Max woke early in the morning to noise from the front of the clinic. He hurt all along his stomach, a burning itch he could not scratch, the noise persisted and he swung himself off the examine table and padded out the door in his boxers, grabbing a bat that had been left thoughtfully by the door.
As he reached he main doors of the clinic he saw one of the younger men in armor finishing off a zombie with his ax, a big hulking ugly ax. The young man saw Max and whistled out to an unseen companion, a woman Max did not know, they both said to Max at the same time, “Are you okay? Should you be up?” The stereo effect was humorous and they both blushed and looked at each other before letting out short, nervous laughs.
“Yeah, yeah I am fine, how are things out here?”
The man answered, “Good, they rush at us once in awhile, but they are pretty easy to fight off, none of the smart ones come close now, since we shot a couple of them.” Max noticed the large revolver he had found was in the kid’s waistband. “Our biggest concern is that the smarter ones will find guns, if they do that we could all be screwed, which is why we try and stay in the foyer here, just in case.”
“Where are Stewart and Steve at?”
The man gestured into the clinic, “First door on the left, past the reception area.”
“Thanks.” Max turned and walked past the reception area and knocked on the first door to the left. A moan came from the room and Max quickly let himself in, he barged in on Steve and Tom half waking up from their spots on the floor and Stewart, laying on the exam table fumbling for her gun, then stopping when she saw Max.
“Good morning Max. Are you supposed to be up?” said Stewart with a yawn in her voice.
“Well they took out my I.V. and no one told me to stay in bed, I heard some fighting and went out to see what was up. Who are the kids in the armor, the one with the ax?”
“Oh those guys, good kids, good men and women and kids I mean, they have a couple younger ones with bows and bats too, little sister. The guy with the ax is probably Michael, I gave him your revolver to keep watch with, I think Whitney is on with him right now, we served our ‘watch’ last night around eight to midnight. They all helped us get into the clinic, saved our asses if you want to know the truth, they got one guy, Jacob, in real bad shape, they got his legs, the zombies, bit him all up. They needed to get into the clinic too, real bad, when we made our run they watched to see what would happened, and helped out when they could. With arrows Max, you know how hard it is to hit anyone in the head with a fucking arrow? Anyway Michael says they practiced for years in competition with this role playing society or something, the rest of them had the armor and weapons from their parents’ involvement and I know Michael made the ax he is using, a ‘real’ weapon he calls it, though it is damn ugly if you ask me. Still it is pretty tough, it hasn’t broken and it goes through skulls better than a bat. Look at me, babbling. How are you feeling?”
“Good, I suppose, my gut aches though, really bad. I have to be careful not to twist around much or the nurse told me the stitches will bust and they gave me anti-biotics to keep from getting infected. Where is the doc and nurse Beth?”
“Dunno, sleeping if they are smart. Is it about five? Yeah enough sleep in this new age of undead walking the earth.”
“So what is the plan now? Hit Steve’s and then your place before heading to my house?”
Stewart raised her eyebrows, Steve was back laying down, sleeping and Tom was looking like he was ready to bed down again too. Stewart gestured for Max to step back outside the office and they moved into the reception area to talk.
“You were out for awhile, Steve shot out the tire on the squad car, we replaced it with a tire off one of the cars in the street, not a great fit, but the thing drives. Anyway you know we went to the store to get you clothing, nice boxers by the way, we also managed to get to Steve’s apartment and back yesterday afternoon too. The roads are shitty, all filled with broken down cars, almost impassible. I still do not have radio or phone contact with the station, but get this Max, there is a radio station up and running. They guy has been going on for help for quite awhile and he is still on, so we know, or we think anyway that he is not a zombie, yet. There have been a few ‘good old boys’ who have rushed the building, but, wait, you’ll hear.”
Stewart turned to a radio that was sitting on the reception area counter and turned it on. She adjusted the volume slightly until Max could hear a voice, saying, “This is a recorded message, as of last night I was alive and well, but I need to get some sleep, hidden away as best I can be. I am locked in my station and need help, I am not a zombie, but you have to be careful; some of the zombies have learned to talk and act like living people. I am hoping that some group of people can break in and get me out of here or help me defend the building. The address is…” and the voice gave an address of a building out in Aurora.
“Good! Word is getting out at least!” Max shifted around uncomfortably in his boxers. Stewart looked at him and said, “Hey we have power, why don’t you go get dressed and I will make us some coffee? Don’t turn on any lights though, use this,” she handed him a small keychain light, “we think they are attracted to light and I don’t need Michael and Whitney getting overran.”
Max readily agreed and quickly went to get dressed, he found a cup of water next to his clothing and note with a small envelope on top of his clothes. The note read, “For pain, take 1-2 pills as needed up to 8 pills a day. Addictive, don’t abuse them!” Max thought his pain was of the ‘two pill’ variety and opening the envelope he found about thirty caplets inside, he quickly swallowed two of them with the water and gingerly pulled on some pants and a shirt. He attempted to pull on some socks, but just could not do the bending required to do so. Instead he saw that someone had set out some closed black crocs next to his old shoes, he slid these onto his feet and walked back out to the coffee that Stewart had since brewed.
“That smells good! I want the biggest cup you have! Anything to go with it?”
Stewart turned and gestured towards the reception counter, where Max saw she had set a package of jumbo muffins. He suddenly realized how hungry he was. A little girl came out from the hallway and Max tensed up, until he saw she was yawning and trying to shake off sleep, something that did not go well with his image of a zombie child.
She saw Max and he was able to watch her go through the exact same phase as he did, apparently he passed the ‘Not a Zombie’ recognition pattern in her brain as she did not even bring her bat up into a defensive posture, just smiled a little smile at him and helped herself to a muffin.
“Hi Jane!” she said. Leaving Max wondering who the hell she was talking to, then he remembered Stewart’s first name was Jane.
“Hiya Kiddo! Get any sleep?” replied Stewart.
“Yeah, woke up when they were fighting again though, anything to drink?”
“Sure we have coffee or there is milk or Sunny D in the fridge.”
“Coffee?! Blech!” said the child making a disgusted face then turning to go back around to wherever the fridge was.
“Hey” Stewart called after her, “Bring the cream out for us, would ya?”
“Sure thing.” The girl called over her shoulder.
“That’s Lauren, she is Whitney's sister, the girl keeping watch out front. Here.” said Stewart handing Max a small white foam coffee cup.
Max raised his eyebrows at the cup, “That is as large as you have? I would hate to see the small size.” Taking a sip though he was surprised at how good the coffee was.
Lauren returned with a cup of orange drink and a carton of heavy cream, handing it to Stewart she turned to Max sticking out her hand, “Hi I am Lauren.”
Max shook her hand and said, “I am Max, pleased to meet you.”
Formal she replied, “Likewise Max. Are you going to be okay?”
“Yeah, I think so, the doc has me all fixed anyway. Are you okay?”
“Me? Nothing happened to me! I am fine.” replied Lauren, who then turned towards her muffin and juice with the hunger of the youth at breakfast.
Stewart laughed. “Yeah she’s fine Max. So you up to moving today? We have a plan, while we were moving around yesterday, I think we can get to your place this morning, to gather up your wife and kids.”
Max looked at her a second then nodded and said, “Hold that thought, Stewart.” He went rushing back to his ‘room’ and grabbed his phone off the charger, he saw that there had been three unanswered calls from home, nervously he dialed his wife’s cell phone number. “C’mon! C’mon!”
After six rings he was shunted to her voice mail, he hung up counted to fifteen and dialed again. Six more rings, nothing, he went out to the waiting room where Stewart was…waiting.
“No answer Stewart, no answer.”
“You don’t know what that means Max, hell they could still be asleep, right? It doesn’t matter though we are heading that way anyway, that is what we agreed on, right?” said Stewart.
Max tried his phone again. No answer. “Shit. Yeah, I am ready to go as soon as we can all get together and go.”
Lauren looked at Max with sad eyes and moved over and gave him a small hug, whispering, “It’ll be okay.” Before moving back to whatever room she came from in the clinic.
“What does that mean? ‘All get together’, it is just the original foursome Max, the others are not coming with us.”
“What? What do you mean? Of course they have to come with us. They are only kids, plus the Doc and nurse Beth, strength in numbers, right?”
“No Max, they want to stay here, the clinic has few windows and the ones it has are very high up on the walls, plus only two outside doors and the back door is steel, they have some medical supplies and more at the pharmacy across the street and they are not too far from two convenience stores and a grocery store, not to mention the clothing stores we got our new duds from. Hell there is even a warehouse store about eight blocks away. They want to stay and we cannot force them to come along with us. Plus another two straggled in last night, a man and a woman, there is room here for about thirty or forty people. We were thinking we might come back here after getting your family today.”
“Here? But I thought, well I thought, I don’t know what I thought, head to the mountains maybe? Or just away, when you mentioned the radio station maybe we would go there. Are you sure we can get through to my house today, you said this morning, but you also said the roads are a mess so how do we get to my house?”
“Well yesterday we stopped in at Starbucks to do a little ‘shopping’ and Tom tried out his laptop, the wireless was still up and we googled your house to get a map so we could plan, he took a screen shot of it and we noticed the light rail line, they have a stop about three blocks from here and there is a line that runs nine blocks away from your house in Arvada, we checked it out and we can drive the car on the rails, slow, but we can do it and I bet it is clear the whole way, even going twenty mph we should be there in less than two hours, right?”
“Whoa, I guess I have to revise my feelings about Tom making such a big deal about getting his laptop. You sure got a lot done while I was out.”
“Yeah, you seem to hold us back Max.” Stewart said with mild sarcasm in her voice, “Seriously if you had been awake you would have had to deal with all of our usual bickering when it comes to making a decision. The only flaw in the plan, so far as I can see, is will we have to take two vehicles when we come back?”
Max smiled, knowing Stewart was trying to put the best light on the situation, “When can we leave?”
Whitney’s voice called into the reception area, “Stewart we got a couple of guys coming in, they look alive, but have guns, you wanna help us here?”
“Coming!” Stewart drew her pistol from her belt and moved towards the doorway, followed closely by Max. They saw two men making their way towards the clinic.
The first man was a big Caucasian and wore a faded denim jacket, blue jeans fresh and crisp from a store shelf somewhere and ‘shit’ kicker cowboy boots that looked about as old as his jacket. He wore a red bandanna around his neck and carried a backpack and what looked like a shotgun in his hands. A baseball bat was strapped to the backpack with the tip of the bat resting in one of the water bottle holders of the pack. He was followed by a jumpy, smaller man of Hispanic descent, he too carried a shotgun and a similar backpack set up. His white long sleeved shirt was clean and his blue jeans were faded at the knees and one leg looked a bit ragged. Both men were constantly scanning the street and cars and the vegetation near the edges of the clinic’s parking lot.
They had seen Michael and Whitney and their weapons were pointed specifically away from the clinic doors as they approached.
When they were about thirty feet away the lead man stopped and called out, “Mind if me an’ Juan come in?”
Michael answered, “Sure thing, where you two from?”
The men moved closer, Michael, Whitney, Stewart and Max kept them under an intense gaze, so much so that the lead man raised his hand in a kind of ‘Wagons Stop’ sort of gesture and said,
“Take it easy people me an Juan, we are normal people, not zombie-folk. I know, I know some of ‘em are running around shootin’ their mouths off and such, but that ain’t us, right Juan?”
“Si.” answered the Hispanic man.
“Juan here, he is the brains behind this outfit and we are headin’ over to the gun shop on Mariposa, a couple miles of hikin’ from here, to try and find some handguns, we got these over and under models from the big warehouse over off of Julip, but in a close in fight, well Juan wanted something to put them zombies down and not much works better than a blow to the head with a bat. Let’s start this slow, okay? My name is Hank and this’n here is Juan.” Said Hank, hitching his thumb back at the man behind him, “What’r you folks called?”
“I am Michael, Mike, this is Whitney, then there is Jane and behind her is Max.” said Michael, never taking his eyes off the men in front of him.
“Well Michael, I can tell you ain’t zombies, don’t know how, I just can. How many others you got in there with ya?” The man behind Hank tugged on his shirt, Hank leaned over a quiet, quick conversation took place, “Ah, yeah, Juan here is right, none of my damn business. He smells coffee though and would love to have a cup if you don’t mind? Here you can hold our o’ver-unders too.” As he said this Hank and Juan held out their rifles to Mike and Whitney.
Michael looked at Whitney, shrugged and declined to take the guns, “No go on in, Jane has coffee made, we only have little cups though, plenty of coffee you just have to refill the cups a lot.”
“That so? Well Juan don’t mind, me either for all that. Thanks Michael.”
Stewart and Max backed into the reception area followed closely by Hank and Juan. Whitney and Michael stayed to watch the front door.
Max saw Lauren standing quietly in a doorway down the hall, all but invisible in the shadows as she watched the group, probably waiting to spring the alarms if she needed to. Max sat back on the arm of a chair, he could not get himself to bend to sit down, despite the pain medicine. Stewart gestured towards the coffee and Juan quickly poured cups for himself and Hank, putting sugar in his and cream and sugar substitute in Hanks.
“Well where did you folks come from? Is one of you a police officer? I saw the car out front.”
Max realized then that Stewart was out of uniform, in new clothing undoubtedly salvaged yesterday when they were out gathering supplies.
“Yeah that’s me. Officer Jane Stewart.” said Stewart extending her hand to Hank, who looked at it a moment, then shook it. Juan put his hand out to shake too, before settling into an office chair to observe the conversation.
“Figured as much, you got the holster an all. So you want to spill your story or should we go first?”
Stewart said that Max should tell their tale and she would fill in the pieces he missed, Max did so telling what had happened over the last two days since he arrived at work and leaving off only the plans to get to his house and get his wife and kids.
Hank and Juan listened intensely, then Hank asked, “Well, well, what about your wife Max, that must be next on your list, right? Arvada is quite a ways away, a long walk unless you got a way to clear the streets? I know where the city keeps their snow plows, all two of ‘em. They would run though and could probably push the cars outta the way.”
Max gave a short laugh, “No Hank, I think we got it covered, but we might need both snowplows if we all want to get out of the city sometime.”
“Get out? Hm, never much considered leaving, this is our home here, me and Juan and no flesh eating zombie is going to make us leave, right Juan?”
"Take it for what it's worth, but me and Juan did a little thinking about this the other evening, ain't that right Juan?"
"So, we're sitting there, me and Juan, listening to the sounds of the city, staring up at the stars when it hits me, us. Well Juan really. It is so dang simple. What we have here is a case of good science gone wrong. Isn't that how it always happens?"
"I wasn't talking to you. Anyway, at first we thought it was probably those A-rabs and some kind of terrorist plot. But come on, you expect them to concoct some virus that makes people turn into zombies and start eating each other? Not a chance, they're not smart enough. So, who is smart enough? Us?"
"Let me explain it ok?"
"Anyway, us, it had to be us. Not me and Juan, but the good old U-S of A. So, the next question we asked ourselves was, why? Why would we come up with some sort of magic potion to make someone into a zombie? I mean, what's the point? It's not our style is it? Juan, you be quiet. No, when we want to fight we're all about bombs and sending our good old boys over for a face to face ass kicking. So then how did it happen? That's when Juan came up with the idea about good science gone bad, right?"
"Si. Some sort of mad scientist or something."
"We got to thinking, probably some guy in a white lab coat trying to find the cure for cancer, aids, the common cold and bam! The next thing you know he's got lab rats eating one another. Now, this is where it gets interesting. Juan says to me, 'Hank, I'll bet you a cerveza that these zombies have got special powers. Like super human combat powers.' and I says to him, 'special powers? Like superman? I don't see any of them flying around.' and he says to me, 'no, not flying around but seeing stuff we can't see, like x-ray vision. Stuff to make them faster and stronger. For fighting.' So, Juan's idea is that these zombies can see our heat, or life or something that separates us from them, kind of like that movie Predator where Arnold fights that alien in the jungle, seen it?"
"Not you. I know you've seen it because we saw it together. Take a look at how the dumber ones gather around the lights at night or things that radiate heat during the day. Something attracts them to it, eh?"
"Si Heat vision maybe or infrared."
"You want to finish explaining our hypotenuse or can I? Thought so. Okay, long story short, the zombies have a special zombie vision and they can heal themselves by eating us and the more they eat the stronger they get and the smarter they get and the smarter ones can control the not so smart ones by using some kind of zombie mind control and...and did I leave anything out?"
"Oh, right, how could I forget the best part. If you look at what the TV, on the CNN, they said when everything started, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver all had zombies, all major cities in the US. And get this people in Frank-German-furt, Bejong China, Sidney, Buenos Aires, and who the fuck else knows where else had em too. Hell even places in Africa were reporting cases of the creepy-crawlies. Why? If you were lab guy turned zombie and wanted to share your zombie disease with the world would you start in Laramie, Wyoming? Heck no, you'd hit the major cities where all the folks are. One turns into two, two turns into four and so on. Next thing you know you've got yourself a zombie army, kind of like that pyramid scheme that guy tried to convince us to join, remember that Juan?"
"So, there you have it, some guy in a white lab coat forgot to wash out a beaker or something and now we have zombies with super powers trying to take a bite our of everyone and their mother. This coffee, it is good an’ all, but you got any cold beer?"
Juan leaned over and spoke rapidly in Spanish into Hank’s ear. “Ah no Juan is right, no drinkin’ until the day is done, we got a whole walk in cooler filled with beer anyway. So what is your plan then?”