The cellar was bedlam. Weak light from cell phones flashed in flits as people cried and yelled, not making any sense. Underlining the ruckus was the constant thrum of the zombies pounding on the cellar doors, trying to break through. I didn’t have high hopes that it would hold; the padlock wasn’t going to make the weather battered wood any stronger. My eyes slowly adjusted to the dimness and I could smell the heady scent of dirt, decay and stale water mingling with a rich coppery aroma of blood. The cell phone lights moved around disorienting me further, then 3 of them disappeared up a set of stairs.
I distanced myself from the banging doors and stopped where I thought the stairs were and dug through my pack for my flashlight to get a better view of the cellar and assess the situation. Tony was nowhere in sight, neither was man who had helped Heidi get Langley into the van or the woman who had knocked me out. In one of the far corners I lighted on Langley, his bloody lower body dimly illuminated by a cell phone held by the other man whom I hadn’t seen before. Heidi was wrapping Langley’s leg and Marla leaned over her brother whispering something I couldn’t hear. Hunter was nowhere near them and it appeared that Marla hadn’t noticed his absence. Her face was mask of grief as she focused only on Langley.
The pounding got louder and a wash of overwhelming defeat crept through me. After all of this, the close calls and encounters with the dead and the living, I had stupidly trapped myself in dark pit in a house somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I had no intention of sticking around and waiting to see how long it would take the zombies to bust through but I couldn’t just walk away from Marla and Hunter, not this time. I shone my light on Langley and headed toward him, asking how he was doing. Heidi shook her head and Marla just cried.
The flashlight lit up his face and my heart sank seeing how pale he was but he wasn’t dead, yet. I briefly wondered how long it would take for him to turn, my new instincts in this new world telling me to shoot him now even though I wasn’t certain he was infected. I heard a creak on the stairs to my left and saw Hunter sitting in the middle, his face wet and sullen. I started to move toward him but Marla grabbed my wrist and pulled me close to her face.
“Take him out of here, up the stairs. Hide him if you can. Do it now Louis.” Her voice was strong and didn’t portray any of the grief she wore on her face.
“Why?” I shouldn’t have asked, I knew what was going to happen but I wanted to hear her say it.
“George is fading. He’s not going to make it and I don’t know if he will become one of those things.”
“Was he was bitten?”
“Dammit Louis, it doesn’t matter. He’s almost dead. Please get Hunter away from here.”
Marla’s voice was louder than she intended and I heard a faint cry of Mommy drift over the noise of the zombies. I pulled away, went to the stairs and held out my hand to Hunter. He took it without either of us saying a word. The man I didn’t know joined us on the stairs saying Heidi would stay to hold the light for Marla. I didn’t even think about giving Heidi my flashlight, just nodded and started up the stairs to the closed door which presumably led into the house. I put Hunter behind me and opened the door, a wash of light blinding us as I heard a loud bang from below followed by Marla screaming.
She hadn’t waited for us to be clear of the cellar leading me believe that Langley had turned. Hunter cried out again that one word, Mommy, hanging in the air. Rushing through the door, I had seconds to register the surroundings and make a decision about where to go. There was another set of stairs heading up just off the kitchen where we had come out. I hesitated on the idea of going upstairs, not wanting to get locked in up there but any doubts I had were put away as the pounding of the zombies started sounding on all sides of the house. The creatures were looking for another way in and standing exposed in the kitchen was a very bad idea.
I dashed for the stairs, Hunter’s cold limp hand in mine as I dragged him up and the other guy from the van tried to hurry him along the narrow stairwell. We hit the top floor landing and faced 4 doors. Shouts and gunfire to the right drew me to the furthest room at the end hall where I found Tony, the guy who had helped Langley, Tony called him Jeff, and my attacker standing at a pair of windows overlooking the backyard where Hunter and Marla had emerged. Tony was reloading his shotgun as the others watched. I asked them what was happening as I walked Hunter to a bed pushed against the wall and sat him down. I only half noticed the pom poms and grad cap sitting on the bed encircled by an array of furry stuffed critters. I didn’t have the time or capacity to wonder about the girl who had occupied the room and left Hunter surrounded by an illusion of comfort to join the others by the windows.
I pushed forward and saw about 10 Shamblers slowly making their way through the downed fence towards the house. What I couldn’t see were how many had already made it and were hitting the doors and walls. The banging sounded like thunder travelling from the cellar through the rest of the house as the creatures searched for ways to get in. Tony was saying something but I didn’t hear, distracted by the zombies movements. The ones I could see now were sluggish whereas the ones that had chased us were fast. Nothing about how this virus affected people was logical.
“So who is going to go out there?” Jeff’s voice was shaky as he asked the question.
“What are you talking about?” I couldn’t keep the incredulousness out of my voice.
“We need to draw those things away from the house, get back in the van and keep moving. They won’t stop until they get us.” Tony looked down at his hands, sadness in voice. “We’ve seen it before haven’t we Kelly.” Tony laid his hand on my attacker, Kelly’s shoulder.
“You need a decoy who will draw them away and probably die in the process? You’re fucking crazy.”
“Do you have a better idea?”
Did I? Shooting the slower ones would draw some of them back but the growing unpredictability of the monsters left any guarantees out of the equation. Besides, I had tried that before in the field where Langley got caught and failed terribly. Our options were limited and time was not on our side. I looked at Tony, his eyes were no longer angry when he looked at me but desperate, like the rest of us. I knew we didn’t have another option other than to keep running; I just didn’t want to watch anyone else die. Not even these strangers who had threatened me.
“I don’t know what else we can.” I looked out the window again at the Shamblers approaching and inhaled sharply as more came from the woods. “So who is going to be the sacrificial lamb?”
© 2014, Denise Pasutti