Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Twenty Sixth Entry: Zombie Me

November 26th

Well that didn't take long. Do you know what Hashmir has done with those supplies we brought back on Monday? The paper, and ink, and toners, and whatnot? As much as I would like to say that he did make up de-motivating motivational posters, or maybe some nice lolcats, he didn't; he made recruiting posters.

I went down this morning to discover that most of the empty surfaces of the shopping sector (and to a lesser extent, the business and residential sectors) is covered in posters of Alexandre Rontreal flanked by two Aryan looking security officers tell me to “Join Mallville Security, Keep our Community Strong and Safe”. There are also posters with pictures of Hashmir trying to look inspiring that read “Strength in Unity, Defeat in Dissent”. Is he having a laugh?

I think what may be the scariest thing is that the buzz I heard from hanging around down there was general approval. I think most of the refugees are the same soft-minded idiots who believed everything they saw on Wolf News. Where are the recruiting posters for other positions? Scavenger? Cleanup? Hell, where's the posters for janitorial?

Nothing against the good people in security (a list which I must leave Rontreal and Kaur off of), but they don't really do much but keep the peace inside the 'Ville. Yes, they helped save Sharon's and my ass on Monday, but I would say the roof guards do more overall to keep us safe; it's them that kept this place from being surrounded by zeds at any rate.

Of course I was a roof guard, so I will admit to being somewhat biased in their favor, but still.

In an odd way though, it seems that the posters have quelled a little bit of the growing unrest that has been simmering in the refugees. I've heard of a few incidents of security laying the smack down on someone caught vandalizing or removing the posters, but the vast majority of people seem to like them. I wonder if Alex has anything in mind to go against this.

I wonder if he has anything in mind that won't lead to loss of life, I should say.

Rumors of disappearances continue. Mrs. Dwonch's apartment has been reassigned to an interesting German guy named Hans Gruber. For some reason his name makes me want to laugh, but I cannot place it. He's a nice man, probably in his fifties; he came over and introduced himself a couple of days ago, and asked if we knew what happened to the former occupant.

Apparently no one even cleaned up Mrs. Dwonch's apartment before assigning it to Mr. Gruber, as he was quite disturbed by the mess of broken glass. I would think that Kaur would at least have the decency to not leave behind the mess resulting from him disappearing someone, but then I guess that's why I'm backing Alex in this little power struggle. For the record, Tara and I did help him clean the mess up.

The smell in the hallway outside Tara's apartment seems to have leveled off, but it is still awful. It smells like something dead and rotting. I don't know what sort of miracle is keeping the smell more or less out of Tara's apartment, but I thank God for it.

Speaking of the smell of death on the sixth floor, I had another one of those dreams. This was the worst one yet, and it's been bothering me all day. I think if I write it down it might help, as I haven't told anyone else about it, not Tara, or Sharon, or anyone.

This time I was in Tara's apartment, it must have been around midday, and suddenly I could smell that stench in there with me. I was there alone for some reason, I don't know where Tara was, so I got up to try and see where the smell was coming from.

I went over to the door to the outside hallway, and I could smell it there, but it didn't seem to be the source. The smell was coming from the direction of Tara's bedroom. I walked down the hall, trying to get some sense of direction from the odor. I checked her gaming room, but it wasn't coming from in there.

I went the rest of the way down the hall to where her bathroom and bedroom are. The bathroom door was sitting open, but the bedroom door was closed. I flicked on the light in the bathroom, but found nothing but the usual; toilet, sink, tub/shower, mirror, towels, etc.

Then I went to the bedroom door. Tara doesn't usually keep any of the doors in her apartment closed, as she likes the outside light filtering in as much as possible since she spends much of her day down in Alex's office which doesn't have any windows, so it was odd that it was closed. I felt a surge of tension as I placed my hand on the doorknob, and slowly, quietly turned it.

As I pushed the door open, I realized that the bedroom was the source of the odor; it was even stronger in here than outside in the hallway. Whatever it was, it was in here. I was afraid I would find Tara's dead body, but something else found me.

The curtain was closed, and the room was fairly dark. I stepped fully into the room, and as I did I heard a rustling sound. It had come from the closet. The room appeared empty, so I went over to the closet's mirrored sliding door.

As I reached for the end of the door with the intent of sliding it open, it exploded, showering me with shards of glass. A figure burst out of the shadow of the closet at me, into me, knocking me backwards. I clumsily staggered back until my legs hit the bed, and I fell over onto it.

The shape fell onto me, it was a woman, but not human; not anymore at least. I felt a sharp burning pain in my neck as she bit me. I felt the wetness of my own blood flowing out of me. I felt the tearing as she pulled her head back, ripping a piece of my flesh out. Just writing about it, I can feel it again.

I got control of myself, shoved her up and off of me, and got to my feet. Already I was feeling dizzy, but I couldn't give up. I hadn't fought to survive all this time to lose to one single stinking (literally) zed. I quickly looked for something to use as a weapon.

The zed recovered from my shoving her, and lunged at me again. Like something out of a movie, I was able to grab her left arm, and pivot. I used her own momentum to throw her past me, and into the window. The window held, but she got tangled in the ice blue curtains. The curtain rod pulled free of the wall as the ghoul struggled.

Light flooded the room, and I could see that the woman had long filthy matted hair. She looked familiar, but I don't know who she was. Probably a real zombie I've seen in my all too frequent experiences with them. She was wearing a filthy grey skirt and business jacket combo, and she was free from the curtains in seconds.

The zed charged me again, and in the state I was in, which was both dizzy and fading yet fully alert at the same time, I kept looking for a weapon. Suddenly I remembered that Tara keeps a Glock in her nightstand (I've never asked he when she started that because I'm kind of afraid of what the answer might be).

I dodged the ghoul's charge, and it went straight past me and back into the closet with a crash of broken glass and falling hangers. I yanked the drawer open, and there was Tara's handgun sitting right on top. I grabbed it, and turned to face the zed as it pulled itself back up and out of the now destroyed closet.

The ghoul started at me again, but I raised the handgun, and fired. I pulled the trigger until the gun stopped firing. Even in a dream the sound of the gun firing repeatedly in the bedroom was deafening, and the smell of gun smoke now fought with the smell of rotting flesh for my nose's attention.

Most of the shots hit the woman in the head and upper chest, and she flew backwards like a bad guy in an action film, crashing once again into the closet, and sliding down the back wall of the closet too the floor. As she fell she pulled more of the now gore soaked clothes off their hangers so that they fell on her partially obscuring the body.

All of the strength drained out of me, from the blood loss I would guess, and my knees came unhinged. I fell back onto the bed, and the now empty Glock dropped from my fingers. I was at the same time a mass of aching joints and muscles and complete numbness. I was losing consciousness while still being fully aware. It's almost like I was seeing through my own eyes and through a third party's eyes at the same time; like I was watching through a camera or something.

I lay there, both looking up at the ceiling and looking down at myself. I could feel myself slipping away, but not. I could feel the infection from the bite spreading through my body, and my body stopped responding to my commands; I couldn't so much as twitch a finger. My vision started to get cloudy, like someone had placed a nearly empty glass of milk on my face.

Then it happened; my heart stopped. I lay there for what seemed like an eternity, or at least until the sun went down. Then I heard a noise. Someone entered the apartment. It had to be Tara, who else would it be?

Then again, why would there be a zombie in Tara's closet?

It was Tara, she called out to me. “Are you here?” she asked.

I wanted to yell, “Yes, I'm hurt, I need to get to the med center. I've been bit!” but I couldn't speak. However my body started to move. I was not making my body move, not commanding it or controlling it, it was moving on its own. I felt overwhelmed by this immense pain and hunger that seemed to be in every fiber of my being.

It was like being on a Disneyland dark ride; I was a passenger only as my body rose slowly, somewhat clumsily, to my feet. I had been bit, I had died, I had turned. I was one of them now.

“Run!” I tried to yell, but all that came out was a soft “Wrrruuuuhhhhh”. I did have some control, I could still make noise, but I couldn't communicate. How could I warn her?

The light was now on in the living room, but the hallway light was off. I could see her through layer of fog that seemed to have formed in my eyes. I could smell her, her flesh, her blood, and I wanted to taste her. I slowly walked towards her.

“Are you okay?” she asked me, not able to see me clearly yet.

“Tuuuurrrrhhhh, wruuuurrrrhhhh!” I tried to warm her.

She looked at my shadowy form suspiciously, “No,” she said under her breath.

“Guuuuuuh!” I tried to yell as I stepped into the light from the living room. This put me between her and the door, and now she would have to go through me to escape.

She shook her head, and sounded almost disappointed, “No. What happened to you? What did you do?”

From my outside view, I could see myself clearly. My skin had gone a pale gray, and the blood that had flowed from the wound in my neck had soaked my shirt, and dried to almost black. From inside I saw Tara starting to back towards the couch.

“I'm sorry,” she said in a cold tone that didn't convey the truth behind her words, “I love you.”

She spun, stepped around the coffee table, and went for the couch; I went after her. She reached over the back of the couch, and pulled out a Browning (there's not one there in reality, I checked), she turned to shoot me with it, but it was too late; I was on her.

My body lunged at her, while my mouth groaned “Nuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhh!” I wanted to stop myself so bad, but nothing but my vocal cords would respond in even the slightest. I pushed her backwards onto the couch as she fired the rifle.

She had been aiming for my head, but I knocked the gun aside, and she took off my left ear instead. The sound made my head ring, it was a new layer of pain on top of that hunger, but my body did not even seem to notice.

My right hand grabbed the hot barrel of the rifle, and yanked it out of her hands. She didn't scream, or cry as I raised the gun over my head like a club, and brought it down on her face. The skin on her forehead split, and blood poured over her face.

My body raised the rifle again, and brought it down. Tara put her arms up to block it, and I heard the crack of bone as my blow snapped her left forearm. She pushed against the rifle when it hit, trying to stand up from the couch. She succeeded in making me stagger backwards. My left leg caught the edge of the coffee table, and I went down, the rifle tumbling from my hand.

She jumped up from the couch, and tried to hop over me and run for the door, but my left hand snagged her ankle, and brought her down to the floor with a thud and a grunt. She tried to scramble away from me, but she couldn't get out of my grip.

I half pulled her to me, half crawled on top of her. She kicked at me with her free foot, but it was to no avail. My body crawled over hers, but this time it was no romantic act. She never screamed, or begged, or cried, or anything, she only said, “You don't have to do this. I love you.”

“Suuurrruuuhhhh,” I moaned, “Luuuuuuuuhhhhhh yyyyyyuuuuuhhhhhhh.”

My mouth sank its teeth into her right cheek; she squinted but made no sound other than a sharp hiss of breath as I tore a chunk of her beautiful face free. Blood flowed from the hole, and from my outside eyes I could see her teeth through the hole.

It was so real; I could taste her blood in my mouth. I could taste her flesh, and it tasted so good. The taste of her flesh seemed to dull my pain, like a dose of heroing temporarily make an addict feel good. Oh God, I can taste it now just thinking about it. It's like I have these conflicting memories of delicious ecstasy and foul revulsion. I feel ill.

The dream didn't end there. I didn't wake up. My body kept eating her, even when she stopped breathing I kept eating. It wasn't until there was a knock at the door that my body decided it was done with her. My body abandoned the cooling meal for the prospect of a fresh hot one.

Sharon's voice called my and Tara's names as she knocked again, “Hey, anybody home in there?”

Sharon knocked again, “Whatever you're doing in there, knock it off, and come open the door!”

My body was on its feet, and moving towards the door, not as fast as I would have, but fast enough that I was there when I heard the knob turn. Tara didn't lock it when she came in, and Sharon pushed it open to find me standing there.

My body at her, me still a prisoner in my own head and an outside observer I couldn't do anything to stop it. Sharon staggered backwards in surprise, and I slammed into her, She was driven her across the hallway and into the opposite wall. She threw up her hands to push me off, and my body sank my teeth into her left forearm.

I feel sickened again, because I can remember how she tasted. Her flesh and blood was sweeter than Tara's. She was very different than Tara in the dream. Where Tara surrendered herself to death and almost calmly let me kill her, Sharon fought with every ounce of her life force. She screamed, and struggled as I dragged her down the surface of the wall to the floor.

As I tore at her flesh with my teeth, tearing off chunks of her and swallowing them without chewing her fighting grew weaker and weaker. I prayed that I would somehow choke on one of those pieces so that I would have to stop. Can a zed choke to death? I wished I could.

Sharon died in my arms, by my hands, by my teeth. Her blood on my tongue. Oh God, it was awful; I feel like I want to either cry or throw up just thinking about it, but I don't think I can get it out of my head unless I get it down on paper, and I have to get it out of my head.

I'm almost through here, please just bear with me a little longer.

My body continued to savage Sharon's cooling corpse until another familiar voice spoke up.

“I knew you were a risk to Mallville,” said Alexandre Rontreal from down the hallway, “I told Kaur as much. Thank goodness I'm here to put a stop to it before your infection spreads any further.”

Rontreal pulled his sidearm, a Desert Eagle just like Hashmir has been carrying recently, “With Sigler and all of his little friends gone, I guess Mallville will find itself a safe place.”

I rose from Sharon's remains and started towards Rontreal. He raised his gun, and fired.

I woke up, and this time I did scream, because Tara jerked up beside me. I heard her open her dresser drawer, she was going for her Glock. When she realized it was just the two of us there, she stopped, and turned to face me in the darkness. I was panting and crying, and she was there for me. In my mind I had just murdered her, and there she was,'

“What's wrong? Are you okay?” she asked in a confused and unusually panicky voice.

I couldn't speak, I just took her in my arms and held her tight. I could taste blood in my mouth as if it had all been real; her blood; Sharon's blood.

She held me tight, and “shhh”-ed me, trying to calm me down. She tried to get me to tell her what happened, but all I could say was that it was a bad dream. I told her it was about the attack on Halloween, and that seemed to satisfy her.

I couldn't tell her the truth. It's all I can do just to write it down here. That was a lot harder than I thought it would be, but I do feel somehow lighter for it. The only thing is the taste of blood in my mouth.

The taste.

I can't get rid of that taste. I know it's not real, but it won't go away.

I think I'm going to be sick.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Twenty Fifth Entry: A Cup of Coffee to Die For

November 22nd

I would like to say that things are going good around here, but they aren't. I think Alex seriously pushed the wrong buttons with Kaur, and people are really scared. The food court is usually as upbeat a place as you're going to see around here, what with all of the refugees eating there,socializing, and trying to make things seem as normal as possibly, but it's quiet; everyone's eating in silence.

I think I'm becoming a bit paranoid too. I've started carrying my old messenger bag with me at all times. It's an old beat up brown thing from high school, but I'm using it because it has a solid foam center (it's actually intended to be a laptop bag) with a secret pocket. You can only open the pocket if you know how, and if you put something reasonably narrow in there, say this journal, no one can tell because there's already rigid foam around the space. Never mind what I used to use it for.

I don't know why I ever stopped carrying it really, it's got the usual things in it, pens (which probably don't work anymore), gum (which is probably as hard as a rock), a paperback book I never finished reading for some reason, and of course my towel (you should always know where your towel is). For the record, it's just one of those thin microfiber camping towels, barely a step up from a Shamwow.

In any case, I am keeping this journal in it, and with me at all times. I no longer feel safe leaving it in my apartment. What if someone more dangerous that Sharon gets into it? There's enough in here to get me “dealt with severely”.

Maybe it's not paranoia though. There's word going around that people are disappearing; not a large number of people, and not anyone I know personally. I would say it's just myth and rumor, but I do know OF someone I did not know who has vanished. Does that make sense? Let me explain.

I went over to see Tara yesterday, and by the way that smell is getting really bad up there; someone needs to figure out what it is. When I knocked on her door I noticed that the door opposite hers was open a bit, not a lot, just a few inches. I could see light inside, but the door was not open enough to let me see in.

Tara greeted me with a hug and a kiss when she opened the door; she's forgiven me for getting my ass beat it seems, but I think she hugged me as hard as she did because she knows my ribs still hurt from that asshole trying to kick them in. anyway, when she let me go, she did not move out of the doorway, but was instead looking over my shoulder.

“Something wrong?” I asked.

“Mrs Dwonch's door is still open,” she said distractedly.

“If that is the door belonging to Mrs Dwonch, then yes, it is,” I replied, trying, and probably failing, to be charming.

“Well don't you think that's strange?” she asked.

“I've never paid enough attention to her door to know if it is strange or not.”

“She doesn't usually leave it open. She's been really quiet since her husband died; she just stays locked up in there with the baby. “

“Maybe she went for a walk?” I asked.

“And just left her house sitting open?”

“Maybe she's trusting.”

That earned me a dirty look. We both crossed the hallway to stand before the partly open door.

“Okay, maybe the kid was sick and she went to the medical center in a panic. New parents panic about that sort of stuff, right?”

“I suppose so, but I think she would have told someone,” said Tara, clearly not fully satisfied with my explanation.

“Maybe she did. Maybe she found someone else in the hallway when she came out, or she just chose to tell someone else. You're not the only one that lives here.”

Tara didn't respond to that, instead she pushed the apartment door open all the way. The first thing I noticed was that this was not the source of the smell out here in the hallway. I could smell it in there, but not as strong as I could out in the hallway. The second thing I noticed was the mess.

Now Tara had said that this woman had a baby, bu this was not baby mess. Yeah, there were some toys and baby blankets strewn about the beige carpet, but there was also the matter of the coffee table. In front of the overstuffed floral print couch there was a pile of glass and bent gold colored metal that had at one time been a coffee table.

We cautiously went into the apartment to see if Tara's neighbor was lying injured somewhere, but the apartment was empty. No Mrs. Dwonch, and no baby Dwonch; just an empty crib in one bedroom, and an unmade queen sized bed in the other. There was however more signs of a fight.

The light we could see from the hallway was being cast by a large undisturbed torchiere lamp in the corner behind the couch, but in the dining area the light had been broken, and was just a light socket with bits of broken bulb still sticking out of it. One of the dining table chairs had been knocked over, and the kitchen floor was littered with broken glass, dishes, and a nearly dry orange puddle which was almost certainly baby food.

“Still think she went for a walk?” asked Tara.

“Maybe it was a very localized earthquake?” I asked, and then more seriously, “Maybe she did it herself. You said her husband died, maybe she just... flipped out.”

“Her husband was a doctor at the hospital when the zed virus started,” explained Tara as she went to take a closer look at the shattered coffee table, “I heard he was killed in the initial outbreak there; in the emergency room when they first started to rise. I don't know if that's the truth or, “ she interrupted herself,” Come look at this.”

I walked over to her, my feet grinding the broken glass into the floor. She pointed at the pile of shards that used to be a tabletop, “Is that blood?” she asked.

“I would guess so, yeah.”

“Well then, unless she threw herself onto the table, there must have been someone else involved.”

“We need to get security then,” I said.

“Who do you think took her?“ said Tara, suddenly in her cold no nonsense persona.

“Was she...?”

“I don't think so, but I don't think a lot of the people who have disappeared are guilty of anything either; not anything that would endanger Mallville anyway. ”

I did eventually manage to convince Tara that we needed to get security if for no other reason than it would look suspicious if anyone saw us in here and we did not get them. It's not like we really need to be giving Kaur any excuses to make us disappear.

To their benefit, security really did a good job of playing innocent when they came. I would say this is because the officers that came back with us were simply not involved in the woman's disappearance, but Alexandre Rontreal himself came to the Dwonch apartment, and he wasn't even a good enough actor to hide his naked dislike of Tara and myself.

When we asked about the security cameras stationed along the hallways in the residential sections, Rontreal admitted, in his best performance of the day, rather sheepishly that they were not working. “Someone” had vandalized them. What a load of crap! He even had the nerve to imply that it was us, or some other Sigler supporter.

Personally I think it is awfully convenient that “someone” disabled the cameras, and I can't help but wonder how many cameras have been “vandalized” in areas that people have disappeared from.

I can't help but worry about this, I wonder how long it's going to be before I disappear, or Sharon, or Tara....

Tara says that I shouldn't worry about that; that Alex's display at the beginning of the month is still stuck people's minds, but I don't know. I guess she's right though, but not necessarily for the right reason. There's simply nothing I can do about it; My best friend is Alex's girlfriend, my girlfriend is his assistant; there's really no escaping it. I might as well just try and enjoy whatever time I have left.

What is Hashmir doing with these people? Is he holding them captive somewhere? Is he ejecting them from Mallville? Is he executing them? Is he only doing this because we boosted his paranoia with the whole election thing? Is trying to get him out of power worth the lives it is costing?

I know how Tara, Sharon, and Alex would answer that last question. I know that these people are my friends, and I trust them with my life, even Alex. I just fear that what we are doing, have already done, may cause long term problems.

Still, what's done is done.

Enough whining!

For the first time in ages, we went on a scavenging run yesterday, and it felt good to be outside the walls again despite all that happened, or maybe because of it. It's funny, I never felt much of an urge to leave here before the end of the world, but now I enjoy being outside. Maybe it's just an adrenaline rush thing.

It was good to have the old team together, or what's left of us. Me, Sharon, Gerry, Maria, Grant Carr, and Wally Miller along with a couple of people I wasn't really familiar with. There was a redhead woman named Rachael Calderon who I am guessing is Irish despite the name, as she is as pale as Alex, and covered in freckles which makes her kind of cute actually (don't tell Tara). The other new person was Norse god of a man named Erik Pettorsson, pale skin, dark hair, and a body that looks like he could probably bench press me. I tried not to stand next to him while we were in the garage, as we look like the before and after pictures on a gym membership ad.

The other new additions to our team were four black armored members of the Mallville security force; Hashmir Kaur's private army. Alex and Tara came down to the garage to see us off, and while the cars were being given a last once-over by a couple of mechanics before we headed off I pulled both of them off behind a fuel tanker that had been scavenged by security on one of their special runs.

“What the hell is this?” I asked, pointing in the direction of the security officers on the opposite side of the truck.

“It's a tanker truck,” answered Alex, “Has it really been that long since you've seen one?”

“Not the truck, the security officers on the other side,” I hissed, “What are they doing here?”

“Calm down,” said Alex.

I just looked at him like he was stupid; him telling anyone to calm down is like The Punisher suggesting a non-violent resolution to a disagreement. Yes, that metaphor does suck.

“Since the attack last month-” started Alex.

“The one Kaur caused?”I asked.

“Yes, that one. Since then we've been sending security escorts out on the scavenging runs. It hasn't been a problem so far,” explained Alex.

“I don't trust them, and Gerry looks like he's about to wet his pants,” I explained, and it was true. As nervous as Gerry had been on clean-up duty, he looked downright placid then compared to now. If I didn't know better I would say he was tweaking.

Tara put what was, I'm sure, meant to be a comforting hand on my shoulder, “It's okay. Not everyone in security is a Kaur loyalist; do you really believe that he would send his most loyal out to potentially be slaughtered by the Postmen?” she asked.

“Oh, well, when you put it like that...”

“Listen,” said Alex seriously, “If I thought for even a second that those guys were going to turn on you, do you think I'd be sending Sharon out with them? Do you think Tara would let me send you out?”

“I'd kick your ass,” said Tara, and I'm only about fifty percent sure she was joking.

“Think about it, if only the four of them came back, it was start a riot. Kaur has to be careful right now, there are a lot of pissed off people out there after that kid was killed in the shopping area. Add to that the people who seem to have vanished, which is probably more rumor than anything, and you have the makings of a nice little revolt,” his eyes went wide then in mock innocence, “not that I would want anything to happen that would threaten our great leader's position mind you.”

“Of course not,” I agreed.

“Do you trust me?” asked Tara.

“Of course.”

“Do you trust me?” asked Alex.

“Not even a little,” I lied, provoking a chuckle from Alex. Tara was too busy being in serious mode to laugh.

“Everything will be fine,” Alex reassured me, “You just worry about doing the shopping, and they'll worry about getting you all back safe.

So to be honest, he actually had me convinced, or at least convinced enough to go along with it, when he brought up Sharon. My feelings aside, he really does seem to care about her, and I don't think he would put her in any unnecessary danger. Then again, he is a marginal psychopath.

With their armor and helmets on, all I could actually see of the security troops were their hands and faces. Two of them, Ralph Minajrez and Ahmad Cordova, were armed with M-16s, while the other two, Beth O'Hara and Rupert Perry, were toting what I was told by Maria are Remington 700 rifles. Of course they were all carrying handguns as their sidearms well. All of that beats the hell out of the Brownings and Beretta's we're all issued, but then if they do their jobs, we shouldn't even need our guns.

We split up into 4 vehicles; Maria, myself, and Officer Cordova were in the lead vehicle, a black Ford Expedition. With the others distributed two scavs and 1 officer per vehicle; Gerry, Sharon, and Officer O'Hara were in the second vehicle, a blue van, Wally, Rachel, and Officer Perry were third in a Fish X-Press delivery truck, and Grant, Erik, and Officer Minajrez brought up the rear in a brown Escalade.

Alex was right, I was letting my distrust of Kaur color my view of all members of the security force. Ahmad seems like a decent guy; he wasn't particularly outgoing or anything, but he wasn't unfriendly either.

Our destination wasn't the usual food outlet; this time it was a Paperclipz office supply store. Our “shopping list” was full of printing supplies; toner, large sized paper, things like that. Maybe Hashmir plans to convince the zombies and bikers to leave us alone through the use of witty motivational posters?

This Paperclipz is only about a mile from Mallville, so it was a short ride, but everyone was still very cautious anyway. We only saw a few zeds on the way, and it was weird; they were all in small groups, and all walking close together. I'll talk about that more in a bit though.

I have to say that Paperclipz was a bit jarring, it was the first really vandalized store I've seen since I started scavenging months ago. All of the front windows how been smashed like someone was trying to break in, but the heave metal gate that rolls across the entire storefront kept them from getting any farther. Apparently they either just wanted to break stuff, or they were too stupid to go steal some bolt cutters or a hacksaw or something to get through the lock.

Did I say steal? I meant scavenge.

Gerry went up to the gate and confirmed for us that it was still intact, but wanted to check around back to make sure that the doors back there were not open. In any case, it would make more sense to park the cars around back where there would be less of a chance of the Hell's Postmen seeing us.

Me, Erik, and Officer O'Hara stayed with Gerry at the front of the store while the others took the cars around back. It was cold enough out that we could see our breath billowing out in front of us. I noticed that Gerry kept looking uneasily at Officer O'Hara, so I decided to try and at least distract him if not calm him down.

“So what do you think Gerry, is it good to be back out here, or what?”

He looked at me, as if her were unsure if I was talking to him or not at first, “Huh? Oh, yeah, it's good to be outside the walls and all, but it's not the same,” He motioned to O'Hara with his eyes when he said the last part, but she was too busy watching the parking lot of the shopping center for movement to notice (or if she did notice, she chose not to make an issue about it)

“I know what you mean, a lot has changed at home, but out here still seems about the same. It's abandoned and smells bad, only now it's cold too,” I stated.

“It's good to have some help,” said Erik, “Since those bikers have stepped up their aggression we've been suffering losses. Having security with us has helped to at least chase them off, but no one seems to want to volunteer anymore.”

Without looking at us, O'Hara spoke, “Those bikers are punks. What we need to do is figure out where they live, and go exterminate them like the fucking roaches they are. We've got the firepower, and I think we can drum up the manpower for it.”

Our radios crackled to life with Maria's voice, “It looks like it's all locked up tight back here. No keyhole on the door either; exit only,”

“Okay,” replied Gerry into his handset, “We'll come in through the front, and let you guys in.”

“Copy that. Do you want anymore backup?”

Gerry looked at us, his eyes lingering on O'Hara longer than me or Erik, “Uhhh, no, I think we can make it through the store on our own.”

Gerry got out his lockpicks, and had the door open in about a minute (even though the glass was broken, the frame was still blocking the lock where the two halves of the gate met). It took another three minutes to get the security gate open.

“You guys okay in there?” asked Sharon as Gerry struggled to get the lock open.

“We're not in yet,” I replied, “Seems someone lost their touch during our months on clean-up duty.”

“Fuck you,” Gerry muttered without looking up from the lock.

“Well hurry it up, it's cold out here,” commented Maria.

Once inside we made a fast, if cautious, run through the store to the back. The faint light from outside didn't reach very far into the store, and we had to strap on our headlamps (except for O'Hara, who had a light mounted on the underside of her rifle. I want a flashlight for my rifle too, dammit!) to make it through without running into an endcap or something.

The store was clean of zombies, but a lot of mess had blown in through the broken windows. Leaves and bits of litter were strewn about the aisles, but the shelves seemed undisturbed. Like a lot of the places we hit, it looked like they closed up one night, and just never re-opened again.

It took a couple of hours to locate and load up what we were supposed to get. It would have gone faster if the security officers had helped, but Perry and O'Hara stationed themselves at the front of the store to keep an eye on the parking lot while Cordova and Minajrez stayed behind the store by the cars.

Of course one of the big things that slowed us down was the inability to get the delivery door open. There we had this big garage door sized delivery door, and we couldn't figure out how to open it without power, there didn't seem to be any sort of emergency release for it, so we had to bring everything through the normal human-sized door single file.

One thing we hadn't thought of was the other supplies this store would have. Aside from the tape, various sizes of paper, big tubes of toner, and other office things on our list, we also picked up bottled water, candy, snack food, and coffee. Yes, coffee! That stuff's worth as much as booze around the 'Ville, even if it is only Folgers instant, and it's almost as scarce. I will admit to slipping a couple of the small boxes of it into my satchel (I was serious when I said I've started carrying it everywhere).

When we almost had the truck full of anything we thought we could possibly used, Sharon came up to where I was filling a box with Grab Bag sized bags of Funyuns from a cash register's impulse display, “Did you see what was on the other side of the parking lot?” she asked, trying to act like nothing had gone on between us. She pointed out past the checkstand and Officers O'Hara and Perry, and out the broken front windows .

Since I do still want to be her friend, I played along, “Taco Hut?”

She frowned, “Next to the Taco Hut!”

“A payday loans place.”

“The other side!” she said, starting to sound annoyed.

“Big Box Books?”

“Yes!” she said gleefully, “I think we should go get some new manga!”

“Did you clear this with Maria and the others?”

“But of course! I told her there was a coffee shop in there. She said that we were on our own, but to radio if we ran into any problems, and bring back as much coffee as we can carry.”

I looked across the empty parking lot at the clearly broken windows of the book store, “That's all she said?”

“Well, she also said that if we didn't get our asses back here when they're ready to leave that she will leave us here.”

“Ah,” I said, feeling more like I was getting the whole story now.

We made a quick stop down the “Bags & Cases” aisle to each pick up a backpack; the selection wasn't great, and they all smelled a bit from being in the damp air for a while, but we did each get the biggest we could find. Sharon also grabbed a large laptop bag. She ran the shoulder strap across her body the way I wear my satchel.

Wearing our luggage, we each grabbed a shopping cart and headed across the parking lot at a light jog. I don't know about Sharon, but I felt really exposed out there in the open. I know we were being covered by our friendly sniper team, but I still was worried about hearing the sound of revving motorcycles. Luckily, all we heard was the soft sound of a light wind and the rattling of our carts rolling on the asphalt.

“This is foolish, you know that right?” I asked as we passed a light pole about halfway between Paperclipz and Big Box.

“Oh come on, we're armed, not that we've seen any zeds since we got here, and that fucker at the Big Box at home won't even trade with me for booze or coffee, and I need something new to read!”

“Wait, you have coffee at home?”

“Uhhh, no.”

The doors to the bookstore were still locked, but every piece of glass in them and in the display windows was broken. Our feet crunched over the broken glass that was piled around the windows, and spread further into the store. We lifted our carts over the bottom of one of the window frames, and rolled them roughly into the store.

Where Paperclipz was pristine inside other than the crap that had been blown through the bars of the gate, Big Box Books looked like a tornado had hit it. It didn't really look like anything had been taken, but it looked like someone had taken their rage out on the storefront.

The first thing we did was head over to the Apollo's coffee counter on the right side of the store. We found most of the tables, chairs, and displays had been overturned, and some of the bags of coffee had broken open. There were beans and some ground coffee scattered on the floor, but most of the bags we found were still sealed.

We loaded up the carts as fast as we could, and I took a couple of bags of whole bean Sumatra into my satchel, tossing the boxes of Folgers into the shopping carts (hey, it's still coffee... sort of). Once the carts were full of everything we could find (including some bottles of flavored syrups, hey why not?) we muscled them back outside the store, and went back for our primary target; books!

Sharon was of course looking for mangas, but I wanted to find some science fiction and fantasy stuff for Bishop to read; that kid seems to go through about a book a day, and is quickly depleting my supply. Lucky for us the two sections are next to each other, and shared a same aisle. Of course the section is about halfway back through the store, so we had to turn on our headlamps.

For being exposed to the elements, the books were all in pretty good shape back this far. I remember thinking that whoever vandalized the store must have gotten bored before they got here, as most of these books were still on the shelf. The books didn't even smell particularly musty, and the pages felt pretty dry for having been exposed to the outside air. I quickly tossed books into my satchel and when that was full, I started filling the backpack.

Sharon was practically I heaven, she was actually giggling as she stuffed volume after volume of whatever she could get her hands on into her backpack and satchel. It was the happiest I've seen her since the world ended. It's too bad it couldn't last.

As I was putting volumes of Harry Harrison and J.C. Hutchins into my backpack, I suddenly heard Sharon gasp. She called out to me, “Look out!”

I turned to face her, and saw that she had dropped her satchel back to her side, and was trying to bring her rifle up, pointing it past me. I turned to see her target and my headlamp illuminated the pale (all the more pale for the bright light shining less than a foot from it) flesh of the rotting face of a zombie.

I gasped, and tried to step back from the monster. My foot came down on a book that was on the floor, and slid out from under me. I went down on my ass and Sharon fired. When I looked back in the direction of my would be attacker, my headlamp adding to the light of Sharon's, I saw that half of his head was gone, and he was falling to the floor like a deflating Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon.

Before either of us could speak the store was filled with a loud moaning; it was as if someone had powered up the store's speaker system, and then gotten all of their friends to go “Eeeeuuuuuuggggghhhhhh!” into the microphone. I used the bookshelf to pull myself to my feet, this was a little more difficult to do since I was now wearing at least forty pounds of books on my already ample frame (although less ample than when the world ended actually), and brought my Browning up as we frantically looked for the source of the noise, our headlamps casting a dancing light show around the aisle.

Our radios crackled to life, “What the hell was that? I heard a gunshot!” came the voice of Officer Perry. Sound travels well in the almost silent world we now live in.

Maria's voice now called our names out of the radio, “Are you guys okay? Talk to me.”

We heard them before we saw them; it was like there were suddenly a large number of people walking towards the front of the store from the back, and that is when I realized that at least some of what we thought was vandalism wasn't. We looked back, and we saw them coming forward; the aisle was choked with the undead.

Of course the obvious question here is “Why were there a group of zeds hiding in a book store?” Well, and keep in mind that I am no scientist, I think this, added to the huddled clumps of zeds we saw on the way out would seem to indicate that they dislike the cold. It makes sense if you think about it, the cold is going to slow whatever passes for their biological functions. I wonder if they could freeze to death. Could that be all it takes to save humanity, one really harsh winter?

“Do you have a visual on them?” asked the radio in Minajrez's voice.

“Negative, just their shopping carts; they're sitting outside the store like they have been for the last ten minutes.” replied O'Hara's voice.

“Oh shit!” exclaimed Sharon, and fired at the front of the group. One zed fell forward onto what was left of his face, but the others kept coming.

“Run!” I yelled, not bothering to try and shoot; we were obviously outnumbered, and if any of them came around the other end of the aisle we would have no escape. I grabbed at Sharon's sleeve with my left hand, and pulled her towards the end of the aisle that did not currently have the undead blocking it.

Sharon turned to follow me, and we ran towards our point of entry. My feet slid a little on the broken glass, but I didn't lose my balance. I jumped through the broken window and started to run towards Paperclipz.

Sharon stopped at the shopping carts, “Wait! The coffee!” she yelled.

I stopped running and turned to face her. She was already taking off her bulging backpack, which she tossed on top of the coffee in the cart, “Fuck the coffee!” I yelled. I could already see movement inside the store, a lot of movement, and it was all coming towards the front.

“I'm not leaving it!” she yelled back.

“I see them!” came O'Hara's voice, “They're outside, but they've stopped.”

I groaned in resignation, and ran back to my shopping cart of caffeinated goodness. I didn't take off my backpack, but instead heaved the cart forward and off the curb into the parking lot. The jolt of the car dropping just those few inches was almost enough for me to topple the whole damn thing, but luckily all I lost was a bottle of some some syrup,which went bouncing onto the blacktop. Hopefully it was just something crappy like amaretto.

Sharon was right behind me, and I think she managed to not lose anything out of her cart. She quickly caught up to me; despite not being as strong as me, and pushing what was probably a heavier cart due to her backpack, she is faster that me, and didn't have a satchel, rifle, and backpack slamming into her body with every step.

We didn't look back, we didn't need to; the voices on the radio told us all we needed to know,” They're moving fast, they-” started officer Perry, “Holy shit! Behind them, zeds, coming out of the store!”

“There must be a couple dozen at least, there's more coming,” stated O'Hara, “They found a hive or something over there.”

A hive? Is that the right word for a group of zombies? Maybe a gaggle? A Murder? That sounds pretty cool, like crows. Maybe something original; a morgue of zombies? That sounds good.

“Are they going to make it?” came Maria's voice.

“They have a good lead,” answered O'Hara, and that was good to hear, “but those carts are slowing them down.” that, not so much.

“Once they're in, lock the gate. We move as soon as we finish loading, everyone get ready to roll!” ordered Maria.

“Coming up to assist!” came Cordova's voice.

“We need a key to lock it from the inside, and I haven't found any,” explained Gerry's voice, sounding more confident now that we are facing off against the ghouls than he did before.

“Ideas?” asked Maria.

We were about halfway across now. The parking lot didn't seem so large on the way over, and we were really just quickly walking then. O'Hara and Perry were out in front, each on one knee and aiming their rifles in our general direction, and using their bodies to hold the glassless double doors open.

“We could put one of those laptop cable locks on it, that would at least slow them down.” offered Erik

“Do it, everyone else get to the cars. I want them all running so we can roll as soon as everyone's loaded.” ordered Maria, clearly more in her element here than she was on the clean-up squad.

I saw the flashes from the barrels of the rifles, a fraction of a second before I heard the pops. Perry and O'Hara were firing on the zeds, working the bolt on their rifle, and firing again.

“Holy crap!” came Cordova's surprised voice, I assume as he got to the front of the store, “Those things can move fast out when they want to!”

Not what I wanted to hear.

We were close enough now that I could see Cordova inside the store now. He was aiming through a broken window to my left of the entrance, but he was waiting until the zeds were closer to start firing.

Sharon must have got her second wind, and she surged ahead of me, shot up the little ramp set into the sidewalk for shopping carts, strollers, and wheelchairs, and ran the last couple of yards into the store. I was only a couple of seconds behind her.

As I passed them, Perry and O'Hara stood, and backed into the store, letting the broken doors slowly hiss shut. I slowed to a stop, panting and wheezing. My heart felt like it was going to explode. I haven't run like that in years.

Officers O'Hara and Perry slid the gate shut as Erik came running up with a sealed laptop lock. He was fumbling with a pocketknife while he ran, trying to cut the packaging open.

The zeds were close enough now, and Cordova started firing through the gaps in the gate. I saw some of the zeds stumble and fall, and they were coming fast, they were less than a hundred feet away now.

“Get to the van!” yelled Erik, as he finally pulled the cable lock free from it's plastic prison, but not before cutting his hand, “We're rolling as soon as we're all loaded.

I was unable to form words, so I nodded acknowledgment. With sweat now starting to run into my eyes and a stabbing pain in my side, I heaved my cart again, this time away from the gray daylight into the dark depths of Paperclipz. Luckily I had not lost my headlamp during the run, nor had I ever turned it off

Sharon and I used whatever was left of our energy (or at least I did, I like to think that Sharon was hurting as much as I was) to get to the alley behind the store where Gerry and Officer Perry were waiting for us. All of the vehicles were idling, waiting for us. The Fish Xpress truck was already closed.

“In the back of the Expedition!” Gerry told me, pointing to the front of the row of cars, “In the van!” he told Sharon, pointing in the same direction.

Sharon had an easier time of this, displaying a strength that must have come from adrenaline, Sharon heaved the cart up, tipping it forward, and dumping its contents into the side door of the van. Some bags of coffee and bottles of syrup poured out onto the ground, but she shoved the now empty cart aside, and dropped to the ground, flinging the items into the van.

I was stuck just throwing arm loads of stuff into the back of the Expedition. It took longer, but at least I didn't have to pick my stuff up off the ground.

Erik and the other three security officers came out of the back of the store, “It's as good as it's getting. They were just about to hit the gate when we retreated,” he explained to Gerry.

“Good, load up, we're going,” Gerry replied, swinging shut the back door of the store. It closed with a solid thunk as the crash bar's lock automatically engaged.

I practically fell into the backseat of the Expedition as Officer Cordova hopped in.

No sooner was my door shut than we started moving forward. “Was it worth it?” Maria asked.

“Yes,” I gasped, still panting.

As we went around the front of the shopping center, we could see a group of probably forty zeds clamoring at the front of Paperclipz. It was starting to drizzle, and I wondered what would give first, the cheap lock holding the gate shut, or their will to get at people who were no longer there. I assume that eventually they either got in, or went back to their previous hiding place, as it did start to rain quite heavily by the time we got back to Mallville.

So was it worth it? Nearly being eaten by a zed in pursuit of coffee and books? I am sipping the first cup of coffee I've had in probably three months as I write this, and I've got a stack of new books to start on once I put this away. Yes, it was definitely worth it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Another cover

Here's another attempt. I've got the font nailed down to the look I like, but the title needs evening out, and I'm not quite satisfied with the colour.
Comments? Suggestions?

Mallville Cover 3-11

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Rough Cover

As I don't really want to write the next chapter of the story (You'll understand why when we get there), I decided to take a little time and work on the cover art. What you see below is a rough idea of what the cover to Mallville should look like.

If you are interested, clicking on the picture should take you to my Flickr page where you can see some of the even rougher versions of it, along with some other scribbles as I was brainstorming for what Mallville's logo should be.

Please let me know what you think, and don't forget to come back on the 17th for the next chapter.

Mallville Cover Revision

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Twenty Fourth Entry : Boot to the Head

November 18th

Well it didn't take Hashmir long to prove Alex right, There we were last night, only hours after our meeting in his office, down at Insert Coin with the Trevors and the Rogers playing a six player/seven deck game of Spite and Malice (Bishop was more interested in staying in his tent) on the sales counter, which is a nightmare scenario by the way as our discard piles were almost off the counter, when Kaur's voice started booming from the public address speakers all over the community.

“Attention, citizens of Mallville,” Hashmir called, “There are a couple of items I wish to address with everyone, so please give me your full attention.”

“Now what?” asked Molly

“He's probably going to declare himself a god now,” answered Bryan.

“Or just God himself,” quipped Chris

Tara and I exchanged glances, but just listened instead of saying anything.

Bishop's head appeared at the opening for his tent, “What's going on?” he asked.

“Mr. Kaur is making an announcement, “ answered Toni.

“I don't like him,” replied Bishop before retreating back into his tent.

“Respect!” called Toni after him, and then more quietly so only those of us at the table could hear, ”even if he is an asshole.”

“It has come to my attention,” continued Hasmir's amplified voice, “that there has been talk about holding an election to decide who will lead Mallville. I want to put to rest this rumor; there will be no election.”

I could hear voices outside, sort of like every one in the shopping area was talking to each other at once.

“An election is not in our best interests. It will not help us survive the winter and become self-sufficient so that we may survive until this ordeal has come to a conclusion. I am in charge because I am best suited to be, and I shall remain in charge until such time as I am no longer fit to lead. I know what the plans of the council were, and I know how to make them come to fruition.”

“And you know how to be a little dictator,” commented Chris.

“I know the loss of the council has hurt a lot of us, none more than me, but we must not falter, we must remain unified if we are to survive this. We need to put what is best for Mallville as a whole above what each of us may like. If you think that will be a problem for you, I would urge you now to leave. There will be no retribution on those who wish to leave Mallville, and try their luck on their own.”

“Subtle,” said Tara.

“It is with that in mind that I would also like to talk about loyalty, “Hashmir continued, ”You may not realize how important your loyalty to Mallville is, but if we have disloyal people in our midst, they will weaken us; doom us to failure. If Mallville fails, it means we die. We cannot be strong if we are not united. A house divided cannot stand.”

I picked the exact wrong time to take a drink from my cup of water.

Hashmir went on, “There are disloyal people amongst us too. There is evidence that some people within Mallville have been working with a biker gang called The Hell's Postmen, the group responsible for last month's attack on us.”

I choked on my water, and went into a fit of coughing. I sprayed water over the cards in the middle of the counter, and Tara started hitting me on the back until the coughing stopped.

“Now we do not know who these people are, but they are likely responsible for the high loss of life our scavenging crews have suffered in past months as well as the attack on the clean-up crew, and last month's horrific assault. To those people, and I know you can hear my voice, I want you to know that we will find you, and you will be dealt with most severely.”

“I'm surprised he didn't just blame that on Alex.” I said.

“It's probably meant to be a threat; if he gets too out of line then there will suddenly be some sort of evidence that he's the spy,” stated Tara evenly.

“If anyone out there has information on anyone who is disloyal to our cause, please alert your nearest security officer. Any tips that lead to the capture of a confirmed seditious individual will be rewarded.”

“Holy shit!” said Bryan softly, but not so soft as to not earn a dirty look from Toni, “What? I'm sure he's heard the word before.”

“To help keep us all more secure, I am instituting a curfew between the hours of eleven pm and five am. Anyone out during these hours without an official reason will be dealt with. If such people are found to be working with the traitors hiding amongst us, they will be dealt with harshly.”

“I think this place just went from refugee camp to prison,” commented Molly.

“If anyone has any questions, please feel free to ask your local security officer, or make an appointment with my assistant, Holly Tanaka to bring your concerns to me personally. I will tell you that I am a very busy man, as running our community takes up much of my time, but I will do my best to make time for anyone who wishes to speak with me,” Hashmir finally finished his announcement, “In closing, I want everyone loyal to the cause of a better Mallville to know that I am dedicated to keeping us all safe and strong as we get used to this new world that we live in. I know that it is hard to lose everything we all knew, but together we can work to create a strong Mallville and a strong future. Good night, and God bless.”

“Is he sure he's not running for office? That last part sounded an awful lot like a stump speech to me,” I asked.

“Did he really just ask people to snitch each other out for rewards?” asked Chris.

“Yes.” answered Molly.

“Now why did you say you thought he would blame your friend for the bikers? Hasn't he lost his own people to them?” asked Toni.

“Hashmir doesn't really like Alex, or either of us much either, “explained Tara, “We're the ones that put the idea of an election out there.”

“But hasn't it been mostly Mr. Sigler's people killed by the bikers?” asked Bryan.

“Yes, but if you can scare people enough they won't think like that when it comes time to find a scapegoat,” I explained, “And it will have to be a scapegoat since the person working with the bikers is-”

Tara interrupted me in her cold professional voice, “ I don't think this is a very safe conversation for us to be having right now.”

“Do you think we'll turn you in to Hashmir?” asked Molly, sounding offended, “I'll have you know that Chris and I marched against the war in Iraq even when they were putting protesters on terrorist watch lists!”

“I'm not accusing you of anything, I just think the walls have ears.”

“We're not on his side,” insisted Molly.

“Walls. Ears,” stated Tara, “If there comes a time when we have to choose sides, I hope I know what side you'll all be on, but Hashmir is right about one thing; we are stronger united than divided. If it comes down to a battle between Hashmir's followers and his critics, we all lose.”

Before anyone else could speak there was a commotion out in the shopping area. Raised voices, yelling, I'm not sure what the man was yelling exactly, but I'm pretty sure the phrase “fuck you” was in the mix a couple of times.

We abandoned our soggy card game, which had pretty much been forgotten since Hashmir started speaking, and went to see what was going on. Even Bishop abandoned whatever he was doing in his tent to come out and see. As it turned out, it was an argument on the second floor above us a couple of stores down. A man with wild blond hair was arguing with two security officers.

“Sir, you need to return to your accommodations, now!” I could hear the deep booming voice of one of the officer, a black guy with a bald head. He was brandishing an M-16, but was pointing it towards the ceiling, and not at the blond man.

Other people had come out of stores and tents that were set up in the center are of the ground level. The were crowding in around us, and lining the railings on the second and third floors.

I couldn't make out exactly what the blond guy was saying, only snippets. The word “fuck” was in there a couple of times, as well as the word “fascist”. The other security officer was an Asian man with his dark hair in a buzz cut, and his voice did not travel well either, but he was really getting into it with the blond guy. He also had an M-16, which was not being held in a firing position either, but was not pointed as high in the air as his partner's

The bald-headed officer seemed to finally realize that there was a crowd forming around them, and he started speaking into the radio microphone clipped to his shirt, holding his M-16 in his left hand with his finger on the trigger guard. When he finished his conversation he put both hands back on the M-16, and started aiming it just above the heads of the crowd forming around the argument.

“By order of Mallville Security,” The bald man's voice boomed,” you are to return to your accommodations immediately. More security is on the way, and anyone still out here when they arrive will be dealt with. Curfew begins immediately; clear the area or you will be taken into custody.

What a stupid threat. There's no way they could take everyone into custody. I've been in Mallville's lock-up, and there's just no way that would have worked. It didn't even work as a threat, as virtually no one moved.

It was then that the blond guy made his last mistake. He pushed buzz cut. I think the bald guy saw what was going to happen next, and he tried to grab his partner, dropping his M-16 to hang from its strap on his shoulder.

The buzz cut swung his rifle butt up to hit blond guy in the face. Some people screamed in surprise as the blond guy staggered backwards against the railing separating him from a ten foot drop to near where we were standing. The blond guy rebounded off the railing, and launched himself blindly forward at buzz cut.

I guess the one good thing that happened here is that with the blond guy pushed up against him, and forcing him back into a crowd that was trying to get out of the way is that it caught buzz cut's rifle between them so that it could not be brought up to a firing position, at least for the moment.

They had moved out of our view from the bottom floor now, into the crowd, or up against the storefront of “Gadgets & Gizmos”. No guns fired, but in a second the blond guy came staggering back into the railing again, and buzz cut came right after him.

Bald guy was still trying to pull buzz cut off of blondie, but buzz cut was enraged. He socked the blond man with the butt of his M-16 again, and knocked him off balance. As the guy fell backwards over the railing he reached out and grabbed for something to stop his fall. His hands found purchase on buzz cut's collar.

Buzz cut fell forward with the blond guy. The bald officer tried to grab his partner, but ended up only holding a torn piece of white uniform shirt as his partner and the blond man fell over the railing. The pivoted as they fell through the air. I could see the blond guy's hand come free from buzz cut's collar, and buzz cut's gun came out from between them as he threw his arms up; I guess he was trying to break his fall.

They hit the polished floor hard, buzz cut first on the pack of his head, blondie across of him, his face impacting with the floor. Buzz cut's rifle fired when they hit. I don't know how many shots, five or six at least. The shots were not aimed, or even intentional, as I am pretty sure the officer was dead, or at least unconscious, on impact. The bullets flew into the crowd.

Screams of terror erupted, some were pained screams of the people who were hit by by buzz cut's final shot, but most were screams of fear and panic as everyone tried to leave the shopping area at once.

Being stupid and impetuous, I did not retreat with all of the smart people, I rushed forward towards the pained screams. The wounded were the first ones to have space around them, as no one was running towards them. There were five or six people there, but only four had actually been hit.

I knelt down next to a blond woman lying on the floor, She had been hit in the neck, and was in the middle of a growing pool of blood. Her eyes were already glassing over; she was gone.

I heard Molly behind me, she was calling my name from just inside the store. I took a glance behind me, and saw that all of them except for Tara had retreated into the store, and that Toni was clutching Bishop to her, even though he was struggling to get away from her. That kid's almost as tall as she is already.

Tara grabbed my arm and tried to pull me back, but I shrugged her off, moving to the next body. A little girl with black hair was laying on the floor sobbing in fear and pain. She had been shot in the left leg, and I think her right arm was broken. Someone had stepped on her in the panic. I remember thinking ,”Where the fuck are her parents? She must belong to someone, where are they?”

I went down next to her, “You're gonna be okay, just try and stay calm,” I said, not knowing if it was true or not. The full extent of my medical training is “Trauma Center” on the DS, “I'll stay until help comes.”

“Clear the area, now!” I heard an amplified voice boom, “This area is under lockdown! Curfew is in effect now. Clear the area and return to your assigned accommodations immediately.” It was the back up that baldy had called for. Their orders made no real sense since a lot of the people in the shopping section were probably quartered there, making the order to both leave the section and return to their sleeping areas impossible.

A group of security officers in black riot armor swarmed the area. The only parts of their bodies that were exposed were their mouths, everything else was covered by their outfits and helmets.

“Come on!” yelled Tara, “We need to get out of here!” she yanked on my arm.

“It's a little kid!” I yelled back at her.

“Security is here, they'll help her. You getting arrested won't do anything for her.”

“I'm not leaving her!”

Before Tara could try and talk sense into me again, she was gone, thrown forcefully aside by a black-suited security officer. The officer pointed an MP5 at my face, but adrenaline was making me stupid, and I ignored it.

“You need to clear the area!” his voice boomed. I could see he had a brown mustache, I was poking out from under his helmet's visor. He also had a southern drawl.

“I'm staying with the kid!” I yelled back.

“Are you a doctor?” asked the officer.


“Then you need to clear the area, or I will take you in!”

“No!” Tara commanded, struggling against another black suited officer who was trying to force her away from where the bodies lay, “Don't you touch him!”

“Fuck you! Let her go!” I yelled. I tried to get to my feet, but something large and black obscured my vision. It was the sole of the armored officer's boot as he kicked me in the face.

My world became one of black, and red, and pain. I could hear Tara screaming, not in pain, but in rage. I could hear Chris and Bryan's voice too, but I couldn't understand anything other than that they were arguing with the security officers. These voices were punctuated by flasehes of pain at different points on by body.

Finally the voices faded. The color red faded too, leaving me just in blackness for a while. The darkness was kind of nice, no pain, no fear, and I wanted to stay there untilI realized that there was no Tara either, and I couldn't leave her behind. I think she needs me as much as I need her, and we would be incomplete without each other.

Slowly the world returned to me. I could feel the thin carpet under my back; I was lying on the floor in front of the counter in Insert Coin. The pain returned too, and I could feel that my face hurt, in fact my whole head hurt... and my ribs, and my left arm. I opened my eyes to the bright lights of the store.

“He's awake!” said a female voice, Toni's voice. My eyes wouldn't really focus on her though, she was just a sort of blond-ringed blob.

As my vision cleared, a dark ringed shape filled it, “You idiot!” the shape yelled at me. The dark ringed shape resolved itself into a very angry looking Tara. Her icy blue eyes were tinged red; she had been crying.

“Are you okay?” I asked gingerly sitting up. My vision became ringed with darkness as my head throbbed, “Is everyone okay?”

“We're fine.” replied Chris' voice, clearly his most calm and soothing voice “Everyone's fine.”

“They could have killed you!” said Tara through clenched teeth.

“I couldn't leave that kid.”

“What were you going to do for her?” Tara asked in disbelief.

“I don't know. Try and keep her calm, I guess.”

“You are a fucking idiot!” she cursed, and then looked over at Toni, who was sitting with Bishop and Bryan, “Sorry!” she said tersely.

“I'm sorry,” I said lamely.

“Yeah, well maybe sorry doesn't cut it!” she hissed, and then leaned down and slapped me across the face before storming off to the stockroom. Stars exploded across my vision, and I fell back over, slamming my head into the poorly cushioned floor. My head felt like it was going to burst. This was worse than the worst hangover ever.

“What time is it?” I asked from my spot on the floor.

“After midnight. You've been unconscious for a couple of hours, “ Explained Molly, “After kicking you a few more times Tara was able to convince them that you were with us. Chris and Bryan were allowed to help her drag you in here. We cleaned you up, and waited to see if you would wake up.”

“What about the kid?” I asked.

“Medical center staff were dispatched to help the wounded,” explained Tara, still cold and angry, “ and dispose of the dead.”

“The shopping area is on lockdown until morning. We were going to take you to the med center if you hadn't woken up by then,” explained Toni.

“Are you okay?” asked Bishop.

“I will be. Sorry if I scared you.”

“You scared mom more than me,” Bishop replied, “I knew you'd be okay,” he was grinning, but it looked like he had been doing some crying too.

Chris helped me to my feet, and guided me to the stockroom. My left leg hurt too, the guard must have kicked me there too. He helped me lay down on the mattress that had been Bud's bed. Tara joined me, and gave me some aspirin she found in the store's first aid kit. Even though she did not speak to me for the night, she would not let me go either even though it turned out that my shirt was covered in dried blood, my own from getting kicked in the face.

I hope Alex knows what he is doing. People are already getting hurt, getting killed, as a result of his idea.