When Max finally woke up it was past noon and he was again in Kirkpatrick’s office, “What happened?” he groaned, attracting everyone’s attention. Officer Stewart turned toward him, a brief look of concern on her face, which was almost instantly replaced with her trademark mask of steel.
“Smile at least you’re alive.” she said, “You passed out right when we got into the building, helped us hold the door and then just collapsed. Steve and I carried you to the elevator and lugged you up here. We are not sure if the zombies broke into the ground floor, but we don’t think so. We’re thinking of going on a little exploring mission, but wanted you along. I tried to wake you up but could not. Thanks for getting my flashlight back.”
Max just looked at her and found a mix of emotions spinning through his head, guilt at urging his co-workers out the door to their deaths, happiness at being alive, he couldn’t reconcile the feelings, at least not yet, he squished them down and replied, “Man I made a mess of things, huh?”
To his surprise, Steve answered him, “No, no you didn’t, and I saw most of what happened from here. Some of the fucking zombies were hidden around the cars, most of the slow ones ambled around to the other side of the building when the others started making noise, but a lot of those you ran into just squatted down and hid themselves before you went out. I tried to yell down the stairway for you not to go, but you didn’t hear me. If I could have gotten to you in time, maybe you could have seen what I saw. It isn’t your fault Max, everybody wanted to go, their choice, not yours.”
Max was genuinely moved by Steve’s obvious concern, and some of his guilt eased. Not all of it was gone, that would take time and the screams of “Mommy!” were still too fresh in his head. “Did I…did I get bitten?”
“No you checked out clean buddy, one thing to be thankful for, uh better to have it now than later, no one else made it back. Alan was close, but he just kinda ran out of steam and got mobbed. I am not sure how much you remember, it got pretty wild there for a few minutes.” Stewart looked down at the carpet and shrugged her shoulders, “You know if the National Guard does not come we are going to have to try again. I made an effort to get to my car, I have a shotgun in the front and more ammo for my nine millimeter pistol, I just could not get through the mob, there were too many of them and some of them were fast.”
“Ah, how is your ammo holding up Jane?” asked Max.
Stewart shook her head side to side and replied, “Not good, ‘bad’ is a better word for it, and I shot off both clips when I tried to make my way to the car. I did have a box of loose rounds that I had grabbed and had in my jacket and I have a backup pistol with eight rounds, but it is only a twenty-five caliber, probably would not do much unless you got a real lucky head shot and it is simply not very accurate further out than about ten feet. I have nineteen shots left for my main pistol and eight for the backup gun. I shot off twenty- three shots out there in a matter of seconds, if we have to go out again we will need a better plan.”
“How long was I out?” asked Max.
“Well you slept through the morning.” Replied Steve as he offered him a hand up.
Getting to his feet, Max looked at them and said, “Thanks. I mean it, thanks. Ooh I feel bad, like I just got into a fight with a bunch of flesh eating zombies.” Max raised his right hand to his left shoulder and winched with pain, looking at his shirt he saw it was spattered with blood and dirt, grimacing he said, “Well, time to find a new shirt, I won’t miss this one, much. Did you see that zombie, the guy in the blue shirt, he clocked me good, look at this.” Max pulled his shirt up and showed them the black and blue welt he had along the top of his shoulder.
“Shit yeah we saw it! We pretty much stripped you looking for bites.” said Stewart, “That is a doozy of a bruise now, does it feel broken?”
“No, not broken, I had a broken arm once in high school and this doesn’t feel anything like that. I am pretty sure it is just bruised, but what about the zombie? He was swinging at me with a metal pipe, not all mindless and unthinking. Doesn’t that mean they could break in here? Doesn’t that mean they are smart on some level?”
“Ah, they did seem to act with some sort of animal like cunning, at least from where I was watching, it was obvious that a few of them were lying in wait. That guy that took out Norm, man he was fast AND smarter than the rest, he picked him up and carried him off you know, away from the other zombies,” said Steve.
Max nodded, “I seem to remember that, he bit Norm a time or two, then I remember him being hoisted up, then things started going really fast. What does this mean? What do we do? I mean we are counting on them being too stupid to bash in some windows, right?”
Stewart thought about it and said, “Well we already have both elevators opened and locked on the second floor, so they won’t get up that way, you have five stairways here, and the doors should be easy enough to lock, as they all open out for the fire code. So if we can find the way to lock them they will have to be battered down, not just swung open. A couple cubical walls in each stairwell should slow them down and create enough noise to give us a chance to hear them coming. This office seems to be pretty defensible too. We had better get on this as soon as we can though. The thought of trying to hold off five stairwells at once is frightening.”
Max and Steve nodded, Max said, “Steve didn’t you date that clean up lady for a while, Stacey? Did she ever show you how to lock anything up to secure a few moments alone?”
Steve turned red, but shrugged, then nodded yes, “Ah, what’s the point? Yeah we stole away a time or two after hours, mostly to the gym area, it was pretty easy to lock off, but I remember she kept a coat hanger in one of the closets down there to jimmy the locks when we needed to. Frick, I wonder what ever happened to her? We had a good thing going for a while there, you know?”
Max and Steve made their way to the gym area-cleaning closet and though Steve’s cleaning woman had long since departed, the coat hanger she had used to secure the doors was still there. Max looked around and found some more coat hangers in various cubicles bent them into a shape, which looked vaguely like a capital ‘C’. To use them was a simple matter of inserting one end of the wire into a hole on the bottom of the door’s push bar and then curling the wire up around over the same bar to hold it in place.
After securing the locations they knew were empty, Max stood back and surveyed his work with a look of disgust on his face.
“What?” asked Steve.
“The fire marshal would be appalled! Who knew it would be so easy to lock a bunch of people into a building? I mean, this is an arson’s dream isn’t it? Disable the fire doors and torch the place?” Max shrugged, “Well, we better go get Jane and bring her with us to lock up the other stairwells.”
After getting Officer Stewart, they went around to the other stairwells and locked them, leaving only one exit near the front doors unlocked. They also brought a few of the other survivors around to show them how to unlock the doors in a hurry if they needed to. Once the doors were locked, they decided it would be best if they did a floor-by-floor, room by room search of the building to weed out any remaining undead. This searched only turned up Tom’s former boss, Ed Sawyer, whom Tom had locked in the break room on the third floor. It was with much reluctance that they opened the door and lured him out. Unable to find a decent weapon, Max stood by with a computer monitor hoisted over his head. Stewart stood down the hall with her gun drawn, Steve had the job of opening the door, and running back, the idea was not to use any of Stewart’s precious remaining bullets. Sure enough as soon as the door opened, Sawyer started to push through it, going after Steve. For Max it was a simple matter of stepping up behind the zombie and crushing his skull with monitor. The only excitement was that Sawyer managed to stagger a few steps with the monitor completely covering his head before he fell for the last time. They put his body in one of the stairwells they were not planning on using.
After this, they raided the handyman’s closet and set about dismantling the various cubical walls and tossing them down the stairwells. At the end of the day, they had one partially open stairwell remaining. This was eventually going to be used as an escape exit; the main lobby was pretty much open too. There was no good way to block it off and Max was worried about the main entrance quite a bit. As a precaution, the group as a whole decided to station a guard in the lobby at all times, changing them out every six hours or so, everyone was included in the rotation and the guard was given Stewart's backup pistol and two of the high-powered flashlights in case the power went off.
No one was looking forward to spending the night at work after blocking the stairways. The remaining survivors broke into the vending machines, filled every available jar and jug with water, and made themselves as comfortable as possible using the office furniture that was available. Most contacted their loved ones with their cell phones, if they could get in touch with them. In general, the sleeping arrangements were bad; there were no blankets, no good pillows and no mattresses. Some of the dozen people left had gone around to the empty floors and gathered up all the clothing they could find, including a few light fleece blankets that employees kept at work for when the air conditioning was on a little too high.
As the others were making sleeping arrangements on the second floor, Max ducked into Kirkpatrick’s office and used the phone to call his wife’s cell phone number. He had several missed call notifications on it, most were from Sarah.
“Hello?” whispered a voice on the other end of the line.
“Oh Max! We have been so scared, we can see out the little window near the front of the house and they, they, took old Mrs. Weilder out and, and, butchered her in her front yard, a whole group of them! Max, they ate her, they ate her, and I saw them eating her. They ate and ate until there was so little left…I just could not believe what I saw. What is going on?”
“Sarah, I am sorry you saw that, I am sorry Mrs. Weilder is dead, are you safe? I mean did anyone come into the house or anything?”
“No, no one came into the house. Where are you? I thought you would be home by now. It is so late; I thought you were coming home. We need you Max. I don’t...I don’t think I can do this on my own.”
“Sarah you have to, look, how much charge does your cell phone have left? I don’t think we should talk too long in case I have to call you again later. You need to get the food and blankets upstairs and not go downstairs a lot, no lights tonight, not even in the attic, if they see them they will be drawn to them, I think. I mean they don’t seem to use tools or anything and I bet they would come after a moving light. Don't draw attention to yourself.”
“Geez Max I am…I know, I figured it out, I am going to bring the kids down to use the bathroom and get blankets and everything, but we will be very, very careful and very fast, I won’t have them breaking in here, if I can stop it. If you come home use, the garage to get in I am going to push a lot of stuff in front of the front and back doors. And mister, you better be calling my name loud and clear or I will brain you. No one and no thing, is going to eat my children alive.”
Max was happy to hear the resolve in Sarah’s voice; he knew she would take care of everything as best she could. Sure, she was a part time worker, soccer mom in her mid-thirties, but underneath her soft exterior was the solid core of a woman he married. Everything would be all right. He briefly filled her in on his attempt to get to his truck, leaving out the worst of it, and then said, “Get the gun Sarah. Get it, don’t argue, you know what we are dealing with and even if you cannot use it right, you need to have it.”
“I will Max, I will. We’re going to be alright, right?” Sarah asked softly.
“Yeah, sure babe, it’s just another day at the office. I am not sure who has the worse sleeping arrangements.”
“Me, I have rafters and a piece of plywood to sleep on.”
“I get to sleep on concrete covered by hard carpeting in one of the cubes. Still I will give you this one, two kids and you in the attic is going to suck.”
“I win an argument at last! It has only taken fifteen years!” Sarah said.
“Well I am tired and bruised so maybe I can't argue really well right now. I love you and will call again in the morning.”
“I love you too Max, stay safe. Good bye.”
With that she hung up the phone and left Max wondering if he would indeed speak to her tomorrow.
Steve came over; it was obvious he had been listening in from the doorway. “Sarah is all right and the kids?”
Max nodded, “What about you, you make any calls?”
“Yeah I called my pop, he is smart, going out of his mind though, and he can’t reach Emily, my sister or her husband or the kids. He is an old coot, more guns than sense and I tried to get tell him to stay put, but… Well honestly Max if anyone can survive this my old man can. Camping, hunting, hiking, the old guy is tough, I just don’t know if he can take on a city full of zombies by himself. I could not reach Emily either. I…I fear the worst Max, I am sure they are not all right. Almost positive of it and I don’t know what to do, but next time you break out, I am going with you.”
“Oh geez, Steve, I am sorry man, really sorry. I met your old man once, when your mother died, it was not a good time to judge character or anything and, well he seemed like the kind of guy who might not survive his spouse by too long if you know what I mean. Like Johnny Cash or something. He pulled through that though, I mean your mom died, what three years ago?”
“Yeah about that, he had it rough after she died, then he started doing the same old things again, his hobbies, when he retired we, Emily and I, thought he might fade pretty fast too, but you know, he didn’t. He got all-religious and made the best of things. God saw him through, God wanted him to be here, and God wills it kind of stuff. We have never been too religious, but we suffered through it, figured it was a coping mechanism and he recovered. Hell, I figured he would out live me. Until this happened. I don’t know Max, I think we gotta get out of here and find somewhere safe. Safer.”
“I agree, we get out, swing by your dad’s, pick up my kids and head, where? Where do we go? Head for the hills? I am not so sure about that. I have been thinking a little and unless the military sets up a safe zone, we need to find a place to go too. Maybe Iowa? I have a buddy there and if things are not as bad maybe he could take us in?”
“Iowa? Sure, why not, North Platte is on the way, we can swing by and pick up Tom’s family too. What do we do now?”
Max and Steve had made their way out of Kirkpatrick’s office to where they, Tom and Officer Stewart had chosen to bed down for the upcoming night. “I am thinking we need the guns and ammo in Stewart’s car.” Max said.
Stewart looked up at this, but did not say anything. Steve, started to protest and then said, “Okay, yeah, I can see that, you have a plan, don’t you, you wouldn’t have said anything otherwise, let’s hear it.”
Max detailed his plan and by the time he was done, he knew he had them on board for a covert action later that night.