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.


Anonymous said...

... the zeds are changing, this can't be good. I've noted how some seem more capable than others. Terrifying idea. Great entry, clicking refresh for the last week totally paid off. :-)

Void Munashii said...

I don't know that it's necessarily that the zombies are changing so much as it's that he is noticing things about them the more hes is face to face with them. You get a different perspective on the situation when you are close enough to smell their breath than when you are shooting them from six stories up.

There's also the change of the seasons to consider, and what effects that may have on the undead body. The winter may be a good time for humanity provided they can put their squabbles and power struggles aside long enough to take advantage of it.