The metal door gave way with a sharp crack of splintering drywall and wood. The sounds of the dead grew louder as they pushed through, crawling over one another in their haste and hunger. The darkness didn’t impede them in the slightest, crashing through like a wave of unending destruction, fingers reaching, teeth gnashing.
Lindsay stared in horror. She’d never seen so many. They were endless, a sea of death. The smell hit her then, an overpowering stench that reminded her of rotting garbage and soured milk.
For all its horror, the Infected were known to her. The bodies that lay behind her, in the tunnel that led to safety, did not move or moan or grab. They lay still, rotting and bloated. The stink that came from them was sickly sweet. She tasted bile in the back of her throat.
Katie grabbed her sleeve and pushed her backwards towards the tunnel. Her eyes were wide, dark in the dim light, but Lindsay saw tears in them. In stories, they always said you could see emotions in the eyes, but Lindsay thought it was just a poetic thing to write. Now, as she looked into Katie’s, she saw fear and something else. Like sorrow or horror or maybe both.
The lights went out.
“Go!” Katie screamed, pushing her. Lindsay fell backwards, her leg catching on the tunnel lip. She twisted, placed her hands on something soft and squishy and faintly warm. When she put weight on her arm, something wet oozed through her fingers.
Gunfire exploded behind her, drowning out Katie’s words. Lindsay pulled herself into the tunnel, crawling across what could only be a body. The smell and feel of the bloated corpse beneath her made her vomit, choking her. She hesitated, half crying, half heaving. Her whole body shook so violently that she slipped and fell.
Her cheek brushed something that felt like a course brush. It was sticky and foul. She remembered Mr Petersen’s thin beard and she screamed.
This isn’t real. This isn’t real. It’s a nightmare! Nightmare! Not real!
Gunshots. More screaming. Hers or Katie’s? She couldn’t tell. Couldn’t hear. Pressure on her back, pushing. Gunshots. Now a pressure on her leg, a grasping, pulling pressure. More screaming, hers this time for sure. She slipped backwards as more pressure wrapped around her leg, pulling, dragging her out of the tunnel.
Katie was there, her arm around her, holding her inside. Lindsay saw her face in the flashes of gunfire. Her friend’s eyes were narrowed, focused. Her mouth a grimace of determination and anger. In her hand was a pistol, firing.
Bang. Bang. Bangbangbang.
I’m going to die. I’m going to die.
The pressure on her leg was suddenly gone and Lindsay pulled herself further into the tunnel, hearing nothing. Her ears were ringing so loudly everything else was quiet and very far away. Pressure changed and she felt the tunnel vibrate slightly. Then again. And again.
A beam of light exploded into being as Katie turned on a flashlight. She looked over Lindsay’s leg, checking holes she found there. Lindsay felt herself begin to shake again.
Bitten. I was bitten.
Katie looked up at her and met her eyes. For a second she did nothing, her face a mask of fear, then she shook her head quickly. No bite. Lindsay felt the tears come again but wiped them away.
At her feet, the metal door was shut and secured. The Infected inside the bunker were banging, clamoring to get at them. How did Katie shut it? How did she fend them off?
And beneath her, three corpses lay.
Lindsay backed up, careful not to look at them, trying not to throw up again as the light exposed them. They were thick, the air stale with their decomposition. Bone was beginning to expose in places, and Lindsay felt her boot cave in Mr Petersen’s chest. She retched again, dry heaves all that were remaining to her.
Katie crawled past her, ignoring the corpses. She kept her eyes averted, not meeting Lindsay’s gaze as she moved forward into the darkness. When her coughing subsided, Lindsay followed, spurred on by the pounding at the door behind her.
They came to a ladder with a hatch at the top, one which Katie worked to unlock. It had a circular wheel, like some old ship’s door. It turned slowly and heavily until there was a metallic pop, then Lindsay felt cold air. Fresh air.
Katie raised the hatch slowly, snow and dirt falling into her hair and onto her shoulders. Lindsay watched, anxious as her friend just stood there, not moving. What was she doing?
Another loud bang and Lindsay looked back, but could not see the door behind them. Were they through? Were they coming, even now? She grabbed hold of the ladder and climbed the few rungs open to her.
“Katie?” she hissed, urgent.
Katie held up a finger for silence and extinguished her flashlight. In the dark they waited. The pounding below continuing, endless, but not closer. Not yet.
Finally, Katie pushed the hatch up further and climbed up. Lindsay followed, wishing to be free of the grave-like bunker. Once outside, she could see, but only faintly. The snow had ceased falling, but it was almost ten inches deep. It was dirty with soot and left greasy streaks on her pants.
Katie motioned her to the side while she put the hatch back and buried it. Lindsay could see the main entrance in the distance. The darkness was deeper there, and it moved. It looked like a disturbed anthill. She turned away, determined that if she didn’t look at them, they wouldn’t see her.
“Okay,” Katie whispered, her voice close. She’d come to her side and placed her lips close enough to tickle her ear. Lindsay nearly recoiled. Those lips had lied to her, told her the Petersens had left. They’d kept that secret for months.
“We need to go west, towards the cabin. Follow me.”
She found that she couldn’t look at Katie, so she merely nodded and turned to follow. They kept low, stepping slowly and softly in the snow. She could hear the Infected to their left, moaning, screaming, clawing. They were still flooding into the bunker. She heard them on the cement steps.
Then Lindsay’s boot caught a buried tree root and she lost her balance, plunging into the snow. The crunch of powder and ice sounded as loud as a gunshot and she pressed her glove to her mouth, not wanting to cry out.
Katie paused and Lindsay could hear the click of her gun’s safety turning off. That sound was etched into her memory, maybe forever. She wondered if it would fill her dreams for years to come.
Neither of them moved. Lindsay strained to listen but her heart was beating too loudly in her ringing ears. Were the Infected sounds getting closer? Did she hear the crunch of them walking towards them?
Katie helped her up then. None of the Infected came and none suddenly appeared ahead of them. They walked slowly through the woods, wary and cold and exhausted. The wind picked up, blowing like an icy knife against her face. Her nose and lips felt numb after only a few minutes.
They came upon the cabin sometime later. It was dark and cold and Lindsay felt like it was from some other life. Some other time. A window had broken, and a door was loose. When they investigated, they found that the pantry was looted.
“Who was it?” Lindsay said, suddenly wanting to be far away. Being here made her insecure. That the house had been broken into left a feeling of violation that she’d never known before. No one broke into houses around here.
“I don’t know,” Katie said. “Maybe the guys my dad went after.”
They checked each room, Katie going first with her gun held at the ready. The clothing was largely rifled through and Lindsay found some spilled bullets, their container ripped and discarded on the ground. In the main bedroom, the bed linens were torn and most of it missing. Some of the discarded pieces had blood on them.
There was a corpse in that room, an infected with several bullet holes in the head and face. Most its left arm was gone, chewed right through.
But the worst was in the bathroom. A child no older than ten or eleven lay in the bathtub. His eyes were closed, hands folded together on his chest in repose. A single, black hole appeared in his forehead. Katie found the bite mark on his leg, where his jeans were shredded. Above him, on the wall, a message was written in marker.
Despite the sight, they sheltered the rest of the night in Katie’s old room. It had no windows and they barricaded the door with a dresser. Lindsay curled up on the floor, unsure if she would ever sleep. For a long time she watched Katie, saying nothing. Her friend barely looked at her.
They left the cabin at first light and skirted the remains of Mount Hope. Lindsay begged Katie to let her see it, so she might find some of her own things but it was no use. Katie forbid it.
How come she gets to tell me to do anything? She killed them. She—
Lindsay shut off her own thought. Resentment boiled up inside of her and it put a distance between them. She found nothing to talk about and decided she didn’t want to talk to her. Not then. Not for a while. She had to think.
Then, as night began to fall again, she saw it. The radio tower appeared from behind the trees as they crested a hill. Katie dug out her binoculars to look. Lindsay leaned against a tree and ate a protein bar, feeling her hopes soar.
“I see a couple trucks, but… no wait, there’s one humvee. Can’t tell if it’s National Guard though or…”
“It has to be,” Lindsay said, her voice sounding strange after a day of nearly not speaking. “This is where they said they’d be.”
“I’m just not—“
A crunch of boots in the snow startled them and Lindsay turned to see two men appear from the underbrush. They both had rifles like their own, but wore strange, frilly coats that made them look like they had branches and leaves all over them. Katie raised her rifle.
“I wouldn’t do that, young lady,” a gruff male voice said. It didn’t come from the two men, but from behind them. Lindsay spun and saw two more men appear from the woods.
Each of them pointed a gun in their direction.