Monday, June 30, 2008

Chapter 28 - Labyrinth

June 14th, 2008
Maintenance Tunnels

Peace let a triumphant yell and jumped from the ladder to the ground, skipping the last few rungs. "We made it!" he said, exuberantly.

All seven Fools and their supplies were crowded into a small room under the Machine Shop. The curved walls were mostly bare, holding only dormant track lights and several pipes. Some were insulated, others were not. The ladder above them and a door at the far end of the room were the only exits.

They were in an access room to the network of maintenance tunnels beneath Purdue. The tunnels were something of an urban legend around campus, rumored to have been built for mundane uses like utilities (steam, water, sewage, electric and internet cables) and maintenance (access to most buildings and sensitive structures), or for more exotic uses (for the campus nuclear reactor, as a safety measure during the Cold War, or at least a warmer way to walk to campus). They were also rumored to be unaccessible for different reasons, such as post 9/11 security, unsafe conditions, or even because of dead bodies.

"We're not out of this yet," Kamikaze said in a grim tone as she shined her flashlight beam on Peace.

"Yeah," T.Rex said, "but good job, everybody. I thought we were done for back there. Taking Harrison Street back to Discovery Park should have been the best way to go, the way with the least zombies. I don't know where that bus or all those zeds came from, though. Then once I saw the crowd waiting for us, I made an executive decision to head into the Machine Shop. At the time, I thought it was our best option. I thought we'd find something there."

"We almost didn't get in," Cowboy said, scowling.

"I know, and I think we should all thank Angel Hair for that one in particular," T.Rex said.

"Time out!" Rubble said, sweeping his hands out horizontally. There was a moment of group silence, then "Huzzah!" they all cheered in unison, just like in practice.

"Time in," Rubble said, resuming the conversation.

"So yeah, good work saving the equipment and I'm happy we escaped down here. Now we have to find an exit. Preferably somewhere isolated," T.Rex continued. "But first, lights off and snacks out. I want everybody hydrated, rested, and energized."

"Wait, we have to turn out the lights?" Cowboy said in a confused tone.

"Unless you know the layout of these tunnels, I'd like to conserve battery power until we're out. The room we're in is empty, and we'll stack our stuff in front of the door over there. I'm pretty sure the zeds above us can't even hear us through that cover, much less think to lift it and come get us."

The Fools took turns placing their bags by the door, carefully removing their limited rations. They formed a loose circle on the floor and one by one extinguished their flashlights until darkness reigned.

A few minutes went by without conversation as the Fools rested. Food wrappers crinkled, echoing faintly in the room.

Beard spoke first. "So what was with that barrel, T.Rex?"

Ryan was fortunate the darkness obscured his face. "That was, uh, y'know... improvising?" Everybody chuckled. "Seriously, I dunno. I thought it might have something more volatile inside, or maybe pressurized, and that the detonation might have cleared some or most of the zeds out. When it didn't, I just kinda...froze, I guess."

The Fools continued to chatter, describing to each other the action that some had missed, including the Machine Shop ramp battle, the discovery of the tunnel hatch, and some well placed shots and harrowing close calls.

T.Rex fumbled in the darkness for his own pack and unzipped a pocket, drawing out a strip of cloth. As he listened to the tales of action, he carefully removed the loose, ragged dressing on his arm wound and replaced it with a fresh homemade bandage.

As the conversation wound down, T.Rex addressed the group. "Alright everybody, are we about ready to move? Everybody get some water to drink?" The Fools responded in turn and Ryan was convinced they were all ready. "Somebody volunteer to be our single flashlight for a bit and we'll head out."

Cowboy strode forward and shined his beam right in T.Rex's line of sight. "Pip pip, cheerio!" he called out in a fake British accent.

T.Rex shielded his eyes from the light, blinking awkwardly. "The next time zombies descend upon this earth and destroy our civilization," he said sarcastically, "somebody remind me to pack red cellophane, okay?"

"What the hell are you talking about?" Cowboy said, now interrogating T.Rex with his flashlight.

Kamikaze jumped in the conversation. "If you tape red cellophane over a light source, it's a cheap way of adjusting it so you won't lose your dark adapted eyes," she said. "I do it a lot when I go stargazing so I can read star charts."

Cowboy tapped his temples in acknowledgment, with the traditional improv "ahhhh" to match.

"Alright," T.Rex said. "We go through this door and look for any sort of exit, not just left or right but possibly up. Weapons out and ready, and I want Beard to go last. Keep an eye out for trouble, and don't talk unless you have to. I'm guessing the acoustics in the tunnel are going to be awful and I don't want our voices alerting a bunch of zeds while we're boxed in like this. Let's move."

When the door was opened a musty draft wafted in. The breeze coming from the tunnels was cool and felt like natural air conditioning when compared to the humid summer weather the Fools had been living in recently.

The group stared forward and saw the tunnel ahead immediately split left and right.

"Which way, Captain?" Rubble said.

T.Rex cocked his head and pondered a moment, trying to mentally picture which way the tunnels were oriented. Though he desperately wanted to avoid exiting in the heart of campus, anything was better than the Machine Shop at this point.

He tried to sound confident and decisive. "Left."

Cowboy led the group, illuminating the tunnels with his flashlight. Directly behind in single file were T.Rex, Kamikaze, Angel Hair, Rubble, Peace, and finally Beard. They walked the corridors in silence, scanning the walls for any clues about their location, or for ways to escape the winding tunnels.

The first thing they encountered was a crawlspace on the right, near the floor. Like the Machine Shop door, only Angel Hair and T.Rex could fit, so they kept moving on. The tunnel turned left at a ninety degree angle, and they had no choice but to follow.

They came across a pair of steel doors, one on each side of the corridor. They were both locked, so they kept going. Another fork. Left. More tunnel, and another locked door. Right. Straight. Left. A four way intersection, straight. Right.

The tunnels were eerily quiet. With the power outage, there was no white noise, just the occasional cough or rustle of equipment as the Fools trekked through the underground. Most of the doors they came across were locked, and too strong to force into. They found plenty of pipes or vents for steam and other utilities, but none for people to travel in.

Straight. Left, left, right. Fork right, straight, fork left.

T.Rex tried to keep up with the twists and turns, but a voice in his head knew he was basically guessing at this point. In the dark, the tunnel sections all looked very similar. He estimated they were probably under Matthews Hall when he felt a tap on the shoulder.

"I think I hear something," Kamikaze whispered.

"Halt," T.Rex hissed, and the group waited nervously.

The faintest tapping could be heard somewhere nearby, having been obscured by the footsteps of the group. It was irregular and did not sound mechanical.

T.Rex pointed toward the sound, and the group advanced slowly, weapons ready. As they rounded a corner, the tapping bled into a thumping sound.

A single door was the only feature of a long section of tunnel ahead. "That has to be it," T.Rex whispered.

This is like something out of a horror movie, Ryan thought. Still, it could conceivably be a person trapped in there that we might help. Probably a zed, though. At any rate, if we get in there we might be able to find something of value. Weapons, an exit, a map, or something.

T.Rex held up seven fingers, three on one hand and four on another. He motioned them apart and looked at the group, and the Fools nodded in recognition. He flashed the three hand and pointed to Beard, Peace, and Cowboy. He flashed the four hand and pointed to himself, and then Kamikaze, Rubble, and Angel Hair. He waved the first group to the far side of the door and motioned for the second group to take up a position opposite.

The Fools stood ready, weapons drawn and ready to strike. "I think it's a zed, but don't attack until we're sure," T.Rex whispered to the Fools. He looked at both squads one last time, waiting for any signs from the Fools. There were none, so he slowly reached his arm out.

Gingerly, he grabbed the door handle. He twisted, expecting it to be locked like every other door they'd encountered. It gave slightly, so T.Rex twisted a bit more and the door flew open violently, hitting him with enough force to knock him backwards.

T.Rex's head hit the ground, and the last thing he remembered seeing was a large, overweight zombie wearing coveralls.

And a yellow hard hat.

Current Word Count: 38,239


  1. “Kamikaze said in a grim tone as she shined her flashlight beam on him.” – I forgot who the “him” was
    “At the time, I though it was our best option.”
    “I'm guessing the acoustics in the tunnel are going to be awful and I don't want chatter alerting a bunch of zeds while we're boxed in like this. Let's move."” – Three words, Zombies With Sonar….every bit as scary as a cross between a snow orca and a barn owl…maybe not quite that scary
    “The air coming from the tunnels was cool and felt like natural air conditioning compared to the humid summer air the Fools had been living in recently.
    “The group stared ahead and saw the tunnel ahead immediately split left and right.”
    “Another fork. Left. More tunnel, and another locked door. Right. Straight. Left. A four way intersection, straight. Right.” – you broke my mental map

    Live Ryan,LIVE!!!

  2. i bet jenny is glad to see you've changed that arm bandage.

    but seriously...this chapter is good. I'm picturing how freaky it would be...but also how awesome to be at a part of campus that few people have ever seen.

    as an added bonus few people ever seeing it means fewer zom encounters.

    keep up the good work

  3. @ AH

    As always, thanks for catching those. It feels like I keep coming up with new problems, and this chapter it was "redundant words".

    Fun fact: you forgot the "him" because the two paragraphs describing the tunnels [mainly for people not so familiar with Purdue] weren't part of my original draft.

    Zombies With Sonar are at least as scary as an Owlca.

    Also, good. I intentionally confused myself, hoping the readers would also be confused.

    If you want me to live, you'd better get your ass in gear and save me!

    @ Mike

    I don't think I told Jenny I used her idea for that bandage thing...

    Thank you very much! I have a deep desire to explore the Purdue tunnels myself, so I'm sort of living vicariously through my writing.

  4. Betcha there's a level 3 sentry behind him.

  5. Armored zed!

    Fun fact: the CAPTCHA I'm supposed to type so Blogger lets me post sounds kind of like a zed. gqnmuh!

  6. @ Paul

    Unintentionally armored, but yeah.