Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I Viking!

Eve snuck downstairs when it was dark enough out to disguise her movements, but light enough to not require a flashlight. Will followed her, locking each door as she passed through, waiting for her to knock to be let back in. She grabbed soft food for the cats Cassie and Leah, toilet paper, and people food, stuffing it into some of the reusable grocery bags she kept hanging on the back of the front door to their apartment.

Mice – or rats – scattered as she slunk around her own apartment, listening for any noise from the street. To the east she could hear someone shouting a name, hoarsely, over and over, the inflection just off enough to mark it as the voice of one of the infected and not someone searching for a loved one. She peeked out the windows around the house, saw several in the back of the house were broken and her heart stopped in fear that one of them had come inside and she hadn't heard them moving around.

Holding her breath, she scrambled as silently as she could back to the attic door, whispering and knocking for Will to let her in. He swung the door open and locked it as soon as she was through, and she stood a moment, trying to catch her breath and slow her heart down.

“There's a lot of damage to the neighbor's house,” she whispered to Will. “Windows are broken in my room and the pantry.” She nodded up the stairs and they hurried back behind the rest of the attic doors, locking anything they could, barricading the main door of the attic itself as well.

The kids ate cold canned soup from the can. Will emptied the bathroom bucket out in the main attic room, into a forgotten barrel he'd emptied of ruined clothes. Eve ate one of the last granola bars, then tucked the kids, Will included, into the mattress bed and took Will's place in the broken chair, pulling the chair close to the window. Once the lanterns were out, she pulled the blanket back from the window just enough to watch the street.

The voice yelling a name over and over came closer, faded toward the south, than came closer again. Glancing at the children, Eve saw Val was awake, his eyes gleaming in the dark, his arm wrapped as tightly around his little sister as Katrin's arm was wrapped around Bertram. She did her best reassuring smile for Val, then held her finger to her lips to remind him to be quiet.

Shouter, as Eve had begun calling him in her head, came into sight up the block to the south and east, calling out a name with every breath. He was terribly thin, slumped over as he walked, his gait erratic. He didn't avoid the bodies and wreckage in the street, and stumbled frequently. In the moonlight, his eyes appeared to be bulging, his hands shaking. His voice wavered, disappeared, and returned threadily. As far as she could tell, he was yelling “Linda”, but didn't seem to be looking for an answer. As she watched, he sat down in the street and began tearing away handfuls of flesh from one of the bodies – one of her neighbors' bodies – and stuffed the flesh into his mouth.

Revolted and horrified, she let the curtain drop for a moment, then carefully lifted to watch him again, to make sure he didn't approach the house. She didn't have any real weapons, just the stun gun, and she wasn't sure how he'd react. Robbie Rocket said the infected were unpredictable, that they didn't seem to feel pain, that they seemed to lose complex motor skills and while many spoke, they didn't make any sense, often just repeating a word or phrase, as Shouter was doing between bites of putrefying corpse. The infected were very hungry and ate nearly constantly; people, animals, food they could get open, each other. It was Robbie Rocket's fervently spoken hope that the infected would die out; die of whatever left them in this state, or die at each others hands. Yesterday morning, the sixth day in the attic, Robbie said he'd received communication that estimated as many as 90% of Americans were either infected or dead already, that there wasn't much information from outside the US coming in to him. He had a satellite phone and a generator and access to vending machines; he'd locked himself into the radio station and he'd stay there as long as he could, doing what he could to get information out, but at this point he was not going to open the doors for anyone short of a 4 star general, and then only one who could speak in complete sentences and answer questions about When Harry Met Sally.

Robbie Rocket reported the sickness had started with a sort of genetic treatment meant to affect metabolism and help people lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. Once human testing had been allowed, the treatment, used in a specific patient, had mutated and changed, becoming something like a virus. From there it spread like a flu – the Red Flu that had rushed around the world a year earlier. People got sick, some few died, most got better and went back to regular life; then a year later, somehow, the Red Flu had awakened again in a rush, and almost everyone who had been ill... changed. Became one of the Infected, one of the Flu Rioters, awake but not really aware, physically changed by a strange metabolism and nerve and brain damage; aggressive, starving, plagued at first by hallucinations and delusions. It didn't take long before the infected were no longer raving, were no longer speaking anything effectively, but by then the world had already ended – at least, all the world that Eve could see from her window.

She watched as Shouter gorged himself, watched as he wandered off, listened to his voice get farther and farther away, then checked the lock on the door and that her stun gun was close at hand, and dozed off in the broken chair at the window.

“So, we need supplies, and we need a more secure place to hole up,” Eve said the next morning to the kids. “We don't have weapons, and we're not really trained in anything.”

“I meant to take karate,” Will said.

“I wanted to be a Girl Scout,” Katrin piped up.

“I VIKING,” Val said firmly.

“Right. But still, no weapons or training. And we need to figure out where we're going.”

“Fort Snelling,” Katrin said instantly.

“Wait... Fort Snelling? That's... a long way from here. It's brilliant, but it's a long way from here, and I'm not sure how to get there from here, and there's no GPS with no cell phone. No Google Maps.” Eve gestured to the dead phone.

“The Super America up the road has maps of the Cities,” Will said. “And supplies.”

“Yeah, but if there's food there, there may be infected there. We'll have to be careful. And... it's still a long way to Fort Snelling.”

“We'll get a car. You're not supposed to drive, but who's gonna stop you now?” Will said.

“Todd will go to Fort Snelling,” Katrin said. “Remember? We went to visit the Fort and watch them fire the canon off, and Todd said that's where he's going when the zombies attack.”

“Todd's 500 miles away, Kat. He may not be able to get here.”

“He's coming.”

“Todd coming,” Val piped in.

“Ok, fine. We'll leave some kind of note. Robbie Rocket ever say if these people can read anymore?”

“The zombies,” Katrin corrected.

“Sweetie, they're not really zombies -”

“Close enough,” Will said, suddenly sounding exhausted. “May as well be.”

Eve sighed. “Ok, so far it's as good a plan as any. So we just need to find transport. We'll all go out to the gas station, we'll get a map and some food, and we'll find a car.”

“There's the auto repair shop up past the Super America,” Will said. “They'll have cars and keys.”

“Want truck,” Val said.

“That might be perfect, if we can find one,” Eve said. “Then, the other thing is... we will have to let Cassie and Leah go. It won't be safe to try and haul them with us while we're running around and trying to get maps and a vehicle. They might be safest if we just let them go, so they're not trapped here in this house if it burns later.”

“No way,” Katrin snapped, her eyes huge and betrayed. “No cat left behind.”

“Sweetie, I don't think we can carry them, supplies, and push Val in his chair, and what if they make noise? Run from us? They'll be safer if we just get make sure they can get in and out of the house and we leave them here.”
“Little Bunny,” Will said, using her babyhood nickname. “We'll come back when it's safe, and we'll make it so just one of the basement windows is open, so no one can get in, but they can get out to get food and get out if there's a fire.”

She glared at him, her lip trembling, but didn't answer.

“I promise, we'll come back if we can, as soon as we can. I'm trying to keep them and us safe, Bunny.”

“Ozzie watch them,” Val said. Katrin held in a sob and climbed onto Val's lap, something she hadn't done since she was much smaller, and Val cuddled his baby sister. Katrin, at 11, was as tall as most women, with feet bigger than her mother's, but she was still Val's cossetted baby sister.

They prepared carefully. The infected seemed to avoid the bright light of day; Will wondered if it hurt them. Their eyes bulged and were red and bloodshot, occasionally even bleeding, according to Robbie Rocket. Will had seen the infected the first few nights in the attic, fighting in the street, chasing the uninfected and other infected alike, shouting and tearing and eating. The last couple nights, only Shouter had been in evidence; there was plenty for him to eat around here.

“This is going to be gross and smell bad,” he said, thinking out loud.

“Yeah,” Eve said. “Oh, yeah.”

Will went down to the main apartment while Eve got everything ready to move out. He painted to the largest wall in the living room, in 3 foot high letters, “Fart Smelling”, with the bright orange paint left over from painting Katrin's room. He didn't know if the zombies, as Katrin insisted on calling the infected, could read any longer, but if one of them saw this, it wouldn't be a clue to where they were heading.

But if Todd came to the apartment and let himself in with the key Will knew he still had, he'd see it, and he'd know where they were. If the Uncles came, they'd know. Maybe there wasn't a lot of hope, but there was still some hope, and Will clung to the hope his family would be together again somehow. The Uncles, Eve's brother and his husband, and Todd, Eve's partner and the children's stepfather for half a decade before the break-up, were his family. The father they'd fled years before was not, and Will hoped the zombies had eaten him already, though he wouldn't mention that to Eve, because it would upset her. No matter what their father had done to them, Eve didn't want them to hate him, as if simply forgetting him was a viable course of action.

Will knew it hadn't worked for her. Todd wasn't the only one who'd been awakened by the screaming nightmares.

At noon they headed down the stairs, supplies packed into backpacks and the wheelchair bag. Val carried a bag on his lap of mostly lightweight things – a clean change of clothes for each of them, socks, the thin metallic emergency blankets, his own flashlight. Katrin had her small backpack, bulging with her things, a little opening left in the zippered top so Bertram could breath. No one wanted stuffed Bertram to suffocate, after all. They'd considered bringing the huge duffel bags with them, but they decided being able to move quickly was more important at the moment.

The street was quiet of any sign of human life. The buzzing of flies was much louder than it had seemed inside the attic, and frightened dogs slunk away at the presence of Eve and the Brood. Will carried the wheelchair down to the alley, Katrin and Eve helped Val down the stairs and out to the alley to be settled in his chair.

“Do we buckle him in?” Will asked, hesitantly.

“I hadn't thought of that,” Eve said. Would they have to get him out of the chair in a hurry? Or should he be buckled in in case they had to run with the chair and risked the chair falling over? She dithered, unable to decide which was the worse scenario.

Val gave an aggravated sigh and buckled himself in and settled the bag he was carrying on his lap. He gave them all a glare daring them to mess with his arrangements.

“Well, we buckle him in,” Eve said.

And off they went, walking quickly and as quietly as possible. A block up to University, then left toward the gas station.

No comments:

Post a Comment