My need for a good sugar fix was going to get me killed one day.
I tripped over the putrefying remains of a corpse as I exited the convenience store. My boots squelched in rotting organs and I cursed my luck for the first time that day. A pack of runners were steps behind me, snarling and drooling for a bite to eat. I dodged debris on the ground and weaved around abandoned cars in hope of losing them, but they were relentless. They always were. Each step I took echoed down the lifeless streets of Seattle. My apartment was only six blocks away, my ferret Pickle waiting for me to return with her usual disinterest.
Only six blocks, I thought. It was only six blocks to get here. It’s going to be a hell of a lot longer to get back.
As I turned a corner I spotted another group of them forming at the intersection a block ahead. Although I hadn’t fired a single shot that day, the commotion from the convenience store was drawing every Zs attention within earshot.
The M4 Carbine felt comfortable and familiar in my hands. I was confident I could take out the ones ahead before they reached me, but the imminent horde behind me was putting me between a rock and a hard place. There was no way I could take on all of them. I scanned my surroundings. The street to my left was blocked by a massive military barricade. To my right was an alley. I opted for the alley. If I couldn’t out run them, I might be able to funnel them into a more manageable group.
I cursed my luck for the second time. There were bodies slumped against the walls. Motivated by the sound of my footsteps, they were slowly getting to their feet. At least they were of the shambling variety. I had to clear the area before they got up and made things a hell of a lot harder. Were the Sour Patch Kids and Mentos really worth it? The Jolly Ranchers?
The thought of cherry Jolly Ranchers made my mouth water. If I wasn’t risking my life for something I loved, what was the point?
Nah. This was definitely worth it.
Ten feet ahead the alleyway opening beckoned. I risked a glance behind me. The hordes of runners and slows had merged together. They tripped and bumped one another in their mindless effort to get me, effectively grid locking themselves. Three fast Zs broke from the pack and booked it, their bodies jerking in a way only the fast ones can. I raised my rifle and brought them up in my sights.
The flawless headshot I’d lined up was thwarted when I felt an iron grip on my ankle. A man—no, a torso since he didn’t have legs—gazed back with glassy white eyes. Intestines trailed behind him. His mouth, full of shattered teeth and scraps of flesh, gnashed as he tried to haul himself up to bite me.
I put a round between his eyes and jerked my foot away. The three runners were close. The ones already in the alley were on their feet. There were more than I could count. I hadn’t seen a horde this big since the earliest days of the apocalypse. I dropped two of the runners. The third runner tripped on the fallen bodies of his comrades and tangled himself in their limbs as he tried to get up.
Now or never. I spun around and exited the alley, glad to leave the mess behind me.
But things aren’t easy. They’re never that easy.
My hopes sank when I saw dozens of Zs approaching from both sides. I was the one being funneled and I sure as fuck didn’t like it. Ahead of me I recognized the obnoxious, metallic bright colors of the Experience Music Project. The structure was massive and there wasn’t a zombie in sight at its entrance.
I made a run for it, crossing 5th avenue straight for the entrance. The doors were locked, but that only reassured me. It would be a perfect place to hide just until the horde dispersed or was distracted. I fired one round through the lower pane of glass on one of the doors then kicked the remains in. I dropped to my knees and crawled through.
A ragged piece of glass snagged on my thigh and sliced clean through. Searing hot pain coursed through the wound as I lifted upward and tumbled through the opening. My heart hammered in my chest, my sensations on overdrive as I tried not to focus on the blood soaking my thigh. The cut was secondary to eluding the Zs outside. Bleed out later or get eaten alive now. I blocked it out and got to my feet.
Inside was shadowy, only low ambient lights left on, but I saw no immediate movement. The walls and ceilings were massive geometric structures made from different materials. The ceiling was reflective; I kept catching sight of myself in my peripheral. To my left was a rack of brochures. I tipped it onto its side and pushed it in front of the broken door. It screeched against the tile floor, glass crunching as I wedged it through. Anything to make the undead advance a little harder was worth the effort.
I brought the M4 up and scanned the cavernous space as I moved forward. So far the only sounds were those from outside. I stuck close to the side walls, out of sight from the entrance doors and moving as quietly as I could. I limped as I shifted my weight to my good leg. As soon as I found a safe place to stop, I needed to tend to the wound.
The EMP always seemed like an overrated, touristy attraction. I’d never been inside and had no idea where to go or how to get out. Was the building as big as the outside appeared? At least when I was outside I knew the streets. Damn…maybe today was the day my sweet tooth would get me killed.
Man up, Cyrus, I chastised. Quit your bitching.
I passed a food court. It was untouched, still waiting for the next crowd. Down the hallway an increase in natural light shone into the hallway. I limped forward to see if it was an exit, but darted back when I saw the mass of undead just outside the doors, shuffling passed. I stepped back, waiting to hear the thud of fists against glass. Nothing. They hadn’t seen me. I leaned against the wall and studied my surroundings, watching their movement in the mirror-like ceiling.
To my side was another podium of brochures. This time I studied them, looking for one thing in particular. I tucked a map into my pocket and backpack, just in case, and checked the group entrance again. A steady stream of Zs went by. I didn’t want to risk running by; I had a good thing going on. If even one spotted me it could jeopardize everything. As I leaned against the wall feeling sorry for myself, I noticed a staff door directly in front of me. I gathered myself and approached it.
It was unlocked. I opened it an inch, listening for any response. Silence greeted me so I pushed it open. Inside were rows of coat racks and a few desks. No Zs. I closed the door behind me and finally took a breath. This was safe. For now.
I slung my rifle behind me as I unfolded a map of each level of the building. It only showed two entrances; the one I was by and the one I came in. That didn’t mean there weren’t service or smaller entrances that remained unmarked. There were three levels. Three levels of potential places to wait things out, or for nasty things to hide. I folded the map and went to put it back in my pocket.
Then I heard a woman’s voice ask, “Alive or dead?”
I tilted my head and saw a blade right at my neck. I feigned raising my hands in peace, crossing my right hand to my shoulder holster. My finger on the trigger, I said the first thing that came to mind.
“Does it look like I’m a fucking zombie?” Then, softer, “Back off or you’ll know what a .40 cal bullet feels like. You have three seconds.”
Timothy W. Long (Among the Living, Among the Dead) and Eloise J. Knapp (The Undead Situation, The Undead Haze) are both authors based in the Seattle area. After a reading at Crypticon ’13, they were asked which of their characters would win in a fight, which sparked an epic collaboration where their two zombie worlds collide.