Garrett sat slumped against the back wall of the storage room. The howls of the undead only a few feet outside the door, a stark reminder of the horrifying death that awaited them the moment they swung open the door. The low, blue glow of their lanterns casting a hazy hue on their worn faces. A lifetime’s worth of suffering and horror I less than a decade. He felt responsible for these men and women. They had families once, friends and normal lives. The soldiers, the real soldiers, he commanded were long gone or skipped out with their loved ones. Most were dead, but these men and women were the ones who stuck around hoping to mold a better world out of the ashes of what remained.
Now, they were all going to die in a supply closet in the hospital. Five of them sat in silence. Garrett, Darnel, Rivers, Chase, and Kristina.
“No,” Garrett said flatly breaking the silence.
The rest of them looked up from the floor.
“What did you say?” a woman named Rivers said. Rivers was relatively new to the Authority, but already made a name for herself as a having no fear. No fear because she had nothing left to lose.
“No, we aren’t going to die here. I refuse to die here. Is that understood?”
There wasn’t an answer.
“Understood?” Garrett said between his teeth.
Darnel stood up and checked his M4.
“Alright. We don’t want to die here, and I need to get these supplies back to my son. What are we going to do about it?”
Garrett glanced out the supply closet window and watched as a few of the remaining undead shuffled past. They had been stuck in that closet for nearly eight hours, and help had yet to arrive. He imagined the sun had risen above Mt. Washington. Any rescue party should have come by now. If they were going to survive, they needed to take it upon themselves.
“Do we have any flash bangs?” Garrett asked checking his own pack, but coming up empty.
Rivers pulled two flash bangs from her belt loop.
“These don’t have any effect on their vision you know. What do you plan on doing with these?”
Garrett glanced back out the small reinforced window and counted the shufflers. He guesses a few more were stuck in the patient rooms, but from what he could see there was at least a dozen of them shuffling about minds agape.
“We’re going to toss the grenades to both sides of the wall, the noise and the light should attract their attention. Thankfully for us, this part of the hospital is devoid of any light by refusing to put windows here. Rivers, Chase ease out into the hall and toss a banger in each direction, then push ahead cleaning up any stragglers that weren’t interested in our light show.”
Rivers and Chase eased open the supply closet door and after a few cautious steps, pulled the pin and tossed the flash bangs into the corners. Garrett shielded his eyes as the bang rung his ears and as blinding white light filled the hall. When the last flash dimmed, he saw the undead huddled into the respective corners.
“Go!” He yelled, and they tore off down the hall towards the stairwell.
They were only a few yards from the door when a scream tore through the hall, above the sounds of boots pounding the tile.
Garrett stopped and waved the others past. All except Chase.
“Fucking grabbed me by the damn boot. Help me! For God’s sake help me!” Chase screamed in agony as one of the dead slashed down on his shoulder knocking him to the floor. Garrett lowered his aim and popped off a few rounds felling two as they converged, but his efforts came up short. He fought back the urge to pull Chase from the mob. Globs of flesh and spurts of bloodshot to the ceiling as he entered his final death throes. There was only one thing he could do.
Rata, rata, rata boomed the sound of the assault rifle followed by the sickening thud of lead on flesh. He did not know if he hit Chase, but when his cries stopped, he could only pray that God found mercy on Chase and forgive him.
In the stairwell, the survivors barred the door with debris and an old step ladder. Garrett doubted it would hold for long, but all they needed was enough time to get to the roof access level.
Rivers laid out a hastily scrawled map on the landing.
“These steps are on the opposite end of the hospital. Where we came in was on the west wing of that operations floor. Two floors up from here we’ll have to cross again to get to a roof access stairwell.”
Garrett shook his head trying to free the image of Chase being mauled to death from his mind. It felt like a world away. He had seen hundreds, no thousands, die and yet something about the reason for Chases’ sacrifice, to save a man who could not be saved, punished his psyche.
The pain of a slap shot him back to the reality of his situation.
Rivers stood staring at him. He looked over at Darnel and Kristina and realized he must have zoned out longer than he realized.
“Aren’t infected, are you? Zoning out like that is the first sign of anyone who knows the worst is coming.” Rivers asked lowering gun at him.
“What?” Garrett asked confused.
“Did you or did you not get bit? Scratched? Fucked?”
Garrett grinned at the absurdity of that last suggestion. “No, just thinking about Chase. Sorry, we need to get moving.”
The squad moved deliberately up two flights of stairs taking extra precaution not to attract unwanted attention. As they reached the door, they peered in and breathed a sigh of relief when nothing moved.
“Alright, let’s get across this floor as fast and as quietly as possible,” Garrett ordered.
The squad pushed forward through the halls, but there was something amiss. Garrett saw that the rooms looked as though they had been visited and not by patients, but by someone else. There was a familiar symbol painted hastily on the walls, a set of eyes with a blood tear. He remembered it from somewhere, but couldn’t put his finger on it. He decided not to take any chances.
“Keep a sharp eye out we’re not alone,” Garrett said scanning the rooms.
“Creepers?” Darnel asked.
Garrett shook his head and pointed to the linens strewn on the floor. Creeper was a nickname given to the undead that lost the use of their legs somehow either before or after the end of the world as they knew it.
“No, people inhabited this floor and from the look of it, probably fairly recently,” Garrett said as he picked up an empty tin of canned food and read the label to himself. It was a can of lima beans. Not his favorite, but he hadn’t seen them in years. When the grocers transitioned to steamer bags, it seemed it took canned lima beans with it.
What remained of the squad reached the fair stairwell just as they prepared to head up when the cold steel of a gun barrel pressed against the back of Garrett’s head.
“That’ far enough my man. Drop your weapons and turn slowly towards my voice. Come on, come let’s move it.”
Garrett nodded to the squad and the held up their hands. From the shadows, a single man emerged to take possession of their weapons.
“You don’t understand. We’re just trying to get out of the hospital. Just give us back our weapons, and we’ll be on our way. Please, we don’t have much time.” Darnel said.
The man grinned and flashed is a pistol — a work of art from the old age. An Israeli made .44 magnum sidearm that becomes famous for its ability to knock down and keep down targets with a single strike. Garrett knew the power of such a weapon but doubted this man had too many rounds to spare especially to waste on another human.
“Authority pieces of shit aren’t welcome here, and I’ll give you back your weapons over my dead body.”
“That can be arranged.” Kristina threatened. Garrett had noticed she’d be eerily quiet since they arrived in the supply room. He’d have to debrief her when or rather—if they got back of who exactly these folks were and what they meant to the Authority.
“Everyone calm down.” Rivers interjected coming between Kristina and the angry interloper.
The man shook his head and gestured back to the door.
“That is the only clear way to the rooftop and out of this hospital.” He bellowed. “You assholes ruined it. What the fuck were you doing in Mercy anyways? That is outside your zone of control.”
Garrett stepped forward killing his silence.
“The Authority has complete control of what used to be Pittsburgh. The human parts anyways. Including this hospital and everything in it.”
The man rolled his eyes.
“We beg to differ. We’ve camped out here the past month or two. Not once have your people been seen within a hundred yards of here in weeks. We claimed it for our own, and we were in the process of forcing the zombies downstairs where they could be controlled.”
A laugh spilled from Kristina.
“You’ve been talking up this we for a while now, and all I see is a single squatter with, I admit, a pretty badass pistol, but you couldn’t stop all of us.”
From the shadows emerged the man’s compatriots. A rag-tag, yet heavily armed group. Three with a pump action 12 gauge shotguns, a few assault rifles, and even a light machine gun. These were no ordinary squatters, and Garrett suddenly remembered who painted such symbols.
Blood Seekers. Cannibals. People from the ashes of civilization rose not to try and restore its former glory, but to take advantage of the weak to sustain themselves. Sustain themselves in the most inhuman way possible.
Before the standoff could continue a sound came from the blocked door. Another zombie and another followed them. The doors bowed in, and the growls of the hungry dead roared onto the floor.
“Prepare to defend yourselves!” Garrett ordered.
The two sides ducked into the doorways and aimed towards the stairwell moments later the doors swung open, and the dead poured into the hallway. Teeth chattering and filled with soulless rage, and the zombies stormed into a hail of gunfire. The first wave fell, but more and more came. Garrett kept firing until he heard the horrifying click of an empty clip.
Pulling out his sidearm he stepped out into the hallway and gestured for the squad to head to the door at the end of the hall.
Rivers, Kristina, Darnel, and Garrett, turned heel and ran using the unwitting support fire from the cannibals. The screams of the cannibals being overrun followed the squad until the reached the door. Turning back Garrett saw a few stragglers racing towards the door. As they pushed through, he turned to shut the door, but something kept him from leaving the man for dead.
Instead, he yelled for them to hurry.
“Get in here!” Garrett said slamming the door behind them. The dead slamming into the door and they frantically found something to pry it shut.
“Let’s get to the rooftop. We can sort this out and figure out what to do with you pieces of shit.” He ordered.
The man sat hunched over trying to catch his breath.
“What the hell do you mean sort this out?” He said.
Garrett lowered his pistol and aimed it at the man struggling to breathe.
“What do with a few cannibals of course.”