“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”
– Bob Dylan, “All Along the Watchtower”
Her vision came in patches of light and darkness as consciousness ebbed in and out. Windshield wipers slashed at the snow. Trees rushed past. The faces, however, the faces were the worst. They appeared suddenly, eyes wide with madness instead of terror and were gone with a loud thump that shook the SUV’s entire frame. It shook Katie too, but she found no energy for fear, for anxiety, for remorse. She could only lay there, barely moving. Drawing a breath was hard enough.
Antiseptic. She smelled antiseptic. The odor was strong and stung her nose. It overpowered everything. She lifted a hand, her left hand, and saw it was wet with it. Her face too. The taste of it was on her lips.
The voice was familiar. A man’s voice, strong and clear, yet soft in tone. It was her dad’s voice. Her dad was driving. He’d rescued her. From what? She couldn’t remember and thinking about it was exhausting.
“No,” she said in response, closing her eyes. ‘No’ was easier to say than ‘yes’ but she couldn’t figure out why.
“We’re almost there, hang on.”
She tried to nod, but the moment she leaned her head forward, the darkness reached up and swallowed her.
At first, the dreams were chaotic and visceral. They were full of teeth, blackened gums and glassy eyes but soon they solidified into Samantha Evans. She sat next to her in the locker room before gym class and was offering Katie her hair band. Katie reached out for it but something was wrong with Samantha. Her hands were gray, the flesh cracked and peeling. When Katie looked up into her face, the eyes were sunken, the lips pulling back over yellow teeth. Katie screamed and Samantha’s head exploded, the shards of her skull ripping through Katie’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry!” she said and the dream was suddenly gone. Large, strong hands were lifting her, carrying her but she couldn’t see where. Her eyes refused to open. She was just so tired. She heard the sound of boots on stone, the creak of a door and then the smell of cut pine. It reminded her of summers with her dad, at the cabin, when they’d hunt and fish together. Good, happy times.
“Katie, can you hear me?” Her dad’s voice.
“Tired,” she managed to respond.
“We need to get to the bunker, but we can’t take the car there and I can’t carry you both. I’m going to give you a shot. It will wake you up. Just do what I say and everything will be all right. Do you understand?”
Katie could just make out a shadow looming above her. The words all swam around in her head. Where was she? Why was she there? Samantha… no, Lindsay. Lindsay Volk was with her. Was she all right? She’d been injured. They were both injured… weren’t they?
She felt a pinch and something cold slid through her left leg. Her leg turned to ice and within moments the freezing sensation ran straight through her. It was as if she’d been dumped in ice water. Every muscle came alive, her heart pounding with sudden invigoration. She cried out and sat up, the pain in her shoulder dwarfed by the sudden influx of energy.
Her vision snapped into sharp focus. She was in a large room, the walls made of stacked wooden logs, the rafters above open and spacious. She was in her dad’s cabin after all. Lindsay was slumping on the couch, eyes open but unfocused. Her father was standing at Katie’s side, his face full of worry. She saw he had a few days of stubble on his face. That was odd. He was a military man, even retired. He never let himself go for even a day.
“Katie, we need to move. Do you understand?” he said, his voice quiet but urgent.
The memories flooded in and suddenly she remembered everything. The bus trip in, the ice storm, Lindsay’s car, the crash and the attacks. She remembered Samantha most of all, laying in the woods with her head blown open.
She turned her gaze on her father. He was wearing one of his old army jackets and had a shotgun over his shoulder on a strap. There was a pistol strapped to his right leg. It was like when they were practicing or when they were teaching others.
“Dad? What’s happening?” Her voice was shaky, her whole body buzzing. She needed to move, to run, anything. Without waiting for him to answer, she slid off the dining room table where she’d been laying and looked around for… for what? Her father’s hand on her good arm stopped her and he gently turned her towards him.
“I don’t know, not for sure. But we need to get to the bunker, right now. Can you walk?”
Her legs felt okay, even if they were a little shaky. The protruding glass in her right shoulder wasn’t bleeding and she hardly felt it now, so she nodded.
“Good,” he said and picked up a black backpack and held it out for her. “Can you carry this?”
Katie reached out and took the bag in her left hand and carefully slid it onto her shoulder. Pain ran deep beneath the surface of her shot-induced high, but she was able to keep a hold of it. “Yeah,” she said. My Bug Out bag, she thought. Holy shit. She knew it was serious, knew that something horrific was happening in town but if her father was going to the bunker and grabbing the Bug Outs, that meant he thought it was a catastrophe.
The next minute was a flurry of activity as her dad grabbed another pack just like hers and slung it on and then picked up Lindsay. Her friend was conscious but groggy and reached a hand out to her. Katie took it with her left hand and squeezed. “It’s going to be okay,” she said, hoping it was true.
“My… mom… will worry.”
“We’ll call your mom soon,” Katie said as they moved through the cabin to the back door. Her father got it open and then stepped out into the cold again.
“Katie, the power,” her dad said.
Turning around, Katie found the metal box to the right of the back door. Pulling open the lid, she pulled the kill switch to the cabin’s power. Everything within went dark. Leave no trail, no sign. Her father’s lessons were there and Katie found them comforting. He was ready for things like this. They were going to be okay.
The bunker was almost half a mile into the woods behind the cabin. Be close, but don’t be obvious. She knew they were close when she spied solar panels suspended in the canopy above. While not hidden, the panels were hard to spot if you weren’t looking for them. The fir trees were thick here.
The snow was deep here and barely disturbed. It wasn’t long before Katie found her new energy flagging. Her heart was hammering in her ears and her hands felt like they were on fire. She shivered uncontrollably as they waded through the snow and underbrush. Just when she thought she would collapse, she heard the soft click of a metal lock. The snow shifted just ahead of them, falling away as the bunker’s door lifted up from the ground. That’s new.
“Powered garage door opener,” her dad said with a grin over his shoulder. “Thought it might come in handy.”
The door exposed a narrow stairwell of concrete and a heavy metal door at its base. It descended roughly ten feet, though Katie never knew the exact depth of the place. Stepping down one leg at a time, she reached out for the metal handrail for balance. She’d made this descent a hundred times, but she felt dizzy now and very unsure of where her feet were in relation to her body.
Once at the bottom, she keyed the code on the number pad next to the door. It didn’t work. She was about to call up to her dad when she remembered that the sequence changed every month. She counted backward from May and then tried again. The satisfying sound of metal unlatching made her smile as she pushed the heavy door inward. It was harder than she imagined and her right shoulder began to scream in pain. Her vision darkened again and for the first time since the shot, she felt the jagged shrapnel dig in.
“Inside,” her dad’s voice urged her from the stairwell. She felt his guiding hand on her left arm. As she stumbled inside, she heard the door slam shut and lock.
The low powered LEDs in the ceiling slowly came to life, dimly illuminating a rectangular room with a couch opposite a small TV. At the end of the room, she could just make out two doors. One would be a door into the living area. The other would be into the radio room and batteries.
A switch was thrown and there was a fizzle, followed by a second slamming of metal against metal. He killed the power to the keypad switch outside. We’re sealed in now. They were safe. The very idea made her feel as if her body was emptying, draining out all her energy and wakefulness. She slid to her knees, her Bug Out bag falling from her shoulder. The last sensation she knew before darkness claimed her was the rough feeling of carpet on her cheek.