Margaret held the neck of her dress pulled up over her mouth as she tried to breathe in the dust filled darkness, “Carol, are you all right?”
Carol tried to answer, but the dusty air was choking her and she coughed as she tried to speak. Clearing her throat, she pulled her own blouse up and covered her mouth as she tried to suck filtered air into her lungs. “Hard…to…breathe.”
Carol heard movement and finally Margaret’s hand touched her shoulder, “Are you breathing through a cloth or something?”
“I am now.”
“So am I, the dust should settle after a while.”
The two women lay in the darkness as the collapsed structure around them continued to tremble with punctuations of violent tremors. Carol coughed again to clear her throat, “Goodness that was the worst earthquake I’ve ever experienced!”
“Me too, I wonder if everyone else is alright.”
Carol listened quietly and then, “I heard screams and then nothing; some of the screams were cut-off short, so I doubt everyone is alright.”
“Maybe we should call to them, to see if they are hurt?” Margaret’s voice trembled.
“I don’t know, if we shout the infected might hear us and be drawn to the sound. Let’s wait and see if anyone else calls out.”
“Won’t someone else’s shouts draw them also?”
“Probably.” Carol turned onto her back where she lay and reached upwards until her hand contacted the ceiling of the room they were in. The collapsed surface was slanting upwards towards the wall. Following the upward angle, she wriggled forward on her back until she could sit upright with her back against the wall. “Margaret, come to my voice, there’s more room and you can sit up.”
Carol listened to Margaret as she crawled forward and finally sat next to her in the darkness. “That’s better,” she said.
Raising the sling of her gun over her head, she laid the weapon across her thighs and then removed the magazine pouches and laid them next to her hip. “We should get as comfortable as we can until daylight, maybe we’ll be able to see something then. You still have your gun, right?”
“Yes.” Margaret shifted about and slid some objects across the floor, “The other guns fell off the walls.” The collapsed room they were trapped in had contained an elderly man’s gun collection, more than once the historic weapons had saved the lives of members of their group of survivors. She tensed, the building shifted as another hard tremor passed beneath them and she grabbed Carol’s arm.
“Easy,” Carol said as she patted her hand. “I think the worst of it is over.”
“God, I hope so.” Her voice was trembling. “Maybe most of the infected were killed?”
Carol doubted the possibility, but maybe, “We can only pray.”
The infected, four weeks had passed since the outbreak of the Rage Virus and the world had gone to hell in a hand basket. In the previous weeks, their small band of survivors had managed to secure their safety, provide themselves with food and other supplies, and begin to slip into a routine. They had been reasonably safe within Mike and Catherine’s apartment building once Mike directed the rest of the men to secure the building. They were literally surrounded by death after the outbreak, but under Mike’s leadership they had only lost one person and that had been a suicide.
The two women sat quietly as the building rocked to another aftershock.
Now though, things were going to be different. Now they wouldn’t have the benefit of a strong building and both of the women were certain their group survivors had to be smaller, perhaps they were the only ones left.
Carol ran the palm of her hand over the surface of her weapon, “One good thing.”
“What?” Margaret asked.
“We have plenty of ammunition for our guns.”
“But we don’t have water, or food.”
“When it gets light we’ll see if we can find a way to the kitchen, maybe we can salvage something.”
“Shh! Did you hear that?”
Carol closed her mouth and listened intently, “What was it? What did you hear?”
“I think it was someone shouting the name, Michael.”
“Man or woman?”
“Woman and I want to say it was Catherine!” There was only one person in their group named, Michael, Michael Moore; he had been their leader and pulled everyone together while giving them hope they could survive. Catherine had been his next door neighbor and the two of them had become lovers after the outbreak. Neither Carol, nor Margaret, approved of the relationship, but Carol seemed more open about it than Margaret. Margaret had tried repeatedly to police the morals of the group and lead them to live in a more Christian manner.
Both of them suddenly heard a string of gunfire followed by silence and then more shots. The gunfire became fainter as they listened; yes, it was growing more distant. Whoever it had been was running away from the apartments and were probably being chased by every infected within hearing distance.
“We should try to help, Carol!”
“How? We don’t even know if we can get out of here. Like I said, let’s wait until daylight and then we’ll try to get out.”
The two of them rested and Carol actually dozed off several times, but each time the movement of the ground beneath them woke her. Margaret was too tense and frightened, every little noise of the collapsed structure they were in scared her as it settled. After hours of waiting, Margaret noticed it was indeed becoming lighter where they were trapped and woke Carol.
“I think the sun is coming up and there’s light coming in from over there.” She pointed to their left, “See, there’s a crack in the wall or something.”
Carol rolled over and crawled towards the dim light, “You’re right, there is a crack and I can see outside a little. If we had some tools we might be able to escape.”
“If we make a hole to get out, the infected might be able to get in.”
“I know Marge, but we certainly can’t just stay here.”
Margaret didn’t answer and they lapsed into silence. It was something to consider though, if they created an escape route they would also create a way for the infected to get to them. Carol wasn’t exactly sure how they could make an escape hole anyway, they had no tools.
Margaret slid her tongue around the inside of her mouth and tried to work up saliva to ease the dryness, “I’m really getting thirsty.”
“We know where the bathroom is, if we can make a hole through the wall behind us and get inside the other bedroom maybe we can reach the bath tub?” Moore had directed everyone to keep the bath tubs of each apartment filled with water in case the utilities failed, it looked as though his concerns had come true.
“We can try, I suppose,” Carol responded. “But again, we don’t have any tools.”
Time passed slowly and the two women napped between aftershocks until Carol thought she could hear noise coming from deeper within the damaged building. “Margaret, I’m hearing some kind of sound.”
“It’s just the building settling.”
“I don’t think so; it has a regular rhythm sometimes.” She listened intently, “Yes, it sounds like maybe someone is knocking on something somewhere.”
“Someone else is trapped in here too?”
“Well, we survived, why not someone else.”
Together they listened for the sounds and throughout the day it seemed as though the noise was coming closer. Carol finally decided it had to be one of the members of their group attempting to escape the building. Crawling across the floor, she approached the collapsed wall separating them from the noise and tapped lightly on it. The noise instantly stopped. She tapped again and was rewarded with a return knock.
“Hello,” she said. “Who’s there?”
A muffled voice responded, “Carol?”
“Yes, yes! Thomas, is that you?”
“Yeah, is Margaret with you?”
“Yes, she’s here, are you injured?”
“Nothing serious, just minor cuts and bruises. I’m not sure where I am in the building, where are you?”
“We were in the gun room when the earthquake hit.”
“Okay, so you’re almost out of the building and I’m almost to you. I’m going to cut through this sheetrock and we’ll be able to see each other, okay?”
From the other side of the wall she heard scraping and after a while the tip of a knife blade slid into view. She watched as the blade was twisted back and forth and then she heard a snapping sound.
“Thomas, what happened?”
“I just broke my folding knife!” After a pause, there was a sudden thud as the sheetrock bulged out and then another as the material broke out. Carol grabbed the broken sheetrock and pulled it away; on the other side she could see light; Thomas had a flashlight.
Reaching through the hole, she grabbed Thomas’ large hand and squeezed it, “Thomas, I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Well. I’m not there yet. We’re going to need some way to cut this 2X4 so I can get through to where you are, but without the knife I don’t know how I’m going to do it.”
Margaret crawled next to Carol, “Thomas, there are those old rifles in here, the ones no one wanted. They have those folding spikes on the end of the barrels…”
“The bayonets! Yeah, bring one over and open it out then we can use it to chip away the wood!” They could hear him wriggle about, and then, “I’m going to pass some stuff through the hole so I have more room in here.”
“Okay,” Carol said.
The muzzle of a gun came through the hole and Carol took it and passed it to Margaret, “This is the rifle Michael was using, did you see him somewhere?”
“I saw him in the corridor as the building was collapsing, but I don’t think he made it. I found the gun and the ammunition pouches as I made my way through his room.” He pushed a leather belt and pouches through the hole. “It was a good thing I found them because my rifle and pistol are gone.”
Carol turned to Margaret, “Get one of those long rifles and bring it here, okay?”
Margaret crawled away and then returned with one of the guns. Together they figured out how to release the lock on the bayonet and extend it. “We have one of the rifles, Thomas, what do you want us to do with it?”
His hand came through the hole and tapped the wall next to it, “There is a 2X4 right here, break out the sheetrock on your side with the butt of the rifle, and then use the bayonet to chip away the board. I think once that board is gone I can squeeze through.”
Reversing the rifle, Carol broke out the surface of the wall, and then began to split away the wood; after a few minutes of gouging and twisting, she reversed the gun again and used the butt to knock the wood out of the way. Examining the resulting hole she shook her head, “I don’t know Thomas, you’re a big man and that hole looks kind of small.”
“Let me try it first, if I can’t make it we’ll try to make it bigger.” Sliding his right arm through the hole, he wriggled forward and inserted his head into the cavity they were inside of. Twisting and pushing forward with his legs he managed to get his left shoulder into the hole before he stopped. “Crap! I think you were right, Carol, I’m not going to make it through.” He took several breaths and then started to wriggle backwards, but he couldn’t withdraw his shoulder.
Carol reached out and pushed on his shoulder. “Stop, Carol!” Groaning, he took several more breaths and then exhaled, “Try pushing now.”
She pushed as hard as she could, but nothing happened, “Thomas, it’s not working!”
He breathed in again before gasping, “I know, damn.” He tried to twist to his right, nothing, and then to his left, again it was of no avail. When he spoke again there was a trace of panic in his voice, “Carol, you’re going to have to chip away the broken stud; it’s getting hard for me to breathe.”
“It’s pressed against your shoulder and chest, what if I miss, or the point slips off and stabs you!”
“Just do it! I can’t breathe!” Thomas was struggling to catch his breath.
Margaret crawled forward beside her, “Carol, you hold the point of the bayonet where it needs to be and I’ll hit the other end with the heel of my hand.”
Holding the tip of the spike in place, Carol raised the rest of the rifle with her thigh, “Try that.” Margaret hit the back of the weapon, but little was accomplished, “Right where we need to chip the wood there’s a knot and it’s really hard!”
“Aright, let me turn around.” Margaret twisted about and finally reached a point where she could place her foot against the butt of the rifle. “Are you ready to try again?”
“I don’t know, Marge, if the point slips…”
“Damn it!” Thomas gasped, “Just do it!”
Before Carol could properly grip the point, Margaret pulled her foot back and stomped on the end of the rifle as hard as she could. The point slipped from the hard surface of the wood and sank deeply into Thomas’ chest. His body went ridged, and then relaxed, his head lowering to the floor, his mouth open and his eyes staring upwards.
“Oh God! Oh God, no!” Carol scrambled backwards pushing Margaret out of the way in order to reach the area where she could once again sit upright. Drawing her knees to her forehead she began to sob. “We killed him.”
A minute later, Margaret joined her as she pulled the rifle along beside her. “I brought the gun; maybe we can use it to make a hole so we can get out of here.” She spoke in a monotone, of all the people in their little group; Margaret had been closest to Thomas.
Wiping her eyes, Carol nodded, “Okay.”
Together, they crawled their way to the crack in the wall the light was coming through, and began to take turns thrusting the point of the bayonet into the area around the crack, slowly enlarging the hole. The weight of the rifle was difficult to handle while lying on their sides, so they took frequent breaks to rest their arms and catch their breaths.
Eventually, it grew dark again and they tried to rest, but the thirst they were suffering from became problematic. Carol knew that dehydration could cause people to make serious mental errors and she hoped they were not in the process of making one theirselves, but they had no choice, they had to escape the ruins of the apartment building before they died from lack of water.
The next morning the hole they had created allowed more light to enter as the sun rose and they were able to see what they needed to do easier. They spent another hour enlarging the hole between two wall studs, but it still wasn’t large enough for either of them to crawl through. They talked for a few minutes about which way they should expand the hole, finally Margaret reached through the hole and felt the surface of the exterior wall, she might be able to determine the best way to go.
Carol watched with a growing feeling of uneasiness until suddenly Margaret screamed and tried to pull her arm back inside. “It’s got me!” She screamed again and suddenly her cry rose in scale and she struggled harder to pull her arm back in. Carol wrapped her arms around her shoulders and chest, and then pulled with all of her strength. At first she thought it wasn’t going to help, but suddenly Margaret was released and they scrambled backwards from the hole. Both of them watched as first a hand and forearm became visible, and then the face of a man who tried to see into the darkness where they huddled, an infected.
He was disheveled in appearance and his face was gaunt; from his bared teeth bloody droll was dripping. “Margaret,” Carol asked. “Did he bite you?”
She didn’t answer.
“Margaret, did that man bite you?”
Margaret raised her arm and showed it to Carol, the teeth marks were plain to see as was the blood dripping from her elbow. “Yes, I guess we’re in big trouble now.”
They returned to where they could sit up and leaned against the wall. “What are we going to do?” Carol asked.
Margaret didn’t answer for a moment, but then she reached out and gathered Carol’s gun from where it lay on the floor and handed it to her, “You know what you have to do.”
“You have to, Carol.”
“Carol, I’d do it for you, but if I do it I’m not sure I can get into Heaven, you know?”
“I’m not going to do it!” She pushed the weapon away from her.
They sat in silence for a while, and then Margaret said, “You go into a coma, right? Then, when you wake up you’re infected?”
“I guess.” Carol refused to look at her.
“Then the thing to do is wait until I’m unconscious.”
Carol felt as though she should be crying, but there were no tears, was she that dehydrated? “Margaret, I don’t think I can do it.”
“Carol, would you want to be like one of them? Would you want to be responsible for infecting others?”
“Neither do I.”
“Mike said his professor said some people die, instead of changing. Maybe you’ll die instead of becoming infected.”
“He said there was a 90 per cent chance you become crazy.” They sat in silence while the man who bit Margaret kept coming back to the hole and staring into the darkness they sat within. “Carol, you’ll do it right? You won’t let me become one of them?”
In the shadows she nodded her head.
“Yes, I won’t.”
“Thank you.” She scooted down until she could stretch out on her side, “I’m not feeling very good and I’m tired, so I’m going to try and sleep for a while.”
“Alright.” Carol reached out and stroked the side of Margaret’s head.
Before much time had passed, Margaret slipped into a deep slumber and Carol noticed the temperature of Margaret’s body seemed to steadily increase, finally, she moved away and rested her gun on her thighs as she watched her friend.
Carol jolted awake and stared around herself, her eyes wide as she tried to penetrate the darkness. Had the sun set? Was it night time? Was Margaret still asleep, or unconscious? She listened and heard movement from where Margaret had laid down, was she changed now? God, what if she was and now she was in the darkness waiting to spring out and sink her teeth into Carol’s body? She felt panic beginning to build within her
“Margaret?” The sound of movement stopped and Carol could hear the pounding of her heart; could Margaret hear her beating heart also? Where was the flashlight Thomas passed through to them?
Raising her weapon in front of herself she braced for the possible attack, I should have killed her when she was asleep. Now what am I going to do? Breathing through her open mouth she waited, and waited. Why doesn’t she come? She heard movement again and it was closer this time; pointing her weapon she squeezed the trigger. The gun jumped in her hands and the sudden shot in the confines of the small space hurt her ears, but in the muzzle flash she saw Margaret for a split second crawling towards her. She fired again, and then again, following her movements as if in a strobe light. Finally, Margaret lay in a crumpled heap inches from Carol’s feet.
Carol began to cry.
The morning sunlight through the hole in the wall was blocked as an infected man lowered his head and looked through the hole again. She had already shot five with the hopes of killing them and getting out, but more came to the sounds of the shots. “I’m not coming out, so you and your friends may as well leave,” she said.
Working her tongue around the inside of her mouth, Carol tried to generate saliva to ease her thirst, but her tongue simply stuck to the roof of her mouth, the surface of her lips were cracked and when she touched them with her fingertips they burned. Tired, she was so tired it was a struggle to stay awake.
“I’m not getting out of here,” she said. She started to smile to herself, but her lips cracked more. “Not that it would do me any good, I have no idea how to survive out there. Where will I get water? What about food? I don’t even know how to start a fire to keep warm. There’s nowhere safe once I leave.” She laughed to herself, “But I’m safe in here; they can’t get to me in here.”
“I can’t go out because the infected will get me; I can’t stay because I’m dying of thirst. I guess there’s only one alternative.” Picking up her gun she turned it in her hands and pressed the muzzle between her breasts, slipping her thumb into the trigger guard she started to pull the trigger, but hesitated, “What if I miss my heart, will I slowly die in pain?”
Dropping the gun back to her lap, she sighed, then raised it and pressed it up beneath her jaw as she glanced at her friends’ bodies, she should have made sure Margaret waited before kicking the butt of the rifle, she should have said something, a warning, before Margaret reached out the hole to feel the wall, she should have…she pulled the trigger.