Thursday, October 25, 2012

The section of the Interstate where George and Kathy lost their car was adjacent to the western end of Midvale. When they emerged from the woods they were at the edge of town. The Westside of Midvale had seen better days. To their right was a subsidized housing project and straight ahead was the old business district, which had suffered when the malls and big box stores came along. Down the street they could see two of those things that the news stories were calling zombies. They shuffled along as if in a daze and seemed to be unaware of the newcomers. George and Kathy slipped quietly across the street and took cover alongside the old brick fire station, out of sight of those shuffling horrors. Kathy had noticed the roly door at the front of the building was up about 3 ft. Getting to the door would require them to go back around the corner and possibly be spotted by those two zombies, but the thought of remaining out on the street caused a paralyzing fear to well up in George. “We’ve got to get off the street now or we’re dead” he whispered to Kathy. They braced themselves, slipped quickly around the corner and crawled under the door.
                                               The survivors approach the fire station
Some light filtered into the ground floor of the station through the windows and under the door but most of the space was lost in deep shadows. Their immediate concern was to get the roly door closed. With no electricity it wasn’t easy but the door was designed for backup manual operation so George and Kathy were able to force it down and lock it. While they were fumbling in the darkness to find the locks Kathy heard a shuffling noise from farther back in the big room. She turned and saw a grotesque figure that had once been a man limping toward her. She screamed and backed away as George turned and froze in horror. His movement caused the thing to notice him and it turned to move in his direction. George fumbled for his rifle but as he got a firm grip the thing was on him. He managed to get the rifle across his body between him and the ghoul. He shoved the thing back with the rifle and then brought the butt around and smashed its jaw. The thing staggered from the blow and then came on again. George countered with an adrenaline fueled blow to the monster’s forehead with his rifle butt. Its skull shattered, the zombie dropped to the floor and remained motionless.  

George dropped to his knees, cradling his rifle. He couldn’t stop shaking. When Kathy sat beside him and put her hand on his shoulder he flinched and, for a moment looked at her as if he didn’t recognize her. They stayed there for a while and gradually George recovered his composure. At last he offered a weak smile and said “I suppose we’d better make sure this place is secure”. The fire station was old and designed to house a single fire engine. The engine and crew were gone and something told the couple they weren’t coming back. The first floor was simply a large open truck bay. They carefully examined every corner of the space and found a well stocked first aid cabinet and vending machines for soft drinks and snacks. The doors were heavily built and secure. The windows were high enough that it seemed unlikely those shambling horrors could get through them. The building itself was a solidly built brick structure. “We could be safe here until help comes” said Kathy. George smiled thinly and put his arm around her shoulder. He was afraid to say it out loud but he was starting to wonder if there was any help coming.
                                            The shabby west side of Midvale, Ohio
They stood looking at the stairs to the second floor for a few minutes. Finally George took a deep breath and said “Let’s do this”. Rifle at the ready, he led the way up the stairs trying, unsuccessfully, to avoid the creaking noise that attended every footfall. Stopping at the top they scanned the area. The second floor was, like the first, a single open space. It was primarily designed as living space for on duty firemen. Sunlight provided some visibility and Kathy suddenly grabbed George’s arm and pointed to a far corner. George swung his rifle around and a heartbeat before he fired they heard a hoarse stage whispered “Wait!”. George’s hands were shaking and it took a conscious effort for him to lighten his finger’s pressure on the trigger. While they stood frozen in place the figures in the corner moved into the light. There stood a man about his own age holding a rifle and, huddled behind him, two elderly women.

“Uh, Jimmy, my name’s Jimmy” said the man as he slowly laid his rifle on the floor. “This is my mom Ellen and her neighbor Beth.” He took a step forward and George instinctively braced himself, causing the stranger to stop and put his hands up. They were shaking as much as George’s, which somehow helped him to relax a bit. He took a deep breath and lowered his rifle. Kathy stepped forward and introduced herself and, suddenly, except for the pistol in Kathy’s hand and the whispered tone, the group might have been neighbors talking at a backyard barbecue.

Jimmy’s group had arrived about a half hour before George and Kathy. They hadn’t seen any zombies in the street and had left the roly door partly open for light. They were checking out the first floor when they saw a pair of ragged legs appear outside the opening and halt facing their way. Apparently, the noise they had been carelessly making had attracted the creature’s attention. They made their way up the stairs as quickly and quietly as they could while the zombie tried to negotiate the low door opening. They heard the thing moving around down there and they heard the struggle that had attended George and Kathy’s arrival but they didn’t know who or what had arrived.
                                         Gangs compete with zombies to control the streets
The first and second floors of the fire station had been secured but there was still a third floor to be dealt with. After a brief discussion Kathy agreed to stay on the second floor to protect the two older women while George and Jimmy checked out the third. They ascended the stairs, George leading the way. When they had gone far enough to see the third floor they saw one zombie sitting on the floor with her back to them. Advancing carefully, they managed to avoid detection as the creature’s entire attention was devoted to a lump of raw meat it was ripping at with its teeth. George didn’t let himself think what that meat had once been. He swung down hard with his rifle butt and struck the thing on the collar bone. He heard a sickening sound that must have been the bone breaking as Jimmy’s rifle butt hit hard into the monster’s back. The thing snarled and tried to rise supported by its arm but it slipped and fell. George’s second strike landed squarely on its head and it slumped over and was still.

“The head! They go down when you smash their head!” said George. Jimmy had already started crossing the room to make sure there were no more of the things lurking in dark corners. The third floor, like the other two was a single open space. An old fashioned brass pole led through holes in the third and second floors to the first. George began a careful search while Jimmy called down through the hole to let the others know the situation. The third floor seemed to be used for storage. A quantity of canned food and bottled water were discovered, as well as heavy duty flashlights, batteries and an assortment of potentially useful hardware. It seemed they were safe, at least for now.

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