Authors: JT Sawyer
Carlie led the weary group through the
arid tunnel while scanning the gray concrete walls for directional indicators.
The passageway was only four feet wide and seven feet high and used by
maintenance workers for the electrical conduits that ran overhead. She caught
movement on the floor ahead and saw a crème-colored scorpion scurry away from
her flashlight. Moving by a blue folding ladder, she saw a schematic diagram on
the wall. Carlie tore the laminated sheet off and studied the layout.
“This map coincides with the initial
recon Secret Service did on these tunnels. It looks like we will come to an
intersection in another hundred meters and then we have our choice of going to
Drachman Hall, the Nursing School, or Skaggs Pharmaceutical Center,” she said
while looking at Eliza and the professor. “Our security details have studied
the layout of the campus extensively but since you both spend way more time
here, do you have any thoughts on which one has more windows and doors and
therefore should be avoided?”
“The pharmaceutical center has immense
brick walls to retain the cool air inside and is usually unoccupied on weekends.
That would be a good choice compared to the other locations,” said the
professor, who was flitting his fingers around in his pants pockets.
“That’s my recollection as well,” said
Carlie. “When we did the initial security sweeps of the campus buildings, that
place stood out as being pretty fortified. We’ll stay put there until we can
get out a message and I can get a better look outside for potential escape
“So what then? After we go to the pharmacy
building, do we just wait or is someone else coming?” said Eliza, whose eyes
were welling up with tears and panic.
“I want you to just focus on the sound
of the ground beneath your feet as we walk this tunnel, Eliza. After we get up
top and scout the area, I’ll fashion a new plan for dealing with what lies ahead.”
Carlie had worked with Eliza enough during the past year to know that she was
not a simpering brat, but she also knew that Eliza’s stubbornness coupled with
her status had caused others to cave in to her demands. It had been a constant
struggle between Eliza and the rest of her security detail to come to an
agreeable daily schedule that would keep her safety at the forefront while
allowing her the illusion of some personal freedom.
“But what if…” Eliza said through
“Shh—there are no ‘what-ifs,’ only the
next plan and the next one after that until one of them works and we get out of
here, no matter what it takes or how long we have to endure this. We will get
out of here.”
She nudged Eliza on the shoulder and then
led the way into the dark tunnel, scanning ahead for any signs of movement.
Carlie whispered over her shoulder to
the older man behind Eliza, “So, Professor, what exactly are you a professor
of? Anything that can help us out?”
“Immunobiology is my specialty. I do
stroke research, specifically looking into what causes breakdowns in the
brain’s vascular systems and how to prevent it, though I’m afraid I am at a
loss as to what is happening.”
“Well, any clue on whether this is
bacteriological or viral?” said Phillip.
“My thought would be viral but not much
can be ascertained until blood samples from victims have been analyzed, though
the sagging facial features are intriguing. That is something usually
associated with Bell’s palsy, which is caused by damage to the facial nerves.
The degree to which this has manifested itself may indicate something connected
with viral meningitis, which is what most scientists believe triggers Bell’s palsy.”
more mystery to add to the
bellyful I already have today,
Eight stories up, at the downtown
division of the DEA building, Shane was adjusting the night scope on his
suppressed .308 rifle as he squatted along the low concrete wall. Beside him
were six other men equally poised, each one scanning the dimly lit streets
below for signs of movement. A recent thundercloud had settled over the city
and was sending a light patter of rain over downtown.
After completing the debrief earlier
that afternoon, he and his team had walked downtown to the pizzeria when they
heard about the attacks unfolding throughout the city. A wave of crazed people
had already swept through the streets around them and he and his men found
themselves trapped between their location and the DEA headquarters. Using their
service pistols, they were initially able to hold a defensible perimeter in the
office three stories above as thousands of people were slaughtered below. They
waited until nightfall to evade the attackers and make their way back to the
tac-ops center. By day’s end, the six-man team had made it back to their
headquarters to find it devoid of life.
Matias leaned over towards him. “I’ve
got a cluster of tangos down by the hardware store three blocks away. They just
keep walking into things and stumbling over themselves like drunken frat boys.
I don’t think these things can see very well in low light.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right. There are
about a dozen over by the courthouse, some of which just fell onto a clump of
cacti and are all tangled up,” said Shane, staring at the illuminated green
images in his scope. “Although, wait a minute,” he said, staring at three
creatures who had shimmied alongside one another and were busy smelling the nighttime
air. “I think they’re onto someone nearby.”
He watched as the trio started sprinting
towards a small bakery and crashed through the front window. They dragged out
two men and began ripping them apart. Shane fixed his sights on the creature’s
heads and dropped them. “Damn, these things may not see well but they got the
nose of a tracking dog.” He racked another round into his rifle. “Alright,
let’s go to work, boys. It’s time to reduce the population of those coconut
heads and give any survivors below a chance at staying alive through tonight.”
The rooftop became the scene of muffled
gunfire coupled with subtle muzzle blasts as their sniper rifles delivered
countless rounds downrange into the soft heads of creatures roaming the street.
With a payload of weapons and millions of rounds of ammo in the armory vault
below, there was little concern about running low at this point and each man
continued systematically culling the yellow-faced denizens below.
Thirty minutes later, Shane fired his
last round and slid out the empty magazine. “Let’s call it a night for now,
boys. Tomorrow we can see what’s left down there.”
“And what about our families?” said Mark,
a thickset shooter leaning against the wall and pouring water from his canteen
over his begrizzled face.
“This building was as far as we could
get for now,” Shane said. “I don’t want any losses. Until we can get some fresh
intel tomorrow and come up with a plan for getting your loved ones out of
harm’s way, we’ll stay put.” He lowered his rifle on the warm asphalt roof and
took off his boonie hat, letting the raindrops wash over his face. “I know
we’re all in strung-out shape from being in the field and coming into this
shit-storm, but stay frosty.”
“Roger that,” came the reply of tired
voices around him.
Matias sat back on his pack. “I’ll take
the first watch, so why don’t the rest of you go down below, down some chow, and
get a bit of rest, if you can.”
Each man stood partway up so as not to
expose his figure above the roof’s retaining wall, and made his way to the stairwell.
Shane stayed behind and sat down against
the landing pad of the helicopter they had come in earlier in the day. He pulled
out an MRE package from his pack. Tearing open the foil, he extended it to
“Not only no—but hell no, sir! You can’t
get me to take in another spoonful of that shit. The pigeon droppings on these roof
shingles would make a better meal.”
“You’re a funny guy—I mean funny, ha-ha
not funny queer. Just don’t wake me later because you got a tummy ache from not
getting in a late-night dinner.”
Both men laughed but their smiles
quickly faded. “What the hell you think is going on, Shane? I know we were out
of touch with the world for a stretch but I ain’t never heard of anything like
“I wish I had an answer. Notice how we
didn’t even hear about any signs of the National Guard being deployed or road blocks
being put up by the Sheriff’s Department. Whatever this is, it unfolded fast
and caught everyone by surprise.”
Matias wiped the rain off his face and
then stretched out his hand towards Shane. “Alright, you got me wondering what
I’m missing with your dinner. I’ll take a hit off that MRE pouch, now.”
“You hypocritical motherfucker. That is
so like you. Just like when I’m taking a dip of chew and you’re like, ‘No, sir,
none for me—that shit’ll kill you,’ and then five minutes later you’re asking
for my tobacco tin.”
“Geez, mi hermano, now you’re sounding
like my wife. Always riding my back—getting on me about trivial matters.”
Matias grew quiet and looked down.
“I know, my friend, I’m worried about everyone’s
families, too,” Shane said slowly, glancing up at the clouds and thinking back
to Carlie’s lovely face from earlier that morning.
Hope you made it out
alive, mi amiga.
As the service tunnel ended, Carlie
climbed up the rusty metal steps, brushing aside rat droppings as she went. She
tried lifting the hatch but it was locked from the other side. She used the
butt end of her rifle to repeatedly slam the attachment while holding on to the
ladder with her other hand.
Once it was open, she slowly lifted the
hatch an inch to survey the lobby area. All she could see was the gray
underside of steps, as the entry was located directly under the first-floor
staircase. She climbed out and swept the corners ahead, then motioned to the
others to come up.
Once inside, Phillip and Carlie cleared
the small lobby area while the professor and Eliza huddled together under the
The Skaggs Pharmaceutical Building was a
two-story structure with only a few skylights in the ceiling and immense brick
walls which helped to keep the structure at an even sixty degrees year-round. Walking
along the sterile corridor near the front desk, both of them swept along the
first floor, which consisted of a toxicology lab, drug repositories, a refrigeration
unit for pharmaceuticals, and faculty offices. The building was evidently not
occupied on weekends and Carlie could see the deadbolts on the solid steel front
doors were still in place. The only windows were overhead skylights that had
computer-controlled louvres and shades with special filters to block excessive
UV rays. Dusk was upon campus as the last slivers of light pierced through the
“This building seems defensible with the
high brick walls and only a few overhead windows, right?” Phillip said.
“We don’t have a choice for now,” Carlie
said. “Let’s rest here for a while, rehydrate, and see if I can make contact
“Do your comms only patch into the downtown
office?” said Phillip.
“Yes, but we may be able to get through
to central command in Washington on the sat phone in the vehicle—if I can get
“You mean the sat phone…out there,” he
said. pointing the muzzle of his rifle forward while running his other hand
back along his sweaty forehead.
Carlie frowned, thinking of standard
Normally, there would have been two more rescue teams
in by now and numerous airborne assets on the rooftops. HQ must have been
totally caught off guard and are either locked down fighting for their own
paused, rolling her shoulders forward.
She knelt down and removed all the
magazines and weapons from her vest and shoulder holster and laid them on the
cement floor, then did an inventory of the remaining rounds. “Give me five
minutes to saddle up here and swig down some water and then I’ll be on my way.
In the meantime, I want you to stalk up to the east window and recon the path
to the Suburban.”
Eliza stepped forward with her hands
folded over her chest. “We could be out searching for other survivors, you
know. Aren’t you supposed to have more agents here by now?”
Carlie could feel the resentment welling
up from her gut. “You mean besides the ten good men we lost today just trying
to save you?”
“My father has you hound me for years,
and for what—what is the point of all your training if we can’t rescue the
other people out there?”
“It’s because of our ‘training’ that
you’re able to stand before me and complain at all, Eliza. And the same reason
that, come tomorrow at this time, you’ll be sipping a caramel latte in your
father’s secure bunker. Until that time, I’ll continue to cling to you like a
lizard to the shade.”
Eliza’s raised her eyebrows, looking at
the professor, who was silent, and then back to Carlie.
“There are other students trapped on
campus who can use our help, Carlie,” said Eliza, whose eyes continued to grow
“I agree, but there’s only—” She paused,
looking at Phillip, who was approaching from the other room. “Only one of me,
and you and the professor are my primary concerns right now. When
reinforcements arrive, we can round up any other students we find.”
Eliza’s adamant glare eased up. “I’m not
trying to be a pain in the ass, really, I’m not. I know you and the other
agents always saw me like that but I just feel like we should be doing more
than crawling under a rock to hide.”
“Eliza, you didn’t witness the craze of
attackers I killed in the science building and you probably didn’t see the battle
unfold around the other agents on your protective detail. Hiding out is exactly
what we need to be doing right now until the tactical advantage swings in our
Carlie could see a look of helplessness
washing over Eliza’s face and realized she needed to occupy her with something
that could contribute to the group’s wellbeing. “Right now, the best thing you
can do for us is to scour through the cabinets and supplies here and assemble
anything that can be of value to us, got it?”
Eliza nodded and unfolded her arms,
looking over at the professor, who had stepped forward. “I’ll give you a hand, Eliza,”
he said, and they both walked into the adjoining room.
Carlie began thrusting her weapons back
in their holsters and stuffing the remaining magazines in her vest. Then she
stood up and met Phillip, who was returning from the back room.
“Agent Simmons, are you red-faced
because of the heat or did I miss something?” he said.
“Being hardheaded can be a good thing,
especially for a woman, but right now, I just need Eliza to be a capable
follower,” she said, rolling her eyes. “How’s the area outside look?”
“It’s about one hundred meters to the
SUVs. There are a few of those infected things wandering around between us but
not like the numbers we saw earlier. There are several large cement flower
gardens interspersed along the walkway and a couple of park benches. If you can
bound between the flower gardens, you should have ample cover until the last
third, when it’ll have to be an all-out sprint to the vehicles.”
“Sounds like fun. I mean, who wouldn’t
want to run an urban obstacle course with dead cannibals pawing at your sides?”
Phillip emitted a half-smile, which put
a crease in his pasty cheeks. “You’ve gotten us this far and the army or somebody
should be here soon, right?”
Carlie watched his fingers nervously
flutter on the strap of his weapon and could see the terror in his eyes.
comes out here to grill me and try to toss my career in the hole, and now he’s
sidling up next to me. What a gimp
and I have to trust my back to this
guy. I just hope he remembers how to distinguish the good guys from the bad
guys in a firefight.
“Time to roll,” she said, moving over to
the tool rack in the maintenance closet and pulling down a garden shovel. “This
might be a better tactical choice than my firearms, so I don’t bring any
unwanted attention. At least until I can get to my pistol suppressor in the
They walked over to the side exit, which
was nestled along the rear of the building. Carlie gently opened the door an
inch and peered through the crack. Immediately before her was a small grove of
palm trees and low shrubs which skirted along the right side of the arboretum
for twenty feet. The air creeping in carried the pleasant fragrance of sweet
lilac flowers coupled with the repulsive odor of baked flesh from the bodies
littering the hot cement. Her mind struggled to focus on the lilacs but the
other smell stabbed through the warm night air, quickly removing any trace of
comfort that this was all a bad dream.
She squatted down and continued opening
the door while creeping out onto the walkway. Phillip stood in the doorway,
slightly off to the side to avoid silhouetting himself in the entrance, while
providing rear cover support.
Carlie looked over to the Suburbans in
the distance. Their hoods reflected in the faint moonlight. She panned over to
the cement gardens. Holding the spade in her hands, Carlie got into a hunched
position and turned back to nod at Phillip. Then she began creeping along the
cluster of manzanita bushes to her right, beyond which she could see numerous
contorted dead bodies strewn about the courtyard.