Zoey thought she'd just been watching too many zombie movies. All the news reports had seemed familiar to her, the development of events too surreal for her to even accept. Some sort of outbreak of a virus that no one knew the source of. Riots had started, gradually at first, and then suddenly whatever was building hit a crescendo. The virus ran rampant (some were saying it was airborne and so she started wearing a facemask, thank god her roommate was an art major and had that sort of crap laying around) in crowded areas, then in rural areas... and then it was suddenly everywhere, unavoidable, and the government had been unable to do anything.
There was so little information that Zoey had wondered if it was some sort of terrorist attack. Other countries had started to report outbreaks when the news just stopped. Then television stopped. There had been a lot of radio broadcasts for the first few days after that, but now they were few and far between. She kept the radio off. Noise was a bad idea.
Her dormitory had become a death trap. She'd thought they'd managed to stay relatively safe outside of the downtown area, but when her roommate had returned from the cafeteria covered in vomit, things had gone wrong.
"This kid puked on me," Amanda had said in a shaky voice, "It was soooo gross. Ugh, I'm covered. I'm going to take a shower while the water is still working."
She'd gone into the shower her roommate, and emerged some sort of screaming maniac, eyes dead white, face contorted in rage. Zoey had fended her off as best she'd been able, trying to reason with her friend, but Amanda had bitten her like some sort of wild animal.
Zoey had rolled her corpse off the balcony, only realizing that she'd beaten her roommate to death with a metal T-square as soon as the body made a sick thump on the pavement below.
She had barricaded herself in her dorm after that. Currently, she was huddled in the bathroom, staring at herself in the mirror. Waiting to change. It had been days (Minutes? Hours? A week?) and it hadn't happened. Had she even slept? Was that the first sign, loss of time? How long before she become some sort of 'roided up zombie? She'd cleaned the wound quickly of course, but even looking at it now, it didn't look all that bad. Sure she'd been bitten, but the wound hadn't turned black or anything else she might've expected. There weren't dark veins showing through her pale skin, no horrible pustules boiling up around the wound. She wasn't shivering and hungering for brains or human flesh.
The screams and howls of the infected filtered clearly through the thin dorm walls. Sometimes the screams seemed more terrified than enraged. There were other's that had closed themselves indoors early, like her, but apparently they weren't faring as well as she was.
Maybe they hadn't been able to bring themselves to kill their roommates.
She sat down in the bathtub, huddled up, and listened. There was some snarling outside, an occasional scuffle. Howls. Screams. An alarm went off and whipped the zombies into a frenzy, and she put her hands over her ears in an attempt to block out the awful howling. Were humans even capable of making that kind of noise!? How much was the virus changing them? Their howling clawed its way through her fingers and chewed at her spine, making her shake, threatening to make her whimper. She knew what making sounds did, though. It brought them. They were base, lower than animals now. Zoey wasn't even sure they even ate the people they killed. It was completely senseless. Unnatural.
It died down once they'd found it and smashed it, but she kept her hands over her ears, squeezing her eyes shut, almost wishing she would turn. How long would she last, barricaded inside her dorm? Eventually she'd... sneeze or cough or something and they'd come swarming. The walls were thin and the furniture barricading the door wouldn't hold forever. She was fucked, basically, and it was only a matter of time before it caught up with her. If the zombies didn't get her, she'd probably starve to death. All that they had in the dorm were some poptarts (blueberry, which she didn't even like) and a half empty bag of twizzlers. Living off of twizzlers probably wasn't helping her mental and physical state, and it made her mouth feel like it was full of fuzz.
Running the tap might make noise, however, and so she didn't even try to brush her teeth. Basic hygiene was nothing compared to keeping quiet.
She should have gone home for break. Her parents were probably fine – she had quite a few worried voice mails from them, but she'd turned off her cell, terrified it would ring or beep at the wrong time. She would check in with them later. Somewhat wildly she imagined her father hiring mercenaries to come extract her, but what reason did they have to think she was still alive?
Zoey didn't want to die alone in her dorm room surrounded by zombies. Somehow, she was immune, and that meant there had to be others. She couldn't be the only one, right?
With new resolve, she crept through the living area and into Amanda's room, searching through her art box until she found a big red permanent marker. Zoey very, very carefully pulled back the curtains hanging over the sliding door that led out onto a small balcony. None of them had climbed up, and she couldn't see any out in the parking lot for some reason. It was light out. They shambled around a lot less during the day time. She'd take it.
Working quickly, squinting in the sunlight, she wrote her room number, her name, and that she was still alive, trapped in her dorm. She had no idea if she'd written the letters large enough to be seen from the street, but it was better than nothing. Her nerves were raw by the time she finished – standing in a plate glass window had been a massive risk – and she quickly retreated to the bathroom again. She propped a chair up under the door and huddled down onto the pillows and blankets she'd set up in the tub.
Sleep would put things in sharper relief. If she woke up a zombie, she wouldn't really care. If she woke up still human, she'd find some way out of her dorm. After all, she hadn't drank, hadn't smoked pot, and definitely hadn't had sex. That meant she'd at least make it to the end of the movie unscathed. Right?
Zoey groaned and burrowed into her pillow. Was Amanda playing Gears 2 again? Why did she always turn the volume up so damn loud?
Amanda was dead.
Zombies couldn't fire guns.
She was up in an instant, mind fighting to come into sharp focus and she tripped on the rim of the tub, stumbling into the chair and knocking it aside with a noisy clatter. Zoey froze, heart beating wildly, but the gunfire proved to be more of a distraction to the infected than her clumsiness. There were people outside, shooting zombies. She needed to run out onto the balcony and wave at them before they left.
Oh god, they'd probably just shoot at her. And what if they weren't even good guys?
It was a ludicrous thought, but just because (real people weren't good guys and bad guys) it was a timely arrival didn't mean they were rescuers. Maybe they were sociopath's taking advantage of being able to murder people in droves. What if they tried to... to do things to her? She'd rather starve to death.
The gunfire died down and she surged into action, opening the bathroom door and hurrying over to her balcony. As she pulled the sliding door open (bang, clatter, oh god they'd never greased the track) she could hear voices. Actual voices, not moans or screams, and all her misgivings fled.
"HEY!" she shouted, stumbling into the railing and waving, eyes flicking around the lot desperately, "HEY, UP HERE!"
It was two men. Neither of them looked terribly friendly. One looked like he'd just come back from the set of Full Metal Jacket, and the other one was heavily tattooed, hair closely shorn. Both of them were looking up at her in obvious surprise.
"Check it out," the biker said to the older man, nudging him with an elbow.
Maybe the clattering of furniture hadn't alerted the zombies, but her screaming had, and she looked over her shoulder when she heard a loud bang. Her hastily positioned blockade shivered, and she turned back to the men down below.
"They're coming! I can't get out!" she shouted. Zoey wondered if she looked like a complete whackjob, eyes huge, knuckles white as she gripped the railing. She'd been quiet as a mouse this whole time. Why hadn't she just waved at them, damn it!? It was evening – she could have clicked a flashlight in their direction. Stupid, stupid, stupid...
The two men exchanged words, and the biker nodded. While the older man took point, running towards the building, the biker watched his back, walking backwards quickly.
"The stairwell is inside," she shouted, glancing behind her to check on the zombie's progress. Not much yet, "I can't get down."
"Yes you can," the older man said. His grey eyes were steely and unsympathetic, his voice gravely but calm.
"How!?" she asked, her voice taking a shrill pitch when she heard splintering, "Oh my god they're getting through the door already!"
"Climb down," he called up to her, "Zoey, right?"
"Oh my god who the fuck cares help me!" Zoey shrieked at him. She was panicking. Though she was aware of it, the awareness was hiding behind the panic, the fact that she was about to be swarmed by murderous zombies far outweighing her powers of reason just now.
"I'm Bill, Zoey," the old man said, "And these balconies are close enough together for you to climb down."
His complete calm struck a note with her. It made her angry. She was about to be torn apart and he was talking to her like nothing all that urgent was going on.
"I'm not a fucking gymnast, Bill!" she said, looking over her shoulder. There was a hand grabbing through a hole in the door, and she could see more attempting to get through, crushing in on each other, the sight and smell and sound of her whipping them into a frenzy. She could keep screaming at the two men down below, or she could at least try what he was suggesting. Either she climbed down, fell and broke her neck, or got eaten by zombies.
"Fuck fuck fuck," Zoey said hoarsely, climbing up onto the railing. Her entire body was shaking from the the slight exertion. She'd been living off of sugar snacks and now adrenaline was flooding her system, making her hyper aware of how far a three story drop looked, how quickly the zombies were tearing through her barricade. God, the sounds they made-
"You're doin' fine," Bill said, raising his pistols. Not at her, she noted, but in preparation. She'd spent too long swearing at them and they'd be swarming at her before she'd made it to the ground. Awesome. She wasn't the cute chick who'd make it to the end of the movie – she was the shrill, worthless damsel in distress that got a sufficiently gory death to satisfy the audience. That had to change. She'd start now, actually.
Zoey began to scale down her own balcony onto the one directly below her with a clenched jaw, trying not to think of zombies suddenly grabbing her and dragging her down or dragging her up.
"Shit, did you hear that?" she heard the biker mutter.
"Not now, Francis," Bill said sharply, not taking his eyes off of Zoey.
"Hunter," Francis (what the hell kind of biker name was that?) snapped. Zoey didn't know why he said the word with a twinge of fear, and she hoped she didn't find out.
"Your toes can just make it, Zoey," the old man coached, "Trust me, all right? We're all gonna get outta here alive. No zombies on the balcony under you."
Zoey resisted the urge to squeeze her eyes shut, swallowed, and dangled her legs. She squeaked when her foot bumped into another railing, and quickly planted both feet onto it.
"Careful," Bill said, "Careful. Take it easy. Don't rush."
She heard a loud crash and let go of her own balcony, and Zoey was positive it was pure luck that allowed her to grab onto the railing she was standing on before she fell. Bill inhaled sharply in alarm but didn't comment, and she let out a small laugh that probably sounded a little crazy. She could do this. She was going to live.
Zoey was dangling one foot towards to the first floor balcony when she heard the screeching and she froze, looking up into dead white eyes. Then it's head exploded, showering her with gore (Braaaiins!), and she let out a disgruntled noise. Fucking gross.
"Francis!" Bill barked.
"There's a hunter out there, man-"
"I'll look out for it, come here," Bill snarled, "Zoey, just let go. Francis will catch you. We need to go now."
Zoey looked down into the biker's face, who was looking at her somewhat incredulously, as though he doubted he'd be able to catch her. It wasn't encouraging, but the bullets whizzing past her and the zombie guts raining down on her would have to be encouragement enough.
"Now or never kid!" Francis said urgently, tucking his shotgun into the back of his vest, using it like a makeshift holster. He held out his heavily tattooed arms.
She looked upwards, into the faces of the howling zombies. They were starting to climb over after her. A few got jostled off by their eager fellows, hitting the pavement with meaty crunches, but not all of them were so clumsy. They were determined. Zoey counted to three in her head and let go, swallowing the urge to scream as she fell down. It wasn't a very long drop, but still...
"Gotcha," Francis grunted, stumbling back one step as she dropped into his arms, "All right, let's- shit!"
Something detached itself from the shadows and flung itself at both of them with a bloodthirsty scream. A shot rang out, stopping it in its tracks, and a body crumpled to the ground. Her only thought at that moment was that Francis needed a shower pretty bad. She'd much rather think about how bad the man smelled than whatever the fuck that screaming thing had been.
"Good shot old man," the biker smirked, looking down at Zoey, "You okay? Can you walk?"
"Can you run?" Bill asked. Some of the more nimble zombies were making their way down the building, swarming off of the balcony like malignant spiders.
"Yeah," she said. Francis set her on her feet and pulled his shotgun out, and she felt something metal pushed into her hand. Zoey looked down and blinked at the pistol Bill had placed in it.
"I've never shot a gun before," she said dumbly, stumbling once as Bill grabbed her arm and pulled her along.
"You'll figure it out," was all the old man said. He and Francis began to walk backwards slowly, firing into the zombies as they started to charge. There were a lot of them, but they were coming down to the lot in ones and twos, easy to pick off.
"Where're we goin'?" Francis asked between shots. Zoey shifted her eyes between the two of them, noting how their eyes seemed to be flicking everywhere at once. Bill was more methodical, perhaps checking places he suspected they might be ambushed from, while Francis just swept back and forth, taking in everything.
Neither of them was watching their backs, and so she decided she'd make herself useful, clutching the pistol rather uselessly as she walked in front of them. Zoey was pretty good at shooting in video games, but she wasn't deluded. It was probably a lot harder in reality.
"Is there anybody else in there, Zoey? Any more immunes?"
"No," she said quietly, frowning, "Immunes?"
"You been bitten or scratched?" Bill asked. She nodded, realized he wasn't looking at her, and instead made a small noise of acknowledgement, "And you aren't infected. So you're immune."
"Have you found a lot of survivors?" Zoey said. Both men were quiet for far too long, only gunshots breaking the silence.
"Just you," Francis grunted, "Reloadin'."
He paused and crouched, the action fluid and mechanical, and Bill covered him. They'd gotten this down to a science already, from what she could see.
"How did you guys meet up?" she asked.
"This big idiot got torn off his motorcycle right in front of me," Bill said, obviously relishing the retelling, "Didn't know they were chasing him because of the racket his bike was making."
"Yeah yeah," Francis growled. She was tempted to smile at their banter, but the whole zombie apocalypse thing kept it from actually reaching her lips. What had she just done, anyway? Lept off of her own balcony into the arms of a biker while some kooky vietnam vet covered him?
So in all of the Pittsburgh metro area, there were three of them still alive. Maybe that was an over dramatic way to think about it, but she'd expected a whole group to have shown up, not two men who'd lucked out and run into each other in the middle of a zombie infested city.
Maybe there were more people safe downtown, with sturdier buildings to fortify themselves in. And there had to be military bases holding out, right?
Assuming they were all immune. Judging by the three of them, that was a rather dim hope.
"Where are we going to go?" Zoey asked. They were around a building now and stopped, reloading and checking their ammunition. She noted that they positioned themselves on either side of her automatically and she felt a bit stupid. Her shrieky performance on the balcony hadn't really portrayed her as a useful person, had it?
"Out into the country," Bill said, pulling a cigarette out of a packet in his front pocket. He lit it and savored the first inhale, blowing the smoke out of his nose before he spoke again, "But we should resupply first. You know this area Zoey?"
Both men looked at her and she nodded – this would be a good chance to prove herself.
"There's a CVS up the street," she said, pointing in the direction she meant, "And I know there's a Walmart too, closer to the expressway."
She'd been in the CVS, and Walmart had turned out to be a good place to scrounge for horror flicks. The latter she'd only gotten to via bus or cab, but she'd done it enough that she could remember the way. Probably. If they didn't know the area, just how far had they traveled? God, she wanted to ask them, but they were both so focused on not getting their brains eaten (or beaten in, or whatever it was these zombies liked) that she wasn't sure how to bring up her questions without annoying them. They'd just saved her little ass from certain doom.
She realized she hadn't even thanked them, but as she opened her mouth too, Bill started up again.
"Walmart's probably FUBAR'd but we'll take a look anyway. CVS'll do for now," Bill said. Francis rolled a shoulder and started down the street and Zoey followed him, feeling a bit dwarfed between the two men. Francis was huge, and even though Bill was hunched, he was still taller than her. Both of them were slouching, actually, but Francis was tall enough that it didn't make much of a difference. She imitated their postures, feeling silly, but they had to be doing it for a reason, right? It was stealthy or something.
"How long have you guys been-"
"Cut the chatter," Bill said sharply, keeping his voice low, "And keep your ears open."
Zoey glanced behind her at the older man and frowned. Cut the chatter? She'd been holed up by herself for god knew how many days and he wanted her to shut up? She only had a billion questions to ask both of them.
Forced into silence, she tried to decide which characters Francis and Bill were. Were either of them the guy who actually wasn't immune and would turn on them the second things went wrong? Or maybe one of them was the guy who'd turn on them to save their own skin. Either of them could be that one, but it was impossible to tell – she'd only just met them.
For now, for her own mental health, she'd assume they were all main characters. Hopefully tense ambush music wasn't playing-
"Oof!" she squeaked, walking straight into the biker. He shot her a look over his shoulder, having come to a stop. He'd even raised his hand to signal he was stopping, but she'd been too absorbed in her movie head game. Goddammit, she needed to get her shit together before they ditched her.
"Over there," Francis said quietly, crouching down. Zoey followed suit, and so did Bill, the latter crushing his cigarette out on the pavement.
"How many?" Bill asked, squinting at the front of the CVS. The front window's were cracked and the door looked like it had been battered down.
"Like five in front," Francis said after a pause, "Prolly more inside. Let's get em'."
"Not so fast, hot shot," the older man said, creeping forward slightly. Zoey thought he was awfully spry for an old man. She almost spared a moment to wonder about her grandparents, but it seemed like a poor time to worry about that sort of thing. Swallowing hard, she squeezed her hands around the pistol for comfort, eying the shambling infected warily.
"What?" the biker hissed, "We can take em'."
"We should work our way around back," Bill said, "Make sure there aren't any surprises."
Francis grunted and nodded, glancing at Zoey and then at Bill. She could almost hear him say 'you wait here' but Bill shook his head and Francis scowled, saying nothing instead. Zoey had heard all the clichéd jokes about men being able to communicate through grunts, but with looks?
"All right let's move," Francis said, getting to his feet, still crouched, prowling for the alley. Zoey followed quickly and Bill brought up the rear again. Her eyes were fixed on the zombies, holding her breath, but they seemed more preoccupied with shambling than ripping them to pieces just now. Why was that? They looked almost dejected in a way, but she definitely wasn't about to start sympathizing with the undead.
Once they were in the alley she heard a soft click and a flashlight came on, illuminating a path in front of them. Francis paused a moment and passed it back to Zoey, and she did her best to hold it steady. Her success was minimal – she was shaking.
"One shot and they'll all come runnin'," Bill warned quietly. Francis snorted in reply and stood, pressing his back to the wall. He nodded at Zoey and flicked his eyes at the back alley.
"Francis," Bill hissed. His tone was clearly one of disapproval.
"No, I can do it," Zoey insisted in a hushed voice. She didn't bother trying to hide that she was afraid - they were surrounded by zombies and Zoey wasn't going to pretend that it wasn't fucking with her. Taking a deep breath, she swung a flashlight into the alley, unable to help a small squeak of anticipatory alarm as she confronted... and empty alley.
"It's clear," she said, exhaling a shivery breath. The exhilaration washed over her and she realized she was half smiling after a moment. Francis winked and nudged her as he walked past, the action chummy, but it still made her stumble a little.
"Jackass," Bill muttered, though he seemed to be talking to himself. He was staring down the way they'd come, making sure nothing was following them, and Francis checked the back door of the CVS. He grabbed the handle and turned it a few times.
"Locked," he said, "Satisfied?"
"Break it down," the older man said, "We're gonna have to shoot these goddamn zombies either way, might as well be here where we can funnel them."
"Better hope Walmart's got ammo with all this shootin'," Francis said, bracing himself a moment before hurling his shoulder at the locked door with a grunt. The loud thump it made caused Zoey to wince and she raised her gun, willing her hand to stop shaking. She'd beaten one to death – shooting one would be easier, right?
Francis rubbed his shoulder for a second before he charged the door again, flying right through it with a yelp of alarm. Apparently the door hadn't been as sturdy as he'd thought.
"Oh!" Zoey gasped, automatically going to check if he was all right. She swung the flashlight around at him and found Francis brushing bits of door off of himself and muttering. Zoey couldn't help but let out a small laugh. Kicking it down might have been more prudent – Francis wasn't the brightest crayon in the box, was he?
Then she heard a hiss and snapped her flashlight up. The light reflected off many dead white eyes, all of them fixed on either her or Francis. Zoey froze as they started to charge, snarling inarticulately, and she could hear Bill's pistol firing just outside in the alley. All the racket had gotten their attention.
"Keep that light on em!" Francis bellowed, bashing one of the closer ones away from him with the butt of his shotgun before firing on it, "Don't just stand there, princess, shoot the fuckin' things!"
Zoey took aim, hesitated, and pulled the trigger. The gun jumped in her hand, and she nearly dropped both the flashlight and the gun, but miraculously she held on, eyes wide as she watched one of the zombies slump over. She'd pegged it right between the eyes. Pure luck, of course, but she felt proud of herself anyway. Maybe video games and horror movies hadn't been a worthless waste of time.
"Nice!" the biker laughed. He'd taken out the other five while she stood there in a daze, a slight sneer on his face. He was more annoyed by the zombies than afraid, apparently. Francis glanced over at her, noting her expression, and rested the shotgun on his shoulder, "Relax. They ain't human no more. Hey, Bill!"
Bill backed into the stock room with them, his expression still a grim mask. Zoey suspected that he had looked like that even before everything had gone straight to hell.
"Clear outside," Bill said, "How many in here?"
"Not a whole lot," Francis said, "Told yah."
"We're lucky more didn't come," the old man scowled, "I'll check the coolers back here. Francis, Zoey, go out front and see if there's anything left."
"Roger," Francis said. He opened the door to the actual store, glanced it over once, and motioned for Zoey to follow him, "All clear, honey."
"Zoey," she corrected quietly. For a bit there she'd been tempted to label him 'tough biker with a heart of gold' but now she was leaning towards 'sleazy biker guy' instead. Princess? Honey? Was he for real?
Francis didn't respond and moved into the store, feeling around on a wall next to him. There was a loud click and the lights blinked on, though one had been somehow torn off its fastening, flickering spastically near the front of the store.
"Power's still on," Zoey said quietly, more to herself than the biker. He didn't respond again and moved into the aisles, shrugging off a pack that looked mostly empty. She wandered away from him into another aisle, just taking things in now that it was quiet. Pillaging CVS for supplies just to travel to Walmart, huh? It wasabout ten minutes by bus if the traffic was light. Maybe a half hour walk.
She hoped the Walmart wasn't packed with redneck zombies. Picking up a backpack would make her feel a bit more useful, and she was determined to prove herself to both men. It had been a rough start, but she didn't want to be that chick, the one she was always annoyed with when she watched movies. The one that she rooted for the monsters to kill. She wanted to live to the end credits because she was a badass, not because she had boobs and all the male characters threw themselves in harm's way for her.
Zoey glanced at the shelves near her and tilted her head, pursing her lips, wondering if she ought to grab some more personal supplies. They never really covered this in zombie movies. Maybe the stress would keep her from needing them...?
Francis looked up when she walked into the aisle he was in, his eyes moving to the cheerful pink package in her hand, and he grimaced.
"Sorry," she said, flushing at his reaction, somewhat irritated by it. Like she could help it! He opened the bag with a disgruntled snort and she tossed in the frilly box. It looked out of place amongst the cans and boxes, and she looked at the other shelves instead, reaching out and grabbing a tub of peanut butter as well. God real food sounded great right about now. She was running on fumes.
Francis stood, keeping the bag open, and she could feel his eyes on her. She decided she didn't much care for being alone with someone double her size. He was covered in tattoo's, he shaved his head, and he smelled like... like old spice, cigarette smoke, motor oil, and something rank. Zombie guts, maybe? Then again, maybe she was the one who smelled like zombie guts.
She turned to place the peanut butter into the backpack, not looking at him. Where was Bill? The old man hadn't made a sound and she wasn't sure if that was a good or bad thing.
As though summoned by her thought, he stepped into view at the end of the aisle, shouldering a now laden pack.
"Got lots of water," Bill said, "And some of that gatorade crap."
"Any beer?" Francis asked hopefully, "Sometimes these places sell tallboys."
"You've gotta be shitting me, Francis," the old man growled.
"You can't tell me you couldn't go for a drink!" Francis protested, and Bill let out a weary sigh, taking his beret off a moment to run a hand through his thinning white hair.
"If I start drinkin' now I ain't gonna stop," Bill said, "Let's keep movin'. That light's makin' me nervous."
Francis grunted and grabbed a loaf of bread, sitting it on top of everything else before zipping the pack up. He shouldered it and made a shooing motion at Zoey, and she scurried out in front of him to follow close behind Bill.
"Should we travel during the day?" Zoey whispered, "They seem pretty spaced out during the day."
"That's the best time to sleep," Bill said curtly, "Cut the chatter now. We can play twenty questions when we're safe."
Zoey frowned but didn't argue. His harsh words didn't seem personal, it was just how he was. Maybe. Maybe he just didn't like her. She honestly couldn't blame him. Having a spoiled college (dropout) girl following him around probably hadn't been high on his list of priorities.
They wound their way through the streets at a pace that seemed painfully slow. All the creeping, crouching, and just waiting was making her muscles burn. Exhaustion was settling in fast, and the fact that she felt ravenous didn't do much to improve her situation.
She'd tough it out, though. Somehow. She had too.
"Look, there," Bill whispered, pointing across the street. Someone had spray painted a white house with a white cross inside on a building, and an arrow pointing into the alleyway. The sign overhead announced the building as a self storage facility. It didn't get much safer than a heavy steel door, right?
"What the fuck is that supposed ta mean?" Francis said, crouching in close behind both of them.
"We should check it out," the veteran insisted, "Could be another survivor."
Crossing the street wasn't a slow creep. It was wide open and so they ran, and she nearly stumbled and fell, her legs rubber. Bill caught her arm and kept her steady.
"Just a little farther," he assured her quietly, "You're doin' great, kid."
She offered him a thin smile. Zoey hadn't considered herself a kid for awhile, but compared to these two, she wondered just how many years she was their junior. Maybe twenty in Francis' case, though being a ruffian might've aged him prematurely. His face was angular and square, his scruffy goatee not doing much to make him look young. At least forty or fifty in Bill's case, but he was doing better than she was, wasn't he?
"Look," Bill said, pointing down at the end of the alley. One of the doors had a floodlight pointed at it, the extension cord running under the heavy door, and the door itself had been painted a vibrant fire engine red.
"Gotta be somebody in there," Francis agreed. There was an eagerness in his voice, and she realized that she wasn't the only one who was kind of bummed out about the whole zombie thing. They were all alone in a big city. No wonder they'd come to investigate her sign.
All three of them moved forward and Bill gently rapped on the steel door, not wanting to make a racket.
"Hey," he said, speaking in a normal voice. After all their whispering it sounded like he was shouting and Zoey winced involuntarily. Francis automatically turned to face the way they'd come, shotgun ready.
There was nothing and Bill grasped the handle, turning it and pushing inwards. The handle rattled, the sound echoing out, and he swore.
"Open up goddammit," he snarled, giving in to frustration and kicking it.
"Hello!?" a voice on the other side called out hesitantly. Whoever was inside must've thought they were hearing things.
"There are three of us out here. Immune," Bill said, quickly recovering, "We're dead tired. Can you let us in?"
"Yeah! Yeah, just... hold on a second, I really wedged this bar tight-"
"What's that noise? Oh my god is that them?" Zoey asked.
Zoey looked up when she heard a terrible howl. It sounded like a whole stadium's worth of monsters screaming into the night, followed swiftly by feet pounding pavement. Bill's fit had somehow stirred them up. Why now!? The gunfire didn't phase them but shouting did?
"Hurry," Bill urged.
"Party time," Francis said with relish, crouching down to steady his aim.
They burst into the alley suddenly, screeching and reaching for the three of them. It wasn't hunger for brains or flesh that was driving them – they looked enraged, just like Amanda had. And dear god they were running so fast!
"Hurry!" Bill repeated, "We're getting' swarmed!"
"I'm tryin'!" the man on the other side said urgently, "It's stuck! It's stuck!"
Francis began to fire his shotgun into the throng, the narrow alley working to his advantage for the moment. Bill fired his handgun as well, and Zoey followed suit, yelling back at them without realizing it.
"Shit!" Francis announced. The zombies were right on top of them – on top of him since he was right in front – and he'd gone through all his shells. Reloading was probably difficult with a zombie horde on top of him. He started to swing at them with the gun instead and Zoey continued to squeeze the trigger of her pistol even after she'd burned through the entire clip.
A hand grabbed her and shoved her inside and she stumbled backwards with a cry of alarm.
"You okay?" the new man asked, catching her shoulders and keeping her from falling over. He was bald, properly shaved instead of just buzzed, and he looked appropriately frazzled. Bill staggered inside after her and the man stood to check on him next. He had handgun as well, she noticed. God Bless America.
"Get off me you fuckin' vampires!" Francis snarled outside. There was a wet crunch as he caved in one of their skulls and she shakily got to her feet. The biker stumbled back while Bill and the new guy dragged the heavy door shut. Francis sat down hard on his ass, having lost his balance backpedaling, and the other two rammed the bar back into place. The pounding echoed inside of the room for what seemed like forever and no one spoke, staring at it.
The door held. Eventually, the zombies gave up, though the occasional scratch and thump still rang out from the more determined ones.
All three of them turned to look at the resident of the safe house and he let out a nervous laugh.
"I'm Louis," he introduced, "This uh... I didn't make this place. I just sort of found it this way. Check it out."
He gestured around the storage unit. Someone had set it up like a waiting room. There were a few couches laid out, some rattier than others. Some milk crates propped up a radio, and they'd even bashed a hole through the concrete to a bathroom that must've been a part of the rental office. The door to the main office itself was boarded up and reinforced heavily.
One of the walls had a large corkboard and that secured Zoey's attention. It was plastered with notices, and those that couldn't fit on the board had been taped to the wall. Some people had even scribbled messages on the wall with permanent marker.
It was survivor's leaving notes for family members and friends. Fliers with pictures on them, asking other's too look out for them or for specific people. Warnings from the CDC, CEDA, and the government were plastered up as well, covered in rude and angry graffiti.
There were only four of them in the safe house now, though. What had happened to all the people who'd been in here before them?
Maybe they'd gone to Walmart.
The three men were talking quietly but she ignored them, instead reading all the notices and notes and posters. The virus was airborne according to some, but others claimed the theory was bullshit. Zoey was inclined to agree. These weren't your shambling, Night of the Living Dead zombies. They were more along the lines of 28 Days Later. Only with puke.
The amount of people separated from their families was the worst part and she hugged herself, feeling suddenly small and bedraggled. Would she see her family again? Would she even make it through the rest of the week alive?
Zoey wasn't even sure how many days she'd really been holed up in her dorm room. She swallowed hard and hugged herself harder, fingers curling into her hoodie and squeezing. Everything was catching up to her, the reality of the situation smashing into her head like a cinder block.
The only people she knew that were alive were a crotchety vietnam vet, a scummy biker, and a smartly dressed businessman. Or, at least, he had been once. He'd ditched his suitcoat and loosened his tie, but he still had rather expensive looking shoes on and a rolex - she recognized that sort of thing because her father dressed in a similar fashion.
She looked over at them and realized all three were looking at her. It was Bill who spoke up, approaching her with a blanket.
"Why don't you go lie down, Zoey," he suggested, handing the blanket to her. She accepted it numbly and nodded, shuffling over to one of the couches and sitting down, hugging the blanket tightly to her chest.
"Where did you say you found her?" Louis asked quietly, "She looks pretty young."
"The dorms near the University," Bill replied, "It was a goddamn shitmess, all those kids shambling around."
She didn't care that they were talking about her. They probably thought she was too absorbed in herself to notice, but the fact was she just didn't care. Everything was fucked up. Completely fucked up. She'd been on the phone with her father a few weeks ago. He'd been yelling at her about her grades, about how she'd better shape up, about how disappointed he was...
"She's gonna wig out," Francis observed. His quiet voice wasn't terribly quiet even when he tried, and the other two men glared at him.
"She's been through a lot," Bill said, "Leave her be, Francis. She's tougher than she looks."
Francis snorted but was inclined to comply with Bill's orders, flopping down onto a couch with a groan. He ran a hand over his face and scratched his chin.
"I killed my roomate," Zoey said suddenly. She'd been thinking about it the entire time in the back of her mind. How the black 'T' end had sank into Amanda's temple easily, like her skull had turned to mush. Her brains had oozed out and she'd dropped like a sack of potatoes, body twitching, face contorting in her death throes.
There was silence for a few minutes. She had their attention again.
"Did she turn?" Louis asked warily.
"She ran at me, screaming like... like I don't even know how to describe it," Zoey said, crushing the folded blanket to her chest. Her eyes clouded but she refused to cry. Not in front of three grown men. She'd made enough of an ass of herself, and bawling would only make it worse.
"It ain't pretty when your own come at yah," Francis agreed quietly, unsettled. There was a margin of respect in his eyes now, and it helped her keep her composure.
"You did what you had too," Bill said.
"I rolled her body off the balcony," she said, gulping, "That sound was awful too, when she hit the pavement. How could I have done that?"
"You're a survivor," the veteran said, "You'll do worse before we see this through. Toughen up, kid."
"Man, you give her a break," Louis said quietly, "She's gotta get it outta her system sometime."
"Is that what you want to do, Zoey? To get it out of your system?" Bill said. His voice was harsh, demanding, and she glared at him blearily. The smirk that pulled at his lips was exceptionally dry, "I didn't think so. You're made of sterner stuff. Get some sleep. We've got a long walk tomorrow."