“Up the stairs gentlemen,” the woman said, again gesturing with the muzzle of her gun. Zach lead us up and we exited onto the roof. The mystery shooter greeted us, his bolt action rifle nestled in the crook of his elbow. He looked to be in his forties, close cropped black hair, medium height and build.
“Nice of you fellows to join us,” he said, extending a hand, “The name’s Mark.”
Zach and I introduced ourselves, shaking his hand.
“That was some good shooting there,” Zach observed.
“Yeah,” I agreed, “Thanks for the help. You probably saved our skins back there.”
“No problem. We could actually use a hand ourselves,” Mark said, “Ellie and I have been stuck on this roof for a couple days now. We both got stuck in that pile-up over there and ended up here. There were a lot more of us at first and we had the whole store cleared out, but they found a way in a few hours later and Ellie and I were the only ones who made it out. I don’t suppose you have any food with you? We didn’t have time to grab any before we ran.”
“Yeah, I think I have a few cans of stew and maybe some granola bars,” I said. I leaned my rifle and shotgun against the fire escape and shrugged out of my backpack. After a little digging, I was able to produce the items in question. I handed a can and a fork to each of our new friends, who accepted them with brief thanks and went at them with gusto.
The woman, whose name Mark had said was Ellie, had been silent up till this point. She had long auburn hair, pulled back into a pony-tail. One knee of her jeans was torn revealing a large scrape which was mostly scabbed over. One of her white sneakers was stained red near the toes. The Berretta was now tucked in her waistband, the hammer rested in a safe position.
Mark swallowed and said, “You guys showed up just in time to help us get off this roof. There’s no way we’d have been able to make it on our own. I just about used up all my ammo getting you boys in here, and Ellie’s on her last mag. That and we have no food up here.”
“Wait, wait. Get out off the roof and go where?” Zach asked.
“Back into the store,” Mark replied.
“Well, isn’t there somewhere safe outside the city? Where is the military? Where was everyone else running to?” Zach pressed.
“I haven’t seen any sort of police or soldiers since the first hours and they all told us to stay in our homes. Looks like everyone took it upon themselves to evacuate. To where, I don’t know, but everyone wanted out.”
I thought for a moment.
“Well, there’s plenty of food down there, we just need to get it. And we have a whole parking lot full of cars to choose from when the time comes to move,” I suggested with a shrug. Ellie let out a short laugh and said, “Good luck.”
“Is there a problem with our line of thinking?” I inquired, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes, there is,” she said, waving her fork at me, “There’s about forty of those things down there in the store, maybe a whole lot more. Not to mention a whole city full of them to stop us from getting out of here. We should just say put right here for as long as we can. The Army won’t just abandon all the survivors here in the city. ”
“We’ll need to get food either way, so we have no choice but to go back into the store,” I replied, “Once we do that, we can stay put. Seal up the store and wait for help.”
“I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer not getting killed,” she replied. I thought for a few moments, not bothering to mention that if we didn’t move we’d starve to death anyway.
“Okay, fine. Zach and I will clear the building. Once we take care of most of them, you two can follow us in and help us mop up and seal all the doors. We can probably sit tight right here for a while once we get the place cleaned out and sealed off and wait as long as we can for help to arrive.”
Mark shrugged, “Sounds like a good plan to me. But all I have is this rifle which isn’t gonna do me an ounce of good in there.”
“Which is why I’ll lend you this,” I said as I pulled off the shoulder holster carrying the Colt, “and Ellie, I have a few nine-mills I can spare for you.”
I dug through my bag, produced a box of ammo and handed it to her. She accepted it without a word, and I noticed a wedding ring on her hand for the first time.
“You two married?” I inquired.
“No,” Ellie snapped quickly and began shoving rounds into the Berretta’s magazine. A few moments later, she continued, “My husband is serving in the Marines. He got me this before he deployed and taught me how to use it. He didn’t like the idea of me living out here alone.”
“I bet this isn’t what he thought you’d be up against,” Zach said with a grim smile. Ellie laughed another short laugh.
“There is one problem though,” Mark said, adjusting the shoulder rig, “You absolutely can’t get in through that door at the bottom of the stairs.”
“Why not?” Zach said.
“They like to bunch up at doors, and there’s a whole herd of them behind that door that tried to follow us up here,” Mark replied.
“Okay, then where’s our way in?” I asked.
“Well,” Mark began, “I see you have a coil of rope there. There’s a few skylights over that way. We can find one that’s over some shelving and you can slide down onto that. That way you’ll be safe to pick a few off and get a good look at everything before you dive in. I’ll follow you down a few minutes later and give you a hand.”
“Hmm,” Zach grunted thoughtfully as he mulled the idea around in his head for a few moments, “Let’s see this skylight you’re talking about.”
Mark lead us over to the row of skylights, looking down into each one until he found one that would suit our purposes. I looked down into the store. About fifteen feet directly below the window was a wide shelf displaying several different propane grill models. The power must have gone out because the inside was only dimly lit by sunlight. I spotted several slumped figures moving slowly through the shadows.
“Looks good to me I guess. We can tie the rope to that air conditioner,” I said. I tossed Zach the rope, “Here, tie that on, I’m going to take the scope off my rifle.”
A few minutes later I had the scope off. Like Mark had said, a scoped rifle would be fairly useless in this situation considering the poor lighting and close quarters, and I didn’t want to get stuck trying reload the shotgun in a hurry. Zach had the rope tied securely around the bulky machine. I slung my rifle and checked the Glock, making sure it was ready to go. I loaded the empty magazines for the M-14 and dug several more loaded mags out of my bag and stuffed them in various pockets on my person. I found my flashlight and donned a pair of gloves so I wouldn’t get rope burn. Zach did the same.
“Mark, you can take that shotgun. Here’s some shells,” I said, handing him the box I took from the squad car.
“And what am I supposed to do while you three are running around down there? There is no way I’m going down that rope,” Ellie inquired.
“Someone has to let us back through the door when it’s all clear,” I said. She nodded in understanding.
“We all ready?” I said, picking up the axe. Everyone replied to the affirmative, so I swung the blunt side of the axe head down on the window, smashing the majority of it in. Several follow-up swings and the glass was clear. I knocked off all the jagged edges, leaving only the open frame. Zach tossed the rope down and took hold of it, wrapping it once around his right hand. He straddled the window, one leg on each side, facing the air conditioner. He took up the slack, leaned back and braced one foot on the window frame. He took in a quick, deep breath, let it out and looked up at me.
“If you fall, I’m not catching you,” he said with a grin. Before I could shoot back a witty comeback, he leaned back, letting the rope slide through his hands as his body pivoted against the frame. He fell back into the darkness and the rope twanged taught. I looked down the hole as he landed solidly on the platform below. He looked up and gave me a thumbs up.
I positioned myself in an identical fashion and let gravity do the work. There was a moment of free-fall followed by a sharp jerk which I did my best to absorb with my arms. I barely had time to get my feet under me before I landed. I bent my knees as I hit the shelves, bits of glass crunching under my feet, and steadied myself. I let go of the rope and immediately brought the Mini-14 to bear. Zach was crouched a few feet away, looking down the aisle. Unfortunately the shelves surrounding us were several feet taller than our perch and blocked our view of everything accept the space on both sides of our platform. I could hear the moans and groans of nearby infected, but there was nothing in sight.
“Anything?” I whispered to my brother. He shook his head.
“Okay, stay close, watch each other’s backs, and this will be a cakewalk,” I said, “We’ll work our way to the front and make sure the doors are secured, then sweep around the edges and check all the entrances.”
He nodded again, and moved to climb down to the ground. I followed him down and we moved to the end of the aisle. The lighting was dim, but not dark enough to allow any surprises as long as we didn’t let our guard down. I led us to the end of the aisle, M-14 tucked tightly to my shoulder and did my best to control my breathing. Zach checked left as I checked right. I turned the corner, scanning our immediate surroundings. Nothing was moving, so I moved down the center of the space, heading for the main entrance. Zach followed closely, keeping an eye on the area behind us. I checked both directions as we passed the five or six rows of products. I spotted infected down every aisle, but none of them seemed to notice us and I thought it best to hold my fire until we got to the front so as not to attract the infected that were spread out around the store.
We reached the checkout area without meeting any resistance. I cut through the nearest checkout lane and headed for the sliding doors at the front of the store. There were two sets of doors and the set on the outside was blocked by a toppled pop machine. With the power out, the doors wouldn’t be able to slide open and the undead weren’t smart enough to pull them open. They continued to pound and push on the glass against the heavy machine, to no avail. The second set of doors was closed as well, but remained unobstructed. There were no infected getting in the front of the store.
I flinched slightly when Zach patted me twice on the shoulder from behind. I turned and he pointed to the shadows along one wall. There was a mob of infected huddled near the end of one aisle.
“Clean-up on aisle three,” I whispered to Zach.
“Wow, Vic. I have to say, that was pretty cheesy,” he replied, but he couldn’t help but smile at my dry humor.
“Well,” I shrugged, “Shall we?”
There were about ten visible, and Zach and I took up positions behind counters to steady our shots. I centered my rifle’s iron sights on the head of the nearest of the group and fired. The head jerked sharply and the corpse collapsed. The entire horde turned and started shuffling our way. Zach fired, dropping his target. More infected emerged from nearby aisles and began following the others, effectively doubling the size of the horde. The group continued moving towards us and we kept them falling steadily until none remained standing.