The normal morning routine had degraded over time. What had begun as a clockwork schedule was now a free for all, as each survivor slept as late as they dared. Ears plugged, they all traded vigilance for the peaceful embrace of sleep, trusting in the fragile security of their apartment fortress.
Ryan took full advantage of this fact as he laid still, eyes closed, on his bedroll. He had heard the third watch come back from the roof, and a few of the other Fools had awoken since then. He could feel the footsteps around him as his compatriots each started the day as they saw fit. Most would head to the kitchen for their allotted rations and water as breakfast, and the grim ritual that followed.
The Zed Check.
A few days into the siege, Beard and Ryan had attempted to make a reasonable assessment of the number of undead outside, at least those within view. If they didn't survive, at least their notes might. It was hard for them to shake a feeling of responsibility to science, even in the most dire circumstances. Besides, it was a way to make use of the morbid curiosity of the Fools as they glanced out the windows each day.
Peering through the blinds, they averaged the estimates of each Fool in the approximate area they could see out of each window, and then calculated how that number might apply across the campus, across the city, or even further. The Zed Count also included a listing of the dwindling daily rations and any other items of note.
T.Rex could hear Kamikaze counting under her breath just feet away, and it made it difficult to concentrate. He needed some time to think, as he'd made up his mind the night before to do a number of unpleasant things. And soon.
The others were undoubtedly living in fear for their friends and family, Ryan thought, laying still and pretending to be asleep. But at least they're far from here, where there's a rapidly decreasing chance they are safe from the onslaught. He could not help but think of his Jennifer, slightly more than a mile away, and yet separated by an entire campus filled with hundreds or thousands of terrifying creatures.
I had honestly hoped - no, counted on - that The Plan would have protected us, he thought to himself, keeping us alive long enough to be rescued. That by now we would've seen the police, a SWAT team, the National Guard, the entire US Armed forces, hell, even campus ROTC. And now, six long days later, we are still on our own. We're in a bad situation, and all it seems like we're doing is depleting our rations.
Ryan was resolute. I can no longer sit idly by and hope for the cavalry to come riding to save the day, trumpets blaring and guns blazing. If fiction is any guide, the military probably has no idea how to combat the threat before them, or worse, they're just sitting around with their thumbs up their asses. No, I can no longer wait. He was going to leave tonight to go rescue Jenny himself - if something hadn't happened to her already.
He allowed himself to be "woken" by an errant foot as the Fools went about their business. Though his mind was buzzing, a mental checklist of preparations flying through his brain, he pretended to be groggy and aloof as to not arouse suspicion of his impending departure.
Still, the group knew him well. Perhaps too well. He couldn't count how many shows and practices they'd been through together, a portion of every week of every semester he'd been with the group since joining in the spring of his Freshman year. Their club was drilled in reading body language and subtle changes of tone in order to act as a team on stage.
Ryan felt as though everyone could see right through him.
It was maddening. He needed time alone to complete his preparations, and yet he couldn't seem to find two seconds without running into somebody. One thousand square feet never felt so small. He tried to convince himself it was the tension of the circumstances that caused his paranoia.
Around dinnertime, T.Rex reached his breaking point. The heat, the same granola bar rations, and the constant pressure of the outside threat was too much this day. The Fools were taken aback as he suddenly snapped. He shouted, ordering them all out of the kitchen. They obeyed, reluctantly, and it pained Ryan immediately afterwards - both because they were his close friends, and because he would be leaving soon.
His pack was close by, like always. The privacy of the kitchen now secure, T.Rex somberly removed nearly all of his rations and placed them in an empty cupboard. With them he placed some of his backup supplies and equipment. He pulled out a piece of paper and a pen, and began to scribble a note:
FoolsRyan placed the note in his pocket and checked his pack once more to be sure it contained the essential items. I sure do have my work cut out for me, he thought with a sigh. First, sneak out of the apartment in the night avoiding my best friends. Then, trek across a mile of dense campus filled with an unknown number of zombies. Once I get to Hillenbrand, break in and find Jenny. From there, we head West and attempt to find more supplies and a place to rest.
By the time you will read this, I will be long gone. I have left under cover of darkness to go rescue Jennifer, and I have done so alone. I have left supplies and rations in the cupboard above the fridge. They will help you last a bit longer, especially with one less mouth to feed.
Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to follow me. I will bring my phone and attempt to contact you at regular intervals. Stick with The Emergency Zed Plan and the preparations we have managed for as long as you can, and then - only then - should you leave to find a new hiding place. Remember the survival guide and trust each other. I leave you under Beard's capable leadership.
He knew it was foolish, and yet, that was never really a part of his plan. The group could last longer with one less person. Perhaps more importantly, he could not endanger their lives - it pained him to imagine one of them getting hurt (or worse) on his own rescue mission, which he considered first and foremost his own risk and responsibility.
Blinking away misty eyes, he went and apologized for his earlier outburst. He suggested that the Fools decided to blow off some steam with the remaining hours by playing some improv games, and Ryan tried to channel his emotion into his characters to better conceal it.
That night, the Fools turned in as usual. Angel Hair and Peace took the first watch, and T.Rex once again feigned sleep. It was his night off from watch, which fit his plan perfectly. He decided to wait until the second watch of Beard and Rubble to make his flight, because it seemed reasonable that those sleeping would be less likely to notice. There was no trouble staying awake, as adrenaline coursed through his body while he nervously awaited the change of watch.
Eventually the soft shuffle of feet on carpet alerted him to the change. He waited a few extra minutes to assure the two were on the roof before silently slipping from his bedroll. Fortunately, the earplugs the other Fools wore worked to his advantage. He stole a few dirty towels from the kitchen and stuffed them under his blanket. It wouldn't fool anybody for very long, so with a quick glance around at his friends he retrieved the rope ladder from the hallway.
Gathering up his survival pack, T.Rex gently unlocked and coaxed the door open, balancing the risk of an errant noise with the fear of a breeze or scent awakening somebody. Forcing himself to not look back, he shut the door and threw the rope ladder over the railing of the stairway balcony. He had one foot over the railing before he suddenly remembered the note still in his pocket.
I almost left without leaving the note, he chuckled to himself. Very quietly he climbed back up and crept in, setting the note under his pillow with a corner peeking out. He exited once more and descended the ladder.
He had one foot on the ground when a hand reached out from the darkness and grabbed his shoulder.
Current Word Count: 26,089