In the Darkness

Pandemic


BOOM.

The fleeting explosive sound was followed by the house quivering and the windows rattling from the blast. Sarah's eyes fluttered open at the disturbance. It sounded like it came from close by. Several car alarms could be heard going off outside.

What the heck was that? She had been more than halfway asleep when it happened and she rubbed her eyes tiredly, yawning as she swiveled her legs over the edge of her bed, bare feet touching the soft carpet.

She reached for her cellphone, a small baby blue flip-open thing that her father had given her after she had pretty much begged him for it; in the suburbs of Washington D.C. apparently most kids her age had cellphones and she wanted to fit in, being the new girl after all. Her few friends - most of them on the soccer team - were happy to be able to contact her without having to call her home phone all the time. In fact, they rarely called and mostly texted. Not that she minded because at least she could communicate with them.

Her dad had not been too keen on giving her a phone at her age, but he eventually relented, although he didn't get her any of those fancy new smartphones and opted to give her this older model. Sarah didn't care about that though because at least she had one.

"Aw really now?" she whispered in frustration as she eyed the top left corner of the display. There was no signal.

Turning off the phone and turning it back on again, she was disappointed to find that there was still no cell service. Usually she had at minimum three bars around this area, so something must have happened to take out the signal service.

Slipping the phone into the pocket of her plaid pajama pants, she made her way out of her room and knocked on her uncle's bedroom door down the hall.

"Uncle Tommy?"

Only silence greeted her. She knocked again, harder this time. "Uncle Tommy, are you in there?"

There was no response.

She slowly opened the door. The room was dark, the shades drawn, and flipping the lights on she realized it was empty. His bed had not even been touched, which meant he had yet to come up. The loud wailing of police sirens nearby suddenly made her a little nervous and she went over to the house phone next to the bed, picking it up.

There was no dial tone.

"Why aren't any of the phones working?" she mumbled, her heart beating faster. She had a bad feeling about all this.

She put it back on the phone base and quickly went downstairs. As she got to the bottom of the staircase, she glanced out the window facing the front of the house and saw a red-orange glowing in the distance with a plume of smoke rising up into the sky.

That was what that boom was. It must have been a really big explosion from what she could see from the window and she hoped nobody was hurt. That also had to explain the outage in phone service.

The lights were still on in the living room and kitchen, just as when she had gone upstairs to go to bed earlier. Besides the noise of a few car alarms from outside, the house was quiet. No sign of her uncle.

"Helloo? Uncle Tommy?" she called out, her feet padding softly onto the cool floor tiles of the kitchen. Still no answer.

He was probably still at Jimmy's place, so she decided to just wait since she doubted she could fall asleep anytime soon. Pouring herself another glass of water in the kitchen, she made her way to the living room and sat down on the couch, bringing her legs up and crossing them underneath her. She held the glass of water by her crossed feet and reached for the remote.

With a click of the remote the television glowed to life. Moving black and white streaks and static greeted her. Flipping through the channels, she discovered that most of them were the same static, something that she found extremely odd, except for one news channel that was still streaming.

"… reports are coming in from all over. This is not an isolated incident, with much of the continental United States and even countries around the globe experiencing what many are already calling a Pandemic. The National Guard, Army, Air Force, and even Naval units are being mobilized and deployed. So far we have no official word from government officials on what is going on, but a State of Emergency has been called throughout the nation. We'll keep broadcasting for as long as we can…"

Sarah's heart quickened as she continued watching. Taking her phone out to check if it finally had signal - it didn't - she returned her attention to the TV, trying to figure out what in the world was going on. What was taking her uncle so long?

-xxxVxxx-

Joel stirred, awoken by the call of nature coming from his bladder. He looked out the window into the dark of the night that was interrupted every other second by the brief flashes of the airplane lights. Unbuckling his seat belt, he stood and stretched out, and then walked up to the lavatory at the front of the plane. It was unfortunately occupied however.

"Figures," he muttered, glancing to the rear of the plane towards the other lavatory.

"Need anything, sir?" asked the flight attendant from behind him.

Joel half-turned and shook his head, "Uh, no. I'm fine. Just needed to go to the restroom, that's all. But this one's occupied."

The attendant looked worriedly at the closed door. "Yeah, the captain's in there. He didn't look so good when I saw him and he's been in there a while..."

Joel grunted, not really caring. "You know what? A bottle of water sounds great actually. You can leave it on my chair. Thanks."

He started walking towards the back of the plane before the attendant could say anything else. Passing by the young girl who was fast asleep in her seat, he saw her bag on the ground with her feet resting on it and he briefly wondered why the terrorists had let her keep it. They had not only captured her and held her prisoner, but treated her badly as well, and yet they let her keep the bag and whatever else was inside it.

No doubt whatever she had with her was important to her. Someone higher up in the command chain must have ordered that she be allowed to have it with her, but why? Sighing, he shook his head as he got to the aft lavatory. No sense wasting time thinking on it though since she was going to be off his hands, and his mind, soon enough.

After relieving himself, and as he was washing his hands, he began to at least feel grateful that the mission hadn't taken nearly as long as he had thought. That meant he would be able to go down to Texas sooner and spend some good family time with his brother and daughter. Maybe if he had enough free days he could fly them all out to the Carr-

Screams of pain from the cabin interrupted his thoughts and he was already out of the lavatory a second later, only to see a gruesome sight.

Up front by the cockpit, the forward lavatory door was broken and barely hanging by its hinges. Two of the plane's crew looked at first to be hugging each other right outside of it, except they were struggling against one another. One was trying to get away while the other was holding on and biting into the man's neck. Blood stained the victim's white uniform, the stain getting darker and bigger, as blood splattered and squirted against the walls.

The yelps and cries of the victim were weakening, as was his struggling against his attacker, and the attacker himself seemed more like a rabid animal disguised as a human than anything else as he was making strange, guttural noises while he bit into the man.

"What in the hell?" Joel breathed as he stepped forward, tightly gripping the headrest of the nearest seat, trying to make sense of what he was seeing.

"Captain! C-Captain stop! What... What are you d-doing? You're killing him!" said the flight attendant who was by Joel's seat with a bottle of water, the beverage slipping out of his hands and falling to the floor with a heavy thud.

The captain turned, suddenly very interested in the flight attendant as the other officer, who Joel presumed to be the co-pilot, staggered back into the cockpit.

The flight attendant looked down quickly and grabbed Joel's MP-5 that had been sitting in his seat. "S-Stay back!" he warned, shakily raising the gun up.

Joel cursed and moved up the aisle. The fool better not fire wildly or else he would seriously endanger them all.

The crazed captain, fresh blood from his fellow crew member streaming from his mouth and staining his own white uniform, moved aggressively towards the flight attendant.

Gunshots sounded and it was clear the flight attendant had never handled a gun before. Or at the very least not a sub-machine gun like the MP-5. His shots went everywhere and he emptied the whole magazine, managing to hit the captain thrice in the gut and twice in the shoulder. A moment later the plane lurched and the engines began to whine louder, as if in protest.

"Ugh shit!" Joel steadied himself by grabbing onto the seats as he moved forward.

The crazed captain was thrown off his feet, along with the flight attendant, but the former quickly recovered and scrambled onto the fallen man who began to scream in fear and then agony as the captain was upon him, teeth wetting themselves with his blood.

"Joel!" Ellie cried in alarm from behind him, finally awakened by all the commotion.

"Stay in your seat! Make sure you're buckled up!" he yelled without looking back.

The captain looked up sharply at him with bloodshot eyes that seemed to glow, moaning and then growling before trying to get to his feet in an attempt to get to him. Fresh blood coated much of his upper torso and streamed down from his mouth.

"Oh no you don't," said Joel as he drew the 9mm pistol from the secondary holster, automatically flipping the safety off. He didn't hesitate, having witnessed what the crazed man had already done to his crew members. Two gunshots to the face and the captain fell, body spasming but clearly dead. The bullets exited the back of his head, leaving two bloody openings, and embedded themselves into one of the walls of the lavatory. The entire three-man crew was dead and the only threat now was the out-of-control plane. Holstering the pistol, he stepped over their bodies to move forward.

The plane lurched again and they began to descend at a faster rate, the fuselage groaning from the strain of the extraordinary maneuvers, prompting Joel to speed up his movement towards the cockpit, holding on to the seats to keep his balance as he moved down the aisle.

Smoke laced through the air of the cockpit and Joel's eyes were quick to note several bullet holes in the wide dashboard, sparks flying from some of the damage. Sprawled all over the co-pilot's seat and splattering the area with blood, a shoulder pressed up against the yoke, was the co-captain. Realizing that the copilot's shoulder was pushing them into a nose-dive, Joel immediately grabbed the heavy dead man and lifted him up and onto the ground with a lot of effort.

There was a myriad of insistent beeping noises and blinking lights and it seemed like every beeping alarm possible was going off. The number of controls, lights, and dials was daunting, but he tried to think which ones were important, hoping to make sense of them.

"Holy shit. Holy shit. They're dead... they're definitely dead," said a fearful Ellie from behind him as she spotted the co-pilot on the ground, causing him to jump ever so slightly because he had not expected her to come up to the cockpit.

"What the hell did I tell you about bucklin' up?" he replied angrily as he spared a glare towards her, noting that she had her backpack on, her hands extended outwards and to the sides to brace herself.

She looked up at him like he was stupid. "No way I'm gonna sit back there all alone and wait for this fucking plane to crash!"

The plane shuddered as they hurtled towards the ground almost head on, causing them both to look to the controls with alarm. "SINK RATE! PULL UP! SINK RATE! PULL UP!" complained a computerized voice.

"Please tell me you can fly a plane, Joel," she said fearfully as she finally got a good look at the damaged cockpit.

He maneuvered into the pilot's seat without answering her, taking the headset from its hook rest and putting it on. He waved his hand around to clear some of the smoke away, coughing a little. Ellie jumped into the co-pilot's seat and strapped herself in, pulling on the straps tightly to secure herself properly, repeating over and over to herself in a frightened tone that they were going to die. He looked around at the controls in panic as he gripped the yoke of the plane.

Now what? He had no idea how to fly a damn plane.

-xxxVxxx-

"Jimmy..." Tommy said in a warning voice as he edged into the hallway.

His neighbor growled and then stumbled towards him, hands rising to grab at him but all they grabbed was air as Tommy moved aside completely into the hallway. Jimmy clumsily ran into the door and turned to Tommy, who was looking at him with a bewildered expression. What in the hell was wrong with the guy? He looked possessed and sickly, and he sounded like it too.

Jimmy came after him again and Tommy booked it down the stairs, his enraged neighbor noisily and ungracefully following. Through the front door he went, covering the short distance between their houses and quickly getting inside. His breaths were short and quick and he rested against the door, trying desperately to understand what was going on.

"Uncle Tommy!" Sarah gasped from the couch, standing worriedly at the sight of him by the door and out of breath.

"Sarah," he said, "Call 911. Jimmy is... there's somethin' terribly wrong with him."

"I can't, the phones are down."

"Cellphones too?"

"Yeah. There's no cell service."

He frowned at that. "Damn it."

"We shoulda taken him to the hospital..." she said.

Tommy sighed. Looking back on it now, he wished they had. Maybe the doctors could have saved him. He noticed movement outside through the windows and instinctively ducked to avoid being seen. "Get down," he hissed at Sarah, who followed his lead and crept closer to him. She looked scared. From outside, the sounds of moaning could be heard.

"Is it... Jimmy?"

He nodded.

"He must be infected like the others..." she said softly.

"Infected? Like the others? What are you talking about?"

She looked over her shoulder at the television, which was turned off. "I... I was watchin' the news before the broadcast stopped... and... they're callin' it a... a pandemic, sayin' that... people who are infected with this strange fungus thing, they... they become violent and attack anyone, even their families. It's happenin' all over and the military is gettin' involved and..."

"Sweet Jesus," breathed Tommy, running a hand through his hair.

"What do we do?" Sarah whispered.

"Let me think," he replied. The phones were down and his neighbor was apparently crazy now. Maybe a trip to the police station would be a good start. He went close to the nearest window facing the front of his house and slowly took a peek outside. Jimmy was shuffling around on his lawn, continuing to moan as his upper body spasmed every few seconds and his arms flailed about.

The car was in his driveway, but they would have to get past his infected neighbor first. He told Sarah to wait and went to retrieve his shotgun - it was a barely used Benelli M2 that he had bought off of a friend "for emergencies" and this definitely qualified as one.

Getting to his office, he went to his desk and grabbed the key to the gun cabinet from its hiding spot in one of the drawers. The cabinet was in the corner and although it was big enough to hold multiple guns, the M2 was the only one he owned. He didn't even have a handgun, though he had always been meaning to get one. It was never a priority though, particularly because he had the shotgun, but now he wished he had one.

The shotgun was cool to the touch as he grabbed it, reassured by the solid weight in his hands. The gun seemed to be in working condition, though he would find out soon enough. He took the unopened box of shells at the bottom of the cabinet and ripped the top off, loading five shells into the tubular magazine, sliding the pump back to put one in the chamber before placing one last shell in for the maximum capacity.

He then grabbed the remaining twelve gauge shells and stuffed all of them into his pockets. Even though they were bulky and annoying, he had a feeling he was going to need as many shells as he could carry.

When he returned to Sarah, she eyed the shotgun warily at first but then seemed to take comfort in the fact that he had one.

"Okay, here's the deal. We need to get the hell out of here and into my truck. When we get out there you stick real close to me, okay?"

She nodded, "I got it." Her grey eyes looked up at the nearest window with worry.

"Let's go."

They moved to the front door where Tommy grabbed the keys from the key holder screwed into the wall. Holding the shotgun close, he opened the door slowly and the two of them walked outside. Jimmy was looking away but then turned and spotted them, letting out another growl before running towards them and groaning as he went.

Sarah gasped and grabbed a hold of Tommy's shirt as the shotgun boomed with a flash and Jimmy was thrown back, his entire left shoulder gone. His severed left arm flew through the air, landing across the yard and close to the road.

"C'mon!" Tommy said urgently and they both ran for the pickup truck.

Once inside, Tommy started it up, the engine rumbling to life. "Buckle up," he said as he secured his own seatbelt with a click.

Gravel crunched beneath the heavy-duty tires of his truck. They drove away and passed by several families who also lived on this street who were packing suitcases and other crap into their cars, trying to get away as well. It was strange to see them trying to bring all their things with them, particularly since Tommy and Sarah hadn't brought anything of theirs with them. But some people, even in a crisis, are still overly concerned with their material possessions.

To the left in the distance Tommy noted plumes of smoke and the red-orange tinges of light that indicated several fires. For the most part the back roads were empty and he was grateful for that as they continued to drive along, heading for the county police station.

"He's... He's dead... You killed him," remarked the young girl from the passenger seat, uneasily.

"I had to. He wasn't... He wasn't himself," he explained, "He was infected, like... like what you saw on the news." At least that was the only possible explanation for the behavior that his neighbor had displayed.

Tommy turned on the radio, but there was nothing playing. No radio stations seemed to be on the air.

"Uncle Tommy, are we... are we gonna get sick too? Are we infected?" Sarah suddenly asked, staring at her open palms on her lap.

"No honey. We won't get sick," he replied with as much confidence as he could project. "And if we were infected, we would have been like Jimmy by now." At least that's what he hoped.

In the distance he could see police cars blocking the road and he stopped as one of the officers stepped onto the road and held a hand up, the other hand holding a pistol by his side. A few other officers manning the roadblock had their guns trained at them and Tommy couldn't help but gulp as he rolled down his window and the officer approached.

"The area ahead is off limits, sir. You're going to have to turn around," the officer said.

"Look officer, we were hopin' to get to the county police station. We're just tryin' to get to a safe place," he told the policeman.

The man frowned, "There ain't a lot of safe places anymore," he remarked as his hard eyes drifted over to the young girl in the passenger seat. "But the military's setting up a checkpoint by the highway. I'm willing to bet that it's going to be real crowded, but it's your best bet to get to safety. They're supposedly trying to set up some safe zones where they can bring the uninfected. Where they are and when those will be open, I have no idea."

Gunfire erupted ahead of them, bright flashes of light coming from their weapons, as the police officers manning the roadblock began to engage some infected who were running towards them from the road beyond. The officer turned back to them as he readied his pistol, "Get out of here!" He ran back to the roadblock, taking a position behind a patrol car and began to fire at the advancing crowd of infected. There were way too many for the officers to take down all of them before they reached the roadblock.

"Uncle Tommy..." Sarah said fearfully as he shifted the truck into reverse, tires kicking up dirt as he turned around and headed back the other way. They turned onto a dirt road they had passed earlier. As they rounded a bend, a farmhouse off to the right on the hill was ablaze in a brilliant fiery display.

"Holy hell. That's Louis' farm..." he said sadly, driving past it.

Sarah stared out the window at the burning home. "Do you think they made it out?"

"I'm sure they did."

They turned right at the next intersection, still having not met another car on the road, and as they approached a short bridge up ahead the headlights illuminated a family of three walking on the side of the road. A little boy and his parents. The father started to wave at them with both hands over his head.

"Let's see what they need," Tommy said as he rolled to a stop next to them.

They piled into the back. The little boy was crying and the mother was trying to comfort him as the father breathed a sigh of relief and then spoke up.

"Thank you, sir. Thank you so much," he said, his voice shaky.

"No problem. Name's Tommy, this is my niece Sarah," Tommy introduced themselves as the mother shut the door. Sarah waved at them and said hello.

"I'm Richard. This is my wife Becky and our son Ricky," the man replied.

"Thank you again, Tommy," said Becky as she held her son close, the little boy whimpering into her silk nightgown under the jacket that she was wearing as she stroked his head soothingly.

Richard glanced at his family and then asked, his voice regaining some composure, "Where y'all headed?"

Tommy continued to drive and got onto the bridge. "We heard the military has set up some kinda checkpoint by the highway. Supposedly they're letting uninfected people through and bringing 'em to safety somewhere. Not sure exactly though."

"Yeah, we heard 'bout the checkpoint too... but uninfected huh? So this is some kind of... virus or somethin'? What the hell is going on?" the man said as gripped the back of the driver's chair and leaned forward over the center console, staring ahead.

"I'm not really sure," was all Tommy could say as they crossed over the bridge.

To their left stood the hospital and it was most likely full to capacity. An ambulance, lights flashing and siren blaring, pulled out from there and sped past them back towards the way they came. The road sloped downward and they came to a halt behind a sea of brake lights as dozens of cars clogged the road all the way to the highway. Honking and shouting echoed across the night. From here they could see the big military vehicles set up for the checkpoint just past the on-ramp.

"Aw hell, looks like everybody and their mother's got the same damn idea," Tommy lamented, hitting the steering wheel in annoyance with the palm of his hand. It would take them hours in this traffic to get to the checkpoint, and something told him that they didn't have that much time. But how else were they going to get to the checkpoint?

Things were not looking good at all. He wished that his brother was there to help and he wondered whether Joel was caught up in all of this too. Hopefully he was okay.

-xxxVxxx-

Joel fought hard against the yoke as he managed to at least prevent the Learjet from spiraling out of control. Now they were only descending out of control, which was of course still a massive problem. The altimeter was decreasing rapidly and Joel quickly looked for the radio controls to try and radio for help as he started to pull back on the yoke; they would need someone to help them once they landed so sending out a distress message was important he figured. If they were alive that is.

Finally finding it, he activated the radio broadcast and began to send out a mayday message just as he pulled back some more with both hands on the yoke, but it resisted his efforts and he barely managed to make it budge as the plane continued to hurtle towards the ground. Joel grimaced, gripping the yoke harder and focusing on pulling with more strength.

"Ellie! Help me pull!" From the corner of his eye he saw the young girl begin to pull on it as well.

The Learjet continued to shudder violently as the plane began to ease out of its sudden dive, though the dark ground was coming up towards them at a still frightening rate. Alarms continued to sound while the computerized voice continued to blare "SINK RATE! PULL UP! SINK RATE! PULL UP!" They were still pulling on the yoke and the plane was finally, slowly obeying. The sound of tearing metal could be heard and Joel looked to the left in horror, watching as parts of the left wing began to break off from the tremendous stress of the rapid descent.

"We're not going to make it... we're not going to make it... we're not going to make it!" Ellie screamed, tears suddenly rolling down her cheeks.

"Keep! Pulling!" he yelled, his heart pounding so hard like it was trying to escape from his chest. They were pulling out of the nosedive but they were nowhere near level. Was this how it was going to end?

"Terrain! Pull up! Terrain! Pull up!" the computerized voice suddenly changed its warning.

"Joel!"

"Brace yourself!" he cried moments before impact.


A/N: -edited 7/11/2013- Many thanks to BenignViewer for helping me out with the plane scene.