had been ripped from its place on the Yucatan shore, its heritage undermined by the mighty dollar, or in this case the English pound. It had been transplanted to this place, somewhere it was never intended to be. They called it the Monumento que Canta, the monument that sings, because of the way the wind was said to sound through it whenever the coast was about to be invaded.

There had been an outcry against uprooting it, protests in Cancun and along the Riviera Maya, no doubt witnessed by bemused and uncaring tourists. Now it was going to be the picturesque backdrop to a modern rooftop bar.

Mick shook his head. He did not know if the ruin’s voice had ever been heard; now it never would be.

That voice came again, “Suntan!”, this time raised and insistent, and he saw someone hurrying towards him. It was the head of food and beverages, the F&B as they called him, pale and sweaty and looking all too clearly as if he’d just stepped off a flight and landed somewhere he didn’t belong. He also looked angry.

“Suntan!”

A sinking realisation swept through Mick. “My name is not Suntan,” he said. “It is Iktan. Iktan Camal. It’s a Maya name. I said to them they could call me Mick. They have put it on my badge—”

“Whatever. Who the hell cares? There’s a new load of painter and decs just arrived, and they want feeding.” The F&B leaned over, resting his hands on his knees. His lily-white cheeks were turning red and Iktan briefly wondered if this was what a heart attack looked like. The man straightened. “They need a waiter. Get to it.” He turned away, calling back over his shoulder: “And what’s wrong with calling yourself Rick? Like in the film. The punters’ll like that.”

Mick frowned after the man’s portly form. Another realisation washed over him and he muttered, “That’s Casablanca, you culero. Not here. Not in Mexico.” He sighed and started to make his way inside, heading past the empty hollow of the new pool with its unused waterslide. The sound of his feet was hollow against the new tiles, the gentlest of breezes failing to stir the fringe of ornamental palm trees, newly shipped in and set in planters made in the shape of a Maya headdress.

Outside, it was a steady twenty-seven degrees. Inside, the air-conditioning was turned up so high that it shivered the hairs on Mick’s arms. Were the managers trying to bring their English winter with them? They should have taken the singing monument and stuck it on their hard, freezing coast. There it might have sung, with the cold breath of the north wind in its gullet and no one who would understand to hear it.

Soon the guests would arrive, dripping with jewels and leaving a trail of money behind them. Mick grinned at that thought, reminding himself that he’d competed for this job, had wanted this job. If he couldn’t be rich, it was best to stick to the rich as closely as he could; that way, a little luck – and money – might just rub off.

His real name, Iktan, meant “clever”, but that should have been the name they gave to his little brother. He was the smart one of the family, the one who would soon be leaving his job in a fast-food joint and going to college, a college that he – Mick – could now help pay for. Their parents, who still farmed maize in the traditional Maya way, had frowned when the boys had come to the city, although they hadn’t protested; they knew how things were. Now he would show them he’d done the right thing.

Smiling, he passed through the hotel’s main lobby, its Reception desk taking up most of one massive wall. Water trickled behind it down some roughened material meant to look like rock, as if a jungle waterfall had accidentally found its way into a grand hotel in a Pacific beach resort. A huge television was mounted on the wall off to one side, though it was switched off and silent.

And here, there were other things that were real: a glass case, no doubt linked to some fancy alarm system, was full of ancient obsidian blades, incongruously placed next to ear spools decorated with gold and turquoise. Another held a large bowl made of clay, its painted design almost entirely faded, alongside miniature human effigies, beads and pieces of a broken mask. There was also a tablet, carved with figures that Mick couldn’t make out.

He shrugged as he passed it. Apparently, the owner of the hotel had insisted that everything in these displays was genuine. Mick wondered whether the man was happy with the result of his endeavours. The effect of the smartly painted walls, everything in new straight lines, the shining glass of the displays, was to make the real appear to be fake; almost as if it were in disguise.

He looked up and saw the name of the hotel writ large in a carved wooden panel suspended above the Reception desk: HOTEL BAKTUN. Its name had been taken from the Maya Long Count calendar, a period of thousands of years that some said was meant to culminate in the end of the world, not too long from now.

He turned his back on it. The floor, wide and grand and made of local tile, was covered in a fine layer of dust. Wood shavings curled among the detritus like maggots in flesh. Mick hurried across it, ignoring the blows of hammers and the arcing tick-tick-tzzzzzz of a welder, leaving behind him a trail of perfect footprints.

As he moved, a man approached, walking with his head bowed and his hand to his forehead, as if he were trying to obscure his face. Mick swerved but somehow the man barged into him anyway, knocking him aside with a shoulder that was hard and unyielding. Mick turned, but the man made no apology, did not even pause.

Mick shrugged. He wondered who the man was. He hadn’t been wearing an apron or overalls or a paint-stained T-shirt. He wore a silk shirt and chinos – a manager, perhaps? But he hadn’t seemed that type, someone strutting around with his head thrown back to watch everything that was happening, ready to bark out an order. He had seemed more like someone who didn’t really want to be seen.

But there were legions of people in the hotel, all of them making sure it would be ready on time, and who the hell was Mick? A waiter, nothing more, with even a name that didn’t quite belong to him. He had no way of knowing if someone was there who shouldn’t be. And yet – he did know. He sensed it, could almost smell it. But then, the man could be a sightseer, not from the lands of money and showbiz but from the city, and why shouldn’t he come in for a look around? The relics of Mexico were here, not in a museum for all to see but encased in glass in a new hotel, positioned only for foreign eyes.

As if in answer to his thoughts he saw the F&B heading towards the front of house manager, who beckoned him with an anxious expression on her face. They met near the Reception desk and looked at something she held out. It looked like a miniature television. Why didn’t they just switch on the big screen? But they bowed over it as if they were keeping a secret. As Mick watched, the F&B covered his mouth; probably his favourite football team had just lost. Mick smiled.

Soon the hotel would be ready. Mick would be waiting on celebrities instead of an army of workmen, people who would, before long, melt back into the city from whence they came. The gates would close and the hotel would become an island, a law unto itself; a place for feasting, while without men scrambled and fought and died for whatever pesos they could find.

He made his way down a corridor with bare wires hanging down from the ceiling and towards the kitchen. There, he paused. A window was set into the side of the building and from it, he could see the sea. That bright blue line spoke of freedom, and clean salt air. He remembered days splashing in the surf, he and his brother closing their eyes against the spray. He found himself smiling.

The hotel was a future, of a kind. But still, he couldn’t help but see in his mind’s eye the pyramid as it would appear from that shore, its lines too clean and too new, blocking out the sky. And somehow, he knew; if he were a Maya god, he would not be pleased by the sight of this new tower rising into the air. He would, in fact, be really fucking angry.

***

Acapulcalypse Now is out now. Alison Littlewood is also the author of, most recently, A Cold Silence, published by Jo Fletcher Books. For more on Littlewood’s writing and novels, be sure to check out her website, and follow her on Twitter and Goodreads.

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