Chapter 19: Trapped
“Upstairs!” shouted Devin, who immediately began following his own orders, leaping over a small wooden railing and booking it for the stairs.
“No!” shouted Eli back. Everyone turned to look at him, even Devin, who nearly toppled over as he attempted to skid to a surprised halt.
Eli met everyone’s surprised stares with an incredulous one of his own. “Haven’t any of you ever watched a horror movie? If we go upstairs, then we have nowhere else to run. At that point, it’s just a matter of waiting until enough zombies make their way up the stairs to overwhelm us.”
“Yeah, and we can go upstairs and wait them out or we can sit down here and wait them out. Which do you really think stands a better chance?”
Eli ground his teeth but said nothing. He had a bad feeling forming in the pit of his stomach and could not shake the thought that this was a really bad idea. But Devin was right, and he had no better alternatives, so he followed the others up the stairs. On the second floor they moved a few more desks in front of the landing. Undoubtedly it would not stop the creatures for very long, but it might stop them just long enough. With that done they began to search the rooms for another means of escape.
“Here!” came the sound of Marshall’s voice, and everyone came running. Marshall was in the largest of the upstairs rooms. It was full of various desks and equipment and was probably meant to be used for meetings. Marshall was standing by one of the windows, and when the others entered he motioned them over. “Here,” he said again, and then pointed out the window. Next door was a one story building, and from where they stood they could see its roof. “That next building is only, what? Seven or eight feet away?”
The others eyed the building, then eyed the window, and then lastly gave Marshall unconvinced stares. “And… how do you suggest we get over there?” asked Daniel. “Take a flying leap?”
Marshall smiled wide, a clever light flashing in his eyes. He stepped over to where a bunch of fold-away tables were leaning up against a wall. Turning back to the group he gently patted the outermost one, his smile widening still further. “We build a bridge,” he said. The others all exchanged glances of disbelief and said nothing. Marshall sighed with annoyance. He straightened up as much as he could, then with one arm lifted the table away from the wall until it was standing straight up and down. The far end towered a good foot or two over his head. “Seven or eight feet,” he said again.
The idea clicked, as was obvious from the point that everyone began nodding their heads slowly in understanding. “Right,” Daniel said aloud. He was nodding the most enthusiastically.
Eli, on the other hand, was still doubtful. “Are you sure that thing won’t just cave under our weight?” He subconsciously grabbed his somewhat round belly. Without a doubt he had lost some weight since the outbreak began, but years of sitting around playing video games and eating greasy foods had not done him any favors.
“These things are built to hold all kinds of crap,” Marshall replied, patting the top of the table. “As long as we go one at a time, they’ll be just fine. Now, help me get it out the window.”
Devin turned and opened the window while Daniel helped Marshall move the table. They slid it carefully along the ledge, letting it move inch by inch across the chasm until finally there was the faint click of it hitting the far ledge. Everyone in the room let out a sigh of relief, though none of them had realized they had been holding their breath. They still had over a foot left inside the building. They levered down the table on their end so that the far end rose up away from the neighboring building, and slid it along a little further out onto the roof.
From downstairs came the horrific sound of cracking wood and shattering glass, and they knew it would not be long before the zombies were upon them. “Two of us stay here to hold it. The first two across hold the far end,” Marshall strategized. “Now go!”
Matthew needed no further coaxing, and he climbed up onto his hands and knees on the table. He hunkered down as much as he could manage to squeeze through the tight opening of the window, and made his way out into the open air. Meanwhile, Eli moved to the door of the room and closed it. Then, for good measure, he slid a desk over in front it, and then a couple more in front of that, hoping that the extra weight would make some degree of difference. By the time he had finished, Devin was outside on the table, crossing to the far roof. “You’re next,” Marshall called, motioning Eli over with his head.
Eli had never been a big fan of heights, though had never exactly feared them. But the thought of crossing a gap like that over a pit of zombies with nothing supporting him but the thin wood of a fold away table did not exactly thrill him, either. He edged toward the table nervously, a grimace locked onto his features. Outside, Devin was climbing off the table and onto the far roof.
“Go, now!” Marshall said, impatiently.
Eli pushed himself out the window before he had the chance to think better of it.
Moving along his hands and knees, he was surprised to find the table a lot steadier than he had expected. Most likely this was the benefit of going in the middle, when there was someone holding each of the four corners. Even still, the gap between the buildings seemed like an endless one as he crawled inch by inch across the table top. He tried to not look anywhere but at the board beneath him, but no matter what he tried, out of the very corners of his eyes he could see the alleyway below. It was filled shoulder to shoulder with zombies. Their inhuman groans and the rancid stench of their decay filled the air around him, threatening to overwhelm him and knock him from his perch.
Then suddenly the far roof came into view, and Eli leaped the remaining distance and crashed down gratefully onto the unyielding rooftop. He rolled a few feet and then came to a stop on his back. He wanted to just lie there forever, never moving again, but as Marshall was already making his way down the table, Eli realized it would be best to move even further away. He rolled over one last time and pushed himself to his feet. As he rose, he took note of the roof access stairwell and frowned, images of the undead bursting through the doorway flitting across his mind. He turned to the others. Marshall had finished crossing onto the roof, and Daniel was making his way unsteadily along the table.
“I don’t think we should stay here,” Eli said.
“Agreed,” Marshall said, to Eli’s surprise. He turned around and offered Daniel a steadying arm to finish his journey. With the entire group across the short chasm, they lifted the table and moved towards the far side of the roof.
It was close to midday by now, and the summer Texas sun was beating down hard on the companions. They were all breathing heavily, sweat pouring from each and every pore until they looked as wet as if they had been caught in a sudden downpour. At the roof’s edge, Marshall set down the table and wiped his brow, attempting to get the sweat away from his eyes but to no avail. He wiped his eyes with his shirt, but that too was already soaked, so with great annoyance he ripped open his pack and found a dry piece of cloth. He used that to wipe his face, and then shoved the cloth back into his pack. He looked across to the next roof, and then left and right across the alleyway stretching beneath them. This far from the station, the zombie numbers were already starting to thin, and this alley seemed no longer than the last one had been.
“Okay,” Marshall said, turning to the others, “I recommend we cross here as well. Put as much distance between us and them as possible.”
They slid the table across to the next roof, and one by one they crossed this gap as well. With the sweat flowing freely, the journey was even more frightening, as their wet hands had great difficulty seeking firm grips on the sides of the table. Despite their concerns, however, they each made it across with hardly a slip.
This next roof was almost completely flat, with nothing on top of it save for an A/C unit and some pipes. There was no roof access stairwell here, only a ladder hanging off the side of the roof.
“Zombies can’t climb ladders, can they?” Eli asked, motioning to the where it was bolted in place.
Marshall glanced over and frowned. “I have no idea,” he responded. “I’ve never seen one climb a ladder. They don’t even seem intelligent enough to open doors.”
“No, just intelligent enough to herd us into a building and then surround it,” Eli muttered bitterly. No one responded to the statement.
This building was surrounded on three sides by other buildings, and the front faced out onto the street. Across the roof from the direction they had come was a three story building that looked like some sort of ancient hotel that had stood there since the early 1900s. The wall facing them had no windows. On the side opposite of the roof from the street was a one story diner, recessed in its little nook and a good fifteen or twenty feet from them, which would put it too far away even if the roof was high enough for them to reach. So it was clear that this was the end of their rooftop crawl.
The rest of the day was spent trying to not get too overheated. They all sat down and tried to hide in what little shade they could find. On the rooftop this meant there was none at all, really, so mostly they raised their bags over their heads just to keep the sun off them. They did manage to place the table to span the gap between the A/C unit and the pipes. This afforded them a small amount of shade, but only two of them could really sit comfortably beneath it at a time, so they took turns. They kept the water under here, as well, to keep it as cool as possible, and made sure to stay hydrated.
The minutes dragged on into hours, and ever so slowly day dragged on into evening. As the sky began to turn watercolor shades of purple, pink, and red, a cool, or at least relatively cool, wind began to blow, which proved revitalizing to the exhausted group.
Marshall, Eli, and Daniel edged over to the side of the roof and peered down at the massed creatures below. Having lost the scent of their prey, the zombies seemed much less focused. They had begun to simply wander about, their tight mass having broken apart to a more random dotting of the pavement. There were still quite a few of them, but as they were no longer single minded in their intent on swarming the humans it looked a lot more plausible that they could, at the least, make it to the cars and get out of town.
“What’s the verdict? Do we make a break for it?” Devin asked when the three had returned.
“I think so,” Marshall said, nodding his head slowly. “It’s still going to be dangerous, but I think this is going to be as good a chance as any. I think crossing the rooftops worked. I think they lost a sense of where we were. If we can keep that long enough, I think we can make it to the cars.”
The others nodded their agreement, so they grabbed their gear and began making the crawl back to the police station. Eli found the climb back inside the station a rather disorienting one, as he had to squeeze through the narrow opening of the window and lost sight of his lower half. Also, this journey was in an upward direction, so he really had to pull himself off the table at the end, whereas before he had been able to simply let gravity guide him. Still, they all made it through with hardly a hitch, and after taking a moment to gather themselves, they began to make their way back downstairs.
They went slowly, checking at each corner and doorway for signs that the building was occupied by the undead. From what they could tell, only a few had managed to push through the front door and the broken windows and make their way inside. They dispatched these one at a time, as quickly and quietly as they could manage, using only melee weapons like Eli’s bats. When they reached the lower floor, they crouched down and slipped by the openings made in the front door as quietly as they could manage. The last thing they wanted was to attract more of the creatures inside.
Moments later they were in the back room, and practically crawling as they made their way to the back wall. Devin slid his back along the wall and risked peeking out a window to the parking lot. The path looked clear, so he took a deep breath and nodded to the others to continue. They moved along, and as quietly as they could, cleared the debris from in front of the back door. Devin took up position beside the door and paused. He looked to each of the others in turn to make sure everybody was ready to move. One by one they nodded their consent.
Devin reached for the handle, and then with a deep, steadying sigh, he pushed open the door.
In a blur of motion he was suddenly standing straight and facing out the door, staring down the small stairway and out onto the parking lot. His M4 was raised, chest high, pointed and ready to start taking down anything that moved. The darkness was almost complete by this point, the sun low on the horizon, but his keen eyes cut through the dim and took note of everything. There was no sign of the creatures. He raised a hand to motion to the others, his honed, military senses not letting his muscles ease up for even a second.
And then he was gone.
It took the others a long moment to realize what had happened, to realize that he had actually been pulled away, and upwards at that. They all started with surprise at almost the same exact moment as the realization hit them like a wave. One by one they each raised their weapons, but with no idea what they were preparing for. One moment there was nothing, and then the next a blur of black flew through the doorway and knocked down Daniel and Matthew. Eli had only enough time to let out a brief cry of alarm before the room was spinning around him, and then everything went black.