Chapter 61: The Tunnel: Part I
The night was filled with a horrifying cacophony of blood-curdling screams. The shouts of the group were intermingled with scattered gunshots, and the screams of the Witch, who ran straight at Zoey with her blood-stained claws spread wide. The speed at which she bore down on her prey was incredibly frightening.
Zoey panicked, and raised her pistol and fired several shots into the banshee, only for it to have little to no effect. The muzzle-flashes lit her up, showing her unnaturally-thin figure, vicious claws, and her hideous face, contorted in savage rage.
"Reload quick, Zoey!" Bill shouted.
As she slammed a new clip into the breach, he stepped up next to her and they both opened fire at the same time, spraying the Witch with an entire clip each. She snarled and put up her gnarled, clawed hands for protection, but if the bullets were hurting her, she did not show it.
With the giant Tank, Bill could understand bullets being only an annoyance to it, but this… was something else. This was just insane.
"Get moving!" he shouted, using the temporary distraction to pull Zoey with him after Louis and Francis.
They barrelled off the path and ran headlong into the trees, trying to put as much distance between them and the Witch as possible. Her guttural screams echoed in the darkness, and whenever Zoey glanced back, she spied fleeting glimpses of the shadow through the trees in relentless pursuit.
She was vaguely aware of gunshots up ahead as Louis and Francis took down several Common Infected who had been attracted to all the noise.
"This is all kinds of fucked up!" the burly man shouted.
"Move!" Bill yelled. "The Witch is still after us!"
A shriek behind them punctuated his point, followed by the deafening staccato of Louis' M-16 assault rifle as he fired a hail of bullets back at her.
"Damn!" he yelled, turning to run. "Didn't even slow her down!"
Even Louis' assault rifle seemed to have no effect.
The survivors ran desperately through the trees, not even bothering to stop and shoot anymore. The screams of their pursuer echoing all around them was motivation enough for them to keep on running for their lives, without looking back. The trees abruptly thinned out, giving way to the dark, cloudy sky, and they found themselves standing on the edge of an embankment above some structures below.
"We can take cover down there!" Louis shouted, turning back to see Bill had stopped, much to his surprise. "What the hell are you doing, man?"
"We ain't gonna be safe in there," he replied, raising his pistol to aim it into the trees they had just emerged from. "You saw how quickly the other Witch tore through that metal door back in Fairfield."
"Yeah, but maybe we can hide – "
"We startled her, and now she's pissed. She ain't gonna rest until she tears us all apart. We gotta take her down here and now, where there's nowhere for her to hide."
Rather than wasting time arguing, everyone quickly formed a defensive line and pointed their weapons back into the trees, ready to open fire on the wraith as soon as she emerged. No one bothered to hide the fact that they were scared out of their wits. The pure, primal rage and savageness was enough to give pause to even the most hardened person.
It was just… unnatural.
However, after several nerve-wracking minutes, nothing emerged from the trees after them. It was only then that they realised that the screams echoing all around them had stopped as well. In fact, they had stopped sometime ago.
What the hell? Zoey shakily asked herself, her grip tightening on her pistol.
"Where is she?" Francis said softly.
They maintained their position, keeping a careful watch on all sides. However, the ambient sounds of the woods were all to be heard.
The Witch did not appear.
"Alright, now this is just freaky," Louis muttered. He turned his gaze from side-to-side, looking for any signs of her. But there was nothing to be seen apart from the dark trees. "What should we do?"
Bill took a moment of deliberation. He did not like this, but what could they do? They could hardly go searching for her in the dark. "Let's get away from here at least."
The group slowly turned, casting cautious glances over their shoulders, absolutely not convinced that the Witch had lost interest in them just like that.
"Look! Down there!" Louis whispered excitedly, pointing down to the bottom of the high wall. "It's a train-yard. We've found the train tracks!"
Sure enough, at the bottom of the fenced drop-off was a train depot – a large structure constructed of concrete and corrugated iron, with a series of train tracks next to it that seemed to head east into a dark tunnel.
"How do we get down to the tracks?" Francis asked. "It's too far a drop."
"Let's find an entrance to the depot," Bill said. "There's gotta be a way down inside."
The four survivors made their way along the wall and eventually came to the side of the depot building, where they found a door. Bill shot out the lock and quietly gestured everyone inside.
Zoey nervously shot a glance over her shoulder. Though she could see nothing but the dark trees stretching on into the distance, she could not shake the feeling that she was being watched by eyes of burning coals.
"Come on Zoey," Bill murmured urgently.
She followed suit, and the door was closed behind them, shutting them in darkness. A sweep of their flashlights revealed that they were standing in a tight concrete stairwell headed down. At the bottom of the steps, they found themselves in a storage room, cluttered with junk, debris and bodies. Francis noted sourly that many of them were wearing army fatigues.
For once, he decided to keep his mouth shut, and walked over to one of windows that lined the far wall of the room. From his vantage point, he could see that they looked out over a darkened warehouse.
"Don't lean out, you idiot!" Bill berated him, as the biker stepped up to one of the shattered windows to peer down at the ground floor, hidden mostly in shadows.
"Wonder if there's anythin' down there that we can use," he said, more to himself than anyone else.
"Why would we pick up more crap when we just left baggage behind not so long ago? We're travellin' light from here on out."
"And what happens if we get to the farm and find that those jerk-offs – " He gestured down at the bodies of the army personnel on the floor, " – have already left?"
"We've been through the other options," Bill stated matter-of-factly. "This is the one we picked, and so we commit all-in. No half-gestures, or we're never gonna make it."
Zoey sensed Francis was bristling up for an ever-disagreeable retort, and could not deal with yet another argument breaking out. She climbed through the nearest window onto a steel catwalk above the warehouse.
"Across here," she called softly. "I can see a way down to the ground floor."
As the survivors made their way quickly over the walkway, Zoey peered down at the ground floor and spied some corpses slumped behind some train cars. That could not be a good sign. Were there large groups of Infected all the way out here?
The group moved down a heavy sloped I-frame beam leading off the catwalk and down onto the cement floor of the large darkened room.
Zoey felt a twinge down her spine and whirled, peering into the darkness. Her flashlight revealed nothing but rows of shelves, forklifts and other machinery, but she had a bad feeling. The whole area was quite an open space.
Louis apparently shared her concern. "Let's get to the tracks quickly. This place gives me the creeps."
On the far wall, they found a tiny storage room off the main warehouse, through which they located the door leading out of the warehouse. But a sign on the door announced a big problem.
EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY
ALARM WILL SOUND
"…Shit," Francis growled. Shit, indeed.
The biker swore loudly, his curse echoing loudly throughout the darkened warehouse, before stalking off somewhere. Bill was too busy glaring at the door to tell him to stay close. For her part, Zoey could think of nothing else to do, other than leaning against the doorframe, staring down at her shoes.
"What do you guys reckon we should do?" Louis asked tentatively.
"Maybe the Infected out in the woods will be far enough away that we'll be gone by the time they get here," Zoey said, but without much hope. When had they ever been lucky?
"Too much open floor down here," Bill grumbled. "They can come at us from anywhere. But there's nowhere better to hole up. This room is way too small - we'd box ourselves in. Maybe going up on the catwalks would work."
The heavy thud of boots drew their attention as Francis returned, his ever disagreeable attitude evident from the scowl on his face. "Found some ammo," he grunted, gesturing to the stacks of shelves and train cars. "Some kind of last stand back there – whole buncha bodies." He smiled humourlessly. "Bodes real fuckin' well for our chances, don't it?"
Everyone's spirits seemed to sink lower with every passing second. It was only a fire door, but it might as well have been the door to the vault of Fort Knox. Perhaps it was best to just get on with it.
"Who's the fastest out of you two?" Bill asked the other men. "We're gonna need two volunteers to open the door, and then run back up there." He nodded up at the catwalks.
"Hang on," Zoey interjected. "What about me? I was on the field hockey team at college. I should definitely be down here to open the door."
"I don't like it," Bill said sourly.
"None of us like it, but we all need to start pulling our weight," Zoey shot back stubbornly. "You said it yourself."
"You're injured," Bill replied, to which the college girl shook her head. The war veteran felt a flash of anger, and he snapped, "What are you trying to prove?"
She was taken aback, but then her dark green eyes narrowed in return. "I'm not trying to prove anything. What are you trying to do by stopping me from doing my part? You've been way overprotective of me ever since Newburg. I can look out for myself."
The old man glared at her for a moment, but she kept his gaze, eyes unwavering.
Louis and Francis kept quiet.
Presently, Bill crushed his cigarette beneath his boot and stalked off without another word toward the far end of the warehouse, a slight limp still in his step.
Francis looked around at the remainder of the motley crew for a moment, before shaking his head and wandering off on his own, perhaps in search of more supplies. Although to get away from the situation was a more likely answer.
Zoey gripped her pistol with both hands as she stood there, her eyes downcast. With the heat of the moment gone, she felt rather uncomfortable and embarrassed. But just what was Bill's problem?
"You okay?" came Louis' soft voice.
"…Yeah." She was finding it much easier to stare down at her shoes than look at him.
"You know that Bill isn't insinuating that you can't look after yourself, right?"
"…I know," came her response. "But I'm sure he realises that he can't keep pulling me behind him every time we run into danger. That kind of attitude is going to get us all killed."
Louis was quiet for a long moment, and the pair stood there in the shadows of the warehouse before the storeroom, gazing at the alarmed door that was turning out to be a major roadblock.
"I didn't mention this to you before," the bald man said after a while, drawing the young woman's gaze with a start. "But Bill's always felt this way about you. Or, at least, he has for some time now. Back in Riverside, when you were snatched by that Smoker down in the sewers…"
Zoey shivered with the memory: her arms pinned to her sides by a long, thick tentacle, leaving her utterly defenceless as she was dragged away, from the floodgates and her friends, into the darkness.
"…Bill was just about ready to lose it," Louis continued. "He was running through the sewers, calling your name, and not caring about the fact that he was ringing a dinner bell for the Infected. I reckon we had to blast our way through maybe twenty or so of them, before we managed to find you." He chuckled. "Hell, Francis was the first to let him know what a crazy idea it was, but the old man would hear none of it. Pinned the big-ass biker up against the wall and told him to shut it!"
The young woman was surprised at the story. Had Bill always been this reckless when it came down to her personal safety being threatened? She felt a whirlwind of feeling swirling through her, from anger at Bill's decision to put the others at unnecessary risk because of her, to a warm feeling of gratitude.
If it wasn't for the old man, she would probably be lying dead in the Riverside sewers. Hell, she probably would not have made it across a street in Fairfield without him.
She scuffed a sneaker, the sound echoing slightly throughout the large room. "We really are lucky to have him."
Louis turned to her, a smirk etched across his face. "Does this mean the teen rebellious phase is over?"
She slugged him playfully in the arm in response.
Bill shone his flashlight around a pitch black storage room off the main warehouse, absently going through the motions of looking for supplies to distract himself from the argument.
The sound of boots against concrete drew his attention and he turned to see Francis marching up to him, a heavy scowl on his face.
"There's nothin' here. I looked already. Now are you ready to quit wastin' time?"
"What was that?" Bill snapped, bristling visibly.
"Zoey's one of us, and she's more than proven she's capable." The biker's expression softened ever so slightly. "I know you wanna look after her, but she already knows how to take care of herself. And like it or not, you're not always gonna be around to protect her."
"I'll be around long enough to make sure you sorry lot make it to a safe zone," Bill retorted sourly.
"Think about it logically, old man..."
He snorted at Francis trying to associate himself with 'logical'. Now he had seen it all.
The biker pressed on, unperturbed. "You're still fucked up with injuries. I'm no runner, either. Louis and Zoey are the youngest and fittest members of the group. They have the best chance of getting out of that killbox."
Bill was silent for a moment, and then gestured to Francis to follow him back to the others. Zoey looked bashful as she turned toward him.
"Bill, I – "
"You and Louis are the fastest runners on the team, right?" he said curtly, cutting her off.
She was startled, but pursed her lips and nodded.
"Okay," came Bill's response, not missing a beat. "You and Louis are gonna open the door, then double-time it back here. Run up the beam to join us on the catwalks. Francis and I will cover you from here. You up for this?"
Zoey met his gaze and, after a moment, firmly nodded.
"Right, then let's get to work," the old man said, brandishing his pistol as Francis hefted his assault rifle across his shoulders. "The army's not gonna wait forever, and we've wasted a lot of time in this warehouse."
For the first time in what seemed like forever, everyone was in agreement.
"Alright, let's do this!" Louis chirped, glad for them to have some sort of plan.
Francis and Bill made their way up the beam and back onto the catwalks above, the latter still limping slightly. As he and his partner in crime trained their weapons in anticipation toward the ground below, he hoped he had not made a huge mistake leaving it to the two youngest members of the team to open the door.
For their part, Louis and Zoey made their way into the small storage room, guns up as they looked about themselves warily.
"How do you want to do this?" Louis asked.
"Same way we always do, I guess," Zoey said uncertainly. "Open the door and run like hell."
"Sounds like a solid plan," her partner joked, and then his tone grew serious. "I'll open the door, you cover me, okay?"
She nodded, her grip on the pistol tightening. Louis put his hand on the door-bar and, with one swift, heavy motion, pushed it open.
The alarm was as deafening as it was sudden, its reverberating screech echoing all throughout the warehouse. Louis whirled and made to sprint back into the warehouse, hoping that not many Infected would be drawn by the noise, or at least not so quickly.
No such luck.
Two ruffled figures burst through the door after him, their arms outstretched to grab him. A third followed in the shadows right behind his cohorts. Zoey grimaced. Real life was a terrible director.
The leading two attackers pitched forward, courtesy of Zoey's reaction, giving Louis time to turn and wrestle the third back as it leaped at him with a strangled cry. The figure stumbled over the two fresh corpses on the doorway and fell over. Louis drew his pistol, stepped over the fallen Infected and fired a single shot, silencing it.
He and Zoey nodded their thanks to each other, and then turned and returned to the warehouse, sprinting toward the beam as fast as their legs could carry them.
"I heard gunshots," came Bill's voice from above. "Everything alright?"
"Everything's fine," Zoey answered him breathlessly. "There were a couple of Infected next door, but Louis and I took care of them. Hopefully we'll be able to get away before more of them come..."
Her voice trailed off as a terrible chorus of howling filled the air, right outside in the woods. There were still so many of them, all the way out here?
The howls of the Infected echoed all throughout the warehouse, directly contesting the shrill wail of the alarm. The four survivors hunched over on the catwalk, sweat beading their brows as they waited for their enemy to appear.
They were coming.