This was hell on earth, literally. Fires were everywhere, people were screaming, and Claire was pretty sure she just saw someone bite the face of a corpse. Ducking behind a stone pillar, she fought for breath, hating herself for going against her gut instinct and moving deeper into the city not even four weeks ago. She hadn’t wanted to move away from the little plot of land that she and her boyfriend had been renting, but he had received a solid job lead. After being homeless, the thought of a steady job and the paychecks it would bring was something she couldn’t bring herself to say no to, and thus she had packed up her things and moved with him.
A shrill scream cut through the smoke-filled air and Claire peeked around the pillar just in time to see a woman collapse under the weight of a handful of the human-turned-monsters. Ignoring the lurch in her stomach as she saw what she recognized as part of her scalp go flying, she glanced around, hoping that she could make it into the entrance just a few feet off to the side.
“Screw it.” She whispered to herself, and with a deep breath and a hammering heart, she launched herself away from the stone column and ran towards the door. She’d almost made it when the sound of a gunshot had her tripping over her feet, and she landed face first into the door, making the loudest slapping sound.
Hurriedly picking herself up, Claire took a few seconds that she really couldn’t spare and glanced around, a little confused as to the location of the gunshot, but then her brain caught up to the present. Cursing herself again for her stupidity, she caught sight of a few of the things setting their attention on her, and she pushed the door open. Realizing that she was in an office building, she looked around for the seating area that every professional building had, and cheered a little in her head when she found the couches.
Running over to the area, she dug her fingers into the fabric of the short couch, grunting with effort as she dragged the furniture across the marble floor, blocking off the door before turning around and scanning the area. She needed something to eat, and if she wanted to survive this thing, she needed supplies. Maybe this place had a kitchen that was stocked with canned food.
A slight scuffing noise had Claire whirling around, and she saw one of those things ambling towards her, arms outstretched as it limped on one foot, the other just a nub, as though it had been cut off. Ignoring the screaming in her head that told her to high-tail it out of there, her stomach threatened to growl, and Claire hurriedly looked around, hoping to either find a weapon of some sort. She came up short, but instead of feeling defeated, she felt a surge of hope when she saw the glowing sign of an exit sign, and right next to it, the unmistakable symbol of a staircase.
Ducking behind the counter of the receptionist area, she hurriedly opened a draw and thrust a hand into it blindly, searching for something heavy she could throw. Finding a stapler, she mentally shrugged and looked around the partition and gauged the distance between her and the once-human. Tossing the stapler off to the side, she waited until the once-man had turned around, a groan coming out of the distended jaw as he blindly followed the noise before sprinting to the stairs door.
Slowly, quietly, she opened the door and kept a hand on the latch, easing it shut so she wouldn’t alert the thing as to where she was. Claire had learned pretty quickly that those things were blind, but their sense of smell and hearing were heightened to a scary level. Blood was their favorite scent, and heaven help you if you cut yourself while trying to run away.
The instant the scent hit them, much like a shark, they became ferocious and nothing stopped them. She’d seen them break through a wall just to get to an injured person, and the swarm that happened was like living though a nightmare.
Shaking her head to get rid of the images that flashed through her head, Claire scanned the stairwell, a little intimidated by the sheer number of steps. Sucking in a deep breath to calm her breathing down, she looked again, this time hunting for any sign that she wasn’t alone in the stairwell. A few seconds passed, and when there was no other noise except her breathing, she knew it was safe.
That’s when her stomach decided to let out a growl that would have given one of the monster-people a run for their money, and Claire hoped that there would be a little kitchen area on one of the lower floors. She hadn’t eaten since she holed up in the gas station bathroom, waiting for him to come back and get her. He hadn’t, and she’d been on her own for three days.
Claire was honestly a little surprised that she had survived this long, and even through her anger, she was rational enough to know that it was thanks to her boyfriend and his slightly paranoid ways that she had been able to stay alive. That didn’t mean she wasn’t pissed, and if he wasn’t dead, and if she ever saw him again, she was going to kick him so hard he would be fishing his balls out of his throat with a long, long stick.
On the third floor, Claire stopped and looked through the small window pane in the door, and slowly pushed the door open. Just because she couldn’t see any of those things ambling around, it didn’t mean they weren’t there, and she really wanted to find something to bash their brains in before they sunk their teeth into her skin. She’d seen enough horror movies to know what not to do, and she avoided walking down the main hall, choosing instead to hug the wall and creep along, pausing before the entrance to each cubicle and office. Claire had almost gotten to the other side of the building without finding anything useful when she caught sight of a small kitchenette area, and she almost jumped for joy.
Avoiding the fridge, knowing that a week without power led to rotten food and terrible smells that made her gag, she searched the cupboards, taking care even in her haste to not make any extra noise. When she opened the door to the small pantry-looking thing besides the fridge, Claire wanted to kiss whoever had stocked it with water bottles and protein bars and other dried goods.
Grabbing a water, she chugged it down, feeling the room temperature water sliding down her dry throat with relief. After downing another bottle, she grabbed a protein bar and sank her teeth into it with joy, her stomach gurgling in happiness as it was fed. As she ate, she grabbed all the water and put them on the counter, counting each one as it was placed. Next to that she lay all the granola and protein bars. Chewing on her final bite, Claire searched the kitchenette once again, this time looking for any kind of bag that she could use to transport the water and food. A few minutes later, she was looking down at the three bags she’d found. One was a decently sized lunch-box, insulated and everything. The other two were plastic bags.
Deciding that it was better than nothing, she loaded the bars into the lunchbox and filled the two other bags with as much water as they could carry without breaking. Once that was done, she looked around again, checking to see if she had overlooked anything. Coming up empty, she loaded one hand with the plastic bags, looping the lunch box around her torso and exited into the stairwell, climbing up another flight before checking the doorway to the fourth floor.
It was a gym, and Claire wanted to cry. There was sure to be bags a-plenty for her to choose from, and hopefully some clothes that weren’t covered in blood and soot, like hers were. Putting her free hand on the doorknob, she pushed down on the handle and gave a tug. The door didn’t budge.
Looking around the doorway, Claire realized why the door wouldn’t open, and she restrained herself from screaming in frustration. The door had to be opened with either a code or with a keycard. Groaning and slamming her forehead into the wall, she closed her eyes.
There had to be a way she could get into the gym area. She needed a bag to carry everything, something like that was a necessity she wouldn’t survive long without. Wracking her brain, she went through all the information stored in her head, some of it helpful, some of it not, and almost kicked herself for retaining stupid facts instead of useful ones when an idea popped into her head. Snorting to herself, she turned around and bolted up the stairs, hoping that the next floor wasn’t locked.
Doing a little fist pump that she would have felt stupid for doing if she wasn’t alone, she opened the door into a hallway with personal office. It was perfect. Choosing an office halfway down, she checked the room for wanderers before stepping in and shutting the door behind her. Moving the filing cabinet under the door handle as a safety precaution, she searched all the drawers, hoping to find a knife or even a pair of scissors that she could use to cut the carpet with.
Finally, in the second to last drawer, she found something even better than scissors, and Claire could have jumped for joy. Sliding the blade out, she tested the box-cutter on the carpet, and grinned when it slid easily though the material. Cutting a large square into the dark green carpet around the large floor vent in the corner, she eased the vent open, and spent the next few minutes widening the hole as best she could. It was a risk climbing through the vents, she wasn’t exactly the smallest person, but her need for a sturdy bag outweighed her fear, and as soon as she had enough room to slide head first in, she did.
A few agonizing minutes later, she was horizontal again, and peeking through another vent down into the gym. She was right above a stationary bike, and she thanked whoever was in charge up in the sky for her luck. There was no way she could drop onto the ground without making more noise than she wanted. After testing the vent and finding it bolted on, she rolled her eyes and squished herself into a vertical position, and using her hands and a foot as bracing to keep herself upright, she kicked at the vent, wincing each time she made contact.
Thankfully, it didn’t take more than a few kicks to get the vent off, and after waiting to make sure nothing was going to jump out of the dark corners upon hearing the loud racket she made, Claire eased herself down the vent and after swallowing the lump in her throat, she dropped down onto the bike. Letting out a relieved sigh, she looked around, searching for the locker rooms she was sure this place would have.
Letting out a breathy laugh, Claire caught sight of the doors that led to the men’s and women’s locker rooms, and clambered down off the bike, making her way to the women’s first. Hopefully she would find some clothes, as the summer season was ending and there was already a bite to the air in the morning and evenings. She didn’t want to be caught unprepared and end up dying because she was too stupid to think things through. It had been a sore point between her and her boyfriend that she didn’t think like he did, planning every little scenario just so nothing could surprise him.
Opening the door to the locker room, she supposed that after 5 years, his way of thinking rubbed off on her, and she was glad it did. If she survived this long enough to find him, after he found his balls again, she was going to thank him for drilling survival skills into her head, even if he was unaware he was doing so. There were only so many times she could watch him field strip a handgun before it was engrained in her head.
Not that field stripping was useful now, seeing as any loud sound would ring the dinner bell for the monster-people, but she had to find the silver lining to every cloud or else wallow in a pit of despair of her own making.
Taking a second to glance at her reflection as she passed the sinks, she grimaced as she caught sight of the smeared blood on her cheek. There were holes in her shirt, the thin, gauzy material not made for hiding in alleys and climbing fire escapes. Her dressy-jeans were no better, the holes in the knees slowly creeping up her leg till it looked like she was wearing shorts with leggings attached at her calves. Her hair was greasy, sticking to the back of her sweaty neck in thick strands, the red of her hair hidden by the soot and grime she’d picked up making her way through the city.
Shaking her head in disgust, she hurried past the mirrors and peered around the corner before heading into the locker and shower area. Frowning as she realized that most of the lockers were padlocked, she only hesitated for a brief second before whirling around and heading back to the gym area. Picking up a 20 lbs. weight dumbbell, she headed back to the women’s locker room and soon had most of them open, only the thickest locks refusing to give.
Digging through the bags, she grinned when she caught sight of a pair of jeans that looked to be about her size, as well as a tank top and dark blue cambric button-down shirt. Setting the clothes off to the side, she continued going through all the bags she could find, setting aside anything she deemed useful and necessary. She planned on going through the stack later, since she knew that she needed to keep enough room in her bag for food, a blanket if she could find one, and anything else that she might need.
Half an hour later, Claire picked up the backpack that felt the thickest and looked the sturdiest and turned her attention to the pile of hygiene products and clothes that she’d found. Grabbing a Ziploc bag, she tossed in tampons and pads, knowing that her monthly would come rain or shine. In another bag, she threw in a few toothbrushes and a few tubes of toothpaste, as well as a few sticks of deodorant. In yet another bag, this time an actual fabric bag that was big enough to act as a First Aid kit, she tossed in all the band aids, bandages, Neosporin, aspirin, and any other pills she could find. Rolling up a few socks and underwear, keeping a pair out for herself, she placed those at the bottom of the bag, wrapped in a plastic bag to keep them from getting wet. She’d learned that trick from backpacking with her Girl Scout troop when she was much younger. She did the same thing with two other pairs of pants, four shirts, a thick sweater and a raincoat that she’d found at the bottom of a locker. She debated on packing a bottle of 2-in-1 shampoo, and after a mental toss up, she added it to her pack.
Sitting back and looking over her find, she kicked off her dirty and holey flats before standing up and grabbing a towel. She wasn’t going to fully shower, she knew that night was falling soon, she could see the sky from a small window, but she desperately wanted to get rid of some of the grime on her skin. There wasn’t anything she could do about her hair, but as she wet the cloth with the leftover freezing cold water, she was able to take care of the blood on her face, and the soot that found its way into every nook and cranny on her body.
Walking naked to where she’d put the change of clothes, she slid into clean underwear with a sigh and strapped on a sports bra that fit snugly, making sure the two ladies on her chest wouldn’t move more than she wanted. One downfall of being generously endowed in that area was the limitations on bra’s and the movements she could do without running into them. Back pain was also a thing, but she was used to that. Saying a quick thank you to the people whose clothes she was now wearing, she slid her feet into a pair of brand new boots, wondering if the woman who had bought them and brought them to work had plans to go hiking after work, as she had also found a flashlight with extra batteries and a baseball cap, which she now shoved onto her head.
Now fully clothed and with a backpack slung over one shoulder, she wandered into the men’s locker room, doing the same thing she’d done with the other lockers, smashing them open with the dumbbell. She found the usual things you would expect in a men’s locker room: sweaty gym clothes, stinky socks and suits that had been hung up with care. She did find, however, a handy swiss army knife and a hunting blade. Tucking the Swiss Army knife into the front pocket of her jeans, she slid the hunting knife and it’s sheath onto her belt, settling it slightly behind her right hip, within easy reach of her dominant hand.
Another perk of having a paranoid boyfriend was having been made accustomed to all kinds of blades. She was more of a gun person, preferring to be as far away as possible, but this situation called for a more hands on approach.
Having ransacked all she could, she made her way back to the stationary bike and looked up into the dark vent with a sigh. She really didn’t want to climb all the way back up to the office, especially now that she had the backpack. After a second’s consideration, she walked to the door, hoping against hope that the electronic lock didn’t work both ways. With a deep breath, she grabbed the door handle and pulled.
The door opened without an issue, and Claire laughed to herself before smacking a hand over her mouth as her laughter echoed in the empty stairwell. Once the echoes disappeared and there was no sound of anything moving around, she made her way back to where she’d stashed the water bottled and the protein bars, having to knock down a thin wall to get back into the office she’d barricaded.
Downing another water bottle, Claire glanced out the full-length windows in the office, and frowned when she realized that it was later than she thought, and the sun was already setting. Soon, the building would be dark, and the creatures would be out and full of blood-thirsty energy.
Hiking up the backpack, she left the office in search of a lounge area. If she was going to have to sleep here, she might as well be comfortable. A few minutes later, she had a pillow and a throw blanket in hand, and she wandered down the hallway, peeking into every office until she found one that only had one window and a sturdy outer wall. Once again pushing a heavy filing cabinet in front of the door, she crawled under the desk and laid down, pushing the pillow under her head.
Staring up at the underside of the wood desk, she squeezed her eyes shut as the last few days replayed in her head, now that she wasn’t running for her life. She didn’t want to sleep, but considering she hadn’t had more than an hour’s sleep in two days, she was running on empty and she had to get out of the city tomorrow.
She had to find a way to get to the Safe Haven, or die trying.