Thursday, June 20, 2013

Not exactly what I expected

Shit,” Will said, as they sheltered in a doorway, out of sight as much as possible, surveying University Avenue.

Eve gave him a look.

“Shit,” Val agreed, distinctly pronouncing the word, though much of his speech was difficult to understand.

She sighed. “Yeah. Looks like a car won't do us any good.”

University was full of empty cars, some crashed together, doors open, batteries long dead. It would be impassible by car.

“We should get moving,” she said. “We still need that map.”

“Bikes?” Will asked.

“The Sibley Bike Depot!” Katrin whispered. “They have bikes, and trailers.”

“Yes, the Depot first, and then the map,” Eve said, turning the wheelchair back to the east. The Sibley Bike Depot was about a block to the east from the apartment.

They hurried back the other way, Eve bent low over the wheelchair as if by hovering over Val, she could keep him safer. Will ran on ahead a bit, Todd's old and bent aluminum baseball bat in his hands. Eve had the stun gun in her pocket, Katrin had a sturdy walking stick Will had made her from a downed branch a couple years ago, and Val had his plastic lightsaber in his hand. He was ready and determined to help protect them.

Eve also had her best cooking knife in her jacket pocket, opposite the stun gun. Just in case. But she hoped most fervently they wouldn't even see any infected.

The Bike Depot was locked up, but the main window was smashed, so Will went in and unlocked it from the inside so they could get Val inside safely. They went into the workroom and storage area, and barricaded the door with a desk.

They found an older, heavy tandem bike for Katrin and Eve. Katrin had Sensory Integration Dysfunction, which affected her own perception of her body in three dimensional space and made balancing on two wheels difficult for her, but it would be easier with Eve's help. Will found a workable bike for himself, and they found two trailers, one meant to carry a couple toddlers and an old two wheeled trailer without sides. While Will made sure the bikes were ready to go, Eve and Katrin pulled back and secure the zip off top off the passenger trailer so Val would fit in it without having to curl up in a ball. Katrin pulled a cushion off the ratty old couch that had been near the desk and put it into the passenger trailer while Eve helped Val transfer over. She tucked the wheelchair bag and the bag Val had been carrying in with him, then folded up the wheelchair and strapped it to the cargo trailer with bungie cords that had been hanging on the wall toward the back of the workroom.

Katrin and Eve made a holder for Katrin's walking stick, a gnarled and heavy chunk of wood, by making a sort of sheath for it that could be carried over Katrin's back, out of ropes in the workroom. Eve looked at her tall eleven year old daughter, who still had a child's face and hands, with a weapon strapped across her back, and she didn't cry, though she thought she should.

Will connected the bike trailers properly. Eve started strapping the backpacks on top of the wheelchair, for one thing so Katrin would have less unbalancing her.

When she reached for Katrin's backpack, the girl yanked it away from her, her eyes suddenly huge and shocked. As she did so, the bag meowed.

Cassie, the elder calico, tiny in size and huge in attitude, shoved her face up to the hole left in the zippered top of the backpack, her scarred eye lending her a somewhat crazed appearance that for a crazy moment reminded Eve of Jack Nicholson axing open a door in the Shining.

“Oh, by... all the...” Eve muttered.

“Stars and stones, Mom,” Katrin said helpfully.

“Hell bells!” Val added happily, both of them using oaths from the Harry Dresden books she'd been reading them. 
“Hells bells,” Eve agreed. “Fine.”

She used lengths of cord to fashion harnesses for the cats, who were happy to be out of the backpack. In place of the cats in the backpack, Will stuffed bike repair supplies. Eve and Katrin tied the cats' harnesses safely into the passenger trailer with Val, Val offered them water and handfuls of the dry cat food.

“Mom, look,” Will said as they pushed the bikes and trailers through into the main shop room. He pointed to the cashier's counter – bike trail maps. He grabbed a handful and tucked them into the different backpacks while Eve spread one out on the counter.

“This is a good idea, Will,” she said. “The bike trails are much less likely to be blocked by vehicles.”

“Or zombies,” Katrin added.

“Or the Red Flu victims,” Eve corrected.

“Which became zombies,” Katrin said.

“We can take trails all the way to the Fort,” Will said. “It's more complicated then taking the roads might be, but we can take the trails all the way to the Fort itself.”

So, an hour later than she'd hoped, they were on the move again, Will pulling Val and the cats, who weighed together more than Val's wheelchair and the backpacks did. Carefully, they inched the bikes out of the Bike Depot, peered up and down University to be sure nothing was moving, and slipped out onto the sidewalk, mounted their bikes, and were off, brightly colored helmets on their heads.

It was a slow go at first, with Katrin whimpering in worry beneath her breath, trying to figure out how to balance on the back of the tandem bike. She'd had her own bike when she was smaller, but when she outgrew training wheels, she'd given up bike riding because she didn't believe she could balance properly. Eve hoped in this moment she would discover differently.

Will didn't realize he was holding his breath watching his sister try to balance herself until he caught himself sucking a breath in when she wobbled to the side.

“We're ok,” Eve told her daughter. “You got this.”

“I don't!”

“You do,” Eve said firmly.

Katrin met her eyes in silence for a moment, then nodded, her jaw squared. “I do.”

The map had them heading to the west on University, then turning south to cross the freeway and get to the actual trails that would take them to Fort Snelling. As they turned south, though it was still bright daylight, they heard Shouter a few blocks to the east.

“Must go faster!” Val whispered. He extended his lightsaber.

“Must go faster,” Will agreed, and took off up the sidewalk, which was mostly unblocked, around his mother and sister. Eve and Katrin peddled furiously to keep up, Katrin completely forgetting her fear of losing her balance in her fear of Shouter seeing them.

“You must shush,” Val whispered to the cats. Cassie was standing on his lap, alert, staring to the east. She'd defended her children against a wide range of creatures from grasshoppers to collies, and she was prepared to defend against Shouter as well. Leah hid behind Val's back. Both cats were completely silent.

They slowed down when they could no longer hear Shouter. Eve was forty and out of shape; she thought it best they go at a pace they could sustain. If nothing else, they could seek refuge for the night in a building between their home and Fort Snelling.

Nothing was moving around them until they reached the bridge over the freeway. They stopped for a moment to look around them.

“The freeway's more clear than University is,” Will said.

“The police kept it clearer as long as they could,” Eve said. “And the soldiers.”

They were silent for a moment. First responders fell defending those they were evacuating and fighting to maintain any sense of order. The hospitals were destroyed quickly by rampaging infected, who in those first days had enough ability and cognizance to use tools and weapons, to burn and destroy buildings even as the first responders fought to quarantine and control them. As the first days passed, more fell infected. The military was overrun by infected within their own ranks, as were the first responders.

When it became clear no one could protect them, Eve and the children had retreated to the attic. Not a moment too soon, either, as the explosion of the elementary school showed them. Looking to the west up the freeway, they could see the charred remains of the building that had once been a school and a polling place, with a playground where children had gathered.

Eve shuddered, holding in words. There were likely few children left. So vulnerable to the changing adults around them, even those children who had not succumbed to the second round of the Red Flu had likely been destroyed. “Let's go,” she said, suddenly desperate to get her children to safety. Her whole little family had survived, hopefully other families had as well. There must have been a genetic component to the resistance to the Red Flu.

We'll get to Snelling, and we'll secure it, she thought. And then we'll figure out how to find any other families and bring them there too.

“Mom,” Will whispered, and pointed farther to the west.

Something was moving along the freeway. She squinted, but her eyesight wasn't what it once was.

“It's a zombie,” he whispered. “It's just walking around yanking on car doors.”

“How do you know it's a zombie and not a survivor?” she asked.

“Because it's also dragging around someone's arm.”

“Let's get the fuck out of here,” Eve hissed.

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