We all met back on the roof a few minutes later, Zach and I lugging bags of food and Mark and Ellie carrying four sleeping bags. They had already dragged four mattresses up to the roof. Zach and I had brought up four folding chairs and a folding table as well as a half dozen candles. After securing the door at the bottom of the stairs, we all picked something from the bags of goodies, then sat down to eat.
I chose beef stew. I popped the top and dug in, not really caring that it was only room temperature. If I had cared, I could have easily found a way to heat it, but I hadn’t had anything to eat since Zach and I left the mountain and the day’s activities left me quite drained. I sat listening to the faint moaning coming from three sides of the building. It was a sound that I couldn’t ignore, no matter how hard I tried. It was a constant reminder of what my world had suddenly become. I couldn’t just tune it out and think of something else. It grated on my nerves, but I reminded myself that we were as safe up on this roof as we were ever going to get and, despite ruining the Jeep and losing most of our gear, we had found other survivors and now had a large stockpile of supplies and a strong shelter. And we were still alive. As long as we had that, there was always hope, no matter how small that hope seemed to be. But, given the circumstances, I assumed we were in a better position than many other survivors, if there were actually any other survivors. However, we were now more or less stuck where we were for the time being. I made a mental note to formulate an escape plan as soon as I had a good idea of what we had to work with. I was fairly certain that we wouldn’t be staying here for long. Either our barricades would be over-run somehow or we would be rescued. If we were over-run, we’d need somewhere else to go and a way to get there. If we were rescued, we might need to fight our way to the rescue party, unless we were picked up by a helicopter or they sent a whole army to blast their way in to get us. I decided a helicopter extraction would probably be the most likely means of rescue. They would probably send out helicopters on patrol to fly over and look for survivors once they had somewhere safe to take them.
“So tomorrow we clear the rest of the place,” Mark said, breaking the silence.
“Yep,” Zach replied, “Shouldn’t be too difficult with all four of us, and I didn’t hear much banging on that door, so there can’t be too many in there.”
“You sure going in there is a good idea?” Ellie asked, “I mean, we’re safe here now, we have everything we need, what’s the point of going in and risking it all?”
“We may need to use it as a fall-back,” I chimed in, “If they somehow get back in the store, we can head back to the warehouse and seal that door. Plus, we might as well clear it now, in case there’s a way in that isn’t sealed up. The horde around the building is getting larger, and right now they seem focused on the front and side doors. So now would be the best time to check the back doors, before they surround the whole building.”
“And,” Zach added, “Who knows what else is back there that we might be able to use.”
“Well, I guess that makes sense,” Ellie admitted. I wasn’t sure what to make of Ellie. She seemed like a smart and strong person, but she had been acting as if she were numb, emotionless. I hadn’t seen her show any sort of fear towards the undead, and when she questioned our plans of clearing the warehouse, it wasn’t because she was afraid of facing what was behind the door. It was an honest, rational question, which caused us to weigh the benefits and risks of what opening that door would cause, not that I hadn’t already. I was glad to have someone who would think twice before doing something, instead of charging blindly into a situation that would get us all killed. I knew Zach and I would always think twice and discuss our ideas before putting them into motion, as long as there was time. I was sure that, despite Ellie’s detachment, I would probably be able to get along with her. I decided that she was probably worrying about her husband, wherever he was, or still in partial shock of the unreal situation that had brought us all together on this rooftop.
As I thought about it, I realized that I hadn’t gone through the same stage of shock that I suspected she was going through. Zach had only momentarily waivered after our initial encounter with the virus. I, on the other hand, somehow managed to get through the first night, the initial danger, with my head on straight and my thoughts flowing clearly. After a moment I realized that it was probably because I had no one to worry about aside from my brother, who had been with me from nearly the beginning. We were the only two children of our parents, who passed on several years before. Our relatives all lived in other parts of the country and neither of us had really kept in touch with any of them. I pretty much lived for my job and as far as I knew, so did Zach. Any free time we had was spent at home or outdoors and, since Zach and I shared mostly the same interests, we spent much of our free time together. I guess neither of us really had much of a social life. Oddly, I was glad now that I didn’t. If there had been someone stuck in the city that I knew and cared about when the outbreaks started, I may have decided to try and rescue them, possibly getting myself killed in the process. My unsociable nature may have been what saved me and, in turn, my brother. Since I had no one to worry about, I was able to stay focused throughout our escape and choose a plan of action that kept us out of harm’s way.
I was sure Zach and I would have no problems getting along with Mark. He was definitely an artist with his scoped rifle, and seemed comfortable with whatever weapon he happened to have in his hands. He looked close to twice my age, but didn’t try to take charge or give orders to any of us. He’d offer an idea and we would all decide together. He would definitely be good have along in the future.
One by one, we finished our meals. Ellie and Mark said their goodnights and retired to their mattresses. Zach and I remained at the table. I retrieved my cleaning kit from my backpack and gathered my weapons on the table. I went through each one, stripping each one down, cleaning every piece as needed. I then lightly oiled the moving parts and reassembled them deftly in the dim candle light. It took less than an hour for me to clean them all, having done this hundreds of times in the past. Zach finished cleaning his weapons shortly after I did. I put everything back where it belonged, loaded all my magazines, and turned in for the night. Zach blew out the candles and stumbled to bed. I laid awake for only a few minutes, staring up at the stars which shined magnificently over the darkened city.
Those writhing, pale hands shot out of the dark passage at me.
Zach yelled for me to look out, but I couldn’t move.
I tried with all my strength to will my legs and arms to move, but I was frozen in place where I stood. I couldn’t get away, and he was on me in seconds. His mouth wide open, ready to tear through my skin and muscle.
His hands grabbed me in a cold, vice-like grip, pulling me to his waiting mouth. His eyes and mouth widened together as he drew me in close.
I bolted upright, instantly awake. I was breathing heavily and felt cold sweat rolling down my forehead. I wiped my brow with my forearm and laid back down, taking in slow, deep breaths, waiting for my heart rate to return to normal. I began breathing slowly, deliberately, taking in a deep breath and holding it for a few seconds before letting it out gradually. It helped a little. After a few minutes, the pounding in my chest had subsided, and I reminded myself it was only a dream.
I got up and shuffled over to the table, where we had a case of bottled water. I twisted the cap off of a bottle and drained half of it in one go. I wandered over to the edge of the roof, bottle in hand, and peered over the edge. Our horde had doubled in size since I went to bed. The stars and moon were so bright I could clearly see the features of the ones nearest to the door. Nearly all of them were average looking people, a few police stood out. All of them seemed to be striving to make it to the door, as if it was the only purpose of their existence. Well, except those at the door. Their only purpose seemed to be to get on the other side of the door. None of the creatures seemed to acknowledge any of the others, even when they were tripping over each other and pushing and pulling on one another to get closer to the door. None of them seemed to take offense when they were knocked over and walked on, they just got right back up and continued moaning and groaning like nothing had happened. All they could see was that glorious door.
I drank the rest of my water and tossed the bottle over the edge. It bounced off several heads before slipping between them and making it to the ground, where it was promptly squashed under foot. None of them seemed to notice it. I went back to bed.
* * *
I awoke again shortly after sun rise. The sun shone through thin clouds on the horizon, lighting them up like an orange neon sign. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, stretched and looked around to see the others at the table eating whatever was left in the bags from last night.
“Rise and shine, buttercup,” Zach said from his chair with a smile, “We got work to do. Grab some breakfast and gear up.”
I wasn’t sure what he had to smile about. Stuck on an island in a sea of undead, I wasn’t sure what there was to be happy about. I almost regretted our decision to leave the mountain. But I hadn’t known it would be this bad. If I had, I would have rather taken our chances out there in the woods. There was no sense thinking about our situation this way, however. Of course we hadn’t known what we were getting into and of course if we had we wouldn’t have gotten ourselves into it. If we’d known, there wouldn’t have been any point to leaving the mountain to find out what was going on. Realizing I was thinking in circles, I shook my head to clear my thoughts, then focused on filling the hole in my stomach.
After a light repast of breakfast bars, trail mix and water, I limbered up for the upcoming ordeal by doing some light stretches, a few push-ups, some sit-ups, and three quick laps around the roof. By the time I was finished, everyone else was geared up and waiting at the table. I grabbed my rifle, strapped on my holster and stuffed my pockets with magazines. My flashlight also rode in my back pocket. I joined the others at the table. Mark was talking to the other two, “So, as far as we know, the only way into the warehouse from the store is that main door on the back wall. I’m guessing it’s going to be pretty dark in there, seeing as there’s no power and no skylights. I think instead of splittin’ up we should stick together, two up front, two watchin’ the back. That way’ll be a little slower, but if it’s dark in there, we don’t want to accidentally shoot each other.”
“Sounds like a solid plan to me, Mark,” Zach said.
“Zach and I will take point,” I offered, “We’re better equipped for it.” Zach nodded in agreement.
“Fine with me,” said Ellie with a shrug.
“All right then,” Mark said, “Let’s get to it.”