John glanced around, half expecting to see a disheveled Dave pulling himself up from some spot on the floor. He’d be squinting, his hair matted down, looking like he’d just been shit out of a dinosaur. He wasn’t there, of course, and wouldn’t ever be there again. John immediately wanted to go back to sleep on the floor.
Wait. Whose floor? Where the hell was he? John had told Amy on the phone that he was back at the motel, but that was because he didn’t want to admit that he didn’t actually know. He was in somebody’s basement. There was a full bar down here. Maybe a frat house? He was close to campus, he knew that. The last thing he remembered was coming down here and watching round-the-clock apocalypse coverage on their sixty-inch TV, then someone introduced him to the modern wonder that was the Irish Car Bomb (Guinness, Baileys, and Jameson) and the next thing he knew, his cell phone was shooting noise bullets into his temple and the clock said afternoon. John surveyed the floor around him and saw a lot of tall black guys. He had gotten drunk with the basketball team, apparently.
John stumbled to his feet and spent a few minutes looking for his shoes. He never found them, so he figured he would just trade with one of the guys there. He put on a pair of Nikes he found by the door that were downright huge—seemed to be size 18 or so. They looked newer than his own but he figured he could catch up with the guy later to see if he wanted to trade back. Some people like shoes that are a little more broken in …
John realized he was staring at the wall and that some time had passed without him realizing it. Brain was still trying to boot up, loading all of the extra shit into the task bar. Finally he made himself get up and head out. Amy was going to do something rash if he wasn’t there to calm her down. He hit the cold air and found the Bronco parked haphazardly across the lawn. John cursed when he saw some jackass had spray painted ZOMBIE ASSAULT VEHICLE on the door, but then recognized it as his own handwriting.
He pulled out and saw the dorm tower looming ahead. He actually wasn’t more than five or six blocks away from Amy’s bus stop at the Mexican place. Awesome. He let the Bronco idle for a bit so the heater would have time to warm up.
John found the bus stop easily enough, but instead of a bus, pulled up to it were four windowless, black vans. Yellow tape roped off the whole sidewalk and the parking lot beyond. Guys in black space suits were prowling everywhere.
Amy was nowhere in sight.
John stopped right in the middle of the street, threw open the door off the Bronco and ran to the first van. He yanked open the back door.
Nobody there. He ran to the second one. Before he could get it open, two of the space suit guys grabbed him.
“Sir! Sir! You are risking contamination by—”
The men dragged John away from the vans and wrestled him to the sidewalk. John got a good look at what they were wearing and it was fucking terrifying. The glass on their helmets was tinted so that when light hit it, it glinted blood red. They had armor and machine guns and wires and shit running around like they were on the way to fight a war on Mars.
A third space suit guy came up to them and said, “What, is he family?”
John said, “Yes! I’m Amy Sullivan’s … dad.”
“Sir, do you know—”
“Listen! I’m infected! Take me and let her go! The infection, I got it all over. Look at my enormous inhuman feet!”
The guy said to his coworkers, “Okay, see if you can get ID and let him ride with Otto.”
For the second time in nine days, John’s hands were bound with the heavy-duty zip tie handcuffs. He was stuffed into the third van, but Amy wasn’t in there, either. Twenty minutes later it jolted to a start, and he knew that he and Amy would be in Undisclosed in a little over two hours. He had that much time to think up a plan.
45 MINUTES EARLIER …
Forty-five minutes before John would get hauled away in a van …
Amy sat and waited at the bus stop bench for the government to get there, watching as four more people with gun cases and army satchels strolled by. Were they like a militia or something? The sight of these regular people wandering around with all that hardware scared her more than the zombie thing. If everything fell apart and civilization came down to this, to guns and people fighting over food and medicine, what would she do? She wasn’t strong. She didn’t have strong friends. She didn’t have a family. The closest she had was David, and what if he was hurt or—
“Excuse me, what’s your name?”
Amy looked up, expecting to see a guy in a jumpsuit and gas mask or something. Instead it was a hipster-looking guy with a beard and glasses and wearing a black peacoat.
“Hi. My name’s Josh, and we keep running into each other. We sat across from each other on the bus on Z Day. Remember? Then I come back and it turns out you live on the floor below me.”
Amy remembered him now, but wouldn’t if he hadn’t brought it up. He was a nice-looking guy but he also looked exactly like seven hundred other guys on campus. Same build, same beard, same glasses.
“Oh, yeah. I remember.”
“Did you lose someone in [Undisclosed]?”
“My boyfriend is there.”
“Me, too. Not my boyfriend. I’m not gay. My brother, my nephew and one of my best friends. That’s three different people obviously. Are you here for the meeting?”
“Oh, no. I’m just waiting for a ride.” She realized in that moment the strap Josh had draped over his shoulder was not a backpack, but a rifle case. “Wait, is this the gun meeting everybody’s going to? Because I left all my guns at home.”
“You should come anyway.” From an inside pocket he pulled out a sheet of paper, and she didn’t need to read the details. She recognized the huge letter Z the moment he unfolded it. “When your ride gets here, bring them, too.”
“Oh, I don’t think they’ll want to come. The CDC or whoever is coming to pick me up to take me to quarantine.”
Alarmed, Josh said, “Excuse me?”
“Yep, I’ve wasted a week here and finally I said, screw it. If that’s where David is, that’s where I want to be. I told them to come get me.”
Josh looked nervously down the street in both directions, then said, “Amy, listen. You need to come with me. Give me ten minutes to explain what’s going on. If after that you don’t think I’m right about this, I’ll bring you back here. Hell, we’ll drive you down to the checkpoint ourselves. But you don’t have all of the information and I’m telling you right now, if you go with whoever shows up here, you will never see your boyfriend again.”
Another nervous scan of the street.
“Come on. I’ll explain everything once we’re off the sidewalk.”
Amy sighed and pushed the hair out of her eyes. “So, so many kidnappings begin this way.”
“We’re going right down there, to the Powder Keg. It’ll be packed with people. It’s full of rednecks with assault rifles and shotguns, if anyone tries to put a hand on you, they’ll be perforated. Come on. There’s no time.”
He put a hand under her armpit.
She went with him. They hurried along the sidewalk, Josh with his hand flat on her back pushing her along and ducking down like they were dodging machine gun fire.
The Powder Keg was a gun store/shooting range and not, as Amy had thought, a gay nightclub (this wasn’t a snide private joke, it would be days later before she would remember that the nightclub she was thinking of was called the Bomb Shelter). The place was absolutely packed, and the crowd was armed to the teeth. In any other country on earth, this kind of gathering would be cause for an all-out military response.
Josh pushed her through the door and into a crowd. He stopped to tell two burly shotgun-bearing men, “REPER is looking for her. If they show up at the door, tell them we’ve never seen her.”
Amy thought, Did he say Reavers? Like on Firefly?
Josh pushed inside, pulling Amy through the crowd behind him to the front of the room, Amy still carrying her bag of pharmacy stuff and her stupid pillow.
He reached a spot where a white bedsheet was hanging in front of a display of earmuffs and safety glasses. Josh put his back to the wall and stepped up on a huge cardboard box of clay pigeons, so he’d be a couple of feet above the crowd. He quieted everybody and said, “Okay everybody, we don’t have much time. Now, I need to get something out of the way first thing, I begin every meeting with this. Some of you were dragged here by friends or family, rolling your eyes over the whole ‘zombie’ thing. If you don’t like that word, feel free to pick one that suits you. The Zombie Response Squad was a club promoting physical fitness, weapons training and safety, and wilderness survival. These are skills I believe that every human should possess regardless—they can save your life in the event of anything from natural disaster to civil unrest. The zombie angle was just our way of having fun with it and, obviously, we had no way of knowing that, you know, something like this was coming.”
He paused here. That seemed like a really important point to him.
“So if you don’t like the word zombie, feel free to mentally substitute any word you wish when you hear it. But for the purposes of this discussion, I am going to use the word zombie. The infected are contagious, they exhibit animalistic and predatory behavior toward other humans, they can survive massive organ and tissue trauma. So regardless of what science eventually figures out about this outbreak, right now, the danger these creatures pose to your personal safety, and the method of dealing with them, fully fits the profile of ‘zombie.’ So just deal with it.”
Josh gestured to a guy in the crowd and said, “Fredo?” That was presumably Fredo’s cue to turn on a projector hooked to his laptop. An image appeared on the sheet next to Josh.
Oh my dear god, Amy thought. They have a PowerPoint presentation.