Monday, January 6, 2014

Driving Lesson

Joe drove slowly up 54th street and turned toward the hospital on Minnehaha. The snow had melted off the roads and sidewalks already, and it appeared the military had kept the roads fairly clear of cars over here while they'd still been around.

When we come out of the hospital, I'm going to have you drive us back to the Fort,” Joe said, his voice inviting no argument. It was important the boy know how to get around and how to drive the truck.

I've driven before,” Will said, offhand, desperately casual. “My aunt let me drive around her parking lot.”

Got a license?”

No – driver's ed is expensive, and you don't need it to get your license after you turn 18, so I was waiting.”

Well, you get us back to the Fort and I'll call you a licensed provisional driver,” Joe Raymond said, with a half-smile. He came to a stop in front of the main drive into the hospital, beside the metro train station. “We'll come out, and then drive the wrong way on this road – we'll go straight down that way, and end up back at the Fort without a lot of lollygagging.”

I've never driven on the wrong side of the road before,” Will said nervously.

I hope you don't get a ticket.”

Joe pulled up to the outpatient entrance and parked on the sidewalk just outside the broken doors. They sat quietly for a while, Joe holding a finger to his lips. The door was broken and still, a massive revolving door with the glass broken and twisted bits of debris wedged between the door sides and the walls.

Human remains littered the foyer, but only bits and pieces. Everything else, Will realized, was long since eaten. He held in a gag.

Nothing moved inside the hospital. A tiny dusting of snow sifted down from the rooftops, the small icy tinkle as it fell against the truck the only sound Will could discern outside of their own breathing.

Joe pointed at the crowbar on the floor on the passenger side of the truck, indicating that Will should take it as a weapon, and then the truck door, and then into the hospital foyer. He pointed at his own eyes and then all around them.

Will nodded. The younger man slid quietly out of the truck, leaving his door open. He slipped into the hospital, alert, his heart pounding, his vision sharp.

Inside to the right was a small hallway and what appeared to be a coffee shop, then a security desk. Beyond that the entrance split into hallways that had been closed off and locked with heavy doors. A couple of these doors were also chained shut.

He stood there for long moments, adjusting to the difference in light inside the hospital, listening for any hint of human or once-human movement.

After long moments he gestured a thumbs up to Joe, who slid out of his side of the truck as well, leaving it running. In preparation for hauling supplies out of the hospital, Joe opened the back of his truck. He left his rifle behind, but took an axe and his backpack with him. The rifle would be less useful inside, and loud – if there were rioters nearby, the sound of the rifle firing would draw them in.

Will hurried along behind Joe as the older man moved with surprising speed and silence, following him behind the security desk. Joe looked at him and mimed turning a key in a lock, and they both searched for keys. Will mostly stuck to the desk; Joe, with some reluctance, sorted through what was left of a security guard's torn and bloody uniform on the floor. Some hair and bone remained, but little else of the actual security guard.

They found no keys, and Will again followed Joe as quickly and silently as he could as Joe led him to the pharmacy.

At the blocked off intersection of hallways, Joe turned right. The pharmacy was just a slight bit down the hallway on the left side, this hallway was opened a little further, and blocked off at the next intersection with chained doors and piles of furniture. The young man suppressed a shiver.

Someone had managed to close the place down pretty securely, probably in hopes of a rescuing force.

Will stood between Joe and the foyer, keeping guard with Joe's axe, while Joe popped the pharmacy door open with the crowbar. They switched weapons back and flipped on their flashlights going in to the unlit, unwindowed room.

Joe swept the pharmacy with the beam of his flashlight, then, seeing it was empty of life, closed the pharmacy door and propped a chair beneath the lever handle. He pulled a small camp lantern out of his backpack and turned in on, setting it on the pharmacy counter. The two jumped over the counter. Joe pulled out a plastic bin from a pile stacked to the side and handed it to Will, gesturing for the boy to follow him. He held his flashlight in his teeth as he combed through the shelves, much more sparsely stocked than he had hoped.

He filled two bins total with medications and first aid supplies. In the back they found some left behind scarfs, hats and mittens, and they packed those into the two bins as well.

There's some food back here in the break room,” Joe said. “Lets get these bins in the truck then come back for a couple more, if we can find enough to fill them.” Will nodded eagerly.

Will dropped the crow bar as he slid his bin into the back of the truck, making a loud clash that stopped his heart. He froze, but Joe quickly and silently got both bins secured and shut the back of the truck, dragging them both around to the driver side door, where they crouched, waiting to hear any noise indicating a hungry creature had heard them.

There was nothing, not even animal sounds – no crows, no small birds.

Lets make this quick,” Joe muttered, and they hurried back in, Will grabbing the crowbar on his way past.

They filled two more bins up with the rest of the medications and the snacks from the cupboards and the lockers in the break room. Joe hugged a canister of coffee with some glee.

Will followed him out into the pharmacy as they made to leave, and nearly bumped into his back when Joe stopped suddenly.

We left the door open,” Joe whispered, and was answered by an unintelligible, slobbery growl.

You don't,” another voice whispered back.

Back up, back up,” Joe said. “Back inside the break room!” Will hurried to obey, stumbling backwards as Joe hurled his bin at the four painfully thin, shaking zombies climbing up over the counters and toward them. The boy handed him his bin and Joe hurled that too, just as they both stepped back behind the threshold, and Joe slammed the break room door between them and the zombies.

You don't!” one of the creatures snarled, and they hit the door with force. While they seemed to have some trouble with doorknobs, this door opened with a lever handle, and did not lock. Joe and Will both grabbed for the handle and held it upright with all their strength just in time as one of the creatures managed to press against the lever.

The break room was dark, their flashlights dropped out in the pharmacy, the lantern still on the counter out there.

Shit. Shit,” Will whispered frantically.

Got your weapon?” Joe asked, calmly.

It's by my feet,” Will said.

Reach down and pick it up.”

I can't let go of the handle!”

Boy, I said reach down and pick it up,” Joe barked, and Will bent down instinctively and grabbed the crowbar. “Now, hold the handle for me. They're not jogging it on purpose, I don't think. I'm going to go to the back of the room with my axe. You're going to pull the door open when I say so, and stay behind the door. Then when they run in after me -”

No, no-” Will began.

Shut it, kid. Listen up now. When they run in after me, you're going to run out into the pharmacy, jump over the counter, and start making noise out in the hallway. Then when they come after you, I'll follow them out. Run out to the truck and get in, ok? Shut the doors. Slide over to the driver's seat. Drive around the circle there just fast enough to lead them, get ahead a bit, drive back here, and I'll jump in, ok?”

I could go lure them to the back of the break room.”

No good. You run faster than me, it has to be you out in the hallway.”

Will struggled without speaking for a moment, holding the handle tightly against the bumping of the creatures making a hungry racket on the other side of the door.

You run faster. You're the best chance to get those medicines back to your mother. Give her the 500 milligram Augmentin, every 8 hours.”

We need you to be there,” Will said, his voice breaking. For a moment he sounded barely adolescent.

I'm gonna do my best, kid, but we gotta be ready for contingencies. Weren't you ever a boy scout?”

Thought about it...”

Enough talking. Let's do it already. Ready?” He felt Will nod and let go of the handle. Will heard him back up against the far wall. Joe started banging his axe handle on the wall and shouting.

The creatures on the other side of the door fell silent for a moment, then began calling and scrabbling again with more insistence.

I'm ready, Will,” Joe said, and Will opened the door, pulling it in and then tightly against him against the inside wall. “Wait... wait... GO!” the old man roared.

Will slid around the door and bolted for the counters, crowbar in hand. He leapt up on the counter and turned around to see what was happening, hesitating for a moment.

The old man was down already. Will heard him scream in sudden pain, and he screamed too. Two of the creatures looked up, turned those bulging red eyes on Will, and growled like animals.

GET OUT!” Joe screamed, the sound choked off suddenly.

Shit!” Will turned and jumped down off the counters, bolting for the pharmacy door, managing to slam it shut just as the two creatures cleared the counters themselves. He felt the impact of their bodies on the other side of the door as he braced himself against it, before remembering the door opened inwards, and their own bodies would hold it shut.

No no no no NOT!” one of them shrieked.

You fucking fucks!” Will shrieked back, and hit the door with the crowbar. They scrabbled and howled even louder, and he realized what he was doing – yelling at some things that had no ability to even understand human speech any more.

I hate you,” he muttered. The bins were both lost. Joe Raymond was lost, too, his voice silenced in death. “I hate you things.”

Shoulders slumped, hands shaking and eyes red with tears he wasn't aware of, Will headed back to the truck to try and get home and save his mother.