Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Spoiler Alert!

Hey! It's been a while since I've finished this online novel. If you're reading this, you may have accidentally stumbled onto the story at the end! To jump to the start of the story, try clicking here!

Advance the story by going to "newer post" at the bottom of each entry.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Epilogue 2

Whether they were students, janitors, tenured professors or postal workers before, now everybody shared the identity of survivor. Every day was a struggle as there were more mouths to feed and borders to watch, and those that didn't pitch in were cast out.

Information slowly leaked in, and survivors under France Córdova's protection started to fill in the details of the wide, zombie-filled world around them. Hiding in the airwaves, between the static, were ham radio reports of cities across the US besieged by armies of undeath. Closer to home, former friends and family members staggered around outside, grey skinned and moaning with hunger.

In the months following the zombie outbreak...

As time passed, Brant honed his skills as a craftsman to help create a cache of weapons for the survivors. Isolated and unable to access modern production facilities, he utilizes his own medieval studies as well as the talents of a few surviving engineers to help design, test, and build. These devices are primitive but deadly, and this helps conserve the group's limited supply of bullets. He also acts as the group's historian, recording and preserving the stories of the survivors as more come to Córdova's group.

Angel Hair
Realizing the importance of morale, Steven quickly organized an informal theatre troupe to engage and entertain the survivors. Composed of whatever talent he can find, he runs practices and rehearsals for a variety of low-tech performances, including a cappella concerts, short plays, and of course, improv comedy. This helps break up the monotony of chores and constant patrols. The other Fools were quick to lend a hand, and once a week together they fight to bring laughter and joy to people- just as they did before the zombie outbreak.

Renee and two other professors were all that was left of Purdue's psychology department. With an abundance of free time and test subjects they went to work trying to answer practical questions about their foe. Studies of zombie reaction speed, memory retention, and even the limits of endurance and perception are carried out in a carefully controlled environment - zombies chained up in a courtyard. In time they hope to answer bigger questions about the very nature of the undead threat.

Nobody worked harder than John trying to move up the command chain under Córdova's regime. Starting out as a shift supervisor for weekend night watch, he excelled and was steadily promoted, gaining responsibility and experience. As the number of survivors grew, he was eventually appointed one of her trusted Lieutenants - the only civilian to ever reach that rank. John also plays forward for the Gold Squad basketball team, currently in last place amongst the survivor squads.

As a biologist, Eric and the other handful of surviving scientists studied the zombie menace under a microscope, trying to answer a thousand questions as fast as possible- from the cause and spread to a possible cure. As a warrior, Eric practiced and trained for combat daily, so that the zeds that took his best friend would not cause more grief. He was the only member of the Fools that actively sought out combat missions, and his actions at the Battle of Wabash Bridge made him an instant legend amongst the survivors.

Andrew's remains were eventually recovered and laid to rest by the surviving Fools. Their next improv performance was dedicated to his memory.

Few people were happier than Ryan to have reached some measure of safety, after all that he and his friends had been through. Whatever the cost, he was content knowing they had food, water, and at least one floor of separation from the ground, at least for now. He'd had enough adventure for a while, and was content to spend time with Jenny trying to pretend they had a normal dating life.

Some time after the Fools settled in, search parties found a team of professors and graduate students holed up in one of the propulsion labs a few miles from campus. A good number of them were from the Aeronautics department, and Ryan quickly joined their ranks as a junior engineer. Córdova wasted no time assigning the group work on a top secret project.

A project codenamed "DZ"...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Epilogue 1

June 15th, 2008
2:53 am
Mathematical Sciences Building - Room 314

T.Rex sat alone in a dark room and toyed with the handcuffs binding his wrists. Sheets of rain hammered the nearby window as he fumed at his current situation.

Just hours ago he'd been peacefully sleeping in some abandoned barn, dreaming of a world free of the living dead and full of the comforts of modern life. He was cruelly snatched from that paradise when the Fools alerted him that they had company just outside. Panic ensued as his mind had shifted to battle mode, planning a quiet and stealthy escape from however many zeds they faced.

It was only when he'd heard voices that it became clear they were not dealing with the usual foe. No, not hordes of undead, but honest to god living human beings. Survivors.

The hope and joy of being rescued vanished as soon as the police forces barged in, lights and guns drawn. The weary group of Fools, caught by surprise, mustered little in way of resistance. They were all summarily arrested, bound, and transported back to campus.

Confusion reigned. The Fools were tired, hurt, scared. The men that found them were armed and well trained, but refused to divulge any information about what was going on or why they were moving back to a populated area full of zeds.

The vans stopped moving, and the men demanded to know who was in charge. As soon as T.Rex stood, they whisked him away without explanation. He had hoped for a quick resolution, and maybe some answers.

Instead they locked him in this room. The former office for some graduate student of the mathematics department was now his prison cell. His only company were dense math textbooks, and he didn't have enough light to read them, so he settled back down in a chair and scowled.


As the sun began to rise there was a knock at the door. "Mr. Garwood?" a muffled voice asked.

T.Rex rose to his feet. "Yes?"

There was a jingle of keys, and the door slowly opened. A young man with short blond hair walked in, sporting the unmistakable blue uniform of campus ROTC. A small name tag on his breast identified him as MITCHELL. "Your presence is requested upstairs," he said. "Follow me."

Mitchell led T.Rex down a dark hallway in silence. As they reached the stairs T.Rex tried to pry some info from his military escort. "Hey Mitch, do you know anything about a group of college students brought here late last night?"

"I've been instructed not to divulge any information to pris- er, civilians, until after they've been processed," Mitchell said curtly as they climbed the stairs. After a full flight he added "...and don't call me Mitch."

Four flights of stairs later Mitchell and T.Rex arrived on the top floor of the Mathematics Building. As T.Rex was led down the hall he passed several nondescript offices. He heard faint voices behind some doors, but the only open one appeared empty and gave no clues as to what was going on.

Mitchell stopped abruptly in front of one of the offices. It was no different from the dozens T.Rex had already seen. A placard on the door identified it as room 816, the office of "R.

The young ROTC cadet stood at attention by the door. "Go on in," he said. "She's waiting."

T.Rex slowly opened the door and stepped into the office. There was a petite woman standing at the far end of the room, facing the window with her hands clasped at the small of her back. She had short, curly, jet black hair and wore a red blazer with a plain black skirt. "Have a seat, Mr. Garwood," the mysterious woman said coldly.

"First, tell me where my friends are." T.Rex said defiantly.

The woman turned slowly. T.Rex's eyes widened as her face came into view. She was an older woman with distinctive wrinkles to her face, wearing tasteful earrings and red lipstick. She looked familiar, and Ryan vaguely remembered a series of news articles he'd read in the school paper...

The woman cleared her throat. "Your companions are fine. I've spent the early part of the morning reviewing their statements." She glanced down at an open folder on her desk. "John is receiving medical treatment, and they're all being held in a safe location. Things you failed to provide, I might add."

"I want to see them." said T.Rex. "Now."

The woman let out a small chuckle. "Perhaps, after we discuss a few things. Now please, have a seat."

T.Rex looked around the room. There were several maps hung on the wall, ranging from Purdue's campus all the way to the entire Midwest. Hundreds of thumbtacks marked different locations, and dozens of handwritten post-it notes stuck nearby. With a sigh, T.Rex sat in front of the desk and glared at the strangely familiar woman.

The woman sat down across from him. "Let me introduce myself, Mr. Garwood. My name is France
Córdova and I was supposed to take over as the next President of this university this summer. That was, of course, before all of this happened," she said, nodding her head towards the window.

"Congratulations. What does that have to do with arresting me and my friends?" T.Rex said, holding up his shackled wrists. I knew she looked familiar, he thought.

"I apologize," France said. "We've come across a number of hostile survivors. Paranoia and hunger sets in, and it makes them harder to bring back here. Back to where I am trying to provide safety, shelter, and civilization for these people. Of course some fear authority since many of them resorted to looting and rioting when society started breaking down."

"Can you blame them?" T.Rex asked. "The zombie threat seems to have left many of these people to their own devices."

France Córdova slammed her fists onto the desk. "Unacceptable! Lawlessness and chaos simply bring us closer to these creatures we seek to avoid. No, people must be punished so that they understand we will not sit idly by and let them tear apart the world when people like myself are trying to put it back together. Which brings me to my next point..."

With those words, T.Rex felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. France Córdova pulled a notebook from one of the drawers and flipped through it before finding a particular page.

France cleared her throat. "Breaking and entering private property. Dismantlement and destruction of said private property. Petty theft. Grand theft. Arson. Countless broken locks, doors, windows, and furniture. Do any of these sound familiar, Mister Garwood?"

I can't believe this, T.Rex thought. "Now hold on a minute. There was no rescue, no police, no signs of help. We were acting in self defense, and - wait, arson?"

"You burned down my machine shop, damnit!"

In his mind, T.Rex flashed back to the machine shop battle. There were crowds of zeds, it was dark and chaotic... what was in those barrels?

"The machine shop was an accident, but you can't be serious," T.Rex protested. "Surely you have more important things to take care of, like, oh I don't know, a campus riddled with zombies!?"

France narrowed her eyes. "I know all too well how much there is to do. While you were hiding away in your apartment, I've put together a team of survivors that cleared this building and two others. We've reestablished a primitive power system and jury rigged a communication suite through which I've contacted authorities. I've sent armored convoys to some of our outlying agricultural research facilities to collect food and supplies for the people here." T.Rex's mouth hung open in surprise and awe.

She continued. "So yes, to answer your question, I have plenty of other things to worry about. And if you're looking for sympathy, you may want to try down the hall. When I arrived home two weeks ago and found my husband ripping my daughter's brain matter out, I had to put them both down with a shovel."

Several minutes passed before T.Rex spoke. "So what are you planning on doing with us?"

France Córdova gently wiped her misty eyes. "I have several dangerous jobs perfect for troublemakers such as yourselves. However, Governor Daniels has taken a keen interest in your stories and has offered a deal through which you may be pardoned."

T.Rex cast a wary glance. "What kind"

A wide grin broke out on Córdova's face as she leaned back in her chair. "You sign over the rights to you and your friends' stories. You would become part of a PR campaign to boost morale and bring prestige back to the university as we struggle through all of this. This is of course in addition to assigned chores, as well as academic positions based on your majors."

Nodding along thoughtfully, T.Rex tried to digest the implications of her words. Morale campaigns? Research? The zombie menace must be getting pretty bad...

France continued. "More than anything Mr. Garwood, I'm offering you safety. I truly believe that there is strength and stability in a coordinated effort to survive. Where else do you expect to find food and water? Electricity? When darkness falls, do you want to find yourself huddling in some abandoned barn, praying for the creatures to go away?"

T.Rex's mind hung on the word "safety", thinking his girlfriend. He'd risked his life, and lost one of his friends, trying to make sure she was safe. Whatever misgivings he had about signing his life away to this intense woman, they took a backseat to the hope of securing safety for her and the Fools. He considered it his duty.

"Alright, we'll do it," he said with faked conviction.

Just then, an aide walked in. She took one look at T.Rex in handcuffs, dropped a stack of papers on the desk, then addressed France Córdova. "We just got a report relayed in. They've just made contact in Denver."

The smile on France Córdova's face vanished. "Thank you, that will be all," she said to the departing aide as she stood and produced a key from a desk drawer. "Mr. Garwood, I'm afraid I have important matters to attend to." She unlocked the handcuffs from his wrists. "Please report to room 722 for your first project."

As T.Rex left he caught a glimpse of the report the aide had delivered. It was titled "Confirmed Infected Report - updated 06.15.08" and had thousands of names in tiny print.

It appeared things were going to get worse, before they were going to get better.

Word Count: 59,119

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chapter 39 - Beyond the Realms of Death

June 14th, 2008
9:45 am
Hillenbrand Kitchen

T.Rex almost felt sorry for any zed they came across trying to escape Hillenbrand. Beard, having just shot his childhood friend being ripped apart by zombies, was a man on the edge just looking for a target for his anger.

It was Cowboy T.Rex was worried about. Nursing a head wound and clutching his wrist, the weaponless Fool was trying to keep up with the others but was constantly wincing in pain.

"Just hang in there, buddy," Ryan said quietly, scanning the area for threats. "We're almost out of here."

The trio of Fools backtracked through the kitchen area and back into the lobby area to find a small mob of zeds waiting for them.

T.Rex narrowed his eyes. Not in the mood, he thought, and joined Beard in attacking the shambling creatures. In under a minute they'd taken care of nearly a dozen zombies with no incident. Beard no longer screamed with rage, but once he started moving he didn't stop until every zombie head in sight was separated from its body.

"Great work, Beard," T.Rex said, hesitantly. Beard just stood over the fallen corpses, breathing heavily and staring off into the distance.

Is he gonna be like this the whole time? T.Rex thought. "Move out!" he said, taking the lead as they headed towards the elevators and the bright daylight.

Fresh corpses littered the ground outside, amongst the fallen enemies from before. Arrows and bullet holes were the telltale signs, but fortunately no zeds were waiting for them as they exited the residence hall. T.Rex raced for the stairwell of the parking garage and held the door open, ushering Beard and Cowboy inside. "Second floor!" he whispered, following them up the stairs.

The three Fools burst from the stairs and out into the second level of the parking garage. T.Rex glanced around quickly - some cars at the far end, and a loose collection of bodies where he last saw Rubble, Angel Hair, Kamikaze, and Jenny.

"You have got to be fucking kidding me," T.Rex said to nobody, throwing his crowbar to the ground in frustration. Beard jogged forward and knelt by the bodies, poking them with the blunt edge of his hatchet.

"Nobody we know here, Captain," Beard said curtly. "They're all grey and ragged."

Cowboy let out a sigh of relief. "Well thank god for that," he said quietly. Maybe they got overrun and had to leave? Ryan wondered. He was pondering their next move when a quiet voice called to them: "T.Rex?"

There was a pause. "Did anybody else hear that?" T.Rex asked, looking around for the source of the voice. Cowboy shrugged, and Beard stopped checking bodies to listen.

"T.Rex? Is that you guys down there?" said the quiet voice again, from someplace nearby. It had a slightly nasal twinge to it.

A broad grin broke out on T.Rex's face. "Angel Hair? Is that you? Where are you?" he said at a volume he hoped would carry just far enough for the voice to hear, but not attract any zeds to their position.

"We're up on the fourth floor!" said Angel Hair.

T.Rex felt a wave of relief. "Be right up!" he said, and motioned his team back to the stairwell. They climbed two more flights of stairs and joined the rest of the group.

As they exited the stairwell, T.Rex ran to Jenny. Nothing else mattered at the moment- he was simply happy to have reunited with his friends. A wave of exhaustion hit him as he collapsed into her arms.

His happy reunion was interrupted when Kamikaze spoke. "Where the heck is Peace?"

Everybody looked at T.Rex.

He rubbed his eyes and sighed heavily. "Peace didn't make it. There was an accident and..." T.Rex's lip quivered as his voice trailed off, searching for words. "He's dead. Not a zombie, thanks to Beard."

Cowboy bowed his head and Beard balled his fists in anger. Rubble and Angel Hair looked at each other in shock, while Kamikaze just shook her head. Jenny threw her arms around T.Rex and started crying into his shirt. For a few moments nobody spoke as the news set in.

"It was a freak accident," Cowboy said, clearing his throat.

Kamikaze folded her arms. "I don't think you should have gone in there in the first place."

"We were trying to find more food," Cowboy replied.

Rubble stepped between them. "Guys, look, I know they were trying to help but-"

"but WHAT?" Beard said, suddenly. "Look. Peace is dead and it's my fault so let's fucking drop it, okay?"

Angel Hair stared off into the distance. "Nobody blames you," he said softly.

"Well maybe you guys should've waited for T.Rex!" Kamikaze.

Cowboy stepped towards her, only to be blocked by Rubble. "Then maybe YOU can think of a way to feed all of us once our Pop Tarts run out!" Kamikaze lunged at Cowboy, and Rubble held them both at arm's length.

"ENOUGH!" Ryan yelled, startling Jenny and the rest of the group into stunned silence. "I've had enough of this. Zombies converging on our position and we're all yelling at each other? Everybody shut up, gear up, and get ready to move. Beard, you're on point."

T.Rex fumbled through his equipment and found some aspirin. He tossed the bottle to Cowboy, who quickly devoured a pair of tablets. T.Rex packed the rest of his belongings and tried to will away his fatigue.

Jenny knew him all too well. "Sweetie, do you want me to carry some of your stuff?" she offered.

A weak smile crossed T.Rex's face at the concern. "Thanks, honey, but I'm fine. Besides, you have your own backpack to carry! Just stay close to me, stay quiet, and help keep an eye out for zeds."

Despite their bickering, the group was drilled in survival by now and wasted no time. With the group assembled and ready to move, Beard laid out their plan. "We'll escape out the North West stairwell to avoid the bulk of the zeds in the parking garage - the stairs are more than they can handle. From there we backtrack through Purdue West more or less along 26 until we make it to the woods.

"We move fast and light, avoiding combat until we're hidden in the trees. Once we have concealment we can slow to a brisk walk, and hopefully put some distance between us and them. Don't get too cocky, though. Just because they can't see us doesn't mean they can't smell us."

T.Rex nodded and pulled a map from his pack. "It's about 10am, sun will set a little past 9, which gives us approximately 11 hours of travel time. Average human travel speed is about 4 miles per hour, so we can make it about 45 miles with no stops or problems. We're heading West, so that'll put us over the Indiana border and into Illinois. If we stick near 26 for navigation, we'll pass Green Meadows, Pine Village, and eventually hit Hoopleston. Somewhere along that path we'll be looking for a place that's deserted and easy to defend, and scrounge as we go. Move."

On his command the Fools plus Jenny set out, following Beard's lead. As Beard led them to the woods, the bulk of the zed combat was handled by himself and Rubble, although nearly everybody had some work to do as they pushed through dense zed crowds. T.Rex was fiercely protective of Jenny, aggressively attacking any zed that came remotely close to her.

When they passed Purdue West they crossed open field at full sprint, drawing the attention of hundreds of nearby zombies. Seeing Angel Hair struggling to keep up, Rubble slung him over his shoulder and carried him the last third of the way at a full run.

They reached the trees without incident, panting and wheezing, with a trail of destruction in their wake. The group paused only to catch their breath, and after a short while Beard ordered them to keep moving.

Marching in silence, the Fools met sporadic resistance. They stayed hidden in the forest as much as possible, sticking close to the road and seeing signs of destruction all around. Homes burned to the ground, cars wrecked or abandoned in droves. The sun rose and the temperature soared, and even in the thinning forest shade the Fools could not escape the humidity.

As they reached a clearing, Beard held out his fist, signaling for the group to hold. Jenny, who was not familiar with such signals, kept walking until T.Rex grabbed her bookbag and stopped her.

The edge of the forest gave way to a large cornfield. A small sign near the stalks featured an ear of corn saying "We proudly grow Beck's Hybrid corn here!" T.Rex looked around and saw nothing of interest.

"Beard, what gives?" T.Rex whispered. "Why did we stop here?"

"Binoculars," Beard called out. T.Rex and Angel Hair both fished out the only binoculars the group had. T.Rex couldn't see over the stalks, so he stood on a rock until he could see over the corn stalks.

Far in the distance a nondescript brown barn stood alone in the middle of several acres of crops. "I don't see any signs of life anywhere nearby," Angel Hair said. He shared his binoculars with the other Fools who took turns observing. Kamikaze broke off a few ears of corn and inspected them before tossing them to the ground in frustration.

Beard shrugged as a bead of sweat ran down his temple. "Thought it might be a decent place to explore, maybe rest a little bit," he said, looking around at the ragged group.

Once more, all eyes fell on T.Rex. His mind raced as he worried about zeds hiding in the tall golden corn stalks. "Do it," he said, led more by his body's exhaustion than anything else.

They crept through the corn field in a two column formation, stopping every time a breeze rustled the stalks. A single moan kept following them, and the sound seemed to always come from just a few feet away. Ryan constantly turned every direction, paranoid that a pair of grey arms were going to drag him away from Jenny, from his friends. Just past midday, the sun poured almost directly down onto the Fools between the walls of corn.

Between the heat and the tension, T.Rex was sweating profusely and starting to feel a little woozy. "Are we almost out of this?" he said quietly, trying to hide his panic.

"Hang in there little buddy," Rubble said from the rear of the group. The Fools kept marching until at long last they reached a clearing. In front of them loomed a massive wooden barn.

"Seemed so much smaller from back there," T.Rex said to nobody in particular.

Beard sauntered up to the door as the rest of the Fools formed a loose perimeter. "Looks like there's an old lock guarding this one, T.Rex."

The lock made Ryan immediately think of Peace, and it felt like a punch to the gut. He tossed Beard his crowbar. "Break it," he said, resting his hands on his knees, shaking.

Beard popped the latch holding the lock from the door and gently slid it aside. Everybody waited for a few moments, listening. Nothing sounded, so Beard motioned three of the Fools in to check things out.

Kamikaze, Angel Hair, and Rubble ducked into the barn. A minute later they sounded "All clear!" and everybody went inside.

Angel Hair led the Fools up a ladder to the loft as they looked around in disappointment. The barn was almost entirely empty. A few rusty and broken farm tools hung on the wall, and a few piles of straw dotted the floor. Still, the barn had shade and was somewhat cooler than outside.

T.Rex set his pack down on the loft floor and curled up on a small patch of hay. "Just tell the guys...I just need to rest just a little bit," he said to Jenny and let out a large yawn.

Within moments he was fast asleep.


"T.Rex!" a quiet voice called out to him. "T.Rex wake up!"

In a sleepy daze T.Rex ignored the voice. It was only when Cowboy placed his good hand on Ryan's shoulder that suddenly everything seemed real. T.Rex sat up and looked around - everything was dark.

A flashlight shined into his face and T.Rex blinked his eyes furiously, swatting at the beam of light. "Ack, what's going on? Why is it so dark?"

"You were out of it all day, man," said Angel Hair, "and now we have a problem."

T.Rex felt a shiver travel up his spine. "What's wrong?"

"We're surrounded."

Word Count: 57,394

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chapter 38 - Exit Strategy

June 14th, 2008
9:12 am
Hillenbrand Parking Garage

Wearily, T.Rex glanced around the parking garage stairwell exit for threats. The only zeds he saw nearby were laying motionless on the grass, having been dispatched by a combination of efforts by the Fools above him and his own.

Those were once students, not so different than me, he thought momentarily. A complex series of emotions was brewing within - a sense of loss at all destruction and horror around him, worry about how far the threat had spread, pride that he'd rescued girlfriend and kept his friends safe (so far), and even a bit of horror that he'd actually put down a few zeds with his own two hands - and how good it felt.

With classes and homework, hopes and dreams, families and relationships...

T.Rex shook his head violently. No time for this - I've got to find Peace, Beard, and Cowboy.

He eased the door open and jogged back into Hillenbrand the same way he'd entered just a few hours ago. T.Rex stood in the lobby and waited for his eyes to adjust to the reduced amount of light, a task made easier as the sun was beginning to rise over campus.
Waiting for him was the familiar stench of death and decay.

The corpses on the floor near the entrance to the dining court were not there when Ryan had first arrived. Some were without heads, others with misshapen lumps where the heads should have been. Also new was all the shattered glass leading to the dining court, and T.Rex assumed that was also courtesy of his friends. He hoped they would be this easy to track elsewhere.

On a hunch, he picked over the glass shards and went right. This led him away from the seating area, now a twisted jumble of overturned chairs and tables (and possible hiding places for zeds), and towards the serving area, full of
buffet-style serving counters.

It was eerily quiet. When the dining hall was open, this area was packed (especially just before opening and closing) with impatient students all desperate to grab a tray and devour their food before staggering off. Now, it was dark and stuffy, with an additional stench of rotting food. Bits of food, silverware, and even a few bodies littered the floor.

Ryan felt his stomach lurch when he neared a tray of what appeared to be meatloaf, covered in mold, with a swarm of flies buzzing excitedly around it. Beyond it, however, was the kitchen and a stairwell that led to the basement. Gritting his teeth, he vaulted the counter and landed directly on top of a puddle of grease.

Maintaining his balance was impossible - T.Rex's feet flew out and connected with a stack of pans underneath a nearby table. They clattered to the floor as he landed awkwardly on his side, grunting from the impact and wincing at the sound the pans made.

T.Rex stood nervously. He feared the noise would attract zeds to his position, so he carefully swept his flashlight beam across the kitchen area. Everything around him was a mess, with plates and bowls, knives and utensils scattered about, with food left unprepared seemingly in mid recipe. There was a rustling sound nearby, but no signs of movement in the kitchen.

There were no signs of Cowboy, Peace, and Beard, nor were there any useful foodstuffs or supplies in sight, so Ryan cautiously picked his way past a dormant freight elevator towards the rear of the kitchen.

Sweeping his flashlight beam across the room, T.Rex scanned for signs of danger. He saw plenty of hiding spots for zeds between and under large stainless steel tables, man-sized mixers, and enormous stove units. A trio of corpses were splayed out on the tile, laying in a pool of brown fluid. T.Rex approached them slowly, partially out of caution and partly out of deference to the odor. He shuddered to think what the walk in freezer must smell like, having been unpowered for several days.

The fluid near the zeds reflected the light from his flashlight, leading him to believe it was fresh and the kills were recent. Very carefully he snuck past the bodies until he reached a single door at the rear of the room. He eased it open and was greeted with nothing but darkness and a pair of growls.

His flashlight revealed a pair of zeds stuck at the bottom of a flight of stairs. Both zeds, dressed in stained white chef's clothing, stared at him with intense desire and clawed up into the air at him. T.Rex watched with amusement as they stumbled forward to get him, tripped onto the stairs, fell down, and repeated the process.

Standing at the top of the stairs, Ryan debated descending into the basement. The risk of running into more zeds than he could handle was a real possibility, and he had no idea if this was leading him closer to his friends, or farther away.

There was a loud bang from below, and the zeds at the bottom of the stairs turned away in search of something beyond T.Rex's sight. Here's hoping that's them, T.Rex thought as he descended down the stairs quickly.

Distracted by the noise, the chef zeds fell quickly to the blunt end of T.Rex's crowbar. He paused at the base of the stairs to scan the area. Over a dozen corpses littered the floor, along with some random appendages and limbs. They all looked grotesque, unrecognizable. Debris was scattered around, and T.Rex's flashlight beam froze on a smooth piece of wood underneath a decaying leg.

He poked the leg aside with his crowbar and the top half of a wooden baseball bat rolled towards him, covered in brain matter.

Shit! T.Rex thought. That's gotta be Cowboy. Another noise, louder than before, sounded to his right. Without hesitation he took off towards the sound, hoping they were still alive. He passed through a few doors, jogged down a maintenance corridor and rounded the corner to find himself looking down a hallway of several unmarked doors. A trio of zeds turned and started shuffling towards him, stepping over and onto dozens more bodies.

With little room to maneuver, T.Rex gritted his teeth and planted his feet. They were spaced far enough apart that they could only attack one at at time, so he waited for them to come closer before springing his attack. He waited for them to lunge with their arms outstretched before ducking back, trapping their arms against the wall with his crowbar and bringing the thick end of his flashlight crashing down on their skulls with all of his might. One, two, three they fell in succession.

Surging with adrenaline, T.Rex picked the door he thought sounded the loudest and tried to open it. He was surprised when it gave way, and even more surprised to a trio of renegade Fools inside looked back at him.

"T.Rex!" they shouted in unison, just as he shouted out "guys!" to them.

They were in a storeroom filled with ceiling-high shelving units. The shelves were mostly bare, save a few cardboard boxes and plastic bins. A door at the far end of the room was broken off its hinges but barricaded by a few shelf units. Beard was reloading his pistol and Peace was crouched on the ground, loading cans into a sack held open by Cowboy.

"We have to get out of here, now!" T.Rex said, waving his crowbar to the door. He noticed a trickle of blood dripping down Cowboy's temple. "Wait, are you okay?" T.Rex asked, wondering immediately if he'd been bitten.

Cowboy nodded. "Got into a fight with a pair of zombies, they knocked me against a cabinet. I'm fine."

"Did you guys find anything?" T.Rex asked.

Beard grimaced, like usual. "We ran up and down these halls trying to find supplies - mostly we just got chased and harassed by zeds. Barricaded one door, but I know there's more of them out there." As if on cue, they heard a groan from nearby - reminding them they were still being hunted.

"We don't have time to look around anymore," T.Rex said, impatiently. He clenched his fists in anger, furious that his friends had left the parking garage in the first place. Looking around, hearing faint moans, he decided there were more important things to worry about right now.

Peace stood up and dusted off his hands. "Cowboy's bat broke fighting our way down here, so he'll carry what we did find, and the rest of us can protect him."

"Good," T.Rex nodded. "Beard, you go first, then me, then Cowboy, and Peace brings up the rear. Let's go."

Together the four Fools backtracked to the stairwell. The hallways were mostly clear with only a handful of stragglers that Beard easily dispatched, but not as silently as T.Rex would've liked.

When they finally reached the stairs, the area was flooded with agitated zombies. With one ferocious charge Beard led the entire group straight into the fray, the tired Fools chopping and bashing any heads within reach.

They managed to reach the stairs intact, much to T.Rex's relief. "Go! Up! Move!" he shouted, encouraging the group to escape the mob of zeds forming behind them at the base of the stairs.

As they climbed the stairs, T.Rex looked back to make sure the Cowboy was managing the heavy load of supplies, when the slightest bit of movement from the corner of his eye caught his attention.

A single zed appeared at the top of the stairs and lunged at Beard, driven solely by hunger.

Ryan felt like time slowed as he watched the creature attack his friend. As Beard grappled with the creature they tumbled towards him, but it was too close, too fast. T.Rex was knocked back and fell backwards against Cowboy. The sack of cans Cowboy was carrying spilled open and showered onto Peace who lost his balance and fell.

Peace cried out as he tumbled down the stairs directly into the arms of the waiting zed army. Without hesitation the creatures attacked, biting and clawing, ripping his clothes and flesh.

Beard struggled with his assailant, trying desperately to keep the creature's teeth from breaking his skin. Cowboy whimpered in pain, laying awkwardly on top of his arm, as T.Rex struggled to his feet.

Screaming and cursing, Peace desperately flailed his arms and kicked his legs against the crowd to no avail. Multiple zombies sunk their teeth into his skin, biting through his clothing in a hungered frenzy.

With a mighty roar, Beard grabbed the attacking zed's skull and wrenched it to the side violently. With a wet snap the creature's neck broke and the body went limp. Beard kicked the entire corpse off the stairs and stood, drawing his pistol.

Peace was losing blood, rapidly. He fought on, freeing one hand and punching anything within reach. The zeds ignored his attacks and continued ripping away chunks of his body, gnashing and clawing without pause.

Cowboy gingerly held his wrist as T.Rex helped him to his feet, only to have Beard push them both aside. Without pausing, he aimed and fired his pistol down into the crowd.

A single bullet flew out and impacted directly into Peace's temple, instantly ending his torment.

T.Rex looked down into the crowd of zeds who seemed acutely aware that their formerly struggling meal had gone limp. They unceremoniously dumped the body on the ground and began struggling up the stairs once more.

T.Rex looked over at Cowboy and saw a blank look, a mixture of shock and fear that mirrored his own feelings.

T.Rex looked at Beard. He reholstered his pistol and stared directly at the crowd of zeds with a hellish anger in his eyes, gripping his hatchet with white knuckles.

"Uh...Beard?" Cowboy finally asked, snapping T.Rex from his daze.

Beard just growled. His face twitched, and a single tear rolled down his cheek.

T.Rex put his hand on Beard's shoulder and spoke softly. "Beard, we need to get going. You did what you had to-" he stopped as Beard coldly brushed his hand away.

Beard roared to life without warning, emitting a terrifying yell that overpowered every sound in the immediate area. With surprising speed he rushed down the stairs and began hacking away at everything in sight - zed hands, arms, and skulls, screaming all the while.

YOU BASTARDS!" Beard yelled as he waded into the fray. "YOU ROTTING UNDEAD BASTARDS! I'LL KILL YOU! I'LL KILL EVERY DAMN ONE OF YOU AND WEAR YOUR INTESTINES AS A FESTIVE HAT!" His face was beet red and his eyes went wide, filled with rage. He swung his hatchet with incredible speed and power, almost every swipe killing a new zombie.

One particularly large zombie turned to face him, covered in fresh blood. Beard hooked it in the shoulder blade with his hatchet and pulled it directly to the ground before decapitating it in one brutal strike.

Cowboy and T.Rex yelled from the stairs, trying in vain to get Beard to listen. Dodging hatchet swings, the two of them finally managed to drag him back to the stairs. Barely able to contain Beard's fury, the three of them headed upstairs to get out of Hillenbrand.

Word Count: 55,336

Friday, December 5, 2008

Victory! (Finally!)

I just posted chapters 35, 36, and 37 which combine for 4,454 words. This brings my total word count to 53,092 words, officially completing my first goal of finishing a 50k novel for NaNoWriMo.

So I failed pretty miserably on the "month" part, having finished [my word count goal] about a year after I started. That said, I still have a few more chapters until I truly finish [the story]. So, loyal readers, thank you for sticking with me this far.

Hang on for the last's gonna be a wild ride.

Chapter 37 - Return to Sender

June 14th, 2008
Hillenbrand Hall - Room 380

"Take that, motherf-" T.Rex said, catching himself as he looked back at Jenny. She stood at the end of the hallway, staring at the carnage with wide eyes. She shook ever so slightly, hands covering her mouth.

T.Rex stood and wiped the crowbar clean on the zed's shirt. "Jenny?" he said, approaching her cautiously. "Are you okay?"

Jenny remained silent, still staring at the zombie on the floor. T.Rex gently placed a hand on her shoulder and turned her face to look at him. She gasped, and recoiled slightly at his touch.

"Sweetie? We have to keep moving, okay?" he pleaded.

"I...I've never s-seen you be so - you just..." her voice trailed off.

T.Rex grimaced. "Look, I only do it because I have to. They will never stop unless you make them, ok?"

"No, I get it, I just wasn't expecting it. I'll be fine."

"You sure?"


"Good. Gimme your master keys, then."

Jenny took the keyring out of her pocket and handed them to T.Rex. He flipped to the East Wing dormitory master and started to key into the nearest room.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"We gotta get something," T.Rex said with a grin as he unlocked the door. He handed the keys back and listened intently for any noise. Hearing none, he readied his crowbar and opened the door. As he entered, he noticed Jenny was just a step behind him.

"Wait," he said curtly, afraid that there were zeds waiting to ambush them on the other side of the door. He slid into the room and checked the closets and under the beds, finding nothing. He quickly entered the bathroom and pulled back the shower curtain with his crowbar. Just to be safe, he entered the adjacent suite and checked it for zombies.

There were none, and T.Rex let out a sigh. "Follow me," he said, loud enough for Jenny to hear. She joined him in the dorm room and looked around, confused.

"What do we need in here?" she asked.

"I want you to tear down that curtain and use it to clean up the broken glass in the hallway," T.Rex said as he patted the nearby mattress with his hand. "I'll be right behind you with this, and then I want you to come back and grab the other one, okay?"

"Where are we going?"

"The elevator lobby."


"The elevator lobby."

"What, are we gonna jump out the window or something?"

"Actually, yes."

"You can't be serious."

"Of course I'm serious."

"Ryan, we're not jumping three stories, even with a pair of mattresses."

"We're not going to jump three stories. We're going to jump one."

"What are you talking about?"

"It's less than a one-story drop from the North side of the East 3rd floor elevator lobby onto the roof of the central part of the building. We'll land on top of the front of the dining hall. From there we dash across the roof to the loading docks, and then we're about 100 feet from the parking garage. Voilà."

She shot him a skeptical look. "What?" he said. "The whole bottom floor is filled with zombies! I ran into a pack of them trying to get here in the first place. This route takes us above it all, straight over and out of here."

Jenny sighed and set to work. T.Rex hefted the mattress onto its side and slid it all the way to the elevator lobby, still listening carefully for zeds. As he waited for Jenny to bring the second mattress, T.Rex set about clearing the glass that separated them from the nearby roof. With several vicious swings of his crowbar, he shattered the pane of glass and cleared the glass bits from the rim.

When Jenny arrived with the other mattress they worked together to stuff the bulky bedding through the impromptu exit.

"Ladies first," T.Rex said, gesturing outside.

"Uh, I think I'd rather let you go first?" Jenny said hesitantly.

"Don't have to tell me twice," T.Rex said. He climbed up onto the rim and hopped over, landing squarely on the mattresses without incident. "Now toss down your bookbag and I'll catch it!" he said, trying to project his voice without yelling to attract attention. He already regretted the noise of breaking an exterior window, but they were committed at this point.

"Here you go!" Jenny said, and launched her bookbag out the window. T.Rex caught it, but it was unexpectedly heavy and it collapsed him to the ground. He recovered, and motioned for Jenny to follow. He glanced quickly to the parking garage, but didn't see any Fools.

Cautiously, she climbed onto the rim of the window and jumped out, landing comfortably onto the mattresses. "That was kinda fun!" she said, brushing the hair out of her eyes.

"C'mon, babe, almost there," T.Rex urged. He helped her to her feet and they jogged across the gravel roof of Hillenbrand Hall to the rear loading docks. T.Rex ignored the nearby zeds and quickly scanned the sides of the building.

"There!" he pointed to a large bin against the side of the building. "We hop onto that container, down onto the ground, and I want you to run as fast as you can to the second story of the parking garage, okay?"

Jenny nodded and followed him down from the roof to concrete. By now a half a dozen zeds loitering close by had taken notice of the duo and had come to feast. They staggered from multiple directions, eyes wide and mouths agape.

T.Rex growled and sprinted out to face the closest one, an older overweight female zed with tattered clothes. He ran just past the zed, ducking under its outstretched arms. With one fluid motion he turned and rammed his crowbar through the back of its skull until it exited through the zed's face face. T.Rex planted his foot on its back and ripped his crowbar out, ready for his next target.

A pair of Asian zeds had decided that the fleeing Jenny was a more tantalizing target. They staggered for her, ignoring all else.

Fine with me, T.Rex thought as he raced after them. He caught up quickly, and shoved them violently forward from behind. Without the motor skills to compensate, the zombies face planted into the grass, and T.Rex dispatched them both with his crowbar before they could get up.

He stood and turned, panting heavily. Another zed was laying in the grass, an arrow planted firmly in its ear. Grinning, he sprinted towards the next zombie, a muscular black zed. As he closed the distance there was a loud crack of a rifle, and T.Rex's target turned to look up at the noise.

Seizing the opportunity, T.Rex ran straight past the zed and swung his crowbar, hooking the zed in the temple and pulling it to the ground, head wrenched nearly backwards.

When T.Rex stood again there were no zombies in the immediate area standing. Worried about the noise of the rifle, he jogged to the stairwell and headed to the second floor of the parking garage. He threw open the door and saw some of the Fools huddling near the edge of the building.

Rubble and Angel Hair were waiting with weapons drawn as T.Rex ran to them. Jenny sat nearby, crying, as Kamikaze tried to comfort her.

T.Rex strained to catch his breath. "Where...the hell...are Peace and Beard...and Cowboy?"

Kamikaze spoke first. "They went into Hillenbrand. Together. They said they were going to try and look for some food in the dining hall while you were rescuing Jenny. They said they would be back before you got here, but that was a while ago."

No! No no no no no! T.Rex screamed in his head. "Are you kidding?!" he said, not bothering to keep his voice down. "Why did you let them - never mind. Just... fuck. This is bad." He dropped to the ground and fumbled through his pack.

"What do we do now?" Angel Hair asked, looking nervously around the parking garage.

T.Rex grabbed his Mag-Lite flashlight from his bag. He looked at the remaining Fools with a mixture of frustration, fear, and anger. "You three: stay here and guard this area. If I'm not back soon, head towards West State Street, and get Jenny to safety."

"Are you sure?" Rubble said. "Maybe we could help you if you-"

"No," T.Rex cut him off. "Nobody knows this building like I do, and I already know it's a mess in there. If you start to get overrun, fall back. I don't want to lose more today than we have to."

He moved over to Jenny. "And you," he said, kissing her on her forehead. "Stay with them. I know I just got you back, but now I have to go help them, okay?"

She looked back at him through teary eyes and nodded. "I love you," she said. "Be safe."

T.Rex took his flashlight and crowbar and ran for the parking garage stairwell.

Word Count: 53,092