June 14th, 2008
Beard glanced around the corner of the control tower, surveying the situation. The rest of the Fools waited anxiously, lined up against the back of the building with weapons drawn.
T.Rex tried to keep his focus on the task at hand - helping guide the Fools through the hostile airport area, en route to Hillenbrand Hall. However, the closer they got to their destination, the harder he found it to concentrate on anything but worrying about Jenny. He wondered if she was hurt, or even still alive. Or worse, a zombie.
"Let's do this," Rubble said, clapping his hands on T.Rex's shoulder. Ryan looked around and saw that he'd been a bit too involved in his thoughts - the rest of the Fools were following Beard at a brisk jog across the airport taxiway. Together, he and Rubble joined them until the entire group paused behind another airport building.
"Two more buildings," Beard warned the group, "and then we're gonna make a mad dash for the treeline. Got it?" Beard looked back at the Fools, who all nodded in succession.
T.Rex nervously adjusted the grip on his crowbar and glanced around. The Fools were holding their ground in an alley between the control tower building and the featureless backside of a large hangar. The group shifted nervously, like a pack of animals expecting an ambush. Ryan knew their path would take them through the main taxiways of the airport before they'd reach the relative safety of the treeline.
Beard crept to the edge of the hangar and peeked around. He quickly turned back and grimaced, before motioning the Fools onward with a violent motion. "Just keep moving!" he hissed as each Fool turned the corner to the previously unseen airport grounds.
T.Rex followed his friends into a haunting scene. The mixed fleet of aircraft owned and operated by the University - normally secured and stored in neat rows by the checklist minded pilots - were gone. In their place was a graveyard of fuel spills and tie-down straps blowing in the wind. Just shy of the entrance ramp to the runway were a pair of high wing aircraft in a mangled heap.
Most likely two pilots tried to jockey for takeoff once the zed invasion was apparent, T.Rex surmised. Power outages at the control tower probably didn't help with communication, either. He could see other signs of ill-conceived departures: broken hangar doors, seats and other non-essential gear tossed aside. One aircraft at the far end of the runway had run out of room before reaching takeoff speed; personal effects strewn about the wreckage indicated the pilot tried unsuccessfully to escape with more than his life.
"C'mon!" Peace whispered, and T.Rex shook his head clear of the CSI-analysis of the airport grounds. They were halfway to the trees when a single zombie flopped out of a nearby airplane and lurched for them. It moaned softly as it plodded forward, still about 15 yards from the group. In a split second Ryan weighed the idea of stopping to silence the lone straggler to cover their exit versus the threat of being caught up in an energy-draining fight with more.
Twang! Rubble's bow sounded as a single arrow flew out and sunk deep into the zed's face. The monster fell over backwards onto the concrete, its face contorted into the closest approximation of a look of surprise it could manage. Most of the Fools glanced over to admire the marksmanship before continuing on, arranged in a loose line formation.
The group paused once more at the edge of an outbuilding to regroup. All were panting to some degree except Beard, who gave a quick glance ahead before signaling to move again. The Fools continued on, crossing over the railroad tracks that marked the Northern airport boundary. They were a soccer field's length from the treeline when Angel Hair's ankle gave out.
"Ack!" Angel Hair cried out in mid-stride, flopping onto the ground. His weapon slid away in the grass but his pack stayed on. Without hesitation Rubble and Kamikaze handed off their weapons before scooping up Angel Hair and continuing to make for the trees. Like a well-oiled machine, Peace grabbed the errant pool cue and did a quick spin, checking for threats. Together, the entire group of Fools managed to hobble to the edge of the forest before stopping to catch their breath.
Gently Rubble and Kamikaze lowered Angel Hair to the ground before joining the rest of the group in a protective circle around him. They all were turned to face the forest around them. "Are you okay?" T.Rex asked over his shoulder between breaths.
"That's the first time I really put a lot of strain on my ankle since I fell on the rooftop," Angel Hair said with a wince, "but I think it might be okay if I can give it some rest." The Fools looked at each other, worried.
We all could use some rest, T.Rex thought, but we don't have time to sit and wait for Angel Hair to get better, nor do we have much in the way of treatment. Sitting around is just going to make us vulnerable, anyway.
Rubble shrugged and placed his equipment on the ground. "C'mon, little buddy," he said, and effortlessly hoisted his friend on his back. Rubble spoke calmly: "If somebody can carry our stuff and we stay out of trouble, I can carry him for a bit."
T.Rex made an executive decision to distribute some of the medicine they'd taken with them from the apartment fortress. He gave a pair of aspirin tablets to Angel Hair and ordered everyone to take a hydration break before setting out into to the woods.
Cautiously the Fools picked their way through the trees, staying close enough to maintain a course parallel to the edge of the woods but far enough in to stay obscured - or so they hoped. They were arrayed in a loose diamond formation, with Beard on point and Peace just behind, Angel Hair piggybacked with Rubble between Kamikaze and Cowboy, with T.Rex bringing up the rear. They traveled in relative silence, only whispering when necessary.
Without thinking about it, the Fools had begun to truly move and act like a single entity as they trekked through the woods. They were reaching a sort of group mind consciousness that was the hallmark of their best performances on stage, and T.Rex noticed. Like in the tunnels, they'd periodically pause to listen for the sounds of danger, to make sure the sounds of their walking wasn't concealing a stalking zed.
The Fools came across a small red sedan that had careened into the forest, flattened some shrubbery, and came to rest embedded at an angle in the trunk of a large oak. T.Rex was incredibly confused for a moment until he realized that St. Route 26 ran through this portion of the woods. With concentration he could make out the paved asphalt a few yards ahead through the trees. They were all so used to the sounds of cars and civilization that the road had simply snuck up on them.
Crossing the road and avoiding the car meant heading deeper into the woods, so the Fools very cautiously followed Beard's lead and backtracked a bit into the trees. Once they reached the edge of the forest farther in, they ran as a group across the road and waited on the other side for any response to the flight. There was none, so they continued on and moved back towards the edge of the forest, closer to Purdue's campus.
On the way T.Rex could see across the road to the wrecked sedan- from the different angle he could see the entire passenger side window was shattered, and a bloody smear coated the entire door. A Papa John's delivery sign lay on the ground near the vehicle, jarred loose from the impact. T.Rex wondered if the delivery person had tried to flee an overrun store, or perhaps swerved to avoid a shadow in the night en route to a delivery, or something worse.
The other side of SR 26 was much more active, and the Fools heard moaning and shuffling in nearly all directions. Still, they reached the Eastern edge of the woods without any encounters. They paused, and T.Rex strode to the front to address the Fools.
"I don't think I have to tell you that this next part is crucial," he began, "but we're very close to Hillenbrand. We have to cover a lot of open ground to get past Purdue West, and then we'll make for the parking garage just behind the residence hall. Questions?"
The Fools were tense, alert, and ready to go. Nobody objected, and T.Rex signaled for the group to move. They burst from the woods and jogged across McCormick Road, heading for the parking lot behind the Purdue West Shopping Center.
Most of the cars were missing from the parking lot, so Beard motioned for them to continue on rather than try and pause behind the sparse cover. They reached the complex and paused, resting against the front of a for-rent office space. T.Rex saw a handful of shapes nearby beginning to stir, no doubt zeds looking for their next meal.
Just then the pane of glass the Fools were resting on wobbled with a loud bang and the group spun, nearly losing Angel Hair in the process. A trio of zombies pressed themselves against the glass trying to get to the Fools, dragging their fingers against the glass with such force that their decaying skin began to slough off. The screams of the zeds were muffled by the glass and the surprised screams of the Fools in response.
"MOVE!" Beard said, and the Fools took off after him. They rounded the corner and sprinted through the shopping complex, the sounds of glass shattering in the distance. They ran faster, striking down a pair of skinny zeds in track jackets in their way. With the path clear they ran out into the early daybreak and across McCutcheon Drive. They didn't stop until they were in the shadows of the ground floor of the parking garage.
Panting, T.Rex began to walk up the ramp to the second floor, determined to finish the job they'd started. The rest of the Fools followed him, exhausted from their sprint from the woods. Angel Hair had to duck to fit under the parking garage pipes. It was only when they reached the second floor overlooking the rear entrance to Hillenbrand that T.Rex stopped and dropped his equipment on the floor.
"I'm going in there," he said, pointing to the residence hall, "and I need you guys to wait here for me while I go rescue Jenny." He paused to catch his breath, and the entire group objected.
"What about the buddy system!?" Rubble said.
"What if you get lost?" Cowboy asked.
"Or surrounded by zeds?" Beard snorted.
T.Rex waved his hand and cut them off. "No. I'm doing this alone. I know the building better than anybody, and I've worked there and lived there longer than most of you have been Fools. Another person is just going to slow me down and make too much noise if I have to change plans on the fly, and I may need to squeeze through some pretty small spaces. I'm going to run in, break or kill anything in my way, grab my girlfriend, and then meet you back here. I need you all to cover me and make sure I- we have a safe exit. Got it?"
Ryan expected the group to object, possibly to the point where he would have to stay and they would go rescue Jenny. Instead, they slowly nodded and one by one raised their hands in salute.
He slowly picked up his crowbar and returned the gesture with his free hand. He took off, jogging for the garage stairwell. He looked back and saw Rubble counting his remaining arrows. Kamikaze grimly picked up Ryan's rifle and glanced through the scope. They would cover his assault on Hillenbrand while the rest of the Fools armed up, ready to defend their garage spot from any and all threats.
As T.Rex reached the door to the stairwell his mind was racing.
How the hell am I gonna pull this one off?
Word Count: 45,300