Esmeralda Lopez eased the old Accord past the truck parked on the dark street and stopped in front of the driveway, “Does your wife park in the garage?”
“No, she says it makes her nervous trying to squeeze the car in. She must have gone somewhere.”
“Should I park in the street, in case she comes home?” She asked.
Mitch Dugan didn’t answer immediately, but finally, “Back in, in case we have to leave in a hurry, or she shows up.”
She swung the nose of the car out, placed it in reverse, and backed into the driveway. Looking over her left shoulder she studied the front of the house, “The front door is open.”
“I know, stay here for now and keep the doors locked, okay?” He opened the door and slid out of the seat before limping to the front of the car and looking both ways up and down the street. Assured there were no infected in sight, he walked to the door of his house with the .40 caliber Glock held out in front of him.
Essie watched the slightly built and white-haired older man approach the door cautiously and then disappear inside. Moments later the porch light came on and illuminated the front yard. She hated waiting, but at the same time she didn’t really want to leave the safety of the car either. Essie had already seen people killed by those infected with the fast spreading Rage Virus and she had no desire to be torn apart and eaten as she had seen happen to others. Sliding the seat back, she slumped down until she could barely see over the dash; if an infected came by maybe they wouldn’t notice her. She glanced back at the house hoping Mitch would appear and finally she couldn’t wait anymore, she opened the car door and quickly walked to the door of the house and stepped inside.
“Mitch?” She waited a moment, “Mitch?”
He suddenly limped out of the hall and into the living room where she was standing, in one hand was the belt and holster for the Glock he had been carrying and in the other was a pump shotgun.
“Mitch, is your wife here?”
He walked past her and looked out the front door before closing it, and then held out the pistol belt, “Readjust the belt so it fits you and I want you to take this shotgun as well.”
“I can wait a little while with you, until your wife comes home.” Accepting the gear he handed her she began adjusting the length of the belt.
“This is a Remington 870,” he said. “The tube magazine holds eight rounds and it’s loaded with single ought buckshot. I’m going to give you a bandoleer to go with it and enough shells for the shotty for a full load of ammo.”
“No, you should keep it, you might need it.”
“I have my wife’s.”
“But what will she use for protection when she…” The look on his face told her.
“She’s here, Essie.”
“She’s been bitten and she’s unconscious. You go ahead and go home; I’m just going to wait here until…” He didn’t finish as his voice broke.
“I’m staying until…I’m staying with you.” She thought about what their professor had told them of the disease that was rapidly spreading around them. “Then we’ll decide what to do.”
He nodded, “Thanks.” He walked back down the hallway, but Esmeralda noticed he pulled another handgun from his waist band and held it at his side as he disappeared from view. Sitting on the couch she laid the shotgun on the coffee table, dropped the bandoleer over her head and arm, and then strapped the belt and holster around her waist. Nervously, she sat with her back straight and her palms resting on her knees. She wondered how long they would have to wait to discover if Mitch’s wife was going to die, or become one of the violent infected. God, she thought, I hope she dies and stays that way. Otherwise either Mitch or me are going to have to…she shuddered, will I have to do it for him?
Mitch sat on the edge of the bed and slowly stroked his wife’s cheek; its color was grayish and he had seen it many times during his career in the Marine Corps, she wasn’t going to survive this and it wasn’t fair. All the crap she had put up with over the years, all the loneliness, not enough money, scrimping and saving so they could buy a house when he retired, and now this.
He wondered, how long is this going to take, will she turn immediately, or was it going to take a while? He couldn’t remember his Biology Professor saying anything about a time frame, how long was he going to have to sit here and wait? As long as it takes, he thought. She deserves that much. Maybe she’ll be okay; maybe she will fight through it and be alright.
He should have sent Essie home to check on her aunt, but he had a feeling she didn’t want to be alone, he couldn’t blame her, hell, he didn’t want to be alone either. He remembered how her hands trembled on the steering wheel of her car during the drive to his house, and the streaks of mascara on her cheeks from tears. This whole thing must be really affecting her at some level, but she seemed to be holding up alright, she seemed to be made of fairly stern stuff.
Mitch liked Esmeralda, she was a good student and she was working her way through college the hard way. Plus, she was very pleasing to the eye and every guy in the class wanted her, you could tell. At about 5’10” she was tall for a woman, long very dark brown hair, perfect complexion, voluptuous, athletic, perfect bone structure, and those eyes, those pale blue eyes were captivating. No wonder every male stared at her constantly, but for the most part she ignored them, all of them except Mike Moore; Mitch had seen the way she sometimes allowed her eyes to linger on him. He had also seen the way Mike watched her when she wasn’t looking; there was some definite interest on both of their parts, but neither seemed willing to make the first step past friends. He could understand Mike’s reluctance, hell; just about any man would be intimidated by Essie’s beauty. What about her though, why didn’t she signal interest?
His wife stirred and Mitch froze as he studied her, was this it? Was she beginning to turn? He reached across her with his left hand and grasped a pillow he had placed there, and then lifted his Colt .45, but she became still and he relaxed.
Essie rose from the couch and walked down the hall until she could see into the bedroom Mitch was in. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, his hand tracing his wife’s cheek, what would it be like to have a man love you like that? She turned away, entered the bathroom, and softly closed the door before looking at her image in the mirror. God, she looked awful, there were streaks and smears of mascara down her cheeks and her eye shadow was mostly rubbed off from her wiping her eyes while she drove. She was worried about Michael, had he escaped the parking lot at the college? The last she had seen of him he was shouting at America and Mary, two of their classmates, to run faster towards his van, that was seconds before Mitch and she had scrambled into her car and raced away.
Maybe I should try to call him? She thought, but her cellphone was in her purse and both were in her car. I better not try to go out to the car for my phone, what if one or more of those people were out there? Turning on the water in the sink she dipped her hands into the stream, splashed it onto her face, and then picking up a bar of soap, she scrubbed her face vigorously until all of her makeup was removed. Staring again into the mirror she hated what looked back at her. Too pretty, it was the way she looked that made her father, some of her uncles, and some of her cousins want her. She could see it in the faces of her fellow students, most of her customers, most of the men who looked at her. They could see past her facade, they could see her dirty little secret and because they could see what she was they wanted to use her too. Not Mitch though, he didn’t look at her that way, and Michael didn’t either. She worried about his safety again, was he alright?
She didn’t want anything to do with men and she hadn’t had a date since she was released from the Youth Authority, but if Michael were to ask her…no, if he was around her sooner or later he would know her secret too and she was afraid of what she might feel if he rejected her. She placed her right hand on the grip of the Glock and then leaned forward until her forehead rested against the cool surface of the mirror; in her mind’s eye she saw the pistol rise in front of her and her father’s ugly visage as he called her his little puta. The gun jumped in her hand once, twice, and then a third time as he stumbled backwards and fell to the floor. You’re dead! She thought, you’re dead and you have no power over me anymore!
Essie jolted upright when she heard the muffled gunshot, and then quickly opened the door and stepped into the hall with the pistol gripped tightly in her hand. From the open door of the bedroom she heard heart wrenching sobs. Entering the room she saw Mitch, in one hand he held a pistol with a slight trail of smoke drifting from the muzzle, the other hand pressed a pillow over the face of his wife, smoke also drifting from a scorched hole in the pillow case. She holstered her pistol and then kneeled on the bed behind him while she wrapped her arms around his shoulders.
“Oh, Mitch, oh God.” She said, and then began to cry with him.
Mitch carried the last box of ammunition into the living room and placed it on the stack next to the door beside a duffel bag containing his personal effects. “That’s the last of it,” he said as he rubbed the top of his thigh.
“Do you want me to check the bandage on your leg? You seem to be limping more.” She was concerned with the wound in his leg; she and America Hernandez had bandaged it with a portion of America’s slip before the escape from Chaffey College, but she could see it was still seeping blood.
“Not now, maybe when we get to your place we’ll take a look at it.”
“Okay, should I back the car up to the door now?” Essie was allowing Mitch to take control and tell her what to do, it seemed to give him focus and frankly, she didn’t know what to do.
“Yeah, I’ll check to make sure it’s clear while you get in your car, you can open your trunk from the inside, right?”
“Yes, once I back up I’ll help you load your stuff.” They were planning to go to Essie’s house and hole up there until the authorities got control of the situation.
“No, I want you to stay in the car where you will be safer; I’ll load everything into the trunk.”
“It will be faster if I help and you know how to use your guns better than me if there is trouble.”
Mitch rubbed at his eyes, “Okay, you’re right, but don’t come out until I give you the go ahead.” He pulled the curtain over the window next to the door aside and looked out, then opened the door and walked outside carrying his shotgun. As he headed towards the sidewalk where he could see down the street in both directions, Essie ran to her car and did what he had told her to do; she started the car, pulled forward, and then backed up as close to the front door of the house as she could. Reaching down next to the driver’s seat, she pulled the release lever for the trunk and then stepped out and started loading the back with Mitch’s guns, ammunition, and the duffel bag.
From the street she heard a gunshot and then Mitch shouted, “Hurry up, Essie, we’ve got company coming!”
She began to rush and finally slammed the lid of the trunk as Mitch fired two more times, “Loaded! Come on, get in the car!”
“Pull forward and then I’ll get in!” He stepped past the entrance of the driveway, fired again and then started feeding rounds into the shotgun as she pulled forward’
“Mitch! Get in!” She shouted. Looking past him down the sidewalk she could see several crumpled bodies.
He jerked the door open and sat down as she pulled out and raced down the street in the direction of her aunt’s home. “How long until we get there?” He asked.
“Maybe fifteen minutes, but there is no traffic right now, so probably faster.” She turned a corner going too fast and forced herself to slow down though Mitch made no comment about her speed. She thought again of Michael, “Mitch, open my purse and remove my cellphone, I want to see if Michael has tried to call.”
Mitch did as she requested and handed her the phone, opening it, she looked at the missed calls function and saw Michael’s number; she pressed “send” and held the phone to her ear. Nothing happened, no ring, no tones, nothing. She folded the phone closed, “He called, but now there’s no signal or anything.”
Mitch said, “We can try again later,” as she dropped the phone back in her purse.
They finally arrived at the home she shared with her aunt and slowed to a stop at the curb. “Her car isn’t here,” Essie said. She looked carefully around, “Should we go in?”
“It’s probably best, sitting out here isn’t an option.”
“Do you want to unload your stuff?”
“No, let’s shoot for the ability to run in a hurry if we have to, and you should prepare a suitcase or something with your clothes and any personal items you might want to keep.”
Exiting the car with their shotguns held at the ready, they entered the house after Esmeralda unlocked the front door. Mitch searched the living room with his eyes, neat, tidy, and clean. It matched the expectations he held; he figured Essie’s home would be the way it looked.
“Mitch, are you hungry?”
He leaned his shotgun against a couch, “No, I don’t think I could eat anything right now, but you go ahead.”
She entered the kitchen and he heard the tap in the sink turn on, moments later she came out with two glasses of water; she handed one to him and he began to slowly sip at it.
“Should we check and see if there is any information on the news?”
Mitch glanced at her and frowned, why was she being so submissive? The way she was acting, asking if they should do things and how things should be done wasn’t like the Esmeralda he had come to know in class, “I don’t know, what do you think?”
“It might be best if we can get some information, you know, so we can figure out what we should do or even if there is anything we can do?” She looked uncomfortable.
Sitting down, Mitch patted the cushion next to him, “Sit down, Essie, and let’s talk for a moment.” She immediately sat beside him, her back straight, knees together and hands resting on her thighs. “Look, if you think you can rely on me to tell you what to do in the situation we are in, you better think again, I’ve been in combat, but nothing like this. I know you are an intelligent young woman and if we are going to make it through this we are going to need all of our assets and that includes you. I want your input and together we’ll figure out what we have to do. You think we should listen to the news and you phrased it as a request, don’t pull that helpless female routine on me, okay?”
Her shoulders relaxed slightly and she gave him a brief smile, “I’m not real sure what to do, Mitch. I’ve always been taught that men were supposed to be in charge and women should always do what they are told to do. It’s okay to point a man in the direction he should go, but it has to be his decision and then you follow his decision.”
“That’s a recipe for a cluster fuck, I don’t appreciate a brainless woman, and I certainately don’t appreciate it when a woman tries to manipulate me. If you want to get along with me then be the Essie I know from class, okay?”
She visibly relaxed even more, “Thanks, Mitch. Sometimes men get their feelings bruised when they deal with an independent woman, and I didn’t think now was a time to engage in a battle of gender egos.”
“Bull shit, turn on the news.” Now he was sounding more like the Mitch she knew.
Esmeralda rose and walked to the TV, turned it on, and then started searching through the channels. Most of them were blank with no signal, or displayed the Emergency Broadcast System emblem; finally she found a station with an outline of the U.S. covered with red dots.
“What channel is that?” Mitch asked.
“Fox. Probably not the best news, but at least it’s on.” She read the scroll at the bottom. “The red dots indicate places where the infection has been reported.”
Mitch looked at the map, “Jesus, it’s everywhere.”
Essie nodded, “It seems to be clustered around transportation centers, places with airports, train stations, highway interchanges, and stuff like that.”
“Major population centers.”
“Yeah, are you reading the scroll at the bottom?”
Mitch shifted his point of focus, “Looks like we’ve missed a lot while we were waiting…” He cleared his throat, “While we were at my house.”
“The President is going to make an announcement tonight at 9:00 PM our time,” Essie read, “I guess we better make sure we watch it.” She looked at Mitch, “I’m going to go ahead and make some sandwiches, I know you’re not hungry, but you should eat something, we should eat something.”
“Okay.” He started to stand, but his leg gave out and he barely kept from falling, “Maybe we better check the wound and then think about something to eat.”
“My aunt has a first aid kit in case of an earthquake; I’ll go get it. In the meantime sit back down and relax.”
Mitch and Essie settled in front of the TV and watched as The Speaker of the House drummed her fingers impatiently on the podium she stood behind. “I thought the President was going to be on?” Mitch asked.
“That’s what the readout said; I don’t know why she would be there.”
She said something, but the volume was too low; Essie pointed the remote control and increased the level of the sound. Suddenly Esmeralda pointed at the screen, “Hey! That’s Doctor Brown!”
Mitch leaned forward, “What? Why would he…”
The Speaker smoothed her clothes as a technician counted down to her and then stepped off screen. “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. Goodnight.”
Stepping down from the stage she walked away as Professor Brown began approaching several other people who had stood behind the Speaker, President, whatever she was, while she spoke. “What is Brown doing in D.C., he was supposed to go to Atlanta,” Mitch said.
They watched as Brown ran back and forth speaking to others, he had worked for the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, but had been invited to leave, or be fired because he disagreed with the fact the CDC planned to withhold information from the population in some situations; it was how he became employed by Chaffey College. The night before, when they were in class, the shit had hit the fan and with Michael Moore, Mitch had escorted Brown to the college’s football field to meet a helicopter sent by the CDC for Brown.
It was then Mitch had been injured while shooting off a lock on the gate in the fence, but he and Mike had succeeded in getting Professor Brown to safety. On the way back to the classroom they had been forced to kill several people who were infected with a rage virus that caused them to attack those who were healthy.
On the screen, Brown approached the podium, “Can you turn the camera back on…It is…” He looked nervously into the camera, “Listen, uh, listen America,” he pointed off stage. “I don’t know about a revolution, or a coup, but I know this, there is no cure for the disease we are facing and there is no vaccine. The Speaker, or President, whatever she is, is lying to you. Right now the only chance you have is to stay away from the infected and kill them from a distance if you can. Do not approach them! Do not try to help…” There was a muffled pop and Professor Brown stepped back, a look of surprise and pain on his face. Another man stepped into view and fired a second shot; Brown fell from view as Esmeralda gasped in shock.
The man with the gun stood looking down at where Brown must have been lying on the floor, “Who is this little weasel?”
One of the other men who had been standing behind the Speaker spoke up, “This little weasel was Dr. Thaddeus Brown. He was going to help create the vaccine that would have helped those of us who have not been infected yet. You just murdered the only man who could save us and it was televised nationally.” The picture faded to black. The screen flickered and the map was back, it seemed to be a lot redder than it was before.
“Fuck! That son of a bitch killed Doctor Brown!” Mitch’s face was bright red.
Essie took a deep breath, “Mitch, he said there wasn’t a cure and there wasn’t a vaccine, things aren’t going to get better, are they?”
“If you’re waiting for the cavalry to arrive, you might not want to hold your breath.”
“I,” she looked at the older man. “What are we going to do, Mitch?”
“We are going to need to take care of ourselves and that means making a plan.”
“But the Speaker said…”
“The government isn’t coming, hell, they are probably falling apart as we speak and there is going to be trouble, you can count on that.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“You just heard the Speaker say she had overthrown the legally elected government, it’s a coup Essie, she has taken over the government by force. That means the government is going to be working hard at either bringing the Speaker to justice or aligning itself with her. Whichever it is they are not going to give you, or me much thought until the political situation has stabilized.”
“Why would she do something like this now? I mean it’s crazy to overthrow the government in the middle of…God I don’t even know what to call what’s happening!”
“It’s the best time, Essie. All of us are a little too busy trying to stay alive than to pay a lot of attention to what they’re doing in D.C. My guess is she’s been waiting for some sort of emergency to happen ever since the election; like they say in D.C., never waste a good crisis.”
“Okay, we can’t do anything about what’s happening in the Capitol, so what can we do for ourselves?”
Mitch sat a moment while he looked at the TV, and then, “Law and order will be the first thing to disappear, we’re already seeing that. After law and order will be the infrastructure, power, gas, and water.”
“So we need to prepare for the utilities going down?”
“Yes, how many bathrooms does your home have?”
“One and a half. The big one has a toilet, bathtub and shower, and sink; the little one has a toilet and sink.”
“Okay, we’ll use the little one as a head and the sink for sponge baths, that way we can fill the bathtub with emergency water in case the city pressure goes down. In addition we’ll have the hot water heater as a self-filling storage tank, so don’t be afraid to use the hot water while it’s on. Do you have any candles in case the power goes off?”
“My Aunt is Catholic, so yes, she has a bunch of those candles inside of tall glasses.”
“Get them out and spread them around the house in case we need them. What about flashlights?”
“We both have one each in our nightstands.”
“There is a package in the junk drawer in the kitchen.”
Mitch examined the front door, it looked sturdy, then he went to the rear door in the kitchen; the upper half was glass, not too good. “The windows and the rear door aren’t going to be secure unless we can find a way to block them off. Do you have nails? Hammer? Tools we can use to secure the windows and doors?”
Esmeralda shook her head, “No, when Aunt Marie needs work done she gets one of her sons or nephews to come over and do it.”
“That’s not good; I should have asked you before we left my place.” He stood looking at the rear door, “Rope, do you have any rope?”
“No, she wanted to replace the clothesline in the back yard because it’s sun rotted, but she bought steel wire instead.”
“Where is it?”
Essie walked to a cupboard and pulled the roll of wire out and handed it to him, “Can you use it somehow?”
“Maybe,” He looked around and then went to the living room and turned the coffee table over, the four short legs were screwed in. Grabbing hold of the first one he twisted until the leg began to unscrew. When he finished the fourth one he carried the top to the rear door and placed it over the glass portion; it covered most of the area.
“If we loop the wire over the top of the door it will suspend the table over the window. Then we put a few wraps around the door and the tabletop, and it will keep someone from crawling through the door at least.”
“What about the windows, could we use the doors off the bedrooms and the bathrooms?”
“Let’s check them out.” Mitch walked down the hall with Essie following him; at the first door he opened it, “Shit.”
“They’re those cheap interior doors that are nothing more than a frame with pressed wood skins.” He scratched his head, “If someone high on adrenaline decides to come through the damn things they will.”
“My aunt had all the interior doors replaced a couple of months ago.”
“Did she keep the old doors?” Mitch asked hopefully.
“No, my cousin took them to the dump.”
“We’re running out of options, Essie.”
“I’m sorry, we just never thought…”
“That you might have to fortify your home, welcome to the club, Kid.”
Together they walked back to the living room. “Trying to block the rear door doesn’t make a lot of sense if we can’t block off the windows too. The only option we have left is to go low profile and try not to draw the attention of the infected.”
They sat there quietly for a few minutes, “We have an attic.”
“Where is the access?”
“In the hall, there’s a panel in the ceiling.” She looked hopeful.
Walking back into the hall, Mitch looked up and saw the panel, “Have you ever been up there?”
“No, only my cousin has, he put some new flex ducting in for the central air supply.” She reached up and pushed the panel up and to the side; Mitch wished he was tall enough to do the same.
“Have you got a ladder, so we can climb up there?”
She lowered her head, “No.”
Offset from the panel was a cupboard door built into the wall, if it had shelves they might be able to climb up using it as a ladder. Mitch opened the door and saw the furnace, another idea shot down. “Okay, back to low profile, keep that shotty, your ammo, and the Glock with you all the time. The only choice we have is to be quiet and not draw any attention to ourselves. Neither one of us got any sleep, so why don’t you lie down and I’ll keep watch for a few hours, okay?”
Essie nodded and followed Mitch back to the living room where she collected the shotgun he had given her and then returned to her bedroom. Mitch sat on the couch and began to try and think of any possibilities he may not have considered, but their best bet might be to relocate somewhere. After an hour of concentration he rose from the couch and began walking through the house, room by room. He checked storage areas, closets, linen shelves, and then the kitchen. He took the batteries from Essie’s “junk drawer”, but reopened it as he started to walk away. There was one of those hacksaw tools that held one end of the blade and allowed the rest to protrude from the handle. The blade appeared new and sharp as he tapped it against the palm of his hand.
Walking to the wooden dinette table, he cleared it and turned it onto the top, the side rails below the top were wooden also. Using the hacksaw blade, he cut a narrow slot into the side rail and then took the clothesline wire Essie had shown him and slid it into the cut in the wood, it slipped in snuggly. He began adding additional slots every twelve inches on both sides until he had reached the end, then he started inserting the wire as he pulled it as tight as he could. After winding the wire through the slots, he wrapped the wire around a butter knife from the silverware drawer and retraced the path through the slots until he reached the starting point where he tied the wire off.
From a pouch on his belt, he withdrew the Leatherman tool his wife had given him twenty years before and used the cutters of the pliars to chew through the wire. Finished, he carried the table top into the hall below the attic access, leaned it against one wall of the hall while the bottom was braced against the opposing wall and the floor. He then used the doubled wire as ladder rungs and climbed up until his head and shoulders were inside the attic. Smiling, he reached out and pulled the flex duct Essie’s cousin had installed close and cut through it with the knife blade of the Leatherman followed by the wire cutters again to slice through the reinforcing wire wound about the duct. Mitch was pleased to see there would be a great deal of room within the attic once they removed the ducting that criss-crossed the space.
Unfortunately, the attic consisted of open joists with no surface to stand, walk, or lie upon. Between the joists was blown in insulation and he knew for a fact the stuff was going to cause a miserable amount of itching when it came into contact with their skin. If they removed all of the interior doors they could spread them out for a surface to lie upon, but there wasn’t going to be much room for anything else. Mitch decided to wait until Esmeralda awoke and see what she thought.
“It’s already getting hot up here,” Mitch said. He looked down through the opening from the attic to the hall.
“It is?” Essie was staring up through the opening.
“Yeah, the insulation is in the ceiling joists and not the roof, so it’s going to get awfully warm up here during the day and probably cold at night.”
“Is there anything we can do, maybe move the insulation up?”
“No, this stuff is blown in so you can’t just lift it up and stick it in the roof joists. Being hot will probably be better than being eaten though if any of the infected break into the house.”
“Okay, do you want to start taking the doors off and see if we can fit them up through the opening?”
“Yeah, we need to work with what we have until a better option presents itself.”
“I guess we can store some water and food…” They both became silent as the house phone rang.
“You might want to answer that,” Mitch said.
Esmeralda hurried to the phone and picked it up, “Hello?”
“Essie?” It was Roberto, her cousin and the son of her Aunt Marie.
“Yes! Bobby! Have you heard from your mom? Is she with you?”
“No, this the first time my call has gone through, Mama isn’t with you?”
“No, she was gone when I arrived.”
Mitch joined her in the living room; looking at her he raised his eyebrows. She placed her hand over the phone, “It’s my cousin, Roberto.”
“Essie,” Roberto said quickly. “Remember when my car was in the shop and you drove me to work?”
“Do you remember how to get to my job?”
“Yes.” She reached out and grasped Mitch’s arm.
“That’s where I’m at. Come here as quick as you can, the building is strong and we can lock up all the doors so the Locos can’t get in. Just bring blankets and clothes, we have…” The phone line went dead.
“Hello? Bobby? Roberto?” She lowered the phone and placed it in its cradle. “The line went dead, but he said we should come to his job and stay there.”
Frowning, Mitch asked, “Where does he work?”
“It’s not too far from here, maybe ten minutes.”
“What kind of building?”
“It’s a huge warehouse made of concrete with steel doors if I remember right.”
“What kind of business is it?”
“It’s the main distribution point for a chain of grocery stores in San Bernardino County.”
Mitch smiled, “Pack up your stuff kid, I think something better just presented itself.”
Mitch’s duffel bag and most of his guns and ammunition were still in the trunk of Essie’s car, so he helped her put together her items to take with her. Using an old suitcase belonging to her aunt, she threw in clothes and toiletry items until the case was full and then together they exited the house, loaded the suitcase and drove away.
This time, the drive wasn’t as quick as Esmeralda thought it would be. The major roads leading to the local freeways were now jammed with traffic to the point no one was going anywhere. Luckily, each time they approached congested streets Essie was able to divert their route before they became hopelessly mired in the gridlock.
“I don’t understand, Mitch, there was hardly any traffic before; now it’s crazy out here. What happened?”
“The speech given by the Speaker; now people are in panic mode and trying to escape.”
Essie turned down yet another street, “I don’t know if we’re going to get there if we don’t find a way through these streets.”
“Start thinking outside the box, Essie, are there alleys we can use? Railroad service roads? You grew up here didn’t you?”
“For the most part, yes.”
“How did you get around town when you were a kid and walked everywhere, or rode a bike; what shortcuts did you take?”
Nodding, Essie seemed lost in thought for a moment, and then turned down an alley, raced through to the end and crossed a street into another alley. In the next alley she came face to face with another car towards the next street; the vehicle stopped, backed up and allowed them to exit before continuing on its way in the opposite direction. The next vehicle they met was a truck pulling a trailer; Essie reversed her car and allowed the truck to pass before they continued on.
After too many turns to count, Mitch was completely turned around, “I hope you know where we are because I don’t.”
“Two blocks up there’s a park, we’ll cut through there and at the far end there is a flood channel that passes under the main street. We already know our chances of crossing the main road are pretty bad, but I think we can fit through there because they raised the road in order to provide drainage about ten years ago.”
They ended up driving three blocks before the park appeared, Essie turned into it and jumping a curb, drove the car over one of two softball fields. Behind the third base dugout was the flood tunnel. Essie stared at the space, “I don’t remember the gap being so small; do you think we can make the turn?”
Mitch looked over his shoulder at the surrounding park, and then opened the car door, “Wait here while I take a look.”
Climbing out, he approached the tunnel mouth and looked closely at the space they would have in order to make the turn. There was no way the car would be able to be driven in and the turn be made, but there was a chance they could make it if they backed in. Returning to the car he told Essie to slide over and he sat behind the driver’s wheel.
“I’m going to turn us around and back-in, the car should turn sharper in reverse.”
Essie agreed as he turned the Accord around and drove backwards behind the dugout until he reached the opening of the flood tunnel. Turning the wheels sharply, he tried to back in, but it took several tries before the rear of the car entered the mouth of the tunnel. It was going to be a tight fit.
“Sorry, Essie, but I think your paint job is going to be a little worse for wear before we’re done.”
“Don’t worry about it, Mitch; it was a beater when I bought it.”
Inside the flood tunnel there was only six inches of clearance on each side of the car and by the time they emerged both sides of the car were heavily scraped. Mitch turned the car around and stopped, “You better drive now.”
After switching places, Essie proceeded farther into what Mitch recognized as a warehouse district comprised of tilt-up concrete buildings, “I assume we’re getting close?”
“Yeah, it’s just…” The Accord was slammed into on Mitch’s side just behind the front door and it spun about in the middle of the intersection.
“Son-of-a-bitch!” Mitch shouted as he removed his seatbelt, threw open his door and stepped out. He started to walk towards the car that had struck them, but quickly turned back and looked inside at Esmeralda, “Are you okay?”
“Yes.” Rubbing her neck she continued, “I think.”
“Stay here, I’m going to check on the driver of the other car.” Pulling his shotgun out, he walked to the car, a newer BMW, and looked inside. The airbag had deployed and the young blonde woman behind the wheel looked confused and disoriented.
“Hey! Are you alright?”
Looking up at him with a blank expression and she said, “What happened?”
Mitch pointed at the stop sign she should have stopped at, “You ran that stop and T-boned my friend’s car, what the fuck lady?”
“I’m sorry…those people…the infected were…oh God! They were chasing me!” She grabbed the door handle and pushed the door open. “We have to run, they’re coming!”
Mitch glanced back the way she had been coming from and saw the people she was shouting about, “Oh crap!” Swinging up his shotgun he shot the first man to reach the rear of the car, and then the next. “Lady! You better move your ass and I mean right now!”
The woman scampered away and then spun a circle in the intersection, “Where?”
The Accord backed up next to her and Essie shouted, “Get in!” The woman opened the rear door and climbed in behind Essie, “Mitch! Get in the car, now!”
Mitch fired his shotgun empty and then ran for the car, leaped in, and Essie punched the accelerator. Behind him he could hear the rear tire rubbing on the damaged side of the car. Within moments the tire blew and the right rear of the Accord settled as pieces of the tire were flung out behind them.
“Essie,” Mitch exclaimed. “Is this as fast as we can go?”
“It seems like we picked up some speed…” She cried out as the rear of the car swerved out from behind them and then fell behind where it should have been. “I think the accident did more than just beat up the paint!” Reaching up to the rearview mirror, she adjusted it so she could see behind her. “We’re pulling away, but it’s not too much farther to my cousin’s job and they may see us when we pull into the parking lot!”
Pulling his pistol from his waistband, Mitch turned in his seat and held it out to the blonde woman, “Do you know how to use one of these?”
She pressed herself back in her seat and pushed his hand holding the firearm away from her, “Of course not! I don’t like guns!”
Mitch faced forward, “Great! We need a fire team and we get a fucking anti-gun Yuppy!” Turning back around, he pointed at Essie’s shotgun lying in the rear with the woman, “Hand that to me!”
She looked at the shotty, “I told you, I don’t…”
“Just give me the fucking shotgun!”
She grabbed the weapon and handed it to Mitch, who placed it between him and Essie, “Take that with you when you get out of the car.”
Essie nodded as she pulled into the driveway of a parking lot, “This is it!” The rear of the car again swerved dangerously and then something in the frontend snapped; the steering wheel began to oscillate radically and Essie released the steering wheel as the Accord shuddered to a stop.
Mitch threw open his door, “Out! Now!”
Essie and the blonde climbed out the driver’s side of the car and both raced for the front door of the building while Mitch fired his shotgun. None of the pursuing infected reacted to the shot, so Mitch racked another round into the weapon and waited, “Calm down old boy, calm down.” He pulled another round from his bandoleer and inserted into the tube magazine as the infected closed the distance. He did a quick count, eight of them and he had eight shots; pulling the weapon to his shoulder he aimed and fired.
His target dropped as he racked the slide again and fired again, and again. They were closing fast as he prepared to fire again and heard another shotgun fired next to him. Essie stood slightly to his left and recycled her Remington to fire again. Together, they finished the rest of the infected, the last taking two simultaneous blasts that shredded his face and leaving it unrecognizable as anything human.
“Essie,” Mitch said. “Pop the trunk so we can get our gear out before some more of those things show up.”
“Why did we stop here?” The blonde asked.
“First,” Essie said as she reached inside and pulled the trunk release. “This is where we were headed; second, the car is officially dead! Jesus Lady, pull your head out of your ass!”
“Don’t talk to me like…”
“Shut up!” Mitch added. “And take some of this stuff to the door!” She grabbed Essie’s suitcase and stumbled to the door, set it down and waited. “Get back down here and grab something else!”
“What, no one else is going to help?”
“If you can’t use a gun, or you refuse to use a gun, you’re a mule!”
Essie reached in the back of the car, grabbed Mitch’s duffel bag and started for the front door of the building, “I’ll help her while you keep watch.”
Mitch nodded and started sliding rounds into his shotgun as she hurried to the door. When she arrived she pushed the Will Call button by the door before turning to the blonde, “What’s your name?”
“Tanya, Tanya Simms, and I don’t…”
“Listen, Tanya, get with the program! Once we are inside and safe, then you can bitch all you want, but right now? Just start grabbing stuff out of the back of my car!”
On their second trip to the door it swung out and she was greeted by her cousin, Roberto, and a young Asian man. “Bobby!”
They embraced quickly and then the two men helped her and Tanya empty the back of the car. When they finished they entered the building and locked the door behind them. Essie embraced her cousin again, then slid down the wall and sat on her suitcase. Pressing the heels of her hands against her eyes, she began to silently cry as Mitch crouched and put his arm around her awkwardly.
“That’s okay kid, we’re safe now.”
She nodded, “I know.”
A short distance away, Tanya was speaking to Roberto and the Asia-American, “Is there somewhere we can lock up all these guns? Somebody could get hurt otherwise.”
Roberto gave her a puzzled look, glanced to his friend, and then back to Tanya, “Lady, are you nuts?”