'It has been six days. Six goddamned days!' thought Max. No one had let them out of quarantine yet or told them how much longer it would be. Max hadn't seen his kids for two days and this morning he could sense them in his mind moving away from him.
“Guard! Guard!” he yelled again. Max was standing in an ordinary cell that held about thirty walking wounded now. Everyone who had any cuts or open wounds were tossed in here, allegedly for 'a day or two' and so far no one had been released. Cory and Tom were with him, but he didn't know most of the men and boys. Right now it was about six o'clock in the morning and the other prisoners were getting angry at Max for yelling at the top of his lungs for the guard, which he had been doing for the last five minutes.
“Hey buddy, you wanna put a sock in it?” came a voice out of the darkness behind him.
“No. Guards! Goddamn it! Guards!”
Finally, a sliver of light fell on the hallway as a door at the other end opened up. A weary looking guard approached the cell, “What is all the noise about? Breakfast isn't until seven thirty.”
“Where are you taking my kids?”
“What?” said the guard.
“My kids. They are being moved and I want to know where they are going and why I haven't seen them the last two days.”
“I don't know anything about that. Quiet down and try to get a little rest.”
“I want out of here now.”
The guard shook his head. “Not until I am told to. Sorry. I really am, but I don't think anyone is moving your kids.”
“How do you know?”
“I just...I just do. Look could you check on it? See if I am right? And stop it?”
“At six in the morning? No one is up yet.” The guard started to walk back to the door separating the prisoners from the office where he monitored the holding facilities.
“Someone is up! Call them!”
“Maybe I will. You gotta pipe down and stop causing a commotion. Okay, just sit tight while I check on it.” The guard went through the door mumbling about paranoid parents.
Watching the man with his mind Max saw him sit back down at his desk and turn back towards a computer, soon his motions were back to how they had been earlier, a slow movement of his right hand on what Max thought might be a mouse, while his head paid attention to a computer screen.
“Goddamn it stop playing solitaire and check on my kids!”
The guard jerked as if punched in the kidneys and looked around.
“Damn it buddy there are kids here! Will you shut up?” said the same irritated voice behind him.
“Max, are the kids really moving?” asked Tom.
Ignoring the commentary from deeper in the cell, Max answered Tom, “Yes. They are walking them away from us, a whole group of people.”
“How do you know?” asked another concerned voice from one of the other men.
“He doesn't, it's crazy bullshit.”
“What if he is right?”
“Where is everyone going?”
“Yeah and why aren't we going?”
Max concentrated, he couldn't make the images any clearer, the kids he could pick out of the crowd easily enough, but he didn't know who the others were, he guessed it was a mixed bag of other men, women and children. He moved towards the lone high window, shut with reinforced safety glass. A man was laying on the bench in front of the window.
“Move.” Max told him, the guy got up and moved to one side.
“Listen man you can't just tell us all what to do. You are not in charge here.” Max finally located the speaker, a guy in his late twenties. He looked like he may have played sports in high school, but the years since then hadn't been kind to him.
“Just leave me alone. I am not going to let them take my kids.”
“You don't know that they are taking your kids. You can't know.”
“I know.” Max looked at the window, then got up on the bench, which put his chin level with the bottom edge of the glass. The window was frosted glass, it let in a little light, but he couldn't see through it. Max wasn't interested in looking through it. He pulled back his hand into a fist and slammed it into the glass.
“Holy shit!” the football player said as Max's hand bounced off of the glass.
The first punch had been pulled slightly, Max had no desire to break his hand, but the blow had been sharp enough to see if the glass had any give to it and how much it would hurt his hand. The answers to those questions were 'yes' and 'not much.' He pulled his arm back for another punch.
The guard door down the hallway behind him opened and Max hear the guard say. “I don't know how you knew, but you are right the army ordered the town to be evacuated, we are heading east. They are taking the kids south then east along highway eighty through Omaha.... what are you doing?”
“Are you letting me out to get to my kids?” Max asked looking back at the guard.
“No, the prisoners are being moved tomorrow or the next day. Elderly, disabled, kids and their mothers are going now, the civilians without kids are scheduled to go this afternoon and tomorrow morning, we go after that.”
“Not good enough and not what I was told would happen.” Max turned back to the window and smashed it with his fist again. The blow landed solidly and cracks radiated out from where his fist hit.
The guard looked stunned, the glass was strong. He had been a deputy sheriff for five years and they had all sorts of people through the county prison in that time, many of whom thought breaking through the glass of the holding cell was their ticket to freedom. Three people had broken parts of their hand trying to smash through the glass, one man had snapped his own wrist in the attempt. None of the past attempts had damaged the glass in the slightest way. Max had cracked the glass. Except for Tom and Cory, the other men in the cell backed away from Max, not wanting the trouble he was getting into to spread to them.
“I. Am. Going. After. My. Family.” Max said, biting each sentence off with a punch to the glass. Pieces of it were falling to the bench and floor around him.
“Stop!” the guard yelled, fumbling for his keys.
Max turned towards the guard and looked at him over his undamaged fist. The guard held the keys up, then thought better of it and fled out of the door back to the office. Max saw him get on the phone immediately.
“He is calling reinforcements.” Max slammed the window another ten or fifteen times, shattering the glass completely, then he worked his fingers through part of the window until they could wrap around some of the wire that had been reinforcing it. Once he snagged that he pulled until the wire snapped. He noted with disgust that only one thread had broken; he had been hoping they would all pull out together. Max now had a finger hole he could put his eye to and look out of. There was nothing to see. He knew they were on the third floor of the building, but he didn't know how he was going to get down once he broke the window out.
“Shit,” he said as he continued surveying through the hole.
“What?” asked Tom.
“There are bars over the window, even if I get the glass out. I don't know if I can get through them.”
“The cement can't be stronger than the glass.”
“True.” Max took aim at the wall below the window and gave it test punch. It felt solid and his hand hurt from the blow. “It might be too solid. Let me get the glass cleared out, maybe we can pull the bars out.”
It took them another ten minutes to get the glass cleared out of the window, by which time all of the other men were crowded back against the far bars, where they stared at him. The door behind them slammed open and two soldiers and a sheriff rushed into the hallway with rifles, “Down! Down! Down! Everybody down now!”
The men and boys at the front hit the ground, leaving Max, Cory and Tom standing alone at the far wall.
“Get down now!” the sheriff yelled again, gesturing with his rifle.
“He won't shoo..”
Max was cut off as the sheriff fired a warning shot into the wall next to the window.
“I said now!”
“Fuck.” Max, Tom and Cory stepped clear of the broken safety glass and lay down on the floor.
The deputy unlocked the door and everyone, but Max was evacuated, Tom and Cory were handcuffed and led out of the cell, leaving Max alone with the sheriff and two soldiers. Both soldiers kept their guns trained on Max while the sheriff approached and handcuffed his hands behind his back. The sheriff then jerked Max upwards by his arms to his knees.
Max didn't yell out at the pain, just climbed up to his feet as the sheriff continued to pull him up. Part of his mind noted that the kids were heading south quickly now. They would soon be out of his range to track.
“You gotta let me out of here.” Max said to the sheriff.
“Listen orange-head, I could have you shot right now. Right now. And no one would say ‘boo’ to me about it. There is a war on out there. My friends and neighbors are dying and I do not have time to come down here and deal with some fucked-in-the-head clown who can't follow the rules. You are contaminated, you will stay where we put you and do as we tell you or your kids will never even find your body.”
“What right do you have to...”
The sheriff hit Max in the face with the butt of his rifle, knocking him to the floor. “Don't you fucking demand your goddamned rights to me!” he brought his gun to his shoulder and aimed down the barrel at Max, “You have no rights! This is martial law and if I have to kill one citizen to save a hundred, I will do so and I will know I did the right thing for the rest of my life!”
Looking up at the man Max chose his words carefully, “So what now?”
The sheriff brought the rifle barrel down, “That is a much better attitude. The attitude of a man who wants to see his children again. You are going to be checked over again, no one can break that safety glass. I half suspect you are one of them right now -- that you got through the screening somehow. So first we do that over again, more thoroughly. Then we find you a nice, quiet place where you can think things through and remain very, very calm until we evacuate you. Got it?”
Max nodded his eyes blazing. 'We should never have come here.' He was brought before the same doctor who had examined him the first time, the man looked surprised to see him. They were in what looked like a prison clinic, it had one small examining table with rails along the sides and stainless steel surfaces everywhere. The place was overly bright with two industrial sized fluorescent light fixtures on the ceiling.
“Is this him?” the sheriff asked the doctor.
“Yeah, I never examined him after he showed me his wounds, things got excited there for awhile when he wanted to back out and leave. Hello Max.”
“Are you going to give me any trouble?”
The doctor smiled and gestured at Max to sit down on the cold examination table. The sheriff pulled his arms sideways and put another handcuff on his right arm, the other end he clamped to the rail along the edge of the table. He then went around and used a third set of cuffs to attach Max's other hand to the other side of the table. Max could sit and lay down if he wanted to, but his hands were now attached to either side of the bed by handcuffs. The sheriff took the original set off of him and tucked them into a pouch on his belt.
“Can you draw blood with him like this?” he asked the doctor.
“I have on other prisoners, gag him will you? I want to check for a pulse and heartbeat and don't want his teeth near my head or hands.”
The sheriff pulled a nylon strap out of a drawer, the strap had a small rubber ball in the center of it and the ends were covered with Velcro. “Drop your head.”
Reluctantly Max did and the sheriff put the ball over his closed mouth and pulled the Velcro ends tight behind his head. “Open. Open your goddamned mouth!” Max did and the slightly greasy feeling ball was pulled into it as the sheriff bound the straps behind his head.
“We've had to deal with biters before the zombies ever came along. Now don't cause the doctor any problems, just stay calm and let us see if you are still alive.”
First the doctor listened to his heart, then took his pulse and blood pressure. “He seems to be alive. We should be able to tell if he is infected with a blood sample.”
The doctor pulled out a syringe and looked for a vein in Max's arm, the needle tore a hole through his skin and he watched as blood flowed into the small ampoule. After the first was filled he took three more samples.
Finally, the doctor nodded to the sheriff.
“All right doc, how long will it take to see if he is playing for the other team.”
“I can tell with about ninety-five percent certainty in less than a minute in the lab. Do you want to wait here?”
The sheriff nodded and the doctor took the vials out of the room with him.
“So if I am clean, then what? You let me go?”
“No. No way. You see I checked this morning and your kids were evacuated, but no one had told you anything. There is no way you could have known. So there is something wrong with you.”
“Not in my book. How many zombies have you killed Max? You and your friends?”
“A dozen, I don't know, how many have you killed?”
“None. I've seen the soldiers shoot a few at the checkpoints, but other than that I haven't seen anything. I have been reading the dispatches the military gets and I get faxed information on my own too, through the law enforcement network.”
“So the military hasn't taken over local law enforcement yet?”
“They have, but we are operating as an independent task force, charged with keeping the civilian population in line and out of the military's way.”
“You know, sheriff, me and my group were traveling further south of here.”
“No Max, I don't really know anything about you, other than you are disrupting my holding cell, and somehow managed to know we were moving other civilians out of town today and most importantly you smashed your way through some safety glass with your bare hands without even a bruise to show for it.”
“The glass was weak. Maybe it was a bad batch?”
“And maybe it wasn't. I've read reports of people like you, people who get too close to too many zombies, we are supposed to be on the lookout for them.”
“What do you do with us when you find us?”
“You'll love this, we send you to Des Moines, there is a group there that wants to study you.”
“So you will separate me from my family?”
“Yes. Things are not going well for the country. You might hold the key to stopping this.”
“What if...” Max was interrupted by the Doctor's return.
“He is probably not dead. Ninety-five percent anyway.”
“So it looks like you are going to Des Moines then.”
“What about my friends?”
“They will be tested too. Don't you worry about that.” Then to the doctor, “Document what we have on him, that he seems to be able to sense his family and that he doesn't get hurt when he pounds through safety glass, then let's get him on a truck east.”
“No sir, we are sending people south to board the train, that way we can re-use the buses. You will go by car straight east through Iowa City, then cut down to Des Moines. You should be there tonight.”
Max glared sullenly at the sheriff, “I told you I came from the south, there are a million zombies down there. The people on the buses won't ever make it to the train, you've sentenced my kids to death you son of a bitch.”
The sheriff looked at Max, but didn't say anything as he and the doctor stepped out into the hallway to continue their discussion. When Max yelled louder one of them reached back and shut off the lights before pulling the door shut, leaving him alone with what little light poured into the office from a small window near the ceiling.