“I bet they sent them to everybody on the network. Probably the same one. Trying to pacify the people on the outside, to keep them from beating down the barriers to get into town. Think about it, you got husbands separated from wives, kids separated from parents. Imagine you go out of town to go see a concert or something, you leave the kid with a babysitter, then head back home to find the road blocked by a wall of National Guard trucks, telling you you can’t see your child, who by the way is trapped inside ground zero of a bioweapon outbreak.”
“Do you have any idea how mad David will be when he sees this? Sending this out in his name like that?”
John didn’t say anything. Just let that conversation fade. For now, the goal was to get her away, and safe, and to sit down somewhere quiet and figure out what to do next. Over a beer.
The bullshit reached Amy’s dorm ahead of them, so John’s final estimate was that it traveled at about 80 miles an hour. Of course, bullshit picked up speed exponentially in the information age—the situation in Undisclosed would make a newscast in Japan within the next two hours, and Internet rumors would assure everyone everywhere that they were all equally in danger of a terrorist/zombie attack.
The common room on Amy’s floor was packed with students, gathered around a TV mounted to the wall. It was tuned to CNN, which John guessed meant this was the most CNN anyone in this building had watched in years. It was clear from the coverage that nobody had gotten a camera crew inside the town after the Action 5 News team got eaten. They did have three short video clips that they showed on a loop, all of them shot with shaky cell phones and presumably uploaded to the Web before all of the communication lines went dark. The first was the least exciting, showing a crew of National Guard putting up temporary fencing around the hospital. They were working fast, using a huge drill thing attached to a backhoe to punch holes in the dirt while a crane filled said holes with poles three times as tall as a man. The view cut to a roll of absolutely sinister looking razor wire on the ground, then to a group of guys standing guard, holding assault rifles that John recognized as M4s, as he had gone shopping for one that last summer.
Still no hazmat gear on those guys. Jesus.
Finally one of the soldiers shouted something at whoever was holding the camera and the clip abruptly ended.
Then the next two clips were prefaced by the anchor warning that the following scenes were very disturbing, and that you should leave the room if you were a giant pussy. They then cut to the second clip, shot from inside a car that was creeping along downtown, the driver presumably trying to steer while holding their phone out of the window to record what looked like some bodies laying in front of a smashed-up storefront (John recognized it as Black Circle Records, on Main Street—it hadn’t been smashed up quite as much the last time he saw it). The shot zoomed in on a mutilated body laying facedown. Well, part of it was facedown, the torso part. The pelvis was a twisted pink mess, and the legs were turned all the way around, so that they were toes-up. Suddenly one of the legs snapped into action, bending at the knee as if the legs were going to get up on their own and walk away without the rest of the body. The shot cut to black before we could see if they did.
Finally, they cut to a grainy scene shot from an upper-story window, looking down at the street below. There were three soldiers in a standoff with a lone guy who was holding a curved object that looked like a scythe—it was hard to make out from that distance. The soldiers were shouting commands at the guy, gesturing for him to get facedown on the ground. He advanced on them and they opened fire, all three of them. The clip had no audio but you could see repeated puffs of gunsmoke drifting into the air and bits of flesh flying off the guy. He never went down. He didn’t even stumble. Instead he reared back and threw the scythe thing at the nearest soldier. The soldier grabbed his neck and went down.
The other two soldiers ran.
The camera view started shaking, which John interpreted as the cameraman going nuts and probably yelling to the other people in the room about what had just happened. This got the attention of the monster below, who turned and looked up, directly into the camera, and thus into the eyes of everyone in the dorm common room.
The man reached into his coat and pulled out another scythe. John had a split second to realize he had actually pulled out one of his own ribs, before he hurled it at the window, shattering it.
Everyone in the common room flinched.
The scene cut to black.
A kid at the front of the room with black hair, a beard, and horn-rimmed glasses said, “Now tell me that wasn’t a zombie.”
John’s college career had been brief and he had never lived in a dorm room. This one reminded him of a prison cell. Amy and her roommate slept in bunk beds. They had no TV. There was a bathroom and shower that they shared with the people in the next room. There was a little mini-fridge next to the window, a hot plate sitting on top of it. Not even enough floor space to do a push-up. Not that he hadn’t lived in worse.
In one corner John found a familiar sight, what he thought of as Amy’s “nest.” At the center was an old beanbag chair that looked like it had come from a garage sale or a vintage store. Surrounding it was her Apple laptop, a rolled-up, half-empty bag of Cheetos, an open box of Cocoa Pebbles cereal that she would eat dry, and four empty bottles—orange juice, orange juice, Diet Mountain Dew, water. If she were at home you would also find two prescription bottles there, one pain pill and one muscle relaxer that John knew she took for her back. She probably kept those in her purse, shit like that would get stolen in a college dorm. You could sell OxyContin for ten or twenty bucks a pill here. Price would probably go to ten times that now that the apocalypse was here.
You stop that apocalypse shit. Keep your head, John.
Amy had the lower bunk, which John knew because on the wall next to it she had taped up a little world map with a dozen cities in Europe and Australia bearing red stars she had drawn on with a Sharpie. Cities she wanted to visit someday. John noticed she had added a star to Japan since the last time he had seen it. He tried to imagine Dave walking around the streets of Tokyo. It was like picturing RoboCop in Middle Earth—
“John, you’ve met Nisha, right?” John had. Amy’s gorgeous Indian roommate. She was on the top bunk in pajama pants and a tank top, glued to her phone and tapping in Facebook updates. A bottle of absinthe leaned against the wall next to her, a textbook nearby served as a tray for an ornate glass, sugar cubes and a disposable lighter. Saturday night!
Nisha said, “Okay, I am freaking out over this. Did you see that zombie video?”
Amy said, “Yeah, it’s crazy. David is still there. In the town.”
“Oh, wow. I’m so sorry. Is he okay?”
“We don’t know. Nobody knows anything. John was there when everything happened, he just barely made it out.”
She looked at John. “Oh. Wow. And he’s not … infected or anything, is he? He didn’t get bit?”
“No, no. He was way away from everything when it happened. They actually let him out at the checkpoint, they checked him over and said he was fine.”
“Oh, that’s good.”
“But don’t tell anybody, okay? People will freak out. You know how people are.”
“Do you mind if he crashes on the floor tonight? Tomorrow we’ll make some calls and go back and pick up David.”
Pick up David, John thought. Like he just needs a ride.
John thought the absinthe looked like it had barely been touched.
“Absolutely,” said the roommate, even more oblivious. “Hey Pizza Factory is doing their two-for-one thing tonight.”
Brains, splattered on blue plastic.
As Amy said, “Okay. Yeah. Yeah, we need to eat. Uh, John, what do you take on your pizza?”
A part of John realized this was crazy, but another part of him wondered if there would be such a thing as pizza a week, or a month, from now.
“Meat. I want meat on it. All of the meat that they have.”
Amy sank into her beanbag chair and John noticed she called the pizza from speed dial. Nisha nodded to her absinthe bottle and said to John, “Wanna drink with me?”
Well … it would be rude not to at this point.
8 Days, 1 Hour Until the Massacre at Ffirth Asylum
Amy couldn’t help but notice that after John had gone on and on about how tired he was and how he’d had no sleep because he was busy rescuing David the night before, he was still going strong at midnight. He and Nisha finished off the absinthe but then Nisha went down the hall and came back with another bottle of some kind of liquor or other. It had a pirate on the bottle. John was getting talkative and was suddenly in action hero mode. “We need weapons, that’s the first step,” he said. “We may have to improvise something. All those assholes gotta pay.”
Pay for what?
He was getting loud and that made Amy nervous because, apocalypse or not, it was against building policy to have overnight visitors from off campus and if the RA caught John in the room she’d make him leave. And then what would he do? Sleep in the truck? But now, he and Amy’s roommate were getting drunk and downing pizza and making a party out of it.
Uh, everybody deals with crisis differently … I guess?
They asked Amy if they could use her laptop and they both huddled over it, refreshing the news Web sites and all of the social networking hubs over and over and over again, even though nothing new was coming out of Undisclosed and Amy was pretty sure nothing new would come out until daytime. If nobody had reporters on the inside and the phone lines were down, then all that was coming out were the stupid rumors. Sitting there and sucking up the rumors wasn’t doing anyone any good, it was just following the crisis as a form of entertainment. The crisis that David was stuck right in the middle of. Amy didn’t think either of them even noticed when she got up, put on her jacket and walked out.