I watched, dumbfounded, as Kate left the room.
Did she honestly think she’d survive the Zombie Fucking Apocalypse with a sword? I’m not above admitting that her leaving hurt my ego. It wasn’t that I was looking for someone to protect, but her thinking I was incapable of protecting myself was jacked up. She thought I was so useless that her chances were better without me.
With a sword.
My jaw tightened. I looked at the bag of Jolly Ranchers, my appetite gone. What was happening here? I meet one other survivor and my ability to reason and make good calls were nowhere to be found. If I hadn’t stuck with her, I would’ve found a way out faster. I would have more ammo on me. I wouldn’t be in the soundproof room with no idea how many Zs were gathering outside.
This didn’t bode well for the future. I resolved to never let another survivor get under my skin again. Isolation was key; as long as I was by myself I wouldn’t make any bad decisions.
“I hate people,” I muttered as I stood, pulling on my pack. I dropped the mag from the M4 and double checked my rounds.
This is it, I resolved. You’re getting out of here with 59 bullets or you don’t get out of here at all.
I clicked off the safety and opened the door.
It was a slaughterhouse in the hallway. Numerous bloodied bodies littered the ground, obviously Kate’s work. Intestines and gore splattered the floor and walls. I stepped around the bodies, intent on making my way to the roof somehow. It was my only way out. I took a leap over the ridiculously huge corpse of a janitor blocking the sound room exit, and wondered how Kate managed to kill him all by herself.
As I cleared the area I saw a handful of undead heading towards a staff door at the end of the hall. It was the only doorway that wouldn’t take me back downstairs. I brought down two, my second shot missing and burrowing into a guitar behind the Z. I closed the distance between me and the horde, took aim again, and ended the undead. Rotted, grey brains misted behind his head as he dropped to his knees.
One was just at the door. It was another cheerleader in black and orange. Half her scalp was gone, the skin peeling away from her skull in ragged segments. One withered eyeball hung by a thread against her cheek.
I squeezed the trigger, putting a round directly between her…well, adjacent her one eye.
Her body slammed back from the force, knocking the door behind her open.
It was an office space with four desks and miscellaneous junk stored against the walls. Three people looked back at me. Kate, covered in blood, glared daggers. The other two were more pathetic than the pair we met on the second story. The guy obviously had a wannabe-macho complex for protecting the skeletal chick that couldn’t care less. He stood in front her, chest puffed out, like it could do anything to stop me.
“Happy to see me?” I asked Kate, moving into the room. I dragged the body aside and shut the door.
“Is that a zombie or are you just happy to see me?”
I am happy, I’ve got a bullet with your name on it and I’m ready to deliver.
Before I can say anything the guy speaks up. “Hey, are you army or something?”
“No,” I said. I see the EMP emblem on his shirt. “But I’m guessing you might know the way to the roof and that’s where I need to go.”
“Roof, stairs, batman glider. Just some way out of this music hellhole because the only thing I’ve experienced is the urge to kill stuff.” Kate looked at me pointedly.
I smirked. “The feeling is mutual.”
“That’s where me and Kevin are heading,” the girl breathes.
“Jenna, don’t!” The guy leans close to her, whispering as though we can’t hear. “These people don’t look nice…”
“Nice? You think those things are nice? You two need to wake up and see what’s going on here,” Kate said.
Jenna’s lip quivered. The guy wrapped his arm around her, trying to give us a steely look that just made him look weaker.
“Listen, I don’t have time to fuck around. Neither do you,” I interrupt. “There’s hundreds of them downstairs and they’re all coming up here. How do I get to the roof?”
“I’ll show you if you promise to protect us,” he said. I could tell he was proud of himself for coming up with the deal. Little did he know he was asking the wrong person.
“Sure.” I clenched my jaw and managed my best reassuring smile.
It worked, but I heard Kate stifle a laugh.
“Come on, it’s through–”
The ragged scream of a runner. Footsteps, then the door rattled in its hinges as a body flung itself against it. We all stepped back. Jenna screamed and that’s when things got bad.
Two zombies burst through the door, snarling and clawing as they locked in on their targets. One was on top of Kate before she could do anything, the other barreling into me as I let off a round that missed wildly. I tried to push the Z away but it was futile; the fucker was big, almost as big as the janitor from outside.
He wrapped me in a bear hug, rendering my rifle useless as it was crushed against my chest. He tipped forward, taking my body with him as we fell onto a desk. Knickknacks jabbed into my side or flew onto the floor as he leaned forward, snapping his jaw and going for my exposed neck.
I heard a yelp from beside me then saw Kevin dragging Jenna away towards a door in the back of the office. He was fumbling with keys.
I couldn’t cross over and draw my Glock; every bit of arm strength I had went to keeping distance between me and the monster. The rifle was useless, digging into my body as the undead put more weight on me. I pushed back with all I had, but he simply weighed more than I did. I had no leverage.
“Get off him!” Kevin came out of nowhere with a fire extinguisher and gave the big Z one weak hit to the head. Thunk. It didn’t kill him but it was all it took to knock him off balance. I pushed him the remaining way and fired a round. I cursed as my first one missed, grazing his shoulder, but the second one found its way into his juicy rotten brains.
Kate was still struggling with two undead closing in on her, but since she was closer to the door the oncoming horde was fixed on her rather than us.
“Let’s go,” I said to Kevin, pushing him toward the door where Jenna waited.
“What about that woman?”
“No time, she’ll die or figure it out, but we need to get out of here.”
We went to the door Kevin unlocked and slipped into a barren concrete hallway lit by dim fluorescents. It stretched on forever, almost the length of the EMP. We were right in the middle.
“Which way?” I asked as I ushered them away from the door. I went to shut it, but one particularly annoyed swordswoman barreled in. Her chest heaved. Blood coated her clothing and I wondered if she’d turn if any got into her mouth or into an open wound.
Save a bullet for her, Cyrus, a voice reminded.
“Leaving so soon without me?”
“I can only dream of it.”
The workers sensed our agitation. The girl took a few wobbly steps down the left. “It’s this way to the hatch that goes to the roof.”
We followed them. I tried to stay behind Kate in case she decided to pull a last minute kill on me. Her footsteps left bloody trails on the concrete floor.
We’d made it twenty feet when the door we’d come through opened and Zs began flooding the hallway. A few more doors down another entrance opened, and the horde grew larger as runners joined the mix, having been drawn out by the ruckus. I was once again glad the slows compacted and formed a barrier the runners couldn’t easily navigate through. They flailed and pushed the slows aside, but there were too many.
“Run!” Kate yelled, dodging past the couple and booking it towards the end of the hallway. The couple tried, but the girl was hindered by the constrictive skirt she wore. She merely teetered, achieving walking speed at best.
I’d run too if I didn’t know better. Kevin had keys. Would those be needed to get to the roof? What if there was a keypad with a code or something? And he knew where it was. Helping him until I knew for sure was my best chance of getting out of here. If the horde got too close before we were there, I’d come up with Plan B.
Plan B always seemed to involve using someone as fodder. This wouldn’t be an exception.
A fast one broke through the group. It wore almost no clothing, most of it having been burned away. Its skin was a blackened crisp and the smell of campfire became stronger as it neared.
I fired, hitting its head on the first shot. Another came through, then another. Beautiful headshots, all of them, but then the M4 was dry.
I shoved it behind me and withdrew the Glock. We’d made slow progress. The horde was faster than Jenna’s fashion statement.
“How far is it?” I shouted after taking out another runner that slipped from the pack.
“The end. It’s at the end of the hallway!” the guy said, his voice shaking as he tried to help Jenna move faster.
I glanced down the hallway. Sure enough Kate was at the end, trying to get into doors that were locked. I felt a smug sense of satisfaction knowing I’d made the right move sticking with the kids, even though they were useless. I turned to tell them to go faster, then saw the bite Jenna was desperately trying to conceal on her hand.
Time to kill two birds with one stone. Jenna was looking pale. A sweat had broken out and the bite mark was blackening around the edges. It was a matter of minutes before she turned.
I took aim and dispatched two runners. The horde had increased in mass. There were at least fifty in the hallway, all of them making their inevitable shuffle towards us.
Much to Kevin’s protest, I grabbed Jenna by the arm and dragged her away towards the horde. She collapsed, her eyes rolling into the back of her head. This needed to work before she turned or it was all for nothing.
The guy screamed. “What are you doing?!”
I set the immobile Jenna on the ground and jogged back to him, taking him by the arm and dragging him away. “She was a goner. Now she’ll serve a purpose.”
Kevin struggled with strength I wish he’d had earlier when we needed it, trying to get back to her. I shoved the Glock in his side. “Keep moving or you’re dead, too.”
Apparently his desire to live was greater than that for Jenna. I guess I have to give him credit for that. He didn’t resist as much, but I still had to pull him along.
Behind me Jenna’s first bloodcurdling scream was cut off in a gurgle. Kevin began to sob. I glanced behind and saw the undead clambering around each other for a bite to eat. Virtually all of them were distracted.
And now Kevin picked up the pace, despite his sniveling, and we were at the end of the hallway. Nothing made me happier than when my plans worked.
“What are you smiling about?” Kate snapped.
“Keys, Kevin. Get us to the roof.”
His entire body shook, but he did as commanded. He withdrew a keychain from his pocket and began trying them on a door that had big letters stating Roof Access.
“Fuck,” I heard Kate breathe.
I looked down the hallway. A handful of runners didn’t take the Jenna bait and were headed straight for us.
“Any day now, Kevin,” I said.
He yelped when he saw the horde, dropping the keys and fumbling to pick them up.
I raised the Glock and aimed. Squeezed the trigger and dropped two. Kate was closer to the other two, who she took on with surprising grace considering how beat up she looked.
And there it was; my beautiful escape. I looked over just in time to see Kevin climb out of sight. Was he trying to leave me behind?
I darted into the room and began climbing. My leg throbbed but I ignored the pain. Rage fueled me now. Getting left behind once was hard enough, but this? This wouldn’t do.
Kevin had his keys out again and was trying to open a hatch at the top. He looked down and saw me coming.
I felt the ladder shift as Kate jumped on. “They’re coming!”
Finally I was on Kevin. He’d gotten the latch open and direct sunlight blinded me. I reflexively looked away. At the bottom of the ladder the first few undead shuffled into the room. A runner slipped in and went straight for the ladder. It made it a few feet before Kate rammed her sword through the top of its skull.
Kevin had almost cleared the hatch. He was laughing. “Leave Jenna behind? I’ll leave you behind, you crazy asshole!”
My eyes adjusted quickly. I wrapped one arm around the wrung and took aim. Fired. The round went straight into his calve. He lost his footing and slipped.
I scaled the last few rungs until I was on him. He tried kicking me with his good foot, but I grabbed his wounded leg and pulled. He screamed in agony and I pulled again.
Then Kevin fell. His leg hit Kate’s shoulder as it went down, almost knocking her off the ladder. With a loud crack his body hit the concrete floor and disappeared under the hungry group of Zs. The sounds of flesh tearing and bones snapping made my stomach lurch.
I hauled myself up the ladder, climbing out of the hatch and onto the roof. I gulped in the fresh air, relishing in the fact that I’d never have to set foot in the EMP again. And I still had enough rounds for the Glock to get me home.
Kate climbed out of the hatch, shutting it behind her.
I definitely still had a bullet left for her.
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.