I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy – Ranger Creed, 5th Stanza
They were screaming.
Katie stood in front of the monitors, watching as the Petersens pounded on the bunker’s steel door. They were silent on the film but she could hear them faintly through the door. Let us in! Let us in! They’re coming, please let us in!
“I can’t,” she whispered, as if they might hear her. If she opened that door, the Infected might come rushing in after them. She could die. Lindsay could die. The thought made her afraid, not of death, but of failing her dad. No matter how much he’d lied about his involvement, he’d taught her to survive. He’d never judged her except on her merits, on her accomplishments, not on what she wasn’t. He’d been as good a dad as he could, she knew that now, in that very moment as she stared out at the desperate family calling for her help.
“I’m sorry,” she said again and raised a shaking hand to turn off the monitors.
“Katie? Katie, what’s that noise? What’s going on?”
Katie’s fingers pressed gently against the monitors’ off switch. She just needed to put a little more pressure on it and the monitors would turn off. Then she would make up a lie, say that they were Infected and they should hide in the living area. Seal themselves off. She could live with that.
Lindsay came closer and Katie knew she had to do something, right then or Lindsay would know. She’d demand that Katie help them, and the guilt would overpower her. Now, Katie! Hurry! She moved to press the button, but she couldn’t. Almost despite herself, she turned to catch Lindsay’s eyes. Her friend’s eyes were wide and scared and trusting. The last was the most damning. This girl trusted her with her life. Could she be like her dad and lie to her? Could she really live with that after all?
Behind the Petersens, Katie saw movement and turned back to look. Mr Petersen turned and darted upward, pulling the door down and holding onto it as the Infected leapt for him. The entire stairwell was suddenly enveloped in silence. Then Mrs Petersen started screaming. Katie could hear it straight through the door and so could Lindsay. She grabbed hold of Katie’s arm and squeezed.
“Oh my God! What’s that? What’s happening?”
Katie looked over her shoulder into those brilliant green eyes and knew the answer to her own question.
“Lindsay, open the door. The code is 1660, okay? There’s people outside, the Petersens, remember?”
“The Petersens? Huh? What?”
A loud banging sound echoed through the door and Mrs Petersen screamed again. Katie shook off Lindsay’s grip and grabbed her AR-15. It hadn’t been far and Katie imagined it never would be again. She aimed at the door, but Lindsay still stood there, eyes wide.
“Go, Lindsay, now! Or they’re going to die!”
Katie dropped into a firing crouch, cradling her rifle against her shoulder and looking down the sight. She kept both of her eyes open, concentrating on avoiding tunnel vision as Lindsay ran to the door and hurriedly typed in the code. After two tries, the light on the lock went from red to green.
“Open it!” Katie shouted and slid her finger off the trigger guard and onto the trigger. Sweat broke out on her forehead and the back of her neck. Her palms felt clammy and cold. She was terrified but swallowed the fear. Aim and shoot. If something followed the Petersens inside or if one of them was infected…
The door pulled open and for a brief moment, nothing happened. Mrs Petersen was standing in the doorway, her hands still on the cold steel of the door. She wasn’t looking at the door but up the stairs. Her son, Jon, was just visible, likely helping his dad.
“Come on!” Katie shouted. It was like someone flipped on a switch. Mrs Petersen grabbed for her son and rushed inside. Jon came after, calling for his dad. Mr Petersen did not come through the door. Katie could hear him grunting with the effort of holding down the hatch. The hydraulics helped but they wouldn’t keep out a determined person.
“Dad! Dad! Let’s go!”
“Get inside!” Mr Petersen said. Katie moved forward, keeping her rifle raised, until she could see him. He was holding the hatch shut with both hands. Every few heartbeats it would lift an inch but slam right back down. A severed finger lay at his feet and Katie wondered if it was his, or one of the Infected.
“Mr Petersen! When I say ‘Go’ I want you to let go of the hatch and get inside. Do you understand?”
He looked over his shoulder at her. His eyes went from hers to the rifle in her hands. A flash of recognition crossed them. Hopefully he was remembering the shooting lessons she’d given him and his son. After a moment, he nodded.
Like the other combat situations she’d been in these past few days, time slowed. Mr Petersen let go of the door as he jumped towards the bottom of the stairs. As he landed, the hatch pried itself up with dozens of fingers wriggling in from beneath it. She heard the sound of the Infected’s screams, smelled that odor of fetid, old blood and spoiled meat. Mr Petersen stumbled inside as the first Infected slid through the hatchway on his stomach. It was a young man, a boy really. He was Katie’s age and she knew him. Tom Hadey had been Mount Hope High School’s star lacrosse forward. He’d been handsome and kind too, almost despite his jock-status. He’d even told Katie about his own parents’ divorce and that it’ll get better. She’d never even spoken to him before then.
Katie shot him in the forehead.
“Close the door!” she shouted and Mr Petersen turned to do just that. The last image Katie had of the stairwell was of another teenager, a girl this time, falling on Tom’s chest. His gray eyes stared at her as the door closed, cold and dead and devoid of the kindness he’d once had.
Katie moved forward and secured the door, then pulled the power on the lock to make sure it couldn’t be opened. The Infected began to pound on it, their screams and snarls muffled but still audible. They were terrifying and suddenly that six inch door didn’t seem so thick anymore. She had to fight an urge to put the couch against it. It was a stupid idea, since if they could move that door and break through its heavy metal locks, they’d make short work of the light couch.
Swinging her weapon around, still in her fighting crouch, Katie trained her weapon on the new arrivals. Their look of sudden relief turned hesitant again and fear returned to their faces. Mrs Petersen even raised her hands. They were shaking and clutching a rosary. Jon just sat against the wall, looking tired and worn. Mr Petersen just watched her, quiet and wary.
“Katie!” Lindsay said. She was moving towards them and was holding a bottle of water.
“Lindsay, stay back! Were you bit?” Katie said, her grip on the rifle tightening but she kept her finger on the trigger guard. The three of them looked at one another. A look passed them that Katie didn’t miss. Apprehension. Mr Petersen was covered in blood from his left shoulder to his stomach. She couldn’t tell if he was the source or if it was blood from an Infected. Either way, it was dangerous.
“Were you bit?” she said again, slowing her speech and enunciating each word as forcefully as she could.
“No!” Mrs Petersen said, her voice shrill. “We’ve been running!”
Katie looked the woman over. There was very little blood on the light blue business suit she wore. How long have they been on the run that she was wearing that? It was dirty however, and torn. She wore a pair of sneakers on her feet that looked too big for her. Her husband’s. She was picked up from somewhere. She put her low on the “likely bitten” list.
Jon was pale but from what she remembered of him, he was always that way. He had scratches on his cheeks and forehead that reminded Katie of bramble cuts. She bet his hands would be the same. He’d come through the woods then and didn’t look wounded in any other fashion.
So that left Mr Petersen. When she turned her gaze on him, he turned his away and looked down at the floor.
“Patrick,” Mrs Petersen said. “Patrick no one was hurt. You got us here.”
He looked uncertain, conflicted and she shifted her weight and stepped to her right. This put Mr Petersen directly in her line of sight and if she fired, and the bullet passed through him, it wouldn’t hit anyone else. That shoulder of his was the most suspect.
“Take off your jacket and shirt,” she said.
“It’s fine,” he said and did so, pulling off the jacket he wore and then the fleece sweater beneath that. Finally, he removed a torn athletic shirt. A wound was still bleeding slightly from his left shoulder. He winced when he looked at it and when Katie stepped closer, she felt her heart jump.
It was a bullet wound and not a bite.