Chapter 43: Terror in the Night
The moment he saw the full mass of the creatures wandering by, Jay had turned and lit down the hall at full tilt. For a moment he hardly even saw anything beyond a blur of motion as his brain focused on only a single thought: escape. Then something caught in the corner of his vision and he attempted to stop, skidding to an awkward halt. He slipped a little, going off balance, and his upper body bent down close to the floor. He used this position to push off with his hands, using that force to assist in his course correction. On his right he had seen an open doorway and that became his new destination. Reaching it, he stuck his head through the open portal and confirmed that he was looking into an empty classroom before turning back for the others.
“This way! Quick!”
He stood by the door and held it as everyone hurried inside. The undead were only moments behind, but were thrown off by the sudden change in direction and many were unable to control their momentum as they turned to follow after the group. They stumbled and rolled, occasionally causing still others to trip. Those farthest behind were having an easier time of turning and the very moment Jay slammed the door shut it began echoing with the horrible thump of bodies slamming up against it. The entire door shook under the barrage and Jay pressed his back up against it as though hoping he alone could hold it against the storm.
“The desks!” Aliyah shouted. Following her own words she ran over to the teacher’s desk, a big heavy beast of a desk, and began shoving it towards the door. Amber and Mac hurried over to help, and meanwhile Eli and the rest gathered up the student desks. They piled everything up in front of the door and then stood back. The thumping was a little muffled, but it did not slow down in the slightest.
“I don’t think that’s gonna hold them forever,” said Eli.
“It better,” said Aliyah, looking around. “We don’t really have any options left.
Eli followed her gaze. She was right. The room had no other doors in it. One wall had windows, but the windows were completely sealed, with no normal means of opening. They would have to shatter the windows by hand in order to escape that way, and that would mean going back out into the dark night full of werewolves.
“What… the HELL… were those… those… things?” Daina demanded, pointing to the door.
“They… they looked like zombies,” Amber said.
“Yeah, except for the whole red glowing eyes thing,” added Aliyah.
“And the running thing,” spat Daina, exasperated. “Don’t forget the whole running thing.”
“Maybe they’re some kind of evolved zombie,” offered Jay.
Aliyah looked doubtful. “Evolved?”
Jay shrugged. “Sure, why not? First they start out slow and shambling, then they evolve and get all red-eyed and fast. Then maybe next they’ll get smart and be able to talk and act human.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” snapped Daina.
Jay raised his hands defensively. “What? I don’t know. I’m just theorizing here. I’m no expert.”
Everyone turned to look at Eli, who had not really been paying attention to the conversation. “What?” he asked.
“Care to weigh in on this?”
He shrugged. “I dunno. It could be anything. The reason given for why zombies shamble is rigor mortis. But that doesn’t set in usually for at least twenty-four hours. Maybe they’re just fresher zombies?”
Jay was shaking his head, but his eyes were staring off into the distance, thoughtfully. “No, I’ve seen fresh zombies. They are faster, now that you mention it, but they’re not like that.”
“Well…” Eli said thoughtfully, and then frowned. “There is another possibility.” He let his gaze focus on Jay. “After all, you and I have seen these before.”
“At the base,” Jay said, nodding. “I almost forgot.”
“What? When?” demanded Amber.
“When we first arrived at the military base. That group we cleared out of the parking lot. Did no one else notice that they were running?”
There was silence, save for the thumping outside the door.
Aliyah looked to Eli. “So what are you saying that means?”
Eli grimaced, not wanting to say what he was thinking. “Well, I don’t really know for sure, but I think…” he stopped and sighed. “Well, think about where the virus comes from. Vampires, right? So when you think about it, zombies are sort of a diluted form of vampires. So it’s almost like a chain. On the top is vampires, and then one level of dilution created the monster Paul and company made in their laboratory. Next level of dilution, the infection he spread, I’m thinking created these monsters. And then those they infected created another level of dilution and the zombies we have all come to know and love. So, in essence, they are fresher zombies, just in this case that’s to mean their infection is closer to the source infection than what we’re used to seeing.”
Gabriel looked doubtful. “I’m not sure that’s how infections work.”
“Hell, I don’t know,” whined Eli. “I’m not saying I understand the science of it. Maybe it’s not dilution so much as… just… different strains. Maybe Paul’s monster man carries several strains of the same virus and they each create different things. Like one strain, slow zombies. Another strain, fast zombies. A third strain: werewolves. Might at least explain that craziness.”
Jay was rubbing his brow in frustration. “Man, remember when life was simple and there were just zombies? Now we have running zombies, vampires, and werewolves? I’m just gonna say it now: if anyone suggests we hide out in a museum, I’mma just slap you. No way in hell am I risking adding mummies to this nonsense list.”
“I don’t think there’s much of a risk of that,” said Eli. “I mean, nothing that was dead before the outbreak has risen yet so really…”
Amber smacked him on the back of the head. “Is this really important right now?”
As if to accentuate her point, a howl split the night.
For a moment, everyone froze in place, and then they each spun around to face out the windows. The windows opened up onto a small field that ended in a tree line. Just outside the tree line stood one of the werewolves. It stood up onto its hind legs, threw back its head and let loose another howl.
Then it sprang.
Eli tensed, instinctively reaching for his baseball bats, but they were not there.
“They found us,” Daina was saying over and over again. “Oh my God. Oh my God, how did they find us?”
Gabriel grabbed her and tried to calm her. Outside, the werewolf had leaped out of sight and had yet to reappear.
“I… I don’t think it found us, actually,” said Eli. “I think it knows we’re in the building, but not where we are in the building. The plan remains the same. We just need to get somewhere interior and barricade ourselves in until morning.”
“Care to tell us how we’re gonna do that with… this?” Aliyah motioned at the wall of desks and chairs barricading the door. The entire mound was rattling at the force of the blows against the door.
Eli grimaced and took another look around the room. Suddenly, his face lit up with excitement. He pointed above his head and exclaimed, “The ceiling!”
Everyone exchanged confused glances.
“What about the ceiling?” asked Aliyah. “Do you want us to hide in it?”
Eli sighed in frustration. Without another word he grabbed one of the desks and carried it over to the nearby wall. Pushing himself up on it, he explained, “I used to be in I.T., remember? At a school. We had drop ceilings exactly like this.”
He pushed open one of the ceiling panels and raised his head up to get a look around. Frowning, he dropped down from the desk and then carried it to the wall on the opposite end of the room. Everyone followed behind him.
As he climbed up and pushed open the ceiling from this new position, he continued explaining. “We did a lot of wiring from room to room, and in order to do that with these concrete walls, there were usually crawlspaces… Yes!”
He looked back down from the open ceiling tile with a Cheshire grin. He climbed down, moved the table over a couple of tiles, and then climbed up again. He lifted the ceiling square and motioned like a magician, saying, “Behold!”
It was difficult to see in the darkness, but a slightly blacker hole in the shadows indicated a crawlspace in the wall large enough for them to squeeze through.
“Where’s it go?” asked Jay.
“Just the next room. Hold on.” Eli pulled himself up into the ceiling and disappeared through the hole. A moment later he was back. “It’s another classroom, but the door’s already closed. It’s got windows like this one so we’ll want to keep moving, but at least it gets us out of here.”
Amber was up on the table before he even finished. “Anything to get me away from those running bastards,” she said.
Eli pulled her up, and then stayed to help the others. As he had said, the next room was pretty much a mirror image of the last one, so they moved on through it to the next. This third room was slightly different, but still had large, exposed windows, so they moved on once again.
The next area was an office area, with a large open office space out front and then several smaller inner offices. None of them had windows.
The door to the outer office was open, so Eli dropped down and closed it. Then he and Amber – being the only one with a weapon – made sure the remaining rooms were clear of any of the creatures. Satisfied, they motioned the others to come on through. As quietly as they could, they moved the furniture to barricade the outer office door. This proved particularly difficult, as there were no lights on in the office, just a single emergency light just outside the office area that shone weakly through the small window set into the door.
At one point as they worked, there was a loud, explosive sound that reverberated through the walls around them, followed by a lot of clattering and smaller explosion sounds. Everyone froze in place, as though afraid their movements might attract more of the noise.
“It’s… it’s just the zombies having broken down the classroom door finally,” said Eli after a moment.
“How can you be sure?” whispered Aliyah.
He couldn’t, he knew, and so he kept quiet. After a time, the clattering more or less died off, and with some degree of hesitance they got back to work.
Once the main door was satisfactorily barricaded, they decided to give themselves some extra space by hiding inside the interior offices. These offices were small and cramped, so they split off into twos and threes and each group took a different office. To Eli’s surprise, he ended up locked into one of the offices with Amber.
For a long time they simply sat there, silent. After all the events of the night, and now to be hiding in the darkness surrounded by monsters, neither of them felt much like sleeping. After a time, Amber finally broke the silence first.
“I hate you, you know?”
Eli jerked in surprise at the sudden sound of her voice. “What?” he managed to say once he had calmed down. “Why?”
“My life was normal before I met you. Well, relatively normal. I mean, I had come to accept that this zombie world was the new way of the world, and I was learning to live with it. Then you show up and its back to running. And all these new nightmares start just crawling out of the woodwork.”
“And that’s my fault?”
“Yes. I… I don’t know how. But it is.”
She fell silent for a time, and Eli didn’t really have any response for what she had said.
“I shouldn’t have come,” she added, after a time. “I only came with you to get back at Malcolm.”
“You mean, Marshall?”
“What? Yeah. Marshall.”
Eli blinked, and for a brief moment he got the impression that she was probably glad he couldn’t really see her in the near pitch black shadows of the room. “Who’s Malcolm?” he prompted.
“No one. I told you. I meant Marshall. Slip of the tongue. I’m just… I’m just really, really tired.”
“Right…” Eli said, letting the disbelief drip like oil in his tone, but he didn’t press the issue. After a time he felt her head lean against his arm, and he realized she was sleeping.
Despite everything, that made him smile.