74 rounds for the M4. 30 for the Glock.
That’s all I had left. After hearing the influx of undead on the first story and the fight in the elevator, I knew it wouldn’t be enough to get me through this clusterfuck without a few more scratches. I was assuming I’d get through it at all.
I closed in on the bitten woman, who convulsed in a pool of her own blood, and pulled the K-Bar from my boot. No sense in wasting a precious round on a job I could do with a knife. I came from behind, drew the knife overhead, and brought it down with as much force as I could muster. It went clean through the top of her skull with a deft crack. I placed my boot on her back and pushed, dislodging her from the blade.
Beside me Kate had already disposed of the male. I caught her looking at me as I sheathed the knife and shouldered my rifle.
“I’ve officially lost count. How about you?”
I couldn’t suppress my grin. “I stopped keeping track days ago.”
Then I wondered: should I save a bullet to incapacitate Kate? If things got bad, one bullet to the knee and she’d be good fodder for an onslaught of hungry Zs. Anything that increased my chances of getting through this were viable options.
It was settled. Plus she was a bit off her rocker. I’d be doing the world a favor.
In the mean time we needed to get out of the building or find somewhere to wait out the horde. I didn’t want to risk the elevator again, especially after the power wavered. The thought of hiding in a small space while the building filled with Zs wasn’t appealing, but there might not be any other choice. One thing was certain; they would disperse. The fast ones would become slow and they’d all wander out eventually.
“Let’s go,” I said, nodding towards a plaque that indicated stairs somewhere around the corner. If we could get back downstairs we could make a run for it on the street.
“No,” Kate said. “That’s the side I came in. Even if it’s clear up here, it’s probably flooded with them on the first story.”
I grimaced. “I guess we go up.”
We moved, headed towards the stairs near the elevator we came up in, but halted as the first few fast Zs came barreling up from downstairs. They blocked our way upstairs. I squeezed off a few calculated rounds, letting Kate take down two before I finished the last of them.
“Got a better plan?” Kate snapped as she straightened from her fighting stance.
“Find a different way up,” I said flatly. “There must be another stairwell on this floor.”
We set off down the hall, away from the sounds of undead. Tucked into the right wall was an alcove leading into another staff entry. It was worth a peek. I jogged over. My leg hurt. The superglue I used to seal the wound stopped any further blood loss, but it throbbed every time my boot hit the ground. All I could hope for was that no blood from Kate’s violent slashing and stabbing had flicked into it.
Cyrus V. Sinclair. The V would stand for Vindictive if I turned because of her.
I turned the handle. Unlocked. Things were looking up. I pushed the door open and saw that it lead into a huge gallery space. Heavy plastic drapes covered the walls and objects in the room. The smell of drywall and metal was overwhelming. It was under construction. I remembered seeing that on the map I picked up.
“We’ll lose them in here,” I said, returning focus to the task at hand. I looked passed Kate. Fifty feet away the mass from below was flowing from the head of the staircase. A dozen of them already spotted us and were en route.
“So we’re going to just hang out and have a picnic in here? Not my idea of a good time, Cyrus. If I die in here I swear I’ll take you with me.”
“Yeah, we’ll see about that,” I muttered, thinking of the .40 cal I was saving for her.
I let her go first, then slipped in. After closing the door I searched it for a locking mechanism. There were deadbolts on the top and bottom. Just as I secured the bottom I heard the first thud of fists against the door.
The ceiling was cavernous, but the actual room was divided with sectional walls about ten feet tall. Many were still in progress of being built. The pristine stacks of drywall and wood, and power tools left on the ground, made it look like the workers had gone on lunch and would be back in an hour.
Based on the stash of props and art around us, they were setting up a horror exhibition. Iconic figures were draped in plastic, lined up against the wall, more ominous now than they’d ever been in film. I imagined myself as a horror movie character, walking passed one and it lunging towards me.
Why’d it have to be zombies? I thought. Why not vampires, who die in the sun? Or giant insects we could just shoot up without having to aim?
“Creepy,” Kate whispered.
I shivered. Her voice brought me back from my thoughts. It had only been a moment, but dwelling would get us killed.
We navigated around the construction work, entering the labyrinth of sectional walls. The farther we went the less finished the walls were. Some displays were made from rebars and plaster. Kate darted away from my side. I hadn’t noticed the willowy undead slowly approaching us from the side.
One second I was watching Kate stab through the Z’s eye and the next I heard something fall behind me. I turned and spotted the culprit; a bloated, gore-covered piece of work missing an arm. He’d bumped against a bucket and knocked it from a work bench. Bile seeped from his mouth as he groaned at the sight of me.
I brought him up in my sights and squeezed the trigger. Nothing. Not dry, but a jam.
I didn’t have time to clear it. He was almost on top of me. I flipped the rifle and whacked his head. His nose caved in, puss and old blood sliding from the open wound. I hit him again, towards the rebars protruding from the unfinished display behind him. His body cracked and squished as they impaled him, cutting through flesh and fat as they came out his front. One came from the middle of his chest, the other his lower stomach. Black liquid oozed from the wounds. His limbs flailed and teeth grinded as he kept reaching towards me, but he couldn’t get enough momentum to pull himself from the metal.
I managed to cycle the action on the M4 few times, clearing the jam, just as arms closed around me from behind. I sprung forward, but the Z still ended up grabbing my pack. I shrugged it off, spinning around and taking aim at its head. It was a teenage girl wearing a black and orange cheerleading uniform. Her chest cavity was split from throat to abdomen, guts hanging down to her knees. I squeezed the trigger, and blew the right side of her head off.
Two more cheerleaders were behind her. I burst out laughing because, well, zombie cheerleaders were pretty fucking hilarious. One had pigtails, and though they were covered in gore and blood, they were still pigtails.
Kate shot me a confused glance before mowing down a middle aged man in a suit. She had her own problems to deal with. I steadied my breathing and took the cheerleaders out in two neat shots. But there were more filtering in from somewhere up ahead. I heard wood splintering near where we came in. The horde had arrived.
Zombie cheerleaders? Funny. Down to my last mag? More zombies than I could handle? Not so fucking much. I shoved the empty mag in my dump pouch and loaded my last one. I brought down the nearest undead and pressed forward, grabbing my fallen pack on the way.
Behind me I heard the meaty sounds of Kate’s blade cutting through undead. We’d cleared the immediate threats, but I heard the groans grow louder as more of the undead filtered into the room.
“Kate, move it!” I shouted.
She sprinted after me, breathless. “If you think swinging theses swords is cake walk we can always trade, Cyrus.”
I grunted. “No thanks.”
We finally made it to the main entrance to the gallery. Opaque plastic sheets blocked clear view of the space outside, but I saw shadows moving about. There were more out there; they just hadn’t come in yet.
I pulled out my map.
Kate gawked. “Are you fucking serious? We don’t have time for that!”
I ignored her, scanning the level. Once out, if we went left there were stairs up to the next level. If we went right, it was a long walk that would ultimately lead us almost back to where the mass of undead were coming from.
“Turn left the second we’re out there. Follow my lead.”
Not waiting for a response, I bolted through the plastic. A sea of undead turned and moved in unison the moment they saw us. Feet squeaked and shuffled against the hard ground as the horde lurched, collective groans and howls accumulating into one loud noise.
We took a hard left and ran. There were barely a handful of undead; easy to run around. We took another left to the hallway that lead to stairs to the next level.
It, too, was blissfully free of the dead. My breath was ragged as I took the steps two at a time. I registered the sound of Kurt Cobain emanating from somewhere beneath my own labored breathing and the moans of the zombies on our heels.
The stairs ended in another open hallway, almost identical to the level below. Only this time it was 100% zombie free.
“Well what? I’m figuring things out as I go,” I snapped. “There wasn’t anywhere we could go but forward and up.”
She sighed. I noticed the grip on her sword tighten. “Why don’t you check that little map of yours again. Better yet give it to me so I can make a fucking paint by numbers.”
I gritted my teeth and pulled out the map. She was as irritating as she was useful. There was an elevator on the other side of the building. That was it. Another gallery, and a big space near us called “Sound Lab.”
“This is it. We try and get to the roof or hide.”
She paused for a beat, looking behind me. “Hide? Let’s hide in there.”
I turned and saw a sign for soundproofed recording rooms. I doubted there could be a better place to hide, especially in the generally open space of the EMP. Kate lead the way and I followed.
The sound lab had twelve recording rooms. We jogged to the last one, farthest from the horde, and entered. It was a small room with drums and a keyboard. Most importantly, the door was heavy and it was windowless. The second it clicked shut, it was quieter than I’d heard since the apocalypse started.
“This works,” I said, feeling off put by the sound of my own voice. I collapsed onto the stool by the drums, intent on resting my leg as long as I could.
“How long do we wait?”
I shrugged and unzipped my pack. “A while. Hour? I don’t know.”
“I’m not all that patient today. How long do we wait?”
“Long enough for them to forget what they were looking for, or get distracted by someone else,” I answered.
Fuck did I need something to cheer me up. I sifted through the contents of my backpack and spotted the blue plastic package. Cherry Jolly Ranchers. That’s what I needed. I tore open the package and picked out the red ones. My mouth salivated wildly as the first one hit my tongue. Kate eyed me warily.
“Oh great. I’m stuck with a candy sucking lunatic. I might as well take my own chances out there.”
I bit down hard on the candy, cracking it in half. “We’ve gotten this far haven’t we? We make a good team when we’re not at each other’s throats.”
Kate’s face remained carefully indifferent toward the comment. I thought of the bullet I was saving for her and smiled.
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.