Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Twelfth Entry: On Fire, Under Fire

July 22nd

Well, it was smoke that I smelled. I pocketed this journal, and took my candle with me back into the room with Sharon and Jimmy. The smoke was not coming from there, but as I came in, Sharon must have smelled it too.

“What’s burning?” Sharon asked me.

“I don’t know, but we better find out,” I replied, thinking that whatever it was, it was unlikely that a firetruck was going to show up to put it out.

Sharon got up, looked out the window to see if she could see the source of the smoke, and grabbed a couple of small LED flashlights from the table. She tossed me one of the lights, and we headed out, leaving Jimmy by himself in the room.

I let Sharon lead he way since she was bound to be much more familiar with the hotel than I was. She led me to a staircase, and then down to the first floor. “Wouldn’t we get a better view from a higher floor?” I asked.

“We would need to go room to room all the way around the building to see everything outside. From down here we can see all the way around the building easier,” Sharon explained to me.

I had never been in the Hotel Majestic before, and the lobby was quite a sight even in the dark. The stairs let out next to the elevators, and the narrow beams of our lights illuminated the large open lobby of the hotel which was starting to fill with smoke. A few large brown dead potted ferns, and a shiny black piano were the only furniture left in the lobby, the couches, chairs, and tables were all piled in front of the glass double doors that led to the front door and out of the hotel as well as in front of the front windows. Orange light was flickering through the gaps in the furniture barricade.

“Shit!” cursed Sharon, as she ran forward.

I followed Sharon, arriving at the barricade a step behind her. We both looked out in horror, all we could see was flames. The front doors had been broken, and flames filled the little airlock area. The glass on the doors between us and the airlock were actually on fire themselves, doused with some sort of fuel.

Sharon moved to one of the front windows, again having to peek through the makeshift barricade,” The whole front of the building looks like it’s on fire. We need to go now,” she told me.

No shit.

Even in the shadows cast by our lights I could see the terror in her eyes, and why not? This had been her sanctuary for weeks, and now is had burst into flames, and surely not spontaneously.

She led me past the abandoned front desk, and the elevators, and down a wide hallway. On each side of the hallway were banquet rooms, four in total, it looked like but she paid no attention to them. She led me to the back door, which had also been barricaded, but with furniture from the banquet halls. Dining tables and chairs were piled almost to the ceiling. This really must have been hard work for her, since I’m sure Jimmy couldn’t help with the lifting.

Looking through the gaps in the pile of furniture, I could barely make out the Oldsmobile sitting there under the moonlight. The coast looked clear, no zeds, no people, no flames. I suppose had we not been panicking at the thought of being burnt alive, Sharon and I might have realized we were being led this way.

“Please tell me you have the keys to that car,” Sharon half-pleaded.

I quickly patted my pants pockets until I felt the key ring in there, “Yeah, I have them.”

“Then let’s get Jimmy and get out of here.”

We ran back up the stairs, Sharon in the lead, and back to the room. Sharon opened the door to the candle-lit room with the key card again (battery powered lock maybe?), and burst into the room.

“It’s time to leave, Jimmy!” she half yelled, rushing into the room, and throwing open the closet door. She pulled out two large dark blue backpacks, the kind you use for hiking, and tossed one to me,” Load up what you can.”

Sharon and I quickly set about filling the packs up with ammunition, food, bottles of water (and I’m pretty sure I saw her stuff some mangas in hers), and anything else that seemed useful, fit, could be grabbed in about two minutes, and wasn’t too heavy to carry.

I grabbed my Mossberg and slung it over my shoulder where it sat awkwardly against the backpack. I saw Sharon sling a rifle over her shoulder, and double check that her hand-cannon was still on her hip, seeing this made me double check for the presence off my Beretta.

Jimmy had gotten to his feet, and was propped upon his crutches with the shotgun that had been on the bed with his hanging off of his shoulder. He looked at the same time pissed and pitiful, like he wanted to be a lot more helpful than he was being.

We rushed out the door into the dark hallway, and back to the stairs. As the beams from our lights cut through the darkness, we could now see some smoke seeping into stairwell. The fire was spreading.

Jimmy was having real difficulties hobbling down the stairs, and after about half a flight Sharon and I rushed back up to him. We each grabbed one of his arms and half carried/ half dragged him down the stairs. I thought briefly about how lucky we all were that our situations were not reversed; Jimmy is not a big guy, but between our packs and our panic we still struggled getting him down those stairs. If it were the two of them having to drag my fat ass down the stairs, we would have all burned to death.

Covered in sweat and panting, we emerged from the stairwell into the lobby, which was now filled with flickering orange light. The fire had gotten through/under the front doors, and the furniture barricade was starting to catch. We turned away from the front door and rushed to the pool access door.

Sharon and I did not wait for Jimmy, we ran to the barricade of dining furniture, and began pulling pieces of it down, and tossing them to the side. What must have taken Sharon hours to put up took the two of us maybe two minutes to take down.

Pulling a ring of keys from her pocket, Sharon quickly began trying them in the lock on the doors. There were probably 10 keys on the ring, and I think she finally found the right one on the 8th attempt. She flung the doors open, and we all rushed (or hobbled in Jimmy’s case) into the cool night air. I had not realized how warm it had been inside until that point, but some of that may have been from the growing fire.

As we started to move across the pool area, and towards there car there was the sound of glass breaking and a whooshing noise. An orange glow erupted from the Oldsmobile as flames sprouted up from the front of the car as well as the ground under it, and on the roof of the car. Someone had just thrown a pair of Molotov cocktails onto it.

Suddenly noise filled the night as a half dozen motorcycles and a large truck's engine rumbled to life. Light blazed through the night as all of their headlights (except for the truck, which had been backed in) came on. The truck and two of the bikes were to our right, blocking the alleyway where it opened out onto the street. The other four bikes were to our left continuing the line of the fence across the alley, blocking off any escape through the back of the hotel. How the hell had we not heard them drive up? It's not like there's a lot of traffic noise anymore for them to have blended into,

We were trapped; the only way out the back was through the gate and into the alley full of bikers. Going back through the front was not an option due to the large fire no doubt started by the bikers to chase us out the back and into a trap.

“Well good evenin',” called out a voice with a slight Southern accent over the rumble of engines,” Lovely night for a bonfire, ain't it?”

As my eyes adjusted, I could make out eight figures in the alleyway, four on each side. The voice had come from one of the two by the big flatbed truck. I noticed on the back of the truck was a large cage, but a this point I couldn't make out too much of it.

The biker who had spoken stepped forward, towards the burning car,”It seems like you've got yourself a little choice to make here. We could just gun you down right now, but that seems rather unsporting, what with us being able to fill you fulla holes before you could even get your weapons up, and you having no cover and all. Your friends at least had a chance to fight back an' all,” he said, sounding almost wistful, “Or, you could just put down your weapons, and come quietly.”

“Why are you doing this?” yelled Sharon, “Why would you attack us? We should all be working together, not attacking each other.”

“Well aren’t we just a little na├»ve?” replied the biker.

“What did we ever do to you?” Sharon tried again to appeal to his non-existent humanity.

“You stole from us. This is our city now, and you people in the mall need to understand that if you overstep your bounds, you’re gonna pay for it.”

“What a load of crap! You’re working for Kaur, aren’t you?” called out Jimmy, wobbling a little on his crutches.

“Well I just have no idea at all who you’re talkin’ about,” replied the biker mockingly. All of the bikers broke out in derisive laughter,” Okay, enough Q and A; make your choice. Drop your weapons and come with us, or we shoot ya now.”

With such great choices, what could we do? I slipped the backpack off of my shoulders, and lowered it slowly to the ground, following it with my rifle.
As I removed by handgun from its holster, Sharon hissed at me, barely audible over the rumble of the engines,”What are you doing?”

“I did not come out here just to see you get shot in front of me. Maria, Gerry, Redd, and all of the others did not lose their lives just so you could lose yours,” I replied.

“They’re going to kill us anyway,” replied Jimmy.

“Then we need to think of something, but getting shot right here and now isn’t it..”

“This isn’t a movie; no one is going to show up at the last minute to save us. The guns are the only leverage we have.”

“There are more of them, and they have better gun. We do not have any leverage.”

“You just got us killed,” spat Jimmy, and slid the rifle off of his shoulder, it clattered to the ground.

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” stated Sharon, her eyes glistening with forming tears as she shed her pack and weapons.

Of course I had no idea what I was doing. I had no plan other that to stay alive as long as possible, and pray for a miracle.

“Smart choice!” called out the biker,” Now come out of there with your hands to the sky, pool party’s over.”

We moved towards the gate leading to the alley. One of the bikers to our left moved away fro his bike, and opened the pool gate for us, all the while pointing a very ugly looking automatic rifle at us.

“Go to the truck!” yelled the biker who was apparently the mouthpiece for the others.

As we walked closer to the truck, I got a better look at the cage. It was huge, covering the entire back of the truck. It was really two cages, a smaller one, and a bigger one. The smaller one reminded me of the airlock at the front of the hotel, its intent was clearly to separate one prisoner from the rest of them, although three people could fit in it at once.

The larger cage took up the bulk of the truck's flatbed, and it was big to hold at least a dozen people, more if you really packed them in. It looked something like this:

12th entry cage

Yeah, I know, my drawing skills suck, but it’s dark out here, and I don’t exactly have a drawing desk handy. In any case, it still probably gives you a better idea than my description did.

At this point I did not realize what this cage was meant for, but I suppose the long poles with the loops on the end (the looked like an extra large version of the poles animal control officers use the keep dangerous animals at a distance) that were mounted on the side should have been a hint.

At the back of the truck was a staircase that was hinged to the bottom of the cage in front of the door. As we approached, a biker with a red bandana on his head lowered the stairs, and then stepped off to the driver's side of the truck, and slid the barred door open. It slid open towards him like the door to a prison cell door, sticking out from the side of the truck.

Sharon went up the steps first, helping Jimmy come up behind her. I went last so in case Jimmy fell I would be able to catch him. When we were all inside the smaller of the two cages, the bandana'd biker slid the door shut, which sounded, to me at least, an awful lot like someone closing my coffin.

To say that the cage smelled is an understatement; it reeked. It smelled like death, or undeath as may be appropriate. It was at this point that I realized that this was used for capturing zombies. The poles with the wire loops on the end were for wrangling the zeds without getting in biting distance of them since the undead do not take the threat of being shot terribly serious.

“What are you going to do with us?” yelled Sharon, she was trying so hard not to cry.

“We're gonna take you home to meet mom!” replied the leader. This was met with laughter from the other bikers who were now all gathering together near the back of the truck since we were no longer even a token threat to them.

The lead biker started again, “We’re probably gonna use the chink and the lardass for zombie chow, but you, little miss, you were gonna let live... for awhile anyway. Or we might see how you do in unarmed combat with one of the zeds-,” the biker never got to finish his thought, as his face exploded at that point.

I never heard the shot that did it, and neither, I imagine, did he. Seeing a living person get their head taken off is very different that seeing a zed get their head splattered. The colors are so much more vivid on a living human, not the dark greens, grays, and blacks of a zed. Even in the limited light, I could see the bright red of his blood, the gray of his brains (who knew he actually had any?), and even the pinkish white of blood-covered bone spray through the air in slow motion.

Time stopped as the faceless biker seemed to stand there forever, as if pondering what witty thing to say to us next. I swear that even the engines of the truck and the motorcycles stopped during what must have only been a second, maybe two.

When his body finally took a stagger-step forward, and finally fell to his knees, and then to the ground, it was like someone flipped a switch, and time started again. The bikers started to bring up their weapons. There were a couple of cracks from rifles, and a blond biker with a pair of sunglasses on his head grabbed his throat as blood erupted from his neck, and a black biker with cornrows spun off his feet clutching his right shoulder.

I heard one of the biker's yell 'Who the fuck is shooting at us?” as he and a couple of the remaining bikers started firing wildly into the night.

Wanting the not feel helpless and exposed in the back of a truck, I took decisive (ly stupid) action. The red bandana's biker had frozen with his hand on the bar that would lock the cage door in place, not having actually locked us in yet. I grabbed the cage door, and shoved it open as hard as I could. As I hoped, the door caught him in the side of the head, and knocked him off his feet.

Had the remaining bikers not been busy shooting into the darkness and getting shot themselves, I'm sure this stupid action would have earned me a quick and painful death at the barrels of their guns, but they were too busy to worry about the three off us. I leapt down the stairs, and Sharon practically shoved Jimmy down the steps onto me before bounding down them herself.

Being just as panicked as the last couple surviving bikers, we ran for front of the truck this being the direction that gunfire was not coming from.

“They're getting away!” yelled the biker who I had hit with the cage door. Apparently the knock to the head broke him out of his frozen terror, as he had gotten to his knees, and raised a very vicious looking little automatic weapon towards us.

The biker fired at us, and I felt pieces of pavement hit the backs of my legs as we ran/dragged Jimmy towards what we hoped was safety. His gun fell silent, and I chanced a look behind me to see him laying on the ground, and the tire of the truck next to him rapidly deflating..

As quickly as it had started, the gunfire ceased, and now only the sound of engines filled the night again. The whole thing must have only taken ten or fifteen seconds, but it sure seemed a lot longer than that.

Sharon, Jimmy, and I hid in front of the truck, making ourselves quite visible in the headlights, but hopefully keeping the bulk of the truck between us as the shooters. At this moment all we knew for sure was that they were not friends of the bikers, but that did not mean they were our allies.

“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” Sharon kept repeating under her breath.

“What do we do now?” I asked to no one in particular.

“We hope whoever did that is friendly and that they show themselves before all that noise attracts a shitload of zombies to us.” replied Jimmy. So we just stayed in front of the truck, peeking around the side towards the war zone behind us.

Another eternity later, and two figures appeared in the headlights of the motorcycles blocking the alley. One was thin, and one a little thicker; the flames from the burning car making them nothing more than silhouettes. They split up, and started walking from body to body, and shooting them again with handguns when they were satisfied with their work. They started towards where we were hiding.

“It's safe, you can come out now!” called a deep cartoony voice.

“Gerry?” asked Jimmy.

“The one and only,” replied the voice.

Jimmy hobbled towards the figures, using the truck to hold him up, as his crutches were laying up in the cage. The figures came closer to us, and when they became fully visible in the headlights of the motorcycles, we could see it was Gerry and Maria.

“You guys are alive!” I exclaimed, as Sharon and I moved forward to catch up to Jimmy.

“Good thing too, since you three were marching willingly to your deaths.” replied Maria, but she smiled a very tired smile.

“Is there anyone else?” asked Sharon.

Gerry shook his had slowly,” No, they killed everyone else. Maria and I ended up retreating to the manager’s office when Josh got shot. There were a lot of them. We gave good as we got, but we were outnumbered.”

“We failed, and everyone paid for it,” contributed Maria, devoid of her confidence for the first time in my presence.

“You saved us,” said Sharon, putting a hand on Maria’s shoulder.

“We couldn’t have the mission be a complete failure, replied Maria with that weak smile again.

We looted the biker’s corpses as quickly as possible, made sure they were all sufficiently dead so that they would not get up again, turned off the motors to the bikes and truck (we could probably go back for the remaining fuel later if the hotel fire didn’t claim them), grabbed the supplies we had dropped by the pool, and then got out of there. Among us, only Maria and Jimmy knew how to ride a motorcycle (and Jimmy was really not in any condition to), and the flat rear tire on the truck made using it impossible as a means of escape, so we walked as fast as we could. Somewhere out there was bound to be at least a few ghouls homing in on where all the noise had been coming from.

Maria wanted us to get far enough away from the Majestic so that if the fire spread, we would hopefully not get caught in it. She also wanted to make sure we were far enough away in case any other members of Hell’s Postmen decided to come looking for their missing buddies.

It was slow going, but after about an hour (an undead free hour, thank God) Maria said we were far enough, and we took shelter in a gas station. After a meal of warm soda, chips, and candy bars, we decided to camp out for the rest of the night.

Maria wanted to take first shift as guard, but we all insisted she rest. I’m on lookout duty now. I don’t know if the others are all asleep in the little store or not, but I’m up on the roof keeping a watch out for anything on two legs, or two wheels, but about the only thing I can see right now is the light from the burning Hotel Majestic in the distance. I wonder how far that will spread.

In the morning, we will figure out what to do. I’m not sure if we will even be going home. I miss my bed, but I will gladly give up everything I owned just to know that Sharon is safe.

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