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


  1. Finally someone dies...too bad he won't come back as a zed though. I'd wanna see you guys put him on a leash with his arms and jaw cut off just to keep him around ;)

  2. Dragging someone who's filled with rage and wielding a hatchet? That's pretty hardcore.


  4. Aha! I knew you were gonna kill me! I knew it!

  5. @ Scott
    WHAT is your fascination with members of this story becoming zedified? That's messed up!

    @ Paul
    I have to believe in my heart of hearts that Beard, even in a berserker rage, wouldn't hurt one of us.