Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Leaning Tower

From the corner of Richard's ruined mind, he recognized the ding of opening elevator doors as some sort of signal. No longer able to process what the sound might portend, Richard was drawn to the sound by the undeniable force of his unrelenting hunger. Like a living fire blazing within him, the only thing still living within him, Richard's hunger grew with each moment until it was raw torment, a twisting, gaping need that filled him with an unknowable void that must be filled. Had he any semblance of self left in his shattered mind, this terrible need would have destroyed it, ravenously devoured any soul or mind or sanity in this thing, obliterated through this hunger's singular insatiable desire.

Staggering forward, mindful only of the sounds of the footsteps and heavy breathing that followed the ding of the opening elevator doors, Richard made his way out of the wreck that used to be his office. Moving in a straight line, clambering over an upturned chair instead of going around it, doing the same for the boxes of paper and the file cabinet that were now strewn across his previously immaculate office, the thing that was Richard made his way into the hall.

Without the hesitation of thought and doubt, Richard began his slow stumble toward the sounds of a man cursing softly in the office down the hall. The closer Richard got to the source, the more his hunger gnawed at him. His mind was hungry, his very blood seemed to teem with an angry, buzzing need. He began moaning in an ecstasy of anticipation.

As Richard began to moan, the large man sitting atop a mahogany executive desk dressing a leg wound looked up. The man on the desk was easily twice the mass of Richard, and not the type of man who, in saner times, would or should be afraid of a slight, and slightly pudgy man like Richard, but these were not sane times, and the large man's eyes widened in shock and fear immediately. This man, most recently nicknamed "Juice," looked around the office desperately for something to use as a weapon even as Richard pushed forward down the hall, moaning.

In the corner, dusty and unused, near a plaque for the 1999 Century Insurance Invitational, lay a cheaply gold plated golf club. Juice seized the club and held it in his trembling hands as Richard moaned his way into the office, hands outstretched and grasping, mouth crazily snapping, strings of thick saliva pouring down his chin. Juice pulled the club back, raising its weight over his right shoulder, poised to strike, feeling the reassuring bulge of his massive frame ready for the blow.

Richard stepped forward again, still moaning, and that was all Juice needed. That step brought him within range of the club and Juice yelled crazily as he swung, ripping the air with the speed and ferocity of the strike. The weighted wooden bulb streaked through the air crashed into Richards face like a miniature freight train, sending teeth flying from his head like tiny bloody shrapnel, crushing his jaw and pushing it obscenely off to the side, where it hung, stupid and useless. Even as the wooden club's head smashed into Richard's face, destroying it, it broke from the shaft. The continued motion of the sharp aluminum stick ran like a blade down Richard's neck, slicing it if not cleanly, efficiently in a jagged line, deep enough to expose the windpipe. Blood immediately began to ooze in thick, curdled streams from the frightful gash.

For a moment, Juice felt triumphant. He had connected with that ghoul hard enough to kill a god and he knew it. But he wasn't fighting gods, or men, and though his face was an unrecognizable lump of crushed bones and blood poured in thick streams down his chest, Richard didn't go down. Instead he reached out and grasped Juice, pulling and clutching with surprising strength. Juice, still holding the ruined golf club, shoved Richard back with all of his strength. Richard flew back a couple of feet and crashed to the floor in a heap, but before Juice could react, Richard began crawling toward him, and now the moaning started again, this time sounding thick and gurgling as the air in his lungs mixed with the streams of blood still pouring from his ragged neck and face. Juice was beginning to panic, and, thoughtless with fear and rage, raised the stump of a golf club and brought it down again and again on the crawling, bloody former actuary. Juice was a powerful man, and the force of the blows knocked Richard prone, but the instant the club lifted from his back, Richard was beginning his crawl again, and before Juice could realize what was happening, Richard had a hold of his leg and brought his ruined face to it, trying to close the dangling mess of a jaw on Juice' leg. Roaring, Juice raised the bent and nearly worthless club into the air and drove it down like a lance into Richard's back. He could feel the shock of the club as it first hit Richard, then pierced him, crunching and cutting with its saw tooth tip first through skin and muscle, and then through bone and gristle. For a split second, Juice thought he could feel the thing rip a hole right through Richards heart before the tip slammed its way out the front of Richard's chest, through the thin carpet, and into the plywood, pinning Richard like a bug against the floor. Juice, raised his head and began to howl in primal, triumphant rage, when he felt the crushing pressure of Richards decimated, nearly toothless jaw bear down upon his leg in precisely the spot where that bitch had clawed him earlier. Looking down more in amazement now than pain, he realized that this thing was trying to gum him to death and he nearly laughed when one of the teeth still left in Richard's mouth managed to push its way through the makeshift bandage Juice had applied to his leg. That single, sharp piercing rekindled his rage, and juice jerked his foot out of the grasp of the squirming bloody thing, raised it chest high, and began to drive his foot down into the skull of Richard again and again. A few moments later, panting, Juice realized it was over. Richard's head was a mess of bone, brain, blood, and hair, and Juice was covered in the same. He sat heavily on the desk, panting.

A few moments later, Juice jerked his head up, realizing dimly that he'd been staring at the wall opposite him, but not remembering why or for how long. He knew he was in trouble, and was vaguely curious about the corpse on the floor, but even as he tried to remember where he was, the answers seemed to dance out of reach. Vaguely, he understood that he was beginning to drool, but before he could reach up to wipe his chin, his pupils expanded, and the world was painfully bathed in light. Moaning, he reached out, and stood up. He was slipping, his memories growing harder and harder to reach. A moment later, Juice tried to remember his name. He thought for a moment it had something to do with water, but that passed from his mind as quickly as it came, not to be replaced. Even as he tried to concentrate, his feet shuffled forward. He began to become aware, as if from a distance, that he had stopped shaking. A calm settled over his mind, erasing not only worries, but thoughts, and after the thoughts went, memories. With a blank mind the most studious Buddhist monk would envy, the thing that used to be Juice became aware he was hungry.

Monday, November 19, 2007


I don’t know what kept me staring down the eight floors to the street below. The moment I saw the soldiers my first thought was, “thank god, I’m saved.” But yet I hesitate. Maybe it’s the carnage, the utter bedlam that keeps me watching, like a car accident you don’t want to look at but cannot turn away from. The hordes of undead crash like ships on an unforgiving shore. The soldiers keep firing, on occasion a tank will fire an explosive round blowing up all the ghouls in the area of impact and leaving a crater a few feet deep. The gunshots and shouts thicken the air until the cacophony it nearly too much to bear. My eyes focus on all the action, darting back and forth taking it all in.

I find it odd that something outside of this chaos could divert my attention. But as I watch the fight rage on below I see something flicker in the corner of my eye. Someone is looking down as I am; they lean out the window across the street a floor below me. They light a cigarette and watch the action. They are dressed in jeans and a work shirt, with a Florida Marlins cap on. They watch as intently as I, and as if a sixth sense notifies them, they look up at me staring at them.

We look at each other for a moment. He’s older than I. Possibly in his forties. A graying beard and sideburns cover a tanned face. He takes a long drag off his cigarette and slowly shakes his head at me.

I wonder what he is shaking his head about. It’s almost a disapproving shake, the kind your father would make if he caught you sneaking out of the house. I wonder what he disapproves of. Does he know my plan of going to the street below? How could he? Does my face belie my intentions? I wonder about his reaction for a few seconds. This few moments is the only delay I need to make me abandon my plan.

I turn my head as I hear the cries from below. These are not the occasional shrieks of ghouls, or the orders shouted by a sergeant to his troops. No, these are civilians. The tide of undead has slowed considerably from the west. I guess the building a few blocks away housed a group that had the same plan as I. When the street looks clear they start to run. They pour out onto the street, and there are about twenty of them. Some start to run and leave the rest to fend for themselves. Two men push a wheelchair; its passenger, an elderly woman, clings to it for dear life. A few injured people hobble along as best they can. They move quickly, but zombies ooze out of the buildings and from the streets behind.

The living race against the undead in a sick rendition of the tortoise verses the hare. The humans have to stop to pick up the elderly woman, who has fallen out of the wheelchair; others have fallen on the debris or cannot move quickly and need to be helped down the street. What started out as a decent pace has slowed to nearly a crawl when they come to the first sandbag wall two blocks away. The slow and steady ghouls keep moving as the group helps each other over the obstacle. It must be the smell of fresh meat that brings the undead out into the street in such numbers. The refugees are on the cusp of being engulfed by the rolling wave of creatures that fill the road behind them.

That’s when the soldiers open fire. The entire time this group is running, the shots continue to ring out in other directions, so it isn’t the sound of guns that alerts me to the massacre that is about to happen. Instead, I see one of the men helping lift the wheelchair over the sandbags go down as his leg is shredded by gunfire. He screams and clutches his leg as the person next to him is hit in the foot. The people freeze, their eyes sweeping back and forth looking for what is causing this. They realize far too late and cannot gain cover. The bullets tear through the group. The troops are aiming low, trying to disable the civilians. The wave of undead inches closer.
I stand above frozen in horror. I cannot believe what I am seeing. The troops continue to disable to group. It is obvious what they were planning when the first undead dives into toward a helpless woman to feed. His head leans down to bite, and he is shot in the head. The soldiers used the civilians as bait, and the ghouls will now pause to feed on the closer meal. The soldiers ease the pressure on the front line and easily take out a large group. It makes sense, but I am horrified nonetheless. I look back to my counterpart across the valley of buildings and he is still shaking his head.

My knees start to weaken. I feel the adrenaline drain away and I slump against the wall. I turn away and hobble back to my room. I want to take my tire iron and run down break the heads of the soldiers below, but know that my fate would be like those who tried to come to them for salvation. No. I realize that my path home has two obstacles, and the thought is so overwhelming that I nearly faint with despair. Then I realize it is almost certainly the lack of blood that makes me woozy. I walk into my office and close the door. I dig through my bag for my earplugs to try to drown out the sound of gunfire. But nothing will ever quiet the screams of those people. That will ring in my ears for years to come…

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Tower of Juice

"Juice," he called me. What a dick.

Of course, six years ago, that would have been true. At a time like this, I find myself wishing I was still using. It's not that I'm not still strong. I've always been a large man, but the strength of a large man pales in comparison to that of a large man who's time is devoted to growing stronger.

My eyes flash down across the palms of my hands. There used to be thick calluses from far too many repetitions with heavy metal bars. Now, the only things close to that are the slight points of wear from my fingertips mashing my keyboard. Not that I'm bitter about the change. I understand that I am healthier and lead a better life since trading weights for words, but being a powerlifter does prepare one better for physical conflict than writing about powerlifting.

My legs move me forward quickly. A short distance behind me, I can hear the chaotic chatter of my former bus-mates. Beyond that are the heavy thuds of what I can only hope are the now lifeless things that were attempting to use our bus as a canned meal. The more that guy takes out, the less there are trying to eat me out here. Further away are sirens, screams and other assorted sounds that one would associate with pandemonium. I scan the area for a building with no one exiting it. I figure that people will flee if something is trying to eat them, and these creatures will exit the building looking for food if everyone has fled. Either way, if no one is coming through the doors, it's probably my best bet.

Up the road a bit is a high rise that looks quiet, so I make for the revolving doors. I attract the attention of a couple of interested parties on my way in, and they try to follow. Luckily for me, they lack the ability to understand a machine even as simple as a revolving door. A well placed chair keep them jammed into their glass pie wedge prison cell. I can hear them banging away at it as I hit the button for the elevator. A friendly ding and the well polished door slides aside. The car is empty. I tap the button for the twenty-second floor. My Mom's birthday was on the twenty-second of last month. The door slides closed again. It cuts off the echoing banging from my friends at the front door, as if it was shushing them. Shhhhhhhud.
The car glides upward for a short while. Not surprisingly, no one is waiting to get on. Another ding and the door opens again.

I don't think this is my floor. A small lobby sits before me, and it looks like some people are waiting for an appointment. With me. I jam the button for whatever the hell floor my fingers make contact with and retreat to the back of the car. A thirty-something woman dressed in a long skirt, white blouse and buckets of her own blood stands just beyond the elevator's doorway. There are a few more people on the other side of the room in similar shape. Oh shit. Is this one of the blissfully antiquated elevators with the bumper on the door, or is it one of the inconveniently upgraded ones with the infra-red beams? I furiously mash the “Door Close” button. Over my clicking I can hear her bizarre steps coming closer. Two clacks from a high-heeled shoe on the tile, and one thump from her gnawed upon bare foot. This is taking far too long. She's right outside the door. I hear the motor snap to life and the door begins to close. My God it takes an eternity. I haven't seen anything move this slow since I tried to watch Seven Samurai. Of course, I would kill for a katana right now. She reaches out towards me and breaks the plane of the doorway. I lunge forward to knock her arms out of the way of the door.


The IR sensor is tripped and the door rescinds its offer to help me escape this floor and swings back to the right. I am now face to face with this bitch who decided to get fake nails from Olga the Sadist. At least she's only as strong as a 120 pound woman. I slam her to the ground in the doorway and rush past. She jams those fucking nails through my pant leg and gashes open my left thigh. Just what I needed, a limp. I spot the door for the stairs to my right and head through it. It's dimly lit, and the reverberations of shuffling feet and groaning fill the stairwell. I can't tell which direction it's coming from, so I'll just have to take my chances. I know the ground isn't safe, and up seems like the way to go. Floor twenty-two. Bah. Maybe I should have remembered to send my Mom a birthday card. I start to scale the stairs as the creatures slam into the door I closed behind me. The cacophony of thunderous echoes they create gives me an instant headache. I scale around ten more floors as quickly as I can. I'm bleeding badly from my leg, and I need to stop somewhere to bandage it. My eyes spot a few listless shapes on the landing above me, so I head through the nearest door. I come out into a long and empty corridor. I start checking the doors. I'm ruling out any office door that is locked or damaged. The first door that opens belongs to some sort of insurance company. It's a heavy door with a strong looking lock, so it will be a good place to hole up.

I stumble into a nearby office. The adrenaline is starting to wear off, and my leg hurts like hell. I trash the desk and am lucky enough to find a spare shirt and tie in one of the drawers. You can always count on insurance people to be prepared. I slump down next to the desk and begin tending my wound. I swear I can hear the bedlam from the streets below, but that can't be right. I'll have to investigate that once the noise of my heart pounding and my heavy breathing subside.

Friday, November 9, 2007


Thank God! Thank God! Thank God! I made it to the Cat without problems. I am confident in my ability to outrun a zombie, but I have even more confidence in my new BFF killing machine I lovingly call “Skiddy”.

[And for a moment, I chuckle at a revised commercial starring me in jean bib overalls with a bowl haircut, on my tiptoes hugging a clean and smiling Thomas-The-Train-Like Caterpillar Skid Steer on a perfectly manicured lawn while a new song plays: “My Skiddy…my Skiddy…wherever I go, she goes…My Skiddy, my Skiddy….my Skiddy and me!”]

I’ve got to get to DuPont Road and I’m going to head straight to my parents’ house about 6 miles away. I haven’t even left my yard yet, but I am taking a moment to get the Cat’s controls down. It has been awhile since I drove it and, figuring it was a one-time deal, had put that knowledge in my mind's Recycle Bin. I test the lift and tilt of the bucket and the rotation of the tread. The tank-like movements are kind of startling and scary, but a cold comfort, nonetheless. It’s like a black toggle-stick and switch video game, but one that I somewhat take to. Funny that I loved Resident reality this truly sucks.

The neighbors in the house to the south (the ones with the stockpile of non-working cars) are zombies, too; a middle aged man and his daughter who I peg to be about 16. They are drawn to the start-up of the diesel engine and slowly lurch from behind their garage while I practice the hydraulic controls in place. Then, when I have the maneuverability down, I move the Cat forward with an awkward jerking motion, tearing deep tracks into the yard-earth. I cautiously move in a slow direct line toward the zombie dad. His dead waggling fingers can’t reach through the cage. His body doesn’t stand a chance under the immense weight of the angry machine and he is pulled under.

[For a moment, I am a red-haired Ripley fighting the Alien Queen...]

I see the bursting of his large overfed stomach and the spewing forth of rotting entrail ribbons pop into the air like a party favor. Then I hear his dead skull crunch into the ground under the metal tracks. This makes me nauseous. The daughter is next. Living Dead Girl. I lift the bucket and the teeth fortuitously grab the length of her once elegant ballerina neck as her body is pulled under. Her head detaches like a dandelion top, as I don’t see it fall to the ground. It is probably grotesquely rolling around in my heroine-bucket. A few more decrepit middle aged zombies suddenly punctuate the yard. They don’t last. Skiddy needs a washing by this point. “It must be Skiddy's time of the month”, I madly muse to no one.
Her pretty yellow coat is tarnished with brownish red filth.

And I think she loves it.

[I wish I had remembered to grab my cell phone – how stupid of me!]

My sister and Toby will no doubt be at Mom and Dad’s. I really feel drawn to protect that baby, as well as help out the rest of my family. Hopefully there is enough fuel in this thing, God please! I don’t know how much punch I can pack with a tire iron clutched by a body weakened with dehydration and hunger. I’m dying for a plate of dill pickles! When I get hungry, I get bitchy. I guess though, that there’s no better time to be bitchy. Bitchy, Skiddy and the Lord might keep me alive today – or a lovely combination of all three.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

As you sow so shall you reap

Edward Huron III, Esq. had a lot of things going for him. He was handsome, young, successful, rich, resourceful, and charming. He was in the seat of this 737 flying out of the nightmare of O’Hare airport and the Chicagoland area. He used every bit of cunning, resourcefulness, charm, and funds he had to get on this plane. Each piece got him only so far, but together with his adorable 11 month old son and his tale of woe, he was able to get that boarding pass and head to Las Vegas. His luck however, was about to run out.


Tricia Huron, or Trish, had returned home from Starbucks aghast. Someone had bitten her outside the coffeehouse. She was sure it was a bum. She pushed him down and got into her pink Hummer, and drove the two blocks home, taking her baby out with her. Her husband had stayed home that day; he had gotten up a little late and heard that the roads in and out of Chicago were jammed. He decided to telecommute that day, and was upstairs on the laptop. She mentioned to him that she had been bitten, and he shrugged and told her to call the police. It was a typical Eddy answer. After bandaging her wound and putting her 11 month old down, she told Ed that she was going to lie down for a bit.

That evening when she woke as the living dead, Ed had no issue beating her to death with a marble rolling pin. In fact, he had been hearing more and more things about the infection all day, and this was something he knew was coming. Now it was a matter of getting out. His house was not some place that he wanted to stay, so he grabbed his child and every bit of cash and jewelry that he had, and left his wife’s broken body on the cold ceramic tile, under the granite countertop.

He got in his black Hummer and headed toward O’Hare. He knew that everyone would be there, but members of his firm had booked all the partners on a special flight. It would cost him, and he would have to sweet talk or bribe his way through security, but he would find a way.

The airport was so crowded that getting around was impossible with his Maclaren Leather stroller. He had to abandon it early and make his way to the gate. He bribed two security guards with surprisingly little money and jewelry, only $10,000 worth. The last security guard was more expensive, and he had to use his charm on her. It was really young Camden that changed her mind and let him through. She was a young single mother and felt compelled to help the little child, if not his handsome recently widowed father.

The checkpoints were unbelievably thorough. He had his son had the indignity of being strip searched 3 separate times, working their way deeper into the airport, closer to his gate. The officers were searching for any kind of bite or abrasion; several were turned away because of some imperfection. The money and jewelry was slowly running out, but he made it to the gate with a little left to spare.

He was in the back of the plane with his other colleagues. Most of them without their wives, and each one with a similar story. He held his son awkwardly. Admittedly, he spent very little time taking care of him. His wife was a stay at home mother, and they employed a nanny. His interaction with the baby was very infrequent. The child could not be quieted, or consoled. He cried and cried, Eddy was sure it was the plane getting ready to take off.

The jet was full of Chicago’s elite: business owners, stock market gurus, TV and movie celebrities, politicians, philanthropists, musicians, and the very rich. He was certainly a small fish on this ride. He saw the president of the options board, several Aldermen, some sports figures, even an “A” list actor on the flight. Somehow being around all these important people made him feel safer.

As the plane left the ground his son became more unruly. He tried all he could to keep him quiet. After a half an hour of pressurizing he seemed to calm and go to sleep.

While a great deal of factors played into his hand as he flew through the sky to Las Vegas, the karmic balance was slowly shifting the other way. His inexperience with his son and his placement in the cabin led to him getting bit. His son was breastfed by his mother earlier that day, and it took several hours for his son to become a creature. If someone was watching behind him, he might have had a chance to pull the child away from his neck, but his seat at the back of the plane made that impossible. The child only had 6 teeth, but there were enough to pierce his flesh.

The crew was alerted right away. The baby and he were taken to the back of the stewardess station and tied together. The pilots were informed, and in turn the military on the ground. Eddy actually thought that he might be able to get help once on the ground when he heard the captain say that two F-16 were coming to escort them to ground.

Eddy and the rest of the passengers were all alarmed, but none of them could have predicted the AIM-9 Sidewinders shot from the F-16’s. Everyone on the 737 died instantly.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

My chimpanzee wears a flight suit

We made it about halfway down the hall when we heard the screaming start. Sage, tied to the wheelchair, bloody glass held to his throat, tried to turn in the direction of the commotion, but winced and pulled back. The razor sharp glass sliced him shallowly but cleanly across his throat, tracing the direction of his turned head with a thin line of blood. I hurried the wheelchair down the hallway, neither of us talking, both of us knowing in the back of our minds what those screams meant. Silently, Sage pointed his way through the maze of corridors. I was running now, holding the glass only loosely in my hand and away from his throat as the sound of the screams grew more insistent. A bit out of breath, sweating with exertion and fear, we stood outside a door, next to which a small placard said simply, Nursery. I looked down at Sage, who nodded, but otherwise did not move.
“Turn the handle, Sage.” I said
He calmly reached forward, gripping the metallic handle and opening the door wide. I pushed the chair forward and entered the room.

It was a nursery unlike any I'd ever seen. When you think of a nursery, ones mind typically drifts to wall murals of puppies or smiling cartoon characters, of cheerful colors and toy boxes, diaper bins, and night lights. This nursery had none of these. In neat, military order, stood clear plastic bassinets atop bare metal stands with casters. There were dozens of them, in long perfect rows stretching down the length of the long, narrow room. Harsh fluorescent light saturated the room, exposing the pneumatic bank teller tubes that came down next to each of the bassinets. At the same time that I understood what I was seeing in the teller tubes, I also noticed the harsh metal grid that covered the top of each of bassinet. I had enough time to wonder why these people had turned the bassinets into cages, when I saw Finn.

It was clear that whoever had taken him had tried to make him comfortable, but it was equally clear that this “nursery” was not equipped for children nearing their first birthday. He was sleeping, apparently safe and sound, but was laying on a heap of blankets and towels surrounded by a stack of upturned clear plastic bassinets that were forming a ring and thus a make shift playpen around him. With a sense of relief greater than I had known possible, and far more visceral than I expected, I rushed toward him. Only as I bent to retrieve him did I notice that I was still clutching the shiv that had gotten me this far, and it was then that I realized that Sage was no longer under my control. Wide eyed, I swiveled around, half expecting the old man to be running for the door or inches away from me with murderous intent. Instead, he sat calmly in the wheelchair, smiling bemusedly at me, as if he couldn't understand my relief at finding my son intact. I looked at Sage for only another moment, then I reached out, and still keeping my eyes locked onto those of the old man, I set the shard down in the nearest empty bassinet. Then I turned away from him, bent down, and picked up my son.

He stirred a little when I picked him up, and his tiny moan of sleepy complaint reassured me of his basic safety once again. Clutching him, I turned to see Sage, still seated in the chair, gingerly exploring the shallow wound around his neck. Smiling, he said, “So, shall we collect your bride then?” and without another word rose nimbly from the chair and began toward the door. I had no choice but to follow.

Entering the hall jolted me out of the grateful reverie I had been feeling. I could hear a low steady humming sound that I at first took to be some enormous machine, but which I realized a moment later was a deep, throaty moaning that seemed to fill the corridors with the thrum of hungry, stupid, violence. Hurrying now, Sage and I raced further through the labyrinthine hallways, and I had to concentrate as I ran in order to read the signs that marked our progress. With some alarm, I noticed the words quarantine as we pushed first through one set of double doors, bursting into what looked to be a large showering room, and pushed almost immediately again through another heavy set of doors. We were now clearly in a hospital setting. The institutional paint on the walls, the large centrally located desk with a bank of monitors (only one of which was on, and on which was displayed a blinking alarm), and the steady monotonous beep of some impossible and necessary machines. The moaning had grown fainter as we ran, and we began to slow to a walk as we made our way through what was obviously the quarantine wing of what I was coming to realize was a very large compound. Sage paused for a moment before a door simply marked “recovery,” then turned the handle and entered the dark room.

From inside, I heard the thick grunt of someone exerting a mighty effort followed by a deafening crash. I rushed forward and threw open the door, Finn was now awake and began to scream. It was probably the sound of that cry that saved Sage from another kick, as he lay tightly curled on the floor against the wall, holding his right side. Colleen's foot was poised above his face and was ready to drop onto his face, but she didn't bring her foot crashing down. Instead she looked up at Finn and myself and began to weep even as she abandoned her attack and scrambled to her feet.

There was little time for a reunion however. Even as we held one another, Colleen now grasping Finn to her chest as if fearful he would disappear from her arms again, a middle aged woman followed by Hawthorne breathlessly dived into the room. I realized even as they turned to shut the door that I could hear that moaning again, now much louder and more insistent. If a sound that never changes pitch or tone could seem excited, this one did, somehow seeming to build in intensity as well as volume even as Hawthorne threw himself against the door and locked it, sliding with his back down the heavy wooden door with a sigh of obvious gratitude. Sage was wincing, but beginning to extricate himself from the metal food cart that he had crashed into on his ignominious crash to the floor. Looking around at the room we were in for the first time, I could see a cot that had been rigged with straps, a rather more normal hospital bed covered in what looked to be very old, but very serious blood stains, heavy duty ceiling mounted surgical lighting, a row of monitors, blood pressure cuffs and other assorted medical paraphernalia, and a large armoire. In short, it looked rather like a birthing suit at an advanced but not terribly hygienic hospital. I shuddered to think of what went on in this room that caused all of that blood, and caused whoever it was in charge of this place to deem it unnecessary or too dangerous to clean.

Even as my mind began to mull these things over however, the first of the pursuing undead thudded into the door, fingernails hungrily scraping and clawing at the thick wooden door with such vigor that I immediately began to fear that they may, given time, make some progress. A second later and the next ghoul sent a shudder through the door frame, colliding with all the force of its ravenous desire, then another, and another, each body sending vibrations through the door and floor, shaking small flakes of ceiling dust upon our heads, landing in our hair like drywall snowflakes. Impossibly, this continued for the better part of an hour. Sometimes there would be several minutes between new ghouls, sometimes only seconds or less. I counted at least fifty of them out there, each pressing against the next, clawing and scraping, and most horribly of all, moaning. Finn was screaming now, inconsolable even as he fed from Colleen in the farthest corner of the room. Without thinking, without saying a word to one another, Sage, Hawthorne, and the woman whose name I didn't yet know and I began to push, pull and slide every single thing we could move up against the door.

When there was literally nothing left to pile against the door, I looked at Sage. He looked back, still calm, but no longer wearing that infuriating “What, me worry?” half smile.
“I think,” I said, “it's time for an explanation.”

The old man nodded simply, and sat down indian-style on the linoleum. He motioned for me to join him, and I did, sitting across from him. The others sat too, and Colleen scooted from the back corner of the room, still fiercely clutching Finnegan. We formed a small circle, a band of six survivors, so far, of this madness. Clearing his throat, Sage began to speak.

“Of all the men and women who are part of this project, I'm the oldest. I've been living down here since I was born in 1947. I was part of the original experiment, at least that's what I've been able to gather. I don't remember any adults living here as part of the project I mean, not when I was a kid. There were fifteen of us then, and we lived here from the moment of our births, and for at least fourteen of us, until our deaths.” He looked significantly at the besieged door, and added, “and probably the fifteenth as well. Most of the others here are our offspring, our children if you can call them that, although we were never really their parents. None of us ever had any family other than good old Uncle Sam, and he sent his finest to do the dirty work, changing diapers every three hours like clockwork, and feeding and bathing us on a tidy schedule. I never found out if the project had a name, they didn't really talk to us about what was going on, but they talked about us, and around us enough to know that I was part of the alpha group, and I know enough of my greek alphabet to assume then that I was part of that first wave. You are sitting right now in what I think may be the largest underground city the world has ever constructed. I've been exploring it, mapping it really, in detail now for the better part of twenty years, and I still find a new passage every few months. This place is big, bigger than you can possibly imagine, and as far as I know, we're the only humans left. Make no mistake though, we're not alone.” He looked again at the door, “and I don't just mean them. You see, after World War II, Uncle Sam got it into his head that he needed test subjects, human test subjects, and lots of them. They weren't trying to build perfect soldiers or any of that crap, they just needed plenty of human material that they could experiment on, test new drugs, new gases, new viruses, new weapons, and sometimes all of these at once. That's where we came in. We were grown here you see. You've heard of test tube babies? Well we're the next logical step, only taken by Uncle Sam long before the private sector ever even dreamt of fertilizing the egg out of the womb. We are quite literally the product and property of the United States government, born as children of cold war hysteria and biological advances as questionable as any drummed up by the Fuhrer himself. Mostly, they weren't trying to grow full people, only parts that could be independently tested, experimented on, fucked with. A lung here to test the oxygen absorption rates of poisonous gases, an eye there to set maximum levels of radioactive exposure against soft tissue. We, the people, so to speak, were walking petri dishes, and nothing more. One by one, those that I knew, I guess you could call them my family, fell victim to an experiment that went too far, but not until enough of them was harvested for the next generation of human guinea pigs to be cloned. It was only a matter of time then until I met my own fate, called from my cell and led to my medically approved death. I was saved by the very thing that emptied this facility, by the accident.”

Sage trailed off, looking off into a past I could not imagine. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, Colleen interrupted, the anger and fear in her voice cutting through the room, “I don't really think we have time for this right now. Does anyone know how the hell we're gonna get out of here, cuz I'm not sitting in this room with my baby waiting to die.”

Sage's eyes snapped back into gentle focus, “I think I know a way.”