The inter-com speaker spat at him, “Brookings!”
Harold sighed and finished drawing the line in the schematic.
“Brookings! Damn it, get in here!”
His boss must have promised something to someone and now he needed someone else’s lap to dump it in. It was a habit that had grown the last few months. Harold reached over and flipped the switch on the inter-com. “Yes Sir, Mister Sharpe. I’ll just be a moment.”
He made a notation in the margins of the sheet and set his pencil aside. A full year of studying computer assisted drafting and the only job he could get was with a company stuck in the dark ages of technology and working for a department manager who was barely above an illiterate caveman. Opening a drawer he removed a breath mint and popped it into his mouth; he wasn’t concerned with his own breath, but the mint would help to disguise his boss’s though. Stepping outside his cubicle he turned right and walked past the empty areas where other engineers should have been working; the company was dying a slow and unremarkable death.
At the end of the aisle he walked into the corner office and stood before the desk of his department manager, Gary Sharpe, “Yes, Sir?”
A roll of paper plans was pushed across the desk, “I need preliminary sketches by next Friday.”
The ass didn’t even look up at him. “Am I to assume the Merkel project is on hold?” Harold asked.
“What?” Sharpe looked up as though he was puzzled. “You’re not done with Merkel?”
“No, Sir, remember we discussed the time frame you assigned to the job?”
“Yeah, and I told you Merkel needed to be done yesterday!”
“No, Sir, you gave me the new spec sheets yesterday.” Harold sucked briefly on his breath mint before continuing, “You said I had a week to finish the new drawings and get them back to you.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“Yes, Sir, it was.”
“God damn it Brookings, don’t you try to tell me what I said! I know what I said!”
Sharpe stood up and leaned across his desk as Harold tried to retreat from his breath. “Look at you! You can’t even face me man to man, and you’re supposed to be a combat veteran? What a crock of shit! Take those plans and get your ass to work! I want the preliminaries by Friday and I want the Merkel project wrapped up and put to bed by tomorrow, got it? Do you understand?”
“I understand what you want, Mister Sharpe.” Beneath the calm exterior Harold was seething.
Sharpe settled back into his chair with a smug grin on his face. “That’s what I thought; now get out of my office!”
“Absolutely, Sir.” Harold turned on his heel and exited the office in the direction of his cubicle. When he arrived he picked up his jacket and the briefcase he carried his lunch in and walked down the hall to the elevator where he pushed the down button and waited until the doors opened and stepped in. Pushing the button for the ground floor he leaned back against the wall as the elevator dropped away and then jolted to a stop, the doors groaned and slowly opened, on the third floor.
“Shit.” Harold slipped out the doors by stepping down about a foot to the third floor lobby, and then walked to the stairs, “Screw the damn elevator.”
In the lobby of the building he waved to the security guard before he realized the kid was wearing headphones and was bobbing his head to music and not in greeting. Luckily there was nothing in the building worth stealing or the company was going to be in deep shit. Hell, the security guard would probably help any thieves load up the worthless crap they stole. In the parking lot he worked the key of his fifteen year old Ford Ranger into the door lock and played with it before finally giving up and using the passenger door which didn’t lock anyway. The truck was visually a piece of shit, and maybe the driver’s door wouldn’t unlock with the key, but the motor and tranny were sound plus the little four banger engine and five speed transmission racked up the miles per gallon quite nicely.
He started the truck and pulled out of the parking lot onto Gary Avenue and headed north to the I-10, pulling onto the freeway he merged with the traffic and then exited on Mountain Avenue. Turning north again he drove up to Mickey Ds and grabbed a large hamburger combo to take home; he was going to need to stop with all the fast food he had been eating lately, just not today. In his apartment he sat down and started to eat, but his cell phone rang and he glanced at the name, “Sharpe” was displayed on the face.
He flipped the phone open, “Hello.”
“Brookings, what the fuck are you doing?”
“Eating my lunch.”
“What? I told you to bring your lunch so you could work while you eat. Where are you?”
“In my kitchen,” he answered.
“Did you say your kitchen? You have twenty minutes to get back here and get to work or you’re fired, do you understand me?”
“I understand perfectly.”
“It is eleven forty-eight, you better be here in twenty minutes.”
Harold smiled into the phone, “Twelve oh eight, yes sir, I understand.” The line went dead and Harold set the phone down on the table and continued looking out the window of his apartment as he ate his lunch, chewing the sandwich slowly and ensuring that each French fry was liberally coated with ketchup. One of his neighbors came out his front door dragging his wife/girlfriend by her hair and shoved her out into the walkway before closing the door behind her. She walked to the door and started pleading to be allowed back in, but Harold knew how the situation would end; the same way it always did. The man would come back out, slap her around a bit and then allow her in for a session of make-up sex.
He shook his head and wished the pretty little Hispanic girl would leave the son of a bitch; you could look at the man and tell he was no good; she didn’t though, so it wasn’t Harold’s problem. He finished his burger and fries and sat there quietly sipping soda through the straw; finally he set it aside and opened the newspaper to the help wanted ads. There wasn’t a single listing for electronic engineers. Maybe a job digging a ditch, no, he couldn’t speak Spanish. Some kind of construction maybe, nope, there was that Spanish thing again. There used to be a lot of good paying jobs in construction; it was what he did when he was attending classes to learn CAD after he got back from Iraq. Not anymore though, not if you didn’t speak Spanish. More often than not the good paying blue collar jobs had been taken over by the illegals. Yeah, illegals only do the work Americans don’t want to do.
Okay, tomorrow he would go to one of the employment agencies and see what he could find, in the meantime he opened a beer and slowly sucked it down as he waited for Sharpe to call him back. He never did though, too bad; at least, not until the next morning.
The cell phone rang and Harold picked it up as he spooned another mouthful of cold cereal into his mouth, “Hello?”
“Brookings, thank God!” It was Sharpe and it was the first time Harold could remember him not yelling at him. “I need help.”
“Sorry Mister Sharpe, but I no longer work for you.”
“What? Work? No, no, I need your help. I’ve been trying to call the police, but no one is answering 911!”
“So why are you calling me? I’m not a cop or paramedic.”
“I know, but you were in the Army, right? You probably own a gun and you can come get me, help me get out of here.”
Harold put his spoon down, “Sharpe, what the hell are you talking about?”
“The riots! I haven’t been able to get out of the building, the security guard is dead and I can’t get out!”
What the hell was he talking about? “Listen Sharpe, you’ve treated me like shit since the day I started working in your little kingdom, you have a problem, call the cops.” Harold started to flip the phone closed, but hesitated as he heard Sharpe’s words.
“Please, Harold, I can’t get through to the police; all there is, is a recording and sometimes there’s not even that. Please, you were a soldier you know how to fight and how to use a gun right?”
“I know how to use guns, yes, so what?”
“Listen, just grab your gun and come get me out of here, shit I’ll give you a month’s pay as a bonus.”
A month’s pay? There was only one problem though; Harold didn’t own a gun. He planned on purchasing one, but not until he returned to Arizona where he could get the type of weapon he wanted and not one of the People’s Republic’s ideas of politically correct firepower. Nope, no gun until he lived somewhere people were still free and the government wasn’t afraid of a citizen’s choice of weapons.
“Sorry, Sharpe, but I don’t own a gun.”
“You mother fucker, this is your way of getting back at me because I was your boss, isn’t it?” His voice started to become shrill, “Get your fucking gun and come get me you bitch!”
Harold’s hand folded his cellphone over and closed it, what an idiot. Riots, what riots? He hadn’t heard anything about riots. He switched on the TV and waited while it warmed up before settling in front of it with a cup of coffee. All he saw was the emergency broadcast symbol as he shifted through the channels until finally he reached Fox News and he stared at the screen, what was this? There was an outline of the continental United States with a series of red dots here and there, mostly along the West Coast and East Coast though there were a few located in cities across the lower southwestern states. As he watched the screen Phoenix turned into a red dot. At the top of the screen was a notation, Locations of Reported Infection. Infection? He glanced at the bottom of the screen and read the banner running by.
Fox News is currently broadcasting without the permission of the FCC, and against the explicit direction of FEMA and the Office of the President. As a public service, we will continue to broadcast information regarding the outbreak until forced from the air. The President has announced he will address the Nation at 11:00 pm Eastern Standard Time. Secure your home, arm yourself, and be prepared to defend yourself and family with deadly force. This is a public safety announcement. Please stand by.
Deadly force? What the fuck! “What the hell have I been missing?” He scanned a few more channels, but returned to Fox and left the channel there. Digging through his closet he found his old stereo, plugged it in and adjusted the channel selector of the AM/FM until he found someone talking.
“…gangbangers. Okay, I was wrong, but it was a natural assumption to make with all the trouble these damn illegals have been causing us. Now the government is going to make us wait until late tonight to tell us what is going on? We know what is going on! Look out your freaking windows people and look what’s happening! People are slaughtering each other in the streets! And yes, you heard it here, they’re eating each other! You heard the live reports from the hospitals in Englewood; they’re eating people out there!”
He shook his head, this guy was nuts and he was still on the air? Through the window of his apartment he heard the Hispanic girl across the way screech at her boyfriend, “Let me in, Carlos. Please, let me in!” Geez, had he thrown her out again? Then she started pounding on the door with her fists as Harold glanced at the TV screen. “Carlos! Let me…” Her voice broke into a shrill scream and Harold jerked his head back to the window.
A twenty-something in baggy jeans was lunging after her as she back-pedaled away from the door. The only reason he wasn’t catching her was the baggy pants were around his ankles as he tried to reach for her. Throwing open his door, Harold shouted, “Hey! Get away from her you asshole!”
The man didn’t even look at Harold though, he turned to the girl’s boyfriend who had opened the door of their apartment and punched him in the side of the head. The guy in the baggy pants didn’t even flinch as he grabbed the boyfriend and pushed him backwards through the door and to the floor where the boyfriend began to scream. The girl came running back and was trying to pull no-pants off of Carlos as Harold dialed 911 and waited, nothing, no ring, nothing. He closed the phone and rushed out the door to help the girl.
Leaping over the brick planter separating the two sides of the apartment complex he ran up behind the girl, grabbed her shoulders, and pulled her out of the doorway so he could reach the two men struggling on the floor. “Get out of the way!”
Harold threw his arm around no-pants’ throat and pulled backwards, but as he did he was shocked by a sudden spray of blood that coated the open door. He had seen something similar in Iraq when he had shot an insurgent in the throat and severed the artery on the right side of the neck. Carlos was losing the struggle in a big way. As he pulled the man back he shouted at the girl, “Go to my apartment!”
She didn’t though, she started punching the restrained man in the face as she screamed Carlos’ name. Harold was strong, he knew he was even if he was a little out of shape, but this guy was more than a handful. They struggled back and forth and then no-pants managed to hang onto the girl’s arm and sink his teeth into her shoulder; her scream was so piercing it hurt Harold’s ears. Harold spun the man to the side, forced his forearm under his chin, and then lifted the man with his other elbow under his crotch. The man’s body went up and backwards as Harold drove his head into the edge of the brick planter. He heard a combined crunch and snap as the skull was crushed and the neck broken.
“Jesus,” he said. “I killed him!” But the girl was gone, the door to the apartment closed and he could hear her wailing inside. For a moment he panicked, “Oh shit! I could end up in jail or prison!” He walked quickly to his own open door and shut it behind him as he passed through. Did any of the neighbors see what happened? Would they testify on his behalf? He was only trying to help! Shit!
He dialed 911 again and this time it rang, but all he heard was an automated response saying all lines were busy. Great! Just great! Now what? He thought about packing his clothes and leaving, but the cops would be able to find him eventually and that would be harder to explain; it would only make it worse. He paced back and forth from the kitchen to the living room. In the end he sat down and listened to the radio as they talked about the riots and the disease that seemed to be spreading rapidly around the city.
He discovered there was a curfew in effect and no one was supposed to leave their homes in the interest of safety, but problem was, even the people who were not out and about were in danger. Callers in to the radio program began referring to the rioters as zombies; people could be so stupid sometimes, zombies were already dead and couldn’t be stopped unless you…shot them in the head, or…bashed their heads on a brick planter? No, no way, the man with his pants around his ankles had been breathing; Harold was sure of it. He must have been high on drugs; that must be it! There must be a batch of bad drugs on the street that was causing people to act crazy! Of course! He found himself relaxing as what was happening started to make sense. That’s what it was, drugs. He couldn’t be blamed for protecting his neighbors from a drugged out gangbanger, right? Hours passed as he listened to the wild rumors on the radio and each successive rumor seemed worse than the last.
The Hispanic girl had long since stopped her wailing and Harold wondered if he should check on her. Did she have medical supplies to treat her wound? How was Carlos? He thought of the splash of blood he could see on the front door through his window and shuddered, Carlos couldn’t have survived the loss of so much blood. Maybe he should check on her, just to make sure.
Stepping out of his door he looked around and saw no one, then he walked to the blood covered door and knocked. After a few moments he knocked again, but there was no response. “Hey,” he said loudly. “I just wanted to check on you, are you all right in there?”
With still no response, he turned the door knob, but it was locked. Okay, he had tried to help and there was nothing he could do if she refused to open the door. He returned to his own apartment and fixed a sandwich for dinner he never ate; it just sat there next to some chips and a glass of milk.
More time passed as he waited for the scheduled Presidential announcement and outside there was no movement in the courtyard. No one was venturing outside and frankly he didn’t blame them. Most of his neighbors were undocumented and normally avoided getting involved in anything, but he wondered, how do they know about the curfew? Then he realized they were probably listening to, or watching the Spanish language radio and TV channels.
Maybe it was time to pack up and leave Southern California, he no longer had a job and the prospects looked bleak at best anyway. Yeah, he had family in Prescott and Yuma, but he wasn’t real excited about Yuma; he hated the desert. Prescott, he decided, and he started packing up the few belongings he had unpacked when he first moved into the apartment. He began going through his unpacked boxes and realized there was very little he really wanted, most of it was cheap junk he had no real attachment to, so he left it lying about the floor of the bedroom; he could use the boxes to move his clothes in.
He finished sorting his belongings and stacked the few boxes he was taking with him by the door and then decided he was hungry, but the sandwich he made earlier was dried out; he threw it away, made another, and then sat down in front of the TV, it was almost time for the President’s announcement. He sat there a few minutes until the Speaker of the House appeared and realizing there might be a few minutes before the President spoke he went to the refrigerator to get a beer. Then, as he was popping the top of the can he heard the Speaker begin to talk and he returned to his worn out couch to listen.
“Good Evening America, I come to you tonight at a time when our great nation teeters on the precipice of disaster and we are confronted with the worst calamity we have ever faced in the history of our land. As you may know, riots and murder are sweeping through our peaceful neighborhoods as I speak. The poor people who are carrying out the crimes we are experiencing, are not to blame for what is happening, they are as much victims as the rest of us are, therefore we must first address the underlying reasons, the conditions, which have allowed this terrible event to occur. Under the leadership of the President, and the Vice-president, we have seen a reduction to the internal security of our nation, our homes have been thrown open to the will of foreign terrorists and now we, all of us, are paying the price. Because of the ineptitude, or the will, of the President, the Vice-president, and certain others of the opposing political party, this evening I have been forced to have the President, the Vice-president, the Whitehouse staff and five members of the United States Supreme Court arrested and incarcerated in a location to be revealed when the current crisis is resolved. I know this is a frightening scenario, but a necessary one. I was sworn in as President of the United States of America under the rules of succession, less than one hour ago, but I assure you I am completely in command and will soon order the distribution of the cure and the vaccine for the disease, which is at the moment ravaging our nation. Naturally, under the conditions we are faced with, I am hereby declaring a state of national emergency and I am imposing martial law. Both houses of Congress will be suspended and I will lead by presidential decree until enough of the membership of Congress can be located and brought to the Capitol to form a legal quorum. Please be patient and know help is on the way. God bless you, and God bless the USA. Good night.”
Harold sat there alone as what the Speaker had just said sunk in to his mind. Had he heard correctly? The Speaker had the President arrested and was holding him at a secret location? No, this kind of crap happens in third world nations, not in America. She needed to wait for a legal quorum to be assembled in Congress? Bullshit, Congress was already in session, they weren’t on vacation or anything. Presidential Decree? It was a fucking coup! The government had been overthrown!
Breathing heavily he wondered what to do, shit! The first thing they would do is cut communications; that was why there were no TV channels working except Fox, and the telephone service was so sporadic! Next they would forbid travel, that’s why there was a curfew! He jumped up from the couch and walked to the door and opened it; he wasn’t going to wait for an official announcement, he was leaving now!
Putting on one of his old BDU desert camo jackets, and then picking up the first two boxes he walked out into the courtyard and headed for his truck. In the parking lot he threw the boxes in the back and returned to the apartment for the next boxes when he noticed his neighbor, the Hispanic girl, standing in her window watching him walk by. He turned to the window and walked over to it.
“Hey,” he said loudly. “Are you alright?”
When he got close enough to make her out better he saw the red stained blouse and eerily, there were bloodstains around her mouth and on her hands as she pressed them against the glass. “Are you okay?”
She bared her teeth in an expression of rage and slammed into the glass with her body. Harold stepped back in startlement, then again as she hit the window a second time, and then a third. The window cracked and when she hit it again with the full force of her body the window exploded out as she fell through to the courtyard. As she jumped to her feet Harold saw several large cuts in her abdomen, but she ignored them while she ran at him. He sidestepped her lunge and threw her away from him as she began to scream at him incoherently, when she began to rise he punched her in the side of the head as hard as he could and she crumpled to the pavement, stunned but not unconscious.
“Screw this,” he said, and ran for his truck. Apparently, so did everyone else.
The traffic was gridlocked and nothing was moving anywhere. Harold had started for the I-10, but now he was blocked and couldn’t go forward to the freeway, or return to his apartment. The access road of the railroad tracks crossing Mountain Avenue beckoned to him, but the way he was boxed in there was no way to get to the only escape he could see. People were honking their horns and in the distance he could hear gunshots and screams; this was turning into a very bad place to be.
Opening the door of the truck he stepped out and looked down Mountain towards the freeway. For as far as he could see the traffic was bumper to bumper and people were beginning to abandon their vehicles; that was only going to complicate things worse. He jumped into the back of his truck for a better view and saw a group of people running between the lines of cars in his direction, some tried to turn off to the houses lining the road and were pulled down by others who were chasing them. The people chasing others would grab someone, pull them down and then race after someone else; he needed to get out of there, but he didn’t know where to head for safety.
Reaching down he grabbed the smaller of his boxes and jumped to the pavement in time for a woman to run into him and then scratch and claw her way past. Pandemonium was breaking out as his box was knocked from his grasp and then kicked under a car where he couldn’t reach. Panic was beginning to confuse his thoughts and finally he broke and ran with those around him. North, he ran north and began to pass people who were older or slower while others passed him. Finally he ducked into a row of shrubs and watched people run past his hiding place; some were running for their lives and some were on the hunt.
Several times he broke from cover and ran to new locations, each time staying as long as he dared before moving on again during intermissions of screams and attacks. There were many people who were wounded and were being helped by family members, friends, or in some cases strangers. He began to loathe the fact he had run and not helped anyone, but what could he do? He had no weapons and had no idea where to go for safety.
In the darkness between street lights he paused to catch his breath and saw a woman clutching a small girl to her hip turning in circles, she was confused and disoriented. “Lady! Lady, keep moving north!”
“My husband! I can’t find my husband!”
Harold stepped next to her and she shied away, “It’s okay, I’m not one of the crazies, where did you see your husband last?”
She pointed vaguely down Mountain, “Back there, back there somewhere.” She sobbed, “Some of those people were catching up to us and he told me to run with Tabitha and he would catch up to us later. But I can’t see him.” Jesus, he was probably dead, or worse.
“What’s your name?”
“Okay, Chrissy. What we’re going to do is get you and your daughter to safety, and then we’ll worry about where your husband is, all right?”
“No! He said he would catch up, but how will he find us if we keep running?”
“Lady, Chrissy! Your first priority is your daughter; let’s get her to safety like your husband wanted!”
“I don’t know what to do, Tabby is so tired. We’ve been running and running and I don’t think she can anymore!” The woman looked as though she was on the verge of totally losing it.
Harold crouched down next to the girl and saw she was carrying a Hanna Montana backpack in one hand. “Hey, sugar,” he said. “How would you like to ride on my back?”
She shook her head, “My dad said I shouldn’t talk to strangers, or get in their cars, or help them find lost puppies, or…”
He smiled at her, but cut her off, “It sounds like your dad is pretty smart, but your mom is right here and if she says it’s okay I’m sure you dad wouldn’t mind, right?”
Chrissy grabbed Harold by the shoulder of his shirt, “Those people are getting closer!”
Harold dropped and turned his back to Tabitha, “Climb on, sugar and let’s get going okay? We need to hurry!”
Tabitha wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist as he stood up, “Let’s go Chrissy!” He turned north towards Foothill Boulevard and hopefully somewhere safe for the mother and child. He felt better now, he had a purpose and someone to protect, someone more important than himself.
Harold jogged steadily on into the coming dawn as Tabitha bounced on his back and Chrissy followed close behind. God, was it almost morning? At one point a man with oily hair and a look Harold didn’t like ran beside them and asked Tabitha if she had any water in her backpack and Harold warned him off, finally with a shove when he persisted. He needed somewhere for the girls to take shelter, and soon. Chrissy was beginning to fall behind.
At Foothill he turned west and weaved his way through the cars on the road, sometimes climbing over them as he crossed the road. Once he had to pick Chrissy up from where she had fallen between cars. He reached the sidewalk on the north side of Foothill and waited for Chrissy to climb over the final car to join him, but as he looked around he saw a man running in their direction and crazies about fifty yards behind him chasing him straight towards Harold and his two charges. Shit!
He looked quickly around and ran for the security gate of a nearby apartment building, but when he reached the gate it was locked. Damn it! Near the next gate were ten or more bodies with gunshot wounds to the head, someone had been shooting crazies and it might be a good place to take refuge. He ran to the next one and again the gate was locked, but the running man joined them.
“Here,” he gasped and stepped forward with a crowbar, jammed it into the gap between door and frame, then popped the door inwards with a violent wrench. Harold pushed Chrissy through the opening and followed as the young man jumped inside and tried to latch the door. “Oh shit!” He exclaimed.
“What?” Harold asked.
“Uh, the gate won’t latch!”
Harold swung Tabitha down, “Chrissy! Take your daughter upstairs and see if anyone will allow you to come in!” He threw his shoulder against the gate as one of the infected slammed into it trying to get through. “Drop down and put your back against the gate and your feet against the wall!”
The young man did and shoved against the gate; it held as Harold stepped gingerly back, ready to throw his weight against the gate if the kid couldn’t hold it. “I’ve got it.” The man said and then held up his open palm to shake hands, “John Baker.”
“Harold Brookings, good thing you had the crowbar.”
“You wouldn’t have needed it if I hadn’t led these fuckers to your door.”
“Yeah, well things are a little screwed up right now.”
“No shit.” Baker looked around but there was nothing available to block the gate with. “I guess I get to be door stop, huh?”
“For now, I’ll see what we can come with, but you’ve got the gate for now, right?”
“Sure, just don’t forget about me.”
Harold walked away and then down the hallway of the first floor apartments; Chrissy and Tabitha were nowhere to be seen, so he went upstairs and found them sitting with a small group of diverse people on the carpeted floor. An attractive young woman stepped into the hall and motioned the group into the door she had come out of; she was carrying a rifle and a pistol was hanging from a belt in a holster.
“Hey! Do you live here?”
“Yes, we have some room, you can come in too.”
“I’m more concerned with the gate; we can’t get it to lock.”
Her eyes widened as she walked towards him, “Let’s go take a look.”
They walked together as she asked, “Do you have any skills? You know, do you know how to do anything?”
“I’m an electronics engineer and I used to be in the Army, why?”
“My neighbor, he said we needed people who knew how to do things.” She walked faster and started down the steps to the first floor. He followed her downstairs and to the gate where John still sat; they seemed to draw the attention of nearby crazies and they started trying to force their way through the gate again. “That’s not good,” she said as John shoved back against the gate.
“Yeah, do you have anything we can use to block the gate?”
“I don’t.” She stared at the gate chewing her bottom lip and Harold suddenly felt drawn to her. She was maybe five foot six, slim with reddish brown hair, and cute.
“There must be something we can use,” he said.
“Do you have any ideas? Can you make something?”
“I’m an electronics engineer, not a metal worker.”
John shook his head from the floor, “I’m starting college next semester, but I can mow a mean lawn.”
“I don’t know, I mean…wait! Let me go wake up my neighbor and see if he has any ideas. He always seems to know what to do.” She started to turn away.
“Hey, can you leave one of your guns? Just in case.”
She nodded and handed him the lever-action rifle, and then pulled ten rounds from the leather bandoleer across her chest. “Take these too.”
“What’s your name?” John asked from where he sat.
“I’m John, that’s Harold.”
She ran up the stairs as Harold glanced over the rifle and familiarized himself with how it functioned. John glanced after the girl, “Nice ass.”
Harold looked up from the rifle, “Nice gun.”
“Nice combination.” And they both laughed until a woman crazy slammed against the gate and then a male. Both of the infected people shook the gate and then just stared at Harold. It was creepy as shit. A few minutes later Catherine was back with another man in tow; he was shorter than Harold, but stocky and well-muscled with shoulder length hair. His eyes were bloodshot and he looked like he had just been awakened.
He looked at the gate and then said, “Well shit, what happened to it?”
John raised his crowbar up, “My bad, but I’m not going to apologize. We were in a hurry.”
Harold spoke up, “If it wasn’t for John and his crowbar, we’d all be dead, or infected. He did the right thing under the circumstances.”
“Of course,” the newcomer said. “I’m not complaining.” He rubbed his temples for a moment as he seemed to think.
“Michael?” Catherine had one hand on the grip of her pistol, the other on his shoulder. “Are you okay?” The infected slammed against the gate again. John slid forward a little as his legs momentarily buckled, but he shoved back.
“Uh, can we get something going here? My legs are getting a little tired.”
Michael closed his eyes, “I’ve got a really bad headache, my neck hurts and I’m not feeling real good.”
Harold raised the rifle and pointed it at Michael’s face, “Have you been bitten?”
Catherine pushed the rifle away from Michael’s face, “No, he hasn’t been bitten. He was in a bad car crash yesterday and was unconscious for several hours. He probably has a concussion.” Harold swung the rifle back to the infected.
At that precise moment, the female zombie at the gate opened her mouth and a deafening screech issued forth. It wasn’t the first time Harold had heard one of them make a sound, but this scream was piercing. Michael pulled a pistol he was wearing on his hip and stepping forward fired one round into her forehead and a second into the head of the male infected who suddenly screamed also.
“John,” he said. “Get up and let Mister BDU take your place. Now!” The two men smoothly exchanged places and Harold handed John the rifle. Michael turned to Catherine, “Come with me.”
As they walked away John said, “Dude that was fucking cold.”
“Yeah,” Harold said. “But at least now we know who should be in command.”
They rounded the corner as John agreed, “Yeah, quick and ruthless might be the best personality for a while.”
Harold sat there thinking, what John had just said sounded much like something his platoon sergeant had said as his unit crossed the border when they invaded Iraq. He wondered if Michael had military experience, but for now it didn’t matter, Harold had someone to follow.
Michael and Catherine returned with a short piece of chain and a bolt which he quickly wrapped around the frame of the door and the metal post the door was supposed to latch to and tightened the bolt to hold the chain in place.
Michael seemed to sag a little, “Okay BDU, you can relax.”
Harold stood up and examined the chain as another zombie crashed into the door, it held. Turning to Mike he smiled, “Now I see why Cathy has so much faith in you.” He held out his hand, “Harold Brookings, or BDU if you prefer.”
He smiled a little sheepishly, “Hi Harold, Michael Moore, Mike.”
John shook his hand also, “John Baker.”
Mike nodded, “John.”
“Pretty bad headache huh?” Harold asked.
“Drink a lot of coffee? Had any today?”
“At least a pot every morning, and no, not so far today.”
Harold chuckled, “Welcome to caffeine withdrawal. Go drink some coffee and lay down for a while, you’ll be okay.”
“Later, I have to check the rest of the security gates.”
Catherine took Mike by the arm, “Harold and John can do it.” She turned to them, “Through that doorway and into the garage marked 22A. There are bolt cutters, chain, and bolts. Okay?” Harold and John nodded and left for the garage. “You are going to drink some coffee and then lay down.” They heard her say as they walked away.
As Harold walked into the garage he was beginning to feel better about what was happening, not the infection, not the crazies, or zombies, or infected, but about his chances of surviving. They had a place of relative safety, an attractive woman, a man who could lead and who Harold could follow. It was a start.