– 1 –
This is the way the world ends – not with a bang or a whimper, but with zombies breaking down the back door.
When the lights first went out, filling the former classroom with frightened gasps, I hadn’t thought much of it. With almost constant blackouts, we were lucky to have power at all.
Then the emergency sirens started wailing.
Even though it was well after midnight, I laid wide awake on my cot, still fully clothed. I jumped up and ran to the large windows. Armed guards and barbed wire lined the perimeter, but when I looked out the window into the night, I couldn’t see any soldiers. Bright flashes lit up the darkness as guns fired, but I couldn’t hear anything over the sirens.
Chaos enveloped the room behind me. Once, not that long ago, this had been an ordinary high school. Now the government kept the uninfected stashed here, quarantined off from the zombies.
I shared the room with twenty-five other girls, ranging in age from ten to twenty. To prepare us for the possibility of an attack, some government officials had set up weekly training with arbitrary safeguards. Now the girls did as they had been taught, propping the army regulation cots on their sides to block the windows and doors.
A girl pushed me out of the way and shoved her cot towards the nearest window, as if it would protect us any better than the glass. It’d do about as much good as the “duck and cover” method against a nuclear bomb, but it was better than nothing.
A loud crash echoed over the sirens, and the building actually trembled.
“They’re inside!” Someone shrieked, and my heart skipped a beat.
My little brother was in another part of the building, set up in a makeshift medical center, and I had to get to him. Private Beck might be with him, but I couldn’t bank on that.
At the thought of Beck, my heart wanted to panic further, but he could take care of himself. Max, on the other hand, needed me.
I grabbed my messenger bag, containing the few earthly possessions I still had, and ran towards the door.
“What are you doing?” Sommer asked. Even though she barely stood five feet tall, she had been chosen to guard the door.
“Getting out of here.” I pulled the cot away from the door. It moved easily for me, and I couldn’t imagine what it would do against intruders.
“Where? Why?” Her voice quivered, and her eyes darted around the room.
I glanced back at the room, full of girls without any real way to protect themselves, and I grimaced. Leaving them stranded like this made me feel guilty, even though I couldn’t do much for them. Part of me wanted to stay, to help if I could, but my brother Max was my top priority.
“I have to get my brother,” I said simply. “Just stay here. Lock the door behind me, and don’t let anyone in.”
When I opened the door, there were a few protests, as if I might let zombies in along with the draft. Nobody tried to stop me, but they were too busy blockading the room. I didn’t blame them.
The dark hallway appeared deserted. Every room on the floor was full, mostly with kids like us, but no one else ventured out. By the sounds of far off screaming, it was for good reason. I heard noises, but the echoing halls made it impossible for me to tell where they came from.
Guns fired, men yelled, things crashed, and – most disturbingly of all – I could hear the familiar death groan the zombies made. Like a low deep rattle and a desperate howl mixed together.
The lights flickered for a moment, then shut off again completely
“Wait!” Sommer said behind me.
She crept out of the room after me, with Harlow trailing at her heels, and I glared back at them. Sommer contained all the nervous energy and usefulness of a chipmunk. Harlow was only thirteen and slept on the cot next to mine, which is probably why she followed me out.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“We’re going with you,” Harlow replied.
Blond hair fell into her frightened eyes, but her voice stayed even. She was loyal to a fault, and I didn’t want her traipsing after me and getting herself killed.
“Go back inside.” I gestured to the door. “You’ll be safer in there.”
“No, I don’t want to be a sitting duck,” Harlow said, barely audible over a distant scream. It sounded human, blood curdled and terrified. Sommer paled.
“Fine.” I shook my head. “But run if I tell you to run, okay? You gotta listen to me.”
Harlow nodded, and I turned and walked down the hall. I should’ve stopped and made them go back. Leaving the safety of the room could get them killed, but then again, so could staying behind. At least this way they could run.
An emergency light flickered dimly in the stairwell, so I went that way. The death groans only got louder as we got closer, but it would be better to run into the zombies in the light than having them sneak up behind us.
The battered lockers lining the halls were plastered with posters, all of them reminders about how to protect against the infected. Most of them were just graphics explaining the emergency procedures – board up the windows and doors.
That was the only real advice about dealing with zombies. Just keep them away, because if they bit you, you were as good as dead. Getting infected was far too easy, even if the zombies didn’t kill you.
When we reached the stairwell, I leaned over the rail. The landing below had three dead zombies and one dead soldier. They had already made it this far into the quarantine.
Harlow gasped when she saw the bodies, but I’d learned to keep my reactions to myself. The coast looked clear for the time being, so I went down the stairs, stopping at the landing. The zombie bodies were mangled with bullets, their weird blood splattered all over everything.
The zombies weren’t really zombies, at least not the kind that rose from the dead and wanted only brains. They were regular people who had been infected with the lyssavirus genotype 8. A mutation of the rabies virus, it only infected humans, and it turned them into something completely monstrous.
Within a day of being exposed, people would begin having symptoms. Headaches, fever, nausea. Then they’d start hallucinating and getting paranoid and aggressive. Within three days, they’d be angry and violent - incapable of rational thought.
The virus overdosed them with adrenaline so they were crazy strong. Worst of all, they’d be insatiably hungry and eat anything, including dirt and other people.
The plan was to quarantine all the uninfected and let the virus run its course. If nobody else got sick, within a month or two, every infected person should be dead. That’s what they promised when we moved in here.