She descended into Hell.
Until this moment, Lindsay thought she knew what Hell looked like. Burned towns, dozens of dead bodies, the Undead trying to kill everyone she cared about. Men dying from crushed throats.
None of it compared. The horror that waited in the dark burned itself into Lindsay’s memory. It wasn’t the Undead that littered the ground, or the smell of rot and decay, or even the desiccated corpses left behind by the Infected, but the dead who lay among them.
Once the soldiers dispatched the Infected, they’d begun burning chemical lights for illumination. What they revealed were hundreds of forms covered by plastic sheets. The sheets were sealed to the floor, preserving the contents within. When Lindsay approached, she saw the sheets had small windows at one end.
All of them had the faces of the dead beneath.
Holden unsealed a bag, which let out a small pop and rush of cool air when the seal was broken. The body within was small and thin, the body of a child. When Lindsay dared to look, she saw it was a boy no older than ten.
“No bite marks,” Holden said. “No damage at all.”
“None here either, sir,” one of the soldiers said, ripping open another bag. This one was a fully grown woman in a white lab coat. Holden headed over and looked down.
“Not Collins,” he said and began to peel back another bag. None of the bodies had a scratch on them. They were pale and cold but the bags had been vacuum sealed, something Lindsay knew would preserve food and… well, bodies it seemed.
She knelt by the little boy. His eyes were shut and nearly concealed behind thick brown hair. She wanted to reach out and brush it aside. That’s when she noticed the marks. They were on the side of his neck, three small puncture wounds in a triangular pattern. She frowned and reflexively touched her left shoulder. A similar scar was there, a remnant of the Kurama injection.
Elsewhere, the soldiers were peeling back bag after bag after bag. The whole room began to smell of antiseptic and something else… something that reminded her of new carpet. It made her stomach turn.
A hand grabbed her upper arm and hoisted her to her feet. She turned, startled, and found Holden staring at her, his jaw set.
“Come on. We think the lab entrance is on this floor. We’ll be needing you soon.”
The bodies were in what had been an old cubical farm. The walls were long gone, but in the dim light of the flares, Lindsay still saw the dirty impressions on the floor where they’d been. Support pillars were the only thing that broke up the space until they came to a wall halfway through the building’s length. It was featureless, though the Infected had attempted to scratch their way inside. None had succeeded.
The wall ended with a corridor that led towards the far end of the building. Here the light of the flares ended and Lindsay was once again pulled into the darkness by Holden’s firm grip. She hated the dark. The image of the dead boy came back to her. The three-pronged injection mark. Why was it on the boy’s neck and not his shoulder? Was it the same injection after all?
The sound of shuffling feet ahead made her heart rate speed up. The moaning came next, followed by the chittering hiss. The shuffling became solid steps and then a run.
“Back up,” one of the soldiers ahead said and gunfire erupted. Each time one of the rifles barked, the flash of their muzzles illuminated the scene. There were dozens of Infected emerging from empty offices all along the corridor. Their eyes all seemed fixed on her, their teeth open for her flesh, their hissing the song of her death.
The bullets ripped into them and they fell quickly, only to be replaced by more and more Infected. They were everywhere. Their eyes reflected the light of the gunfire, glinting like cats. When the soldiers turned suddenly towards them, Lindsay saw their eyes were the same.
“Sir, behind you!”
Holden screamed and Lindsay felt warm liquid spray across her cheek. She turned and the Infected were there, hands reaching for her. Muscle memory took over and she thumbed the safety on her rifle and pulled the trigger. It caught the Infected in the stomach, staggering it, but not stopping it. Hands grabbed her coat and pulled.
She fell forward, going to her knees. Her rifle went off again. Another scream. Holden’s scream? Hissing in her ear, cold, rough hands on her cheeks, her neck, her hair. She was pulled forward, her legs and hands reaching out to catch hold of something, anything at all.
That’s when she felt the teeth on her shoulder. They bit down and she fought, screaming, flailing, kicking. Then the bite was gone and the darkness was back. All the gunfire stopped and instead she hurt grunting and the sliding of metal into flesh over and over.
She scrambled backward, feeling for a wall, but instead her hands gripped wet clothes and clammy flesh. She screamed again, got to her feet and ran. There was no direction to her flight, she simply bolted, her hands out before her in case she hit a wall.
She didn’t know if the voice was Holden’s or one of the soldiers. It didn’t matter. The Infected were there, they wanted her, one had bit her, she needed to go, to leave, to run!
She heard more sounds ahead of her, the shuffling of feet on tile that quickly turned into grunts and screams. Lindsay smacked into a wall as she tried to turn. Dazed, she reeled, feeling for the wall and finding only open air.
She saw the flash of the rifle shot before she heard its report. It came from directly ahead of her and for a moment she thought it was shooting at her. She dropped to the ground and waited for the pain that would surely come.
“Stay down!” Holden said before more rifle shots rang out. She felt sharp wafts of air on her cheeks as the bullets passed overhead. Bodies dropped and the hissing subsided.
Light exploded into being as Holden broke a chemical stick and held it aloft. She was in a hallway and all around her, the dead lay. The tile floor was sticky with drying blood. She recoiled and got to her feet.
“Are you bit?” Holden said, stalking over and beginning to look her over. Lindsay remembered the feeling of the teeth on her shoulder, of their pressure. She reached up, heart pounding, and felt for the bite. There was nothing, only a slightly torn jacket and vest strap. It hadn’t gone through.
“N-no, I-I’m okay,” she said. Holden didn’t seem to hear her, and looked her over anyway, rough hands turning her, prodding her. When he didn’t find anything, he grunted and moved ahead down the hall. Lindsay frowned, trying to calm her nerves and moved to follow.
In the light of the chemical stick, Lindsay saw blood on Holden’s neck. As she approached, she saw he was wounded. The flesh was torn, rent where the Infected’s teeth had bitten.
He was Infected now.
“Here!” Holden said as he stopped before a non-descript metal door. To its right, there was a box full of metal buttons. The soldiers quickly filled in behind her and knelt, aiming back the way they’d come. Holden looked around the door and then squinted at rectangular metal plate on the door.
“You…you’re…” Lindsay began to say.
“Shut up,” he said and reached out, grabbed her by the shoulder and dragged her over to the door. “See this?” he said, indicating the rectangular plate. “Push on it and tell them who you are. We need them to let us in.”
He stared down at her, his expression a snarl. His grip on her arm was so tight it was painful. Only when she nodded did he release her. Tentatively, she reached up and pressed the plate.
Nothing happened and she tried it again. Again, nothing. Holden grabbed her by the back of the collar and tightened it around her throat.
“Tell them what you were told,” he said, his voice low and menacing in her ear.
Lindsay swallowed and pressed the plate again.
“I… My name is Lindsay. Lindsay Volk! My… my friend is sick. Her name is Katie! Katie Fox, her dad is Chris Fox!” she said, then licked her lips. They were dry and cracked and painful.
“More. Ask for Leah Collins,” Holden said, the grip on her jacket tightening more.
“He… he’s looking for Leah Collins!” she said. “He needs her help! Please, I need your help! She’s sick, he said you could help!”
She waited and for a time, nothing happened. Holden tightened his grip even more, the collar of her jacket beginning to choke her when there came a soft beep.
“Who are the rest of the men?” said a modulated, female voice from the door.
Holden released her instantly and stepped away.
“We’re Chris’s men!” he said. “He sent us.”
“Only the girl. The men stay outside,” the voice said. It sounded like someone was speaking through a filter. Lindsay wondered if it was Leah Collins.
“Deal,” Holden said.
The door popped open.