Authors: T. W. Brown
Additionally, the president is expected to speak at seven Pacific Time, approximately eighteen minutes from now. Martial law is expected to be declared on a national level—”
I turned off the radio. Teresa started to protest, but I cut her off. “This alters everything.”
“So we can go to one of those FEMA thingies.”
“They will question what we are carrying in the back of this truck and how we obtained it.”
“So we ditch the truck nearby and run for it!”
“I’ll set you close to one, but I’m not changing my plans.”
“Because of those stupid movies?” Teresa asked.
I thought it over. Was I being just a bit paranoid? I mean, our government has dropped the ball at times. But it has come through at others. Plus, I had Thalia to think of. She was sitting quietly, and I’m not sure she really understood what was being said. Bottom line, she trusts me to do what was right.
“…and as day eleven comes to an end on the East Coast, we here at
World Wide News
want to express our sympathy to the friends and family of President Bransen.
“Washington has issued a statement that, due to the growing threat of large groups of what many are now commonly referring to as
, no effort can be made to salvage the crash site of Air Force One. They did confirm that recordings indicate an unnamed member of Secret Service turned in flight. Before he could be subdued, the president was reportedly bitten by that agent on his left arm. Gunfire was heard during the last transmission. The location of the crash is being withheld for security reasons…”
New London, CT
—Madeline Bosley stared out the huge picture window. From the third floor of the hospital, she could see most of the landscape between the hospital grounds and the ocean. She used to love the view. This time of year—as spring brought life back to all the trees and the sky began to empty itself of the perpetual gray that seemed to last from November to March—was her favorite.
Or at least it used to be.
A few of those
wandered in the open parking lot…on the roads…along the beach. The group out front against the windows and entry doors of the lobby continued to grow in numbers that merely stood, shuffling back and forth. The occasional thud of one of them striking or just bumping into the glass could be heard. It always startled her. Even though nobody had been downstairs in three days, those things waited.
A hand touched her shoulder, making her jump and emit that frail sounding squeak. She hated sounding like some damsel in distress. The way she saw it, she was holding up better than most of the guys.
“Mickey is all but gone.” Joe Bryant, or more officially, Commander Joe Bryant, USN, stood with his usual cup of coffee, his hand still resting lightly on her arm. Not in a familiar way, but rather…fatherly. “I think he wants to say goodbye to you and Reynolds.”
Rick Reynolds was a Naval hospital corpsman the same as she. Madeline, Rick, and Mitchell ‘Mickey’ Mousselman arrived at New London on the same flight. The three had become instant friends.
Mickey had been bitten yesterday by one of those things that use to be Rusty—a well-known and popular janitor here at the hospital—while working on a floor clearing detail. They had been pretty sure the building was empty.
They’d missed one.
“Thank you, sir. Is Rick already there? I mean, does he…”
“He never left the room.”
“It wasn’t his fault,” Madeline insisted.
“Nobody will ever be able to convince him. He’ll probably hold onto that blame, or some part of it, his entire life.”
Rick had been on the detail the day before. His group had signed off on the sixth floor, D-Hall, the same hall Mickey’d been attacked in. Three days later, Mickey was going to die, and Rick was forcing himself to sit through every minute.
Madeline followed Commander Bryant. They reached the room, but the smell greeted them well before they entered. It wasn’t as strong on the dying as those who were actually dead, but it was close.
As expected, there was one armed guard outside as well as one within. Sitting next to the bed, Rick didn’t even look up to acknowledge the newly arrived visitors. Madeline went to the side of the bed opposite him and took Mickey’s cool hand in hers. Odd how the heat from his fever rolled off the body in waves, but the hands were already cold. It was as if the extrem-ities died first.
Mickey opened his bloodshot eyes. The blackness stood out against the white. It reminded Madeline of dark, spidery tendrilled roots from a weed fresh out of very rich soil.
“Maddy.” His smell made her want to gag, but she fought her rising gorge and smiled. “Do I look as bad as I feel?”
“Yeah, but not as bad as you smell.”
Mickey laughed, breaking down into a wheezing cough. Dark blood trickled from his mouth. A light spray of it flecked the respirator mask. His hand tightened on hers, whether in pain or recognition, she couldn’t tell.
“Take care of Rick for me.”
“I’m right here.” Anguish filled Rick’s voice, and he looked up for the first time. “Don’t talk like I’m not…or like I’m some invalid that needs tending.”
“Then knock off the guilt and self-loathing crap!” Mickey turned and locked eyes with his grief-stricken friend. “What’s done is done. You guys have to watch out. Never make the same mistake twice. For the last twenty-four hours it has been tough to tell which of us is the one dying.”
“Nothing,” Mickey interrupted. “That thing coulda wandered up or down from any floor and gotten caught in that closet. Whatever the hell is going on is just getting worse. You need to let go and move forward.”
Rick tried to talk, but a soft cry was all he could manage. Madeline came around and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. Together, they stood vigil over Mickey’s death. When he sat up, Rick was the one to put him back down.
Pressing the gun to the bluish-pale forehead, he pulled the trigger. Like all the others before, the body was disposed of in an incinerator located in the basement. Outside, more of the walking dead continued to converge on the hospital. Madeline estimated their numbers to be over two thousand.
Juan Hoya stood on the hood of his car. Resting the stock of the 30.06 firmly against his shoulder, he closed his left eye and peered through the scope. The head that filled his view was in full profile. One squeeze, and a bullet would explode the temple of this guy’s head.
He took a deep breath, and his finger began to tighten on the trigger. A tremor began in his left arm. With a gust of air he exhaled. “I ain’t cool with this.”
“Well ya better get cool with this,” Tracy Miller snapped.
With a flick of his head, Tracy tossed his long, straight, blonde hair back out from where it had blown into his face. Juan glanced over to see those dull blue eyes glaring at him. He gave a once over to the skinny, six-foot frame and considered what a well placed jab with the butt of a rifle would do to it. Tracy must’ve seen something in Juan’s eyes, because his expression changed. Juan took pleasure in seeing that look.
“Travis is waiting for your shot to signal the charge, man,” Tracy whined.
Juan had met up with Tracy Miller, Travis Reynolds, and Dennis Thompkins three days after all the crazy shit had kicked off. They had all been looting the same grocery store. With everything so intense, it made sense to join up. Safety in numbers.
Juan regretted his choice two days later. As was the case every evening, they had looked for a dark house to hole up in for the night and plan the next day’s raids.
The house hadn’t been empty.
Tracy and Dennis had roughed up that old couple pretty bad. All night, Juan could hear the soft whimpers of that old lady. The next day when they left, Travis made it clear that the old folks would remain tied up, “Just in case!”
The cops—the few remaining—were barely enforcing martial law. There was no way they’d respond to some call about a home invasion. What was the sense in leaving those two tied up to experience a slow death? Juan snuck back that afternoon when he was supposed to be out scouting for a store that hadn’t been too gutted and cut them loose.
A few days ago, Travis came up with what he called his master plan: The Clackamas Jail. They would see if it was still manned. There might be a bunch of guys in there that would join up. They would be like an army. One big, bad-ass, convict army.
“Couple of my bro’s are in County right now,” Travis had announced. “Good dudes. We bust them out and we could do whatever the fuck we want…when we want!”
For the past several hours, they’d been scouting the jail. Nobody alive had come or gone. With binoculars, they could see some occasional movement inside. The cops, at least those who hadn’t vanished one way or another when all this shit broke, were trying to run the jail like things might get back to normal. Juan had news for ‘em. He’d seen some real crazy things in the past week-and-a-half.
As of this morning, news reports were saying that this was like some historical thing called the Black Plague, but completely global. He didn’t know just what that meant, but he knew it was bad. Some doctor-guy on one show estimated that the ‘Blue Death’ eclipsed AIDS on the third day! He might not have finished eighth grade, but Juan knew how serious this was, and he had a good idea as to how much worse it would get.
“C’mon, take the shot, man.” Tracy elbowed Juan in the ribs.
Juan turned his head and stared into the watery, bloodshot eyes of Tracy Miller. “You lay hands on me ever again, and I will beat you down and feed you to one of them
You feelin’ me?” At over two hundred and sixty pounds, Juan looked almost twice the size of the meth freak at his side.
The ghostly, skinny, greasy man turned even paler if that were possible. He raised his hands and eased back a few inches. The hood of the car protested with a metallic
“No problem, man.” Tracy slowly extended his arms and inched back a bit more.
Juan returned his attention to the building across the way. He sighted down the scope to get a better look at his target. A man inside the jail was moving a metal framed couch with ugly, orange, vinyl cushions up to the large, tinted picture window, that currently, only a few of the
had pushed up against.
Two men wearing dark-blue jumpsuits came into view. Juan had spent a few nights in this particular county jail. He knew the color code. Normal inmates wore blue, dangerous and violent wore the black-and-white stripes like in the old movies, and the crazy ones wore a reddish-pink. The two inmates were carrying another metal frame. This looked like a bunk bed, but without a mattress.
Using his scope, Juan took a better look at the front desk and lobby area. It was a jumble of metal framed beds, chairs, desks, and couches. Whoever was in charge had done some thinking. The clutter would be a challenge for a normal person to crawl through. These
were not very agile. They would become trapped in the maze of metal, and that would make it easy for somebody to kill one with minimal danger.
“Tight,” Juan breathed as he re-directed his scope. “Tight like a tigah.”
The shot rang out. It sounded so much louder in the relative quiet that had fallen upon the world. The cop, who moments ago had been directing everything, seemed to freeze in place. His hands came up as if he would grab his head, but, before they completed the action, the man fell back.
There was a flurry of activity, like ants angry at whatever force had just kicked apart their hill. The two guys in blue stood rooted in place for a few heartbeats as three other officers rushed to their downed comrade. Slamming another jacketed round into the chamber with the bolt-action, Juan took aim on a second cop and fired.
Another body fell.
The two inmates finally reacted, dropping the bunk. One of them dove into the back of one of the remaining cops…the other ran through a door and out of sight.
began to shamble Juan’s way. The sound of a roaring engine caused everything, living and dead, to pause and look for the source of the noise. A big, red truck burst from some hedges kitty-corner to the jail from where Juan and Tracy were posted.
“Here comes Travis!” Tracy shouted with a mixture of relief and simpering reverence.
Juan glanced sideways at the frail excuse for a man at his side and considered, not for the first time, smashing his head in with the butt of the rifle he held. After a deep breath, the feeling passed. Besides, there was safety in numbers. He didn’t like the thought of having to try and make it all by himself. Those damn things never slept. They moved in packs that just grew like those snowballs in the cartoons rolling down a hill. Small at first, but in time...
An explosion, followed by the chatter of automatic weapon’s fire, jerked him back to the situation at hand. Travis had driven up to the entry doors of the jail and lobbed a homemade bomb that one of the guys had put together into the cluster of those things that stood pawing at the door. The explosion cleared away a nice section for the truck to back up into.
Dennis Thompkins, Travis, Boris Johnston, and Tony Adams—the guy who made the explosives—waded through the carnage of their own creation and began single-shot dropping the few
that remained standing, as well as finishing off the few on the ground that had been blown up, but were still managing to move.
Tony ran a chain through the handles of the jail’s lobby doors and clapped the other end to the truck. Travis and the rest continued to pick off everything in the area that was still moving. Tony jumped back in the driver’s seat and stomped on the gas. The truck rocketed forward, tearing the doors out of their hinges.