Chapter 19: Uninvited
The temperature had dropped since Elderton and Martha had arrived at Taco House. A fog had arisen in through parts of the town. The air was moist. A rain was coming from beyond the mountains. Most of the storms Tipton received developed out over the Pacific and came in from the beach. They would be heading directly into whatever was coming their way. But perhaps the rain, fog and more would aid them in their escape. And the way Elderton saw it, they would need all the help they could get to make it out alive.
The four hurried out of the building. They gathered behind the trash bin which was conveniently under a tall tree. They knelt and checked their surroundings. There was lots of noise through the city. Screaming, gunfire, growling. It was hard to tell where any of the noise was coming from, it sounded like it was all around them. She was in front, leading their squad of survivors. Mandy and Maggie were in the middle behind her, Martha was in the back. Mandy and Maggie were each entrusted with handguns and as many clips as their jackets could hold. Their pant pockets were laughably feminine and could only hold one clip per back pocket, half of the clip sticking out the top of each.
“Screw the patriarchy,” Mandy had scoffed while trying to find space in her pockets.
Elderton motioned for them to move with her and they all ran in a straight line. They crossed the street and made for the Aldi. They lined up against the side of the building where a light had been blown out for several years. They used the darkness to edge down to the back of the store. They could hear a great deal of commotion coming from behind the store as they approached. When they got to the back, Elderton motioned for them to stop.
She peeked around the corner and saw a small group of soldiers tangling with several of the townsfolk. Her instinct was to run in and help her neighbors, but then she noticed the familiar traits. One was covered in blood from previous feasts, growling and drooling for another bite. A soldier caught him upside the head with the butt of his rifle, the man fell to the pavement. He hissed at the soldier who put two bullets in his head. The other townsfolk were in similar states. One was her next-door neighbor, a staunch Catholic and busybody named Maude. She had once called the police on her, because she saw a black man knocking on her door. It was Elderton’s cousin paying a visit. Maude was still in her nightgown and robe, but the gown had been torn to shreds and for the first time she was seeing her old, saggy breasts flapping in the wind. It was a sight she’d take a lifetime trying to forget, assuming she lived through the night.
She assessed the situation and liked the odds. It was an even match between the soldiers and Aggressors, a name they had all agreed to call the infected. She turned back to the group behind her and explained the situation. They would cut across the back of the lot, through a patch of trees, and into Mrs. Hinkley’s award-winning garden. If they were quick and quiet enough, they could avoid detection by both parties and continue their journey for the church—their halfway point.
They ran for the back of Mrs. Hinkley’s yard, Martha keeping an eye behind them to make sure they went undetected. It was looking good until Maude looked up from gnawing on a soldier’s neck. She sniffed about and spotted them. She growled and started to sprint after them.
They all ran into Mrs. Hinkley’s sunflowers. They dropped down to the garden floor to take cover. Martha grabbed Elderton by the shoulder. “Maude spotted us, she’s coming.”
Elderton could see the silhouette of Maude running haphazardly towards them in her slippers. “I got this. Stay down, stay quiet,” Elderton said. She slid her shotgun around her back with the strap. She pulled out a pistol with a muzzle on it. She waited for the opportune moment.
She stood up and took one shot in the dark.
A flash from the gun lit up the area just long enough for everyone to see that her single shot entered between the eyes of Maude. Elderton was back down in the sunflowers before Maude had even hit the pavement. They all waited to see if she got up.
They waited to see if anyone else from the group noticed the shot.
After a moment of stressed silence, Mandy leaned in to Elderton, “Damn girl,” she whispered.
The clouds opened and a mist began to spray them and the lot behind them. The ground let up steam, still warm from the day. Between the fog and the steam, the air was thick as a shower curtain. They continued walking underfoot Mrs. Hinkley’s garden. Around the house, through a rusted gate, and into the front yard. They rested beneath an old oak tree her great-great-grandfather had planted so many years ago. She bragged about it to anyone who dared pass her house while she was on the porch. People eventually learned to cross the street to pass her house. But sometimes that wasn’t enough, sometimes she’d just yell at a person not knowing if they’d hear a word she said or not. But assuming they did. Assuming they gave two shits and a nickel.
It was two blocks from Mrs. Hinkley’s house to the church. They could see it on the corner, well-lit by streetlights. A group of townsfolk came running down the street, screaming. They appeared to be uninfected. But just as they were crossing the intersection in a frenzy, a military Hummer came plowing through at a fast pace. It ran over half the people and screeched to a halt. A soldier popped out the top and used a 50-caliber mounted gunner to take down the rest. Limbs and blood flew everywhere. A head exploded. And then there was silence. The soldier surveyed the carnage.
One person was trying to crawl away without his lower half.
Not satisfied, the soldier pulled out a pistol and shot the man three times. Dead. He tapped the top of the Hummer and it drove off.
They paused for a moment, leaned against the sturdy oak.
Elderton knew what they were all thinking about. That could be them in a matter of moments. And even if they made it fine, they’d have to walk right over them to get to the church. Nobody wanted to move from that oak. The rain began to pick up, their body core temperatures were dropping. But nobody moved.
Chapter 18: Sting of the rose
The door slowly opened, and Mandy was relieved it was only their local sheriff. She had to hold back the feeling of diving into a hug until she knew it was safe to come out of the safety of their metal walls. Elderton seemed ok. Martha came up and looked in over Elderton’s shoulder in at Mandy and Maggie.
“How long have ya’ll been in there?” Martha asked.
“Not long,” Mandy said. “Lucas had just turned.” She stepped out holding Maggie’s shaking hand. “What is going on?”
“Not real certain,” Elderton started, “But something in the water at least is affecting people, turning them into rabid-like creatures. The government is here, Homeland Security, Army, and something else. They aren’t talking much. Kept us under guard until we escaped.” Elderton paused for a moment, looked at Martha for approval or disapproval before she continued. Martha simply nodded to her. Elderton continued, “And, there’s some alien creature and egg or pod thing. We don’t know how it all comes together, but we need help. Real help. Because the ones that are here are not helping. They’re just trying to cover it up.”
“Wait, did you say water?” Maggie asked.
“Yeah, why?” Elderton said.
Both Mandy and Maggie looked at each other and said, “Dylan.”
Maggie broke away from Mandy’s grasp and ran to the back of the store, where they’d found Dylan hiding before. She found him in the corner with a broom in hand, he was shaking. She slapped him across the face. He yelped.
“You’re a real piece of work, ya know that?” Maggie yelled at him.
Mandy and the others came running up behind. Mandy pulled her back and stepped between the two.
“He just ran and hid,” Maggie said, “While we had to fend for ourselves against Lucas. Ran and hid!” She yelled the last words at him.
“Alright,” Elderton said. “Let’s all calm down. We need each other alive. Come on, let’s sit down and talk.”
Hurts so good...
After they had shared everything they knew with each other, they sat motionless in the booth they had occupied for twenty minutes. Dylan had remained quiet for most of the time. Mandy kept checking him, afraid he was going to turn on them. He had drunk a lot of water and she just wasn’t sure he was all there upstairs.
“So what should we do?” Mandy asked.
“I think we need to get as many of us out as possible,” Elderton said. “But that’s not going to be easy. They’ll no doubt have the roads in and out blocked. And as you know, there’s only the North and South roads between the mountains. So we’ll have to escape on foot. But we can’t make it over the mountain pass.”
Martha chimed in, “When we were kids, my mom would take us into Canada along the beach. The North beach wraps around the mountainside and if you stay on it you can cross into Canada unnoticed. We did it all the time when we were kids, because there was a little ice cream shop in the border town.”
“I didn’t know that,” Maggie said.
“I’d heard of that, but never tried it,” Elderton said. “I like it. It’s a lot of area to cover between here and the woods, and then the woods are almost all uphill. It ain’t gonna be easy. Let’s try to cut the distance in half. Why don’t we make it to the church first, and then head over to the woods from there? That way if we get separated, we know where to go next. Sound good?”
Mandy and Maggie agreed. But Dylan got up and moved to the window.
“There’s something going on out there,” Dylan said. He peeled back a sliver of cardboard and what he saw was a gathering group of survivors and military in the Aldi parking lot across the street. “Hey, the military is gathering up some townies at Aldi. Looks like they’re trying to help us.”
The rest moved to the windows and peeked out as well.
“I don’t know, Dylan,” Elderton said. “I don’t trust them. You didn’t see what we saw.”
Dylan shook his head. “Screw it.” He opened the door and looked back at Mandy, “You coming with?”
Mandy couldn’t believe that he had the audacity to act like he was her savior after everything that had happened. She wanted to slap him just as Maggie had, but chose the more diplomatic route instead. “Dylan, Elderton and Martha know about these guys, you don’t. You better listen.”
Dylan shook his head. “It’s our military. They’re on our side.”
Elderton chimed in, “It’s not even debatable. They are not helping us. We stick to the plan and save ourselves.”
Dylan bit his lip, and then ran out of the door. Mandy grabbed the door, so it wouldn’t slam shut. They watched from behind the cardboard as Dylan crossed the street and entered the parking lot. The soldiers were startled and raised their weapons. Dylan stopped and raised his hands. A lot of shouting was going on between Dylan and the soldiers, but they couldn’t hear what was being said from inside. They watched as they welcomed him over. They added him to the group of townsfolk. They looked around for any other survivors. The commanding officer gave an order, and the soldiers had the townsfolk get into a single line. After the last soldier had stepped away from them, the soldiers opened fire and gunned them all down like a firing squad.
The gunshots rang out through the night, the soldiers scampered into a military jeep. They peeled out of the parking lot before a group of infected showed up and began eating on the corpses. The jeep full of soldiers came back and began to do donuts around the feasting. Soldiers were hanging out the side of the jeep spraying bullets into the crowd of chaos. They didn’t stop until the last one had dropped. They tore out of the parking lot and headed down the street and out of sight.
All they had left behind was a pile of corpses and blood. Dylan was at the bottom somewhere.
Mandy was in shock. She couldn’t believe what she had just witnessed. It had all happened so fast. One second they were alive, the next they were dead. And the soldiers didn’t even hesitate from following the heinous order. They really were on their own.
Elderton stepped in front of Maggie and Mandy. “As you can see, we have to save ourselves. We head to the church, and then the beach, and then out of Tipton for good.” Everyone silently nodded in agreement with Elderton. “Now, do you girls know your way around a gun?”
Chapter 17: The drums of war
Agent Wilcox stood just outside of the cafeteria at the high school. He pulled out his cigarette case, lit up another cigarette, and assessed the situation before him. He was fighting a three-front battle and was losing a lot of men in the process. It was time to cut some losses. It was time to narrow the playing field.
He watched as two soldiers carried another into the cafeteria, he was screaming in pain. His right leg had been torn off by the alien and he was losing a lot of blood quickly. He was a loss to cut. Wilcox was only interested in abled men moving forward. He looked through the window into the cafeteria and could see the scientists and doctors were rushing to make room for his men, but it was a waste of time. They couldn’t sit in Tipton all night nursing wounds, they had to act. They had to go on the offensive. No more reactionary decisions. It was time to play his hand.
He took a deep puff of his cigarette.
He entered the cafeteria and found Dr. Ulysses Spurgeon. It was Spurgeon who was overseeing the scientific side of their operation. Finding the crash site, salvaging a pod, and returning it to Nellis Airforce Base in Nevada. Beneath Nellis was where he and Dr. Spurgeon were used to working. Just outside of the notorious Area 51, a tourist distraction for the American citizens. Nellis was where the United States had been conducting their alien research since 1938. It was after an unreported and unprecedented event occurred just outside of Reno, Nevada. An alien craft had crashed, the military had swooped in, and collected it up. They took it back, along with their first pod and the corpse of the alien. They weren’t sure how to preserve Agent One-Nine-Four-Seven at the time. Many of the men and women involved in the handling of the crash turned and were put down by those who weren’t. What was left of the agent was destroyed by lengthened exposure to the atmosphere, namely oxygen. The two did not mix well.
He and Dr. Spurgeon had been brought into the then veteran research facility in 1981. They had come up the ranks together. He started out as a private, and Spurgeon was a simple lab technician. But after many retirements and untimely deaths, Wilcox ran the show, and Spurgeon was in charge of the science division. But everyone, including Spurgeon, answered to Wilcox. He was the final authority between humanity and an alien species with the potential to wipe the entire population of Earth out.
He didn’t take his job lightly.
It wasn’t often they had access to one of the pods, but they knew the power in it could change the way wars were fought forever. That was the aim. Learn to harness, use, and reproduce it. But the aliens were always very productive of their chemical warfare toxin. Guarding it like a mother would its only baby. It was always a mess when they had to snatch a pod from a living alien. It was always better if they could shoot the craft down and the alien die on impact. They had not been so lucky this time. Not only had they not killed the alien, she was hunting them. And to make matters worse, a German named Richter had crept in out of nowhere and attacked their convoy. He wasn’t sure how the Germans knew about their operation, but he suspected there was a leak or mole. He didn’t trust anyone in the best of times.
He just wanted to kill his entire crew and start over from scratch. No more leaks or moles that way. The investigation that he would have to launch upon returning to Nellis would be a tremendous pain in his side.
Too many fronts. He needed to cut losses.
“Dr. Spurgeon,” he said with his cigarette bouncing between his lips, “A word.” He pulled Spurgeon from one of his soldiers and stood near a cash register. “I need you to take as many blood samples as you want in the next 30 minutes. After that we’re closing up shop.”
“Excuse me?” Dr. Spurgeon started. “What are we to do with all the inflicted? They need our help.”
Wilcox removed the cigarette from his lips and let out a cloud of smoke, “We have to cut ties. My men will know what to do.”
“You’re going to kill my patients.” Dr. Spurgeon said. He was visibly upset. “These are still human beings and they need medical assistance not a bullet.”
“Keep arguing and I’ll drop the time to 15 minutes, Doctor.”
Spurgeon thought before he spoke, and then made one last plea, “It’s murder what you’re doing. This isn’t quarantine or for some greater good. It’s murder.”
Wilcox dropped his cigarette on the tile and stepped it out. “And it’s 15 minutes.”
Spurgeon turned away and began to call his colleagues together into a corner away from the soldiers and other patients.
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray”
Spurgeon had a lot of thoughts racing through his mind as he tried to determine the best route to take. His doctor’s oath told him everything he and his colleagues were being asked to do was undeniably unethical. But to deny a direct order from Wilcox, a trusted colleague, would surely mean death. He knew full well the job had been a tittering balancing act between complete disregard for human life and saving it. He had always tried to lean to the latter. He had never been faced with such a task, prioritizing a mission over human life. He wasn’t sure he could make the call.
“Dr. Spurgeon?” A doctor, Dr. Susan Mills, recognized he was shaken and tried to get his attention.
“Sorry,” Spurgeon spoke, “It’s just that I’ve been presented with an impossible task. Wilcox has given us only 15 minutes to collect the samples we’d like, and then he’s going to terminate the patients.”
“All of them?” Mills asked. “Stage 2 patients I can kinda see, they seem gone to the virus. But Stage 1 patients still have cognitive functions.”
“I am there with you, Dr. Mills,” Spurgeon said. He rubbed his hand through his silver hair and thought for a moment. “A slight show of hands who agree that what Wilcox is doing is murder?”
All hands rose.
“I see,” Spurgeon continued, but at a much quieter volume, “A show of hands of those who think we should spare as many Stage 1 patients as possible?”
Again, all hands rose.
“What we are considering a serious offense,” Spurgeon added in a hushed tone.
“We know, Dr. Spurgeon.” Mills said.
They quickly mapped out a plan that involved them pretending to get their last samples of a few Stage 1 patients. They would inform the patient they were working with that they were going to loosen their restraints and help them make an escape through the cafeteria kitchen. Wilcox and the other soldiers had stepped outside the cafeteria to discuss what was about to go down. They were given a small window to retreat to the opposite end of the cafeteria from Wilcox and his men. There would be no time to waste.
Spurgeon came up on a patient he’d been working with for the past hour. His name was Richard, and he kept asking about his daughter. He had been with them for an hour and his Stage 1 condition had not progressed to Stage 2. He was the only one who had lasted beyond twenty minutes in Stage 1. He was certain Richard might hold some clues as to a vaccine or cure.
“Hello again, Richard,” Spurgeon spoke to him in a warm voice, “How are you feeling?”
“Pissed.” Richard said. “You can’t keep us here like animals. We’re not animals. And where’s my daughter? Have you heard anything about my daughter? Is she still alive?”
“I agree, Richard,” Spurgeon leaned in and continued, “My colleagues and I are going to get you and some of the other patients out of here. But we have to be quick. The military wants to kill you. But I’m going to save you, if you follow what I say to the letter. Do you understand, Richard?”
Richard simply nodded.
“I’m going to pretend to use this needle to extract some blood, but I will loosen your restraints instead, and we will run to the kitchen and out through the back.” Spurgeon whispered to him. “Do you understand?”
There was a slight commotion as two soldiers reentered the cafeteria. Spurgeon saw that Wilcox had left and wasn’t even going to stick around for the dirty deed.
Spurgeon loosened Richard’s arms first. Richard stayed still; his eyes were set on one of the soldiers coming their way. The restraint on the legs was going to be a dead giveaway, so Spurgeon turned quickly and loosened it as fast as he could.
“Doctor! Wait!” The soldier yelled at him and raised his rifle.
Before Spurgeon could finish loosening the restraint, Richard sat up and stole away the needle. Richard held Spurgeon in his arms, the needle against his neck threatening to use it on him. The soldier backed up.
“Finish your work, Doc,” Richard said.
Spurgeon began to sweat, not sure if Richard was serious about the hostage situation or if he was just trying to help with the escape plans. He finished loosening the restraint.
Richard stood up, jerking the good doctor about in his grips. He moved over to the soldier. “Don’t move, boy, don’t move,” he said, “I want you to hold that rifle over your head or I’ll break this off in a very important vein of the doctor’s neck.”
“Doctor?” The soldier looked to Spurgeon for guidance.
“Better do as he says, soldier,” Spurgeon had a good feeling that Richard was trying to take control of the situation for their escape. Disarming the soldiers was the right route. No bloodshed would be necessary.
The soldier held the rifle over his head with two hands.
“You too!” Richard yelled at the other soldier. “Over your head, both hands!”
The other soldier complied from across the aisle of tables.
The other Stage 1 patients sat up, loosened by the other doctors. Everyone watched Richard, unsure of his next move. The pause seemed like an eternity.
Richard grabbed the pistol from the soldier’s holster and shot him point blank to the face. His helmet flew off his head with a spray of blood and brains. Richard turned and shot the other soldier who hadn’t quite gotten the rifle down from over his head. The bullet hit him in the left shoulder and knocked him back. Richard shoved Spurgeon to the ground and charged the soldier. He took two more shots; one to the chest, another to the head. He surveyed the cafeteria for anymore threats. He dropped the needle on the ground. He picked up the rifle from the soldier near him and slung it over his shoulder with the strap. He walked back to Spurgeon.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Spurgeon pleaded as he helped himself up with the table close to him, “We could have gotten away without any bloodshed.”
“Unleash all my brothers and sisters, Dr. Spurgeon,” Richard said when he reached Spurgeon.
“But the Stage 2 patients are unstable,” Spurgeon tried to explain. “They won’t know up from down, right form wrong. They’ll kill us all.”
“We’re. Not. Animals!” Richard yelled in Spurgeon’s face and spit all over it with each word. He stepped back and shot Spurgeon in the chest.
Spurgeon fell to the ground and watched in horror from the ground as Richard and the other Stage 1 patients forced his colleagues to prepare to loosen the restraints from the Stage 2 patients. He knew they would die a miserable, lonely death. He thought he could control Stage 1 patients, but he now knew the Stage 1 patients were the Alphas and Stage 2 were Betas. Before the first Stage 2 patient could be set free, his eyes slowly closed, and he died.
Alphas and Betas
Richard stood atop a table and looked down on all the Alphas and Betas before him. The Betas could scarcely contain themselves, they wanted to eat the doctors badly. But Richard had forbidden it. The doctors were horrified, surrounded by the Betas.
“They came to OUR town,” Richard started, “And they tied us down, like dogs. Like bitches. We are not their bitch. We are not their dogs! This is OUR TOWN. We will take back what is ours.” The Betas growled in agreement. The other Alphas looked up to him and nodded. “Now. Now you may eat.”
Chapter 16: Crapsville
Mandy watched as Dudley refilled his little cup with water from the tap. He was going through a lot of water. She figured it was his calming mechanism and had to fight back telling him to get a larger cup, so he’d quit getting refills. She turned and saw Maggie sitting on a table they used for preparing food before rushes. She was biting the inside of her thumb, the web-like area between the index finger and thumb. It was a nervous habit she had developed as a child, a result of an angry father. Her dad was always blowing a fuse over something. Even during sleepovers when Mandy was hanging out with her. He’d go off about them playing too loud, or the food her mom prepared being boring, or how messy his life was and how it was always someone else’s fault. And respect. He was always demanding respect.
Mandy took her hand from her mouth and held it between hers. “Look, Maggie, I know you’re nervous. Scared. We all are. But if you don’t stop gnawing at that hand, you’re gonna start bleeding.”
“Yeah,” Maggie said, “I know. It’s stupid.”
“No, it’s a coping mechanism,” Mandy said. She hopped up on the table next to her and put an arm around her. “We all have them. Dudley’s drinking water like it’s going out of style, or he just really wants to pee for an hour. And even Lucas. No doubt in that locked office, he’s got something he’s doing that’s making this all a little less—whatever the hell it is.”
“It’s Crapsville,” Maggie said. “Pure Crapsville.”
Mandy smiled and nodded. “Nailed it.”
The office door unlocked and slowly opened. They all stopped what they were doing and watched as Lucas came out, half leaning against the wall as he did so. Dudley was standing in the middle of the kitchen floor, cup in hand. He swallowed his previous sip. Lucas was clawing at the inside of his left forearm with his nails. He had been doing it for some time by the looks of it, as he had clawed into his skin and the blood was running down his arm, through his palm, and off his fingertips to the floor. He noticed Dudley first and stared at him for a moment.
“I’m hungry,” he sniffled. “I’m so damned hungry.”
He slowly turned his head and noticed Mandy and Maggie for the first time since stepping out. Mandy saw that his eyes were bloodshot, and a tear of blood dropped from the side of his right eye. He snarled at them. And he began to breathe heavier and heavier as he looked at them.
“Lucas,” Mandy stepped down from the table. “Are you OK?”
“Look at you,” he said. “Stupid whores. The whole lot of them.”
“What are you talking about?” Maggie said as she dropped down from the table. “We saved your life! We’ve been fending off these—whatever they are.”
He hawked up a ball of spit and spewed it on the floor between them. Mandy noticed it was a mixture of saliva, blood, and a tooth. “It’s mine,” he said through gritted teeth.
“What is your problem, dickweed!” Maggie yelled and started to step towards him, but Mandy put an arm out stopping her.
“You can’t have it!” he yelled and lunged from the wall at them, but lost balance and slammed into a wall before them.
Dudley jumped, dropped his water, and ran out of sight around the corner.
Mandy started to nudge Maggie backwards. “To the freezer,” she whispered to her.
“I saw it first!” Lucas yelled and lunged a second time. Mandy pushed Maggie aside and tripped Lucas up with her feet. He went reeling into the table they had been sitting on.
Mandy and Maggie took off running for the freezer around the corner at the back of the kitchen. They could hear him clumsily getting up and yelling profanities. Still going on about how It was His. Maggie pulled the heavy, stainless steel door open, and stepped in. Mandy grabbed a kitchen knife as she ran by it. She pulled the door quickly to its latching point. She looked and saw that Maggie was all the way in the back of the freezer. She was chewing her thumb again. Mandy didn’t say anything this time.
She stepped back away from the door and watched it, waiting for him to open it. Ready with the knife to stab him when he did.
“I don’t have a weapon!” Maggie screamed. “Dammit!”
The door shook with a thud. Maggie jumped.
The door shook again.
But it didn’t open.
Mandy recalled the confused look on the man earlier in the evening. He couldn’t remember how to open a door. Like all the basic functions of a man had left him, and he was only left with the primitive kind. Hunger. Aggression.
“Maggie, he doesn’t know how to open the door anymore,” she said.
“Earlier, when the man came at me from the parking lot,” she started, “he didn’t remember how to open the door. But he knew he was hungry, and he was really pissy about it. Lucas is hungry and pissed, and more aggressive than usual. And now, he can’t open the door. He’s turned into one of them somehow.”
The door began to shake repeatedly without ceasing.
“He’s losing his mind,” Mandy said. She knew that’s what had happened to Lucas. He had turned into a savage, primitive beast. Mindless, ignorant. In need of only one thing: food and It. What was It? “What do you suppose he was babbling on about? He kept making out like we were a threat to him. That there was something he had and we were trying to take it from him. What did that even mean?”
“The motivations of Lucas never made sense to me before,” Maggie said. “They sure as crap don’t make sense to me now.”
There was a dampened pop from outside the door, and the rattling of the door stopped. There were a few more pops, and then silence. Mandy and Maggie looked at each other, not sure what to make of it.
“Gunshots?” Mandy asked.
“Maybe?” Maggie replied.
They waited in silence. No more pops. No more rattling.
Mandy took the knife in her right hand, ready to thrust it forward if someone came at her. She slowly reached out with her left hand to the handlebar.
“Don’t do it,” Maggie whispered.
“We can’t stay in here forever,” Mandy said. “We’ll freeze to death.”
Maggie stomped her foot in frustration. “Fine.” She bit into her hand.
Mandy took the cold handlebar in her hand and slowly began to unlatch the door, but then she felt it was being done for her. She let go and stepped back. The latch opened, and the door slowly opened. She stepped forward with a thrust of the knife, but stopped when she saw a leather covered arm reach around the door to pull it open. The door opened and there stood Sheriff Elderton, behind her was another woman she didn’t recognize.
“Where is he?” Mandy asked.
“He’s dead,” Elderton said. “Wanna come out of there?”
Chapter 15: One-Nine-Four-Seven
Richter slowly cracked open the janitor’s closet door he’d broken into. When the chaos of gunfire had broken out, he didn’t know what was going on, but broke off the handle to a nearby janitor’s closet and hid inside. He had been waiting for the sounds of gunfire and shouting to die down before making his way back out into the high school and trying to blend in with the other soldiers. He had tried to make out what was going on, but from what little he’d heard from shouting, all he could piecemeal together was that there was someone else in the school. Probably another agent like himself. Some other country had no doubt heard about the UFO crash outside of Tipton. No doubt they were also aware of the bounty in store for whoever could get the chemical agent returned home and analyze it. No doubt there was a new war on the horizon. One very sick and nasty. One fought from afar by dropping pollutants into the air and just watching the aftermath. If the rumors were true, the chemical agent was very effective when used against the enemy.
The Americans were calling it Agent One-Nine-Four-Seven.
It was a reference to the Roswell, New Mexico, UFO crash and sighting which took place in the summer of 1947. An incident that was highly debated amongst many. But to the American government, at least from outside appearances, they were bound and determined to deny any such existence of a UFO in Roswell that year.
Richter had never put much stock in the idea of UFOs or extraterrestrials. But even he had to admit that everything that had happened over the past twenty-four hours was challenging his belief system. He had taken on the assignment assuming Agent One-Nine-Four-Seven was simply a chemical born in a laboratory by American scientists. He didn’t expect to find anything but a vial in a lab. He had assumed he could just swoop in, snatch the vial, and swoop out. Just like in the past with other missions. But this had proven much more complicated. The previous night had proven a complete train wreck.
Richter had stowed away in the American convoy involving both the U.S. Army and Homeland Security. What he found was not a vial of some chemical, but a bizarre alien pod. He didn’t know what to do with it, and before he had made up his mind, some rookie soldier had shot off several rounds of bullets. He hid behind the pod while bullets whizzed by him. He waited for the rookie to run out, but before he did, he shot the driver through the head. As his lifeless body lunged forward from the gunshot wound, he took the steering wheel on a sharp left. They went through the railing and rolled down the side of the lower-half of the mountain. The rookie was rolled all over the backside of the truck.
Richter had taken a few turns around the truck before he realized the pod was bolted in place to the bottom of the truck. It hadn’t moved an inch. He lunged and grabbed onto it with his right hand. Then, he rolled and wrapped the rest of his limbs around it. He held onto the pod his feet, his hands. Even his head.
And they rolled.
And then, there was a crash and more rolling with no ground. They were airborne. He knew the next thing they’d feel would be the ground. He watched the rookie’s body being tossed around like a ragdoll, and he admired it. It was the rookie against nature and nature had broken every bone in his body.
The landing was harsh and knocked his grip loose. He fell and sat motionless for a bit. His eyesight was blurry for a moment, but he quickly took stock of himself. He hadn’t broken anything noticeable like a leg, or arm. He seemed to have all his movement, but he was sore and in a lot of pain. He was going to have the worst whiplash of his life. He would need to see his masseuse when he returned home weekly for at least six months.
He knew then he wouldn’t be walking away with the pod that night. He needed a vehicle, and the truck was sideways in a creek. He stumbled out of the back of the truck, he could see helicopters circling around. They had searchlights following the path of the crash down. He knew they’d eventually light him up, if he didn’t move. He took off running through the creek and eventually threw himself down into the creek face down at the banks. The light was almost on him.
He had lain there, face down in the water, pretending to be amongst the dead. The light shone over him for a few seconds and then moved back to the truck. He crawled across the rocky bottom of the creek to the banks. He crawled into the thick grass and into the trees. He stood up and looked from behind a tree. He could see a sea of soldiers, like ants, rushing down the mountain side. They’d shoot him if they saw him.
He had torn off into the woods. He made his way to Tipton, knowing they’d eventually have to travel through it, as it was in the valley between the mountains. It was either that or they turned around and went back. But Agent Wilcox wouldn’t do that, because their destination was Arizona. If he made it to Arizona, and got it underground, Richter would lose his best chance at retrieving it. He had to take it in Tipton. He knew that.
So he waited.
He waited all day on the upside of the outside of Tipton. He watched all day, waiting to see that convoy come moving into town. Coming down the mountain.
And they did.
He stepped out of the janitor’s closet and closed it silently behind himself. A lot of the lighting which had been bright and obnoxious when he came in was now broken. Someone had been evening the playing field. He admired it. It also worked to his advantage. He moved quickly.
He approached the entrance to the gym; the lights were shining through the door. He figured it was a sure bet. Somewhere big, lots of room. And open, easy to protect. Put some snipers up in the top of the bleachers. His palms started to sweat. That was always an indication to him that he didn’t like the odds. They had the high ground. The only thing he had going for him was his borrowed uniform. That would only work from a distance, because up close no one would recognize him or the name on the uniform. He figured he had to work up a distraction. But maybe the distraction that was already in place had done just that. Perhaps he could sneak in under their nose, while they chased whoever came in before him, and push it right out. It might just be the easiest snatch he’d ever made.
He stepped up to the first set of doors. He stood next to them and leaned over to look in the window. The pod was there. From what he could see, the gym looked empty. He couldn’t even see any snipers at the top of the bleachers. Had they really abandoned the pod like amateurs?
He figured it was best to move to the second set of doors and check a different angle. He took one step and a fire alarm started to ring. He looked back through the window. No movement. No shadows. Nothing.
He looked down the hallway behind him and before him. The same. No movement. No shadows. Not even a sound. Where was everybody?
He decided to run with it. He pushed the doors open and moved in quickly. He held his rifle up and moved around to the edge of the bleachers. He quickly took stock of all the corners he’d set up shop in, and there was nobody. He shook his head.
Frustrated and confused, he just stepped out onto the court and stood there with his hands up. He danced a little jig. Nothing. Nobody was there. It was insulting. Who could be so much more important, that they abandoned their post with the pod and left it wide open for him?
Nobody. He was their greatest threat. They were complete amateurs.
He ran over to the pod, slung his rifle over his shoulder. They had put the pod on a cart of some kind from the school. He dropped to the hardwood floor, looked underneath and confirmed it had wheels. It was going to be so easy.
There was a loud crash and popping sound. He spun over onto his back with his gun trained in the direction the sound came from. Someone had taken out one of the lights in the ceiling, between the rafters. Someone was shooting the lights out.
He listened. But he couldn’t hear anything through the fire alarm. He checked the various angles someone might have been shooting the light from. He didn’t see anyone in the bleachers. No one on the floor beside the bleachers.
Crash. Pop. Pop, pop.
He spun around and watched as sparks fell from another light that had been taken out behind him. It was the opposite end of the court. They were messing with him and slowly taking out the lighting between them. He figured they could see him, in the middle of the court and on the floor like an amateur. But it was pointless. Getting up and running was only going to push their trigger. They knew they had the high ground. He just needed to spot them, just once. And then he could kill them for taking him for granted. For thinking they could kill The Judge.
Crack. Pop, pop. Pop.
They had the high ground, and they should have taken their shot when they had it. He’d given them an inch, they wouldn’t get a mile. They were cocky, and he was going to enjoy killing them. Watching them suffer and he would remind them why you don’t walk into his courtroom and try to take The Judge at his own game.
Crack. Pop, pop. Pop. Crack. Crack. Pop, pop, pop. Pop.
There were so many flashes and sparks flying that he was losing count of the lights. He started seeing blue spots and rubbed his eyes.
Crack. Pop. Crack. Pop. Pop, pop, pop. Crack. Crack. Pop, pop, pop, pop. Crack. Pop.
He closed his eyes. The flashes and sparks were only hurting his vision. He would have to wait until the sparks dissipated. All he could see was the blacks of his eyelids and blue spots. All he could hear was the fire alarm blaring nonstop.
He still had touch.
He set his left hand on the hardwood floor next to him and felt for anything. Any sign of vibration that might indicate someone was walking the floor towards him. He couldn’t feel anyone. No one was on the floor, not near him at least. They could be standing at the edge of the court, taking their aim on his body. He was poised with his back against the pod, sitting on the floor. He was so compromised. They had the high ground and were making an assault on his senses.
They would screw up. They had to. No one had ever outwitted him. No one had ever gotten the high ground on him. They would have to slip up eventually. And when they did, he’d destroy them. And then he’d kill them.
He moved his hand gently across the hard wood, still feeling for something. That slip up. That…
The pod suddenly began to shake back and forth violently on the cart. It was so violent it knocked him over onto his side. He jumped to his feet, his eyes still closed.
They were atop the pod.
He fired off several bullets where he figured the soldier was atop the pod. He heard the shrieking sounds of metal against metal. He opened his eyes, ready to see a defeated opponent. But instead…
The alien had left one light in place, right above her pod. It lit her and the pod up before him. The symbol on her abdomen was glowing white, except for four black marks which slowly regained their light. He had shot her four times, but his bullets simply ricochet off her abdomen.
He couldn’t believe what he was seeing before himself. This was why they had abandoned their post. The alien had come back for her pod. The alien wasn’t ready to let it go. Anyone who took ownership of the hive had to answer to the Queen. He looked up to her face.
Her brow was scowling. Anger. Pure, unadulterated rage.
Chapter 14: A seven nation couldn't hold her back
Elderton and Martha had moved to the teacher’s desk and were rummaging through it. They found a box of twinkies in the top drawer and placed it on the desk. Elderton suggested they should all eat one as it was uncertain how long it would be before they might have a full meal. She called to the soldier and he came over and took the offered twinkie and went back to the door without a word. Behind a computer they found a radio. Elderton turned it on and began to surf to the usual stations. Static. Static. Static. No one was broadcasting, or someone was blocking the frequencies. She wondered if anyone even knew what was transpiring in Tipton. Was it only happening in Tipton? Was it spreading beyond its borders? How long before a proper response was even taken? If it were up to her, she’d be calling the governor, briefing her, and calling for an emergency state to bring in the National Guard and do it right. Take care of their people, save as many as they could. Try to find a cure. Try to reverse the effects of whatever was causing this outbreak in aggression.
She pulled open another drawer on the teacher’s desk. It was filled with binders, and she pulled them out with her free hand and dropped them haphazardly on top of the desk. They slid all over and one fell to the floor with a crash. The soldier jumped and gave her a look. She ignored him and kept rummaging through the drawer. Nothing. She grabbed the binders on the desk, one by one, and dropped them back in but stopped when she reached the last on the pile. It had been sitting at the bottom of the drawer when she removed them. It was old, grey, and had no labels on it like the others. She noticed what appeared to be a picture of someone’s leg sticking out the bottom, where a page was sticking out from her carelessness. She opened the binder and on the first page there were four different photos, all from the same angle, and all of different pairs of legs. All were girls. She turned the page. Another four photos, more pairs of legs. She turned the page--more of the same.
“What is this?” Martha asked when she noticed the photos Elderton was paging through.
Elderton knelt down beneath the desk and followed a cable from the computer to a webcam that had been taped upside down underneath the desk. It was aimed for a perfect shot of getting the two pairs of legs on the front row. She grabbed the webcam and yanked it out. She slammed the webcam on the binder of pictures.
“Our teacher has been doing up-skirt photos of his students,” Elderton growled. She was fuming with rage. She turned to the soldier. “What’s the name on the door?”
He frowned and reluctantly stuck his head out the door and looked at the plaque with both the room number and teacher’s last name.
He reported the name back to Elderton. She shook her head. “I always thought he was kind of a pervert.” She thought about how if she got out of the night alive, and found out Higgins had too, she was gonna arrest him and throw away the key. “Hey, kid,” she said to the soldier, “Can I make a phone call? I need to check in on my deputy and secretary. At least let them know I’m fine, and Martha’s fine. I won’t say anything about what’s going on.”
The soldier shook his head, “You must think I’m pretty naive.”
“No,” Elderton replied, “But I was kinda hoping you had some sense left in you.”
He shook his head again. “No phone calls.”
“Well, I just thought I’d ask,” she said.
“Besides, we got the phone lines cut all over town. You couldn’t even--” He caught himself bragging and saying too much, but it was too late. The damage was done.
“Thanks,” Elderton said with a smile. “That’s all I wanted to know.”
The soldier turned his head away and stared out the window to the classroom. He was seething with anger, she could tell. She’d really gotten under his skin using him like that. She mildly felt bad, because he hadn’t been horrible to them, but he hadn’t been exactly empathetic either. She was tired of waiting for people to make the right decisions, she was tired of sitting on her hands hoping something would fall right. Despite how much she and Mayor Marsden hated each other, she was still taken aback that he had not only allowed her capture to transpire but that he also revealed in it. He was handing over control of Tipton and he didn’t even know it. That’s how arrogant he was--how arrogant the soldier was--and everyone else she’d met that night. Everyone thought they had some big play, some big power move they were making. Reality was that they were just making a dire situation worse by letting egos get in the way. She was ready to break out and take Tipton back.
“Someone’s coming,” the soldier said and readied his rifle.
“One of your own?” Elderton asked. She could tell he was nervous and likely trigger happy.
“No, a man in a polo shirt and shorts,” He said. “Kind of a big guy. And bald.”
“With a mustache?” Martha asked.
“That’s Mr. Higgins,” Martha said.
They all looked at each other awkwardly for a moment. The footfalls of Higgins could be heard coming closer and closer. The soldier took several steps back from the door. “Put those binders away,” he told Elderton. “We don’t need a fight over that right now.”
Elderton just looked at him and didn’t flinch. “No.” She put her one free hand on her hip.
“I said put them away dammit,” he growled at her.
Even Martha placed her free hand on her hip.
The soldier turned his rifle towards them and started to make a threat, but before he could do so there was a knock at the door. A slow, prodding knock at the door. It almost sounded as if Higgins was trying to paw his way inside.
They all looked at each other, confused. If it was Higgins, he would surely have the keys to his own classroom. And even if he’d lost them, knocking on the door in the middle of the night wouldn’t have made much difference.
“Something doesn’t add up,” Elderton said. “If that’s Higgins, why is he knocking on his classroom door in the middle of the night?”
Knock. Knock. Knock.
“Mr. Higgins!” The soldier called out. The knocking stopped. “Is that you, Mr. Higgins?” Silence. No response. “I said, Mr. Higgins, is that you?”
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Elderton could see the soldier was sweating from head to foot. He was shaking in all of his joints and his gun was still trained on her and Martha, but his wide-eyes were fixated on the door. She knew he was going to end up shooting someone prematurely. She’d seen that look before in her old partner back in Oakland in 1993. The fear slowly took over any sense of logic, any sense of restraint. She had tried to talk her partner, Winston, down back then but he couldn’t even hear her. The fear was too loud. He fired at the first movement he saw, which came from an unarmed fourteen year old black boy. After the gunshot was fired, she tackled Winston to the ground and handcuffed him. She called it in and tried to save the kid before the paramedics arrived, but it was too late. The bullet severed a major artery to the heart and the child died in less than sixty seconds. She held the kid, Terrell Jones, until the paramedics pried him from her hands. She testified against Winston before a grand jury, but it didn’t matter. It was never brought to court, and Winston stayed on in Oakland. But she was shunned by her peers, and false accusations were slung against her regularly in an attempt to get her fired. She finally left Oakland for a small, presumably quiet position in the lazy town of Tipton.
But now she was staring that look down again.
She knew any sound, any movement could set him off. She kept thinking of Martha. She wouldn't tell her not to move, as she figured even a whisper could be the trigger to set him off. She just had to wait and hope the first movement, the trigger came from somewhere else.
That was it. The soldier let out an unintelligible scream and rushed to the door. He opened it and grabbed Higgins by his shoulders and threw him across the floor in the classroom. He aimed point blank at Higgins on the floor.
“What’s your problem, man?” He yelled at Higgins. Higgins didn’t respond, he lay face down on the tile motionless. “I’m talking to you, pussy!”
Elderton watched in slow motion as the classroom door slowly closed. She knew when it latched the soldier was going to react again. All she could do was watch and hope for the best. She needed an opening to take him down and deescalate the situation, but she also knew she would be dragging Martha with any move she tried to make.
The door latched.
The soldier spun around and took two quick shots through the door. The glass of the window shattered onto the floor. Higgins sat up and grabbed the soldier by his leg. He began to bite on his leg, but was met with a mouthful of pants. The soldier screamed and turned back to Higgins, who was clawing at him in an attempt to topple him over. Instinctively, the soldier shoved his hand in Higgins’ face to try and get him back, but Higgins seized the opportunity to take a bite of his unprotected hand. The soldier panicked and stepped on his own boot while trying to step back, he fell over and Higgins climbed atop of him. He lost his grip on the rifle and it slid across the floor and under some chairs.
Elderton took a firm grip on Martha’s hand and they both took off running for the rifle.
The soldier pushed at the mouth of Higgins with his left forearm, as he tried to bite his face over and over. With his other hand he pulled his pistol from its holster and placed it against Higgins’ head. He took the shot and blood splattered all over his face and mouth. Higgins went limp on top of him, all four-hundred pounds. He spit blood and brain tissue out of his mouth in disgust. And then he saw Martha and Elderton running for the rifle. He aimed his pistol at them.
“Freeze!” He shouted. They stopped. “Turn around slowly!”
Elderton slowly turned about with Martha to face the soldier. He was underneath Higgins, face covered in blood, with an expression of anger and fear. He had his pistol trained on them. Higgins was still bleeding from his head wound over the soldier and into a puddle on the floor.
“There’s more at play tonight, bigger problems than us,” Elderton tried to reason with him.
“Don’t move!” He yelled at them from his compromised position. He wiggled out from underneath the weight of Higgins, sliding around in the blood. He stood up slowly, gun still trained on them. “Move away from my weapon!”
“We’re moving,” Elderton said, as they slowly sidestepped away from the rife and back towards the front of the classroom. “There’s no need to yell. We’re all on the same side.”
“Shut up!” He yelled back at her. “I’m sick of your crap! Just shut up!”
Elderton gently nodded while she and Martha continued away from the rifle. He walked over and picked up the rifle from the ground, he slung it over his shoulders with the strap. He never did lower his pistol. He slowly walked over to the door to the classroom, his back to it and his gun still trained on them. He walked through the broken glass, the sound of it crunching beneath his feet was all they could hear. He reached the door, and opened it. He looked up and down both ends of the hallway, his gun still fixated on them. He looked back to them with the door held open in his hand.
“We’re not on the same team,” He said.
He let go of the door and took off running down the hallway.
“Where’s he going?” Martha asked.
“He’s going AWOL, Martha,” Elderton said. “He’s a lost cause. Don’t worry about him.”
They kept their distance as they walked around Higgins on the floor. He had clearly become like the rest, a mindless cannibalistic nightmare. But Elderton wondered what had brought him back to his classroom. Was there still some of Mr. Higgins left inside? Somewhere buried beneath the primitive behavior was he still cognitive of who he was and his life before the disease? She was frustrated at how little she knew and understood what was happening to the people in Tipton, but she wasn’t going to shed one tear or lose one night of sleep over the death of Mr. Higgins, ninth grade Biology teacher and pervert.
Elderton and Martha looked out into the hallway in the direction the soldier had just gone running. He was already long gone. Gunshots rang out and screaming followed with it, it came from the other direction and they both looked down the long hallway they had originally come from. Soldiers were shouting, shooting, and it sounded like overall chaos.
“We’re going that way,” Elderton said. “But we’ll have to be careful not to be seen.”
“Are you crazy?” Martha said. “Can’t you hear that?”
“Yeah, but do you really wanna follow G.I. AWOL?” She said. “Besides, we need to see what they’re hiding in the gym. I need to know what the hell is going on and what we’re up against.”
“We’re gonna get caught,” Martha worried, and tried to cross her arms in discomfort, but the cuffs didn’t allow it.
“Not if we’re smart, Martha,” Elderton reassured her. “And you and I have more brains between us than their whole damn army.”
As they moved down the hallway, they tried to stay out of sight as much as possible. Ducking behind anything they could, moving from doorway to doorway. The gunshots and mayhem continued, and it only got louder as they moved nearer and nearer to their destination in the gym. They found a row of concession tables that were used during basketball games folded up against the wall. They hid behind the wall they created, Elderton with her arm wrapped around Martha behind her. Up ahead there was still shouting and the sounds of footfalls throughout the area, but the gunshots had stopped. It appeared they had lost their target.
Elderton could see two sets of doors up ahead, each leading into the gym. There was yellow light pouring out from the windows in the door, and they cast yellow lines against the floor in the hallway. She noticed the hydrogen light bulbs on the roof above had been strategically busted out. There was glass all over the floor outside of the gym. It was going to be hard moving around without making a lot of noise, but at least they had some cover of darkness to help. Whoever was stirring up trouble for Wilcox and his men was smart.
She turned back to Martha and whispered, “We’ll head to the first set of doors, look inside through the glass, but we won’t go in unless the gym is absolutely empty, OK?”
“And another thing, there’s glass--” before Elderton could finish speaking, Martha started tapping frantically on her shoulder and pointed behind her. She turned around expecting to see a soldier coming their way, but instead it was something else entirely.
There was a feminine figure moving around in the darkness outside the gym. She slowly moved up to the first set of doors and looked through the glass. The yellow light lit enough of her that Elderton could get a better look. She was taller than most women, she estimated six foot, five inches at least. Her head was round, slick with no hair on top. Her skin was a greenish grey, and had a reptilian texture to it. Her eyes were black, large and there were no whites or noticable pupil. Where her nose should have been, there was no cartilage but instead simply two oval-shaped nostrils flat against the skin. Instead of moving one’s eyes to look around, she moved her head to-and-fro to get different perspectives. The movement had a bird-like quality. She placed a hand to the glass, ready to push the door open. The hand had long fingers with sharp nails at the tips. Between the fingers was a webbing of sorts. Elderton wondered if it was used for climbing, like a spider. She started to slowly push the door open, but then there were voices in the gym, and she turned suddenly away. She started to walk away, but then stopped. Her head slowly turned and looked exactly in the direction of Elderton and Martha.
Martha had a deathgrip on Elderton’s bicep and said curse words under her breath.
The figure stood in the rays of light from the gym, a towering presence not only to Elderton and Martha but surely to all the frantic soldiers that had been pursuing her. Her body was long, and slender, but with an athlete’s build. Her arms were noticeably toned, as were her calves and thighs. Elderton figured she was fast as hell, and there was no point in trying to outrun her. She slowly tilted her head as she looked Elderton dead in the eyes. Elderton didn’t sense a threat, but more a curiosity.
“Trust me Martha,” Elderton whispered to her.
Elderton slowly stood up with Martha’s hand in hers. She slowly stepped out from behind the tables and tugged at Martha like she was a child. They both stood there, hand-in-hand, just breathing. Elderton was playing the only hand she felt she had, the rest was up to the figure before her.
The figure lowered and lifted its head, as it looked them over. She was studying them, no doubt weighing the threat as well. Eventually, she seemed to meet Elderton eye-to-eye again. She raised her brow. Elderton felt as though she was smiling at her. Elderton managed to conjure up a smile in return.
She raised a webbed-hand and slowly waved at Elderton and Martha.
“Oh my gosh,” Martha said. “She’s waving.”
Elderton and Martha each raised their free hand and waved gently back. This seemed to delight her, as she jiggled a little in her stomach. Her face also seemed to lighten up more. She stopped waving and a white light began to illuminate in her abdomen, just below her breasts. The lines of two triangles overlapping took shape in her abdomen. When it was completed, you could see not only two triangles, but the diamond they created in the middle with the overlap.
Elderton didn’t know what it meant, but she had painstakingly tried to hide herself from the soldiers. She had busted out the lights, and snuck around in the dark. But before Martha and her, she was showing herself. She wasn’t afraid to show herself. Elderton had no idea what was going on, or if this creature was responsible for what was happening to the people of Tipton, but she was certain shooting at her wasn’t going to solve it.
“OVER HERE.” A voice shouted from the hallway behind the figure.
She turned and saw a group of soldiers. She spun back and went running straight for Martha and Elderton. They retreated back behind the tables. The soldiers started shooting. Elderton watched with squinted eyes as the flashes of the guns caused a display like firecrackers through the hallway beside them. The soldiers ran by in a large group, pursuing the figure that waved.
“It’s too fast!” Screaming, gunshots. Chaos.
Elderton waited and listened with Martha for the last soldier to pass. But the last one was really trailing behind the rest. She could hear his boots slowly approaching, and labored breathing. Just as he started to pass them, he stopped. Knelt down, hands on knees. He gasped for air and cursed. But then he noticed Elderton’s boots and looked up.
It was the soldier who had taken her guns.
Elderton and Martha jumped him together and tackled him to the ground. Elderton held his mouth closed while Martha watched for the last soldier to turn off down a side hallway. She nodded to Elderton. They drug him across the hall to a classroom by their cuffed hands. He kicked and gagged, grabbing at the cuff chain across his neck. They pulled him inside the classroom and turned on the light. Elderton stepped hard on his testicles with the heel of her boot. He rolled over in pain, caressing them to ease the pain. Martha gently closed the door behind them.
They were in the drama room. Elderton looked around and spotted a rope hanging over the side of a box of props. “Grab him again,” she said to Martha, and they dragged him over to the box. She pulled out the rope, and it was long. Martha let her cuffed hand go limp for Elderton, who took the rope and made quick work of the knots. She went back over the knots, checking they were tight as possible. She then stood up with Martha and looked down at him. He hands and feet were intricately tied together behind his back. He couldn’t stand up, sit up, or move his feet or hands independent of each other. He could roll though.
She looked over at Martha who was giving her a look. “Girl Scouts,” Elderton explained. “My scout leader was a knot expert.”
“OK,” Martha said.
Elderton lead Martha to the teacher’s desk, where she found a notepad and pencil. She sketched the insignia that had appeared on the figure’s abdomen. Two triangles, a diamond in the middle. She showed it to Martha. “Look about right?” She asked.
“That’s it.” Martha replied.
Elderton folded the sketch and put it in her pants pocket.
They walked back over to the soldier and picked him up. They placed him in a chair. Elderton sat in front of him, face-to-face. Knees touching. He was nervous, but angry more than anything. He had been completely blindsided by their presence, and was still trying to get his bearings. She looked at his name and it read Pvt. Roberts.
“Alright, Private Roberts,” she started. “We’re gonna have a little chat. You’re gonna tell me what is happening and why ya’ll are trying to cover it up.”
He sneered at her and shook his head. “I’m not gonna betray my country, because of some psycho bitch. So why don’t you two ladies just head home, make some popcorn, and turn on a Lifetime movie--and leave this to the big boys, yeah?”
Martha pushed past Elderton and grabbed Roberts by the collar. “My family is dead! My husband killed my children tonight! You getting that through your stupid skull? This ain’t a game. People are dying. So wipe that smirk off your stupid face.” She pushed away from him and walked away. She turned her back to him. She couldn’t look at his smug face anymore.
“This the way you do things in Tipton?” Roberts asked Elderton.
“She doesn’t work for me,” Elderton said. “So she does whatever she wants. But this is about you right now. Are you going to help us, yes or no?”
He leaned close enough that their noses touched for a brief moment. “No.”
Elderton sat back. “Alright, fair enough. So, we’re gonna gag you, leave you here with the door open. How long do you think before that creature comes back?” She could see in his eyes the thought of meeting with the creature from the hallway was something he didn’t want in his present state. “Or even worse, how much longer before one of the fine people of Tipton wander through that door.” She pointed to the door for effect. “Of course, they might not be themselves when they do.”
“You’re not gonna leave me here,” he said. “You’re bluffing.”
“Martha, get a gag.”
They sat there, knees still touching, while Martha rummaged through some boxes with prop and costume pieces. She found an old backpack and put it on the floor next to the box. She found a red handkerchief and smiled. She handed it to Elderton.
Elderton wrapped it up tight around her hand. “I have one more question.” She looked up from the handkerchief. “Where are my guns?”
Roberts was looking nervous finally. He was finally letting the anger wash away and be replaced by pure fear. “They’re in the gym with the rest of the cache.”
“There’s a weapons cache in the gym?” Elderton asked. She was appalled at the thought.
“Yeah,” He said. “But don’t go in there, because...” he slowly stopped speaking.
“Oh, I’m going in there,” Elderton said. She stood up and walked around behind him. She unwound the handkerchief from her hand.
“Now, just wait a minute--” he tried to plead, but she pulled the handkerchief tight against his mouth from behind him. She pulled it tight around to the back of his head. She took the two ends and tied them as tight to his head as possible. She could only hear his gags and moans. No more arrogant rants.
She walked around in front of him. She had hooked the handkerchief between the teeth, and it was so tight she could tell it was going to hurt like hell. But she felt no pity for Private Roberts.
Martha turned to Elderton. “I found a backpack. It might prove useful. Let’s see what else we can find amongst the props and costumes before we go.”
Elderton and Martha spent five minutes rummaging through the props and costumes, and it turned out to be a worthwhile endeavor. Elderton found a baseball bat, which might prove useful in close combat or if they ran out of ammo. Martha found a trench coat her size and gave Elderton her jacket back. She Martha also found a baseball cap, Detroit Twins. She put her hair up with some hair pins she found with makeup and hair items. She slipped the hat on over it. Her hair would be kept out of her face from now on. Martha didn’t need any obstruction blocking her vision.
On their way out of the classroom, Elderton waved at Roberts and propped the door open with a wooden doorstop she found on the floor.
Elderton and Martha crossed the hall to the first pair of doors to the gym. They looked inside and it appeared no one was present. But the large pod-like thing she had gotten a tiny glimpse of earlier was still in the center of the basketball court.
“What is it?” Martha whispered.
“No idea. Come on.” Elderton quietly pushed the door open and snuck through with the bat in hand. Martha held the door until it was closed, and slowly let it latch with the handle in her hands. They both walked along the bleachers and at the front they looked across the gym. They had a clear shot of the entire gym and there was no one present. Elderton turned back to Martha. “Guns first, and then we check out the thing, OK?”
Martha nodded silently.
Elderton looked back out across the gym. There were various pieces of army equipment and weapons. There was also a row of folding tables with documents laid across them along with various thermoses for coffee and water bottles partially drank. She spotted a stockpile of guns in varying sizes on the other side of the thing. That’s where her guns would be, and ammo. And Martha needed a weapon too. She couldn’t believe what she was thinking. Where the evening had taken them. She was about to steal weapons and ammunition from the United States Army and Homeland Security, and then just hand it over to a citizen and encourage her to use it on anything that came at them with intent to attack. It was a bleak night. She found herself wishing for the boring morning of looking at cattle. If only.
They held hands as they crossed the court. Still cuffed together. They kept a distance between themselves and the uncertain object they would soon be inspecting. On the other side of it, they moved to the weapons cache. She found her shotgun easily enough, but it took a little more effort to sift through an ammo box filled with pistols. They filled up their backpack with ammunition, two extra pistols, and a couple of hand-grenades.
“You should pick out a gun.” Elderton whispered to Martha. Martha looked around for a moment, but then picked up an AR-15. She looked it over a little, to adjust to it. Felt it in her hands, the weight of it. Elderton shook her head, “Do you know how to use that?”
“My brother Jimmy had one when I was in high school.” Martha explained. “And I’m not taking my chances. I know what this disease makes people do.”
“Alright,” Elderton said, “I just wanted to make sure you knew what you were doing. Grab some clips and put them in the backpack.”
After Martha loaded some clips for her rifle into the backpack, it was so full they could barely zip it up. “This is gonna be a pain to carry, let’s take turns with it.” Martha suggested. Elderton nodded and tried to pick it up, but Martha stopped her. “I’ll take the first carry. We can switch off when we get away from the army.” Elderton nodded again. Martha slid the backpack over her one free shoulder and carried the rifle in her hand, but wouldn’t be able to use it until after dropping the backpack.
Elderton knew it was the smart thing to do. She had the training, she would do better against the soldiers they might encounter on the way out. And she was really hoping no firing would be exchanged between her and Army or Homeland Security. It was going to be hard to explain that she wasn’t betraying her country later down the road.
They both looked at the pod-like object in the middle of the court. For the first time Elderton had a clear view of it. She could see there were designs in the side, but the one that stood out was in the center. It was the same design they had seen on the creature in the hallway, when she lit it up to them. What did it mean? Was it some form of communication? The creature had lit it up on her abdomen after communicating with a handwave. What was that creature? And what was the pod?
They walked together up to the pod, got a closer look. It was black except for silver markings along the outside of it, which created most of the designs. Some of the designs were just carved into the black areas of the pod.
“Is it an egg?” Martha asked out loud to no one.
On one side Elderton found the markings of a gunshot ricochet. There had also been some repair made next to it, as it appeared to rupture the pod. It looked like they had used sealing caulk to fill the hole.
“Back up,” Elderton said as she stepped back and pulled Martha with her.
“There’s been a leak, they repaired it there,” Elderton explained and pointed to it. “It’s possible whatever leaked out of this is what got into our water supply and is causing the spread of the disease.”
They both stood silent for a moment, considering the possibility that this pod was the very thing spreading chaos through their town.
They took a few more steps back.
“Did you notice the symbol?” Martha asked.
“What does it mean?” Martha asked.
“No idea,” Elderton said, and then pulled her to the tables. “Come on.” Elderton didn’t even look, she just started picking up stacks of them and handed them to Martha. “Here, in the front pocket of the backpack. As many as we can.”
Martha set her rifle on a table, and pulled the backpack off of her shoulder. She set it on the table. She unzipped the front pocket and crammed in the files. Elderton stacked them and handed them over, Martha scooted the backpack over and shoved them in. Over and over. Files upon files. And pictures.
Elderton found two pictures of the pod. She folded one into a small square and it handed it to Martha. “Put it in your bra.” She said. She folded another and they each put an image of the pod into their bra. “If we lose the backpack, and the files, we at least have a photo. Each of us. That way if--” she stopped herself before she finished the sentence.
“I know,” Martha said, “It’s smart. But we are gonna get through this.” She gripped Elderton’s hand. Elderton picked up another stack of papers and folders. Martha shook her head at her. There was no more room in the backpack. She zipped up the pocket on the backpack. She pointed to a door on the backside of the gym. “That one goes outside, Kelly,” Martha said. “But it will set off a fire alarm, so we’ll have to book it.”
“Let’s pick a destination before we start running,” Elderton said.
Martha thought for just a second. “Taco House.”
“It’s three blocks away, and it’s the only thing open late in this town,” Martha said. “There might be people there, or at the very least unlocked doors.”
“Sounds reasonable,” Elderton said. “Taco House it is.”
They took one more look at the pod, knowing they would likely never see it again. Once that moment had passed, they headed to the door at the back of the gym. It had red all over it and the words FIRE ALARM all capitalized in white. Elderton looked back at Martha before opening the door, she nodded to her. She pressed the door open and they ran off into the night to the sound of the fire alarm.
Three blocks. Just three blocks.
Chapter 13: Enemy of the state
Richter hid underneath a tree across from the high school. He could see Agent Wilcox had been fortifying his impromptu surroundings. All entrances were guarded with at least one soldier, most with two. The cover of darkness and lack of activities at the school gave them unfettered access to the facility. He admired the quickness with which Wilcox was able to recover from ambush from the previous night.
He stripped down to just an undershirt and the military standard camouflage pants. He pulled out the rest of the uniform from his backpack and slipped into it. He put the rest of his clothes into the backpack, also a military standard issue. He zipped it up and stood up beneath the tree and took it all in one more time. Based on the shape of the building, he could see there was some large room with a high ceiling, he figured that is where they’d have what he had come for and what his clients were paying him to squander.
He put his pistol in the holster on his military toolbelt. He trained his eyes on the west side of the school where there was a door guarded by a lone soldier, shaded by an old oak tree. He decided that would be his entrance.
He walked through the parking lot like he was supposed to be there and came out from behind a Hummer and frightened the young soldier momentarily.
“I didn’t see you there!”
“Relax, private.” Richter said to him, stripping away as much of his accent as he could.
“I don’t know that I ever will again,” the young soldier said, “not after what we saw last night. I swear—”
Before the soldier could finish his train of thought, Richter had a knife in his heart and a hand over his mouth suppressing his screams for help. He wrestled the soldier to the ground and waited until there was confirmation he had drained all of the soldier’s life before dragging him behind the oak tree. He entered the door and held onto it until he could hear it had latched. He didn’t want it slamming and sending an echo down the halls of the school.
He could see a wealth of light coming from a wall of glass and he wasn’t sure what to expect, but he could see moving shadows on the wall adjacent to it. He didn’t want to take on so many soldiers so early; otherwise he’d struggle to get what he came for. He stepped up to the windows and looked inside. It was the cafeteria, all lit up. There were bodies in body bags, others not yet packaged. He also saw people laying on tables, struggling and writhing in pain, clearly overtaken with some ailment. There was one man who began to struggle with a doctor in a lab coat who was trying to administer a drug to him from a needle. That’s when Richter noticed all the people were tied down to the cafeteria tables. Across the neck, arms, hands, waist, thighs, and shins. They didn’t want the patients getting loose. Richter had seen some weird, and even inhumane sights in his days, but even this was a bit strange by American standards. He might expect something like this in the middle east, but to witness the Americans strapping their own citizens in and forcing them to stay put—sometimes even until they died in pain—was well beyond what he’d seen them accomplish. It was depraved even by his standards, and his standards were lower than most.
He spotted Wilcox walking with an older man he didn’t recognize, someone in civilian’s clothes, a suit. The man seemed to be boasting based on his posture and facial expressions. Even without hearing him speak and at the distance between them, Richter could tell he didn’t like the man. He noted that Wilcox was barely even noticing the man’s presence as he looked over the chaotic and bloody site in the cafeteria. He watched as the doctor finally achieved success with the needle. The patient choked and gagged, kicked and screamed. He thrashed harder than most men. So much so the soldiers stepped back in fright. They all watched the patient thrash and thrash until he coughed up blood and died.
Wilcox turned around and spoke to the older man finally. The older man looked around confused and offered a response that Wilcox clearly didn’t want to hear. He gestured to a few soldiers who stepped forward and gunned down the older man point blank.
From the floor, the older man yelled, “I’m mayor of this city! You hear me! You need me! You don’t know this city like I know this city! I’ve lived here my whole damned life! I am this city!”
The soldiers gave him six more shots. The mayor was dead.
Richter smirked to himself, because the cover up was afoot. Wilcox was tying up loose ends. That meant he didn’t have much time. They were likely waiting on an escort of some kind to arrive before heading down the road once more. He figured they must be nearby, if he was already snuffing out loose ends. Richter had to move quickly. He remembered that hummer outside, it would have to do, if he could fit the dang thing inside.
Chapter 12: Things that bruise
Elderton reached the top of the bleachers and got a good glimpse of the man in the suit for the first time. He looked mid-forties in age, black hair with streaks of white through the sides. He wore a pair of thick, black-rimmed glasses with eyebrows so black and thick you could see them move just above the top of the rims. One eyebrow raised when he got a good look of her up close. It was an eyebrow raise she’d grown accustomed to seeing among her male peers. It meant he viewed her as a waste of time and possibly a threat. She looked him up and down and returned the raised eyebrow for good measure.
“I’m Sheriff Elderton,” she said as she extended her hand to shake his, “and I demand to know what the hell is happening in my town.”
“Nothing that concerns you, Elderton,” Marsden chided and stood up straight, grabbing at his belt with the bullhorn buckle he always wore. “And especially not Martha. Ya’ll can just go home. Everything’s under control.”
The suit never reciprocated the handshake.
“My family’s dead at home, Mayor Marsden,” Martha shouted, but then choked, “so screw that.” She stepped back, as she remembered her children.
Elderton took Martha’s hand without looking and gripped it tight for support. She looked the suit dead in the eyes. “Look, I don’t know who you are but tonight people are becoming aggressive. Killing each other,” she paused, “eating each other.” She looked at Marsden. “And I sure don’t call that nothing or under control.”
The suit took a long sigh before speaking and when he did he sounded bored or disinterested. “I’m Agent Wilcox from Homeland Security. What your town is experiencing tonight is a simple problem with your water. Years of neglect and lack of maintenance from local agencies are likely the cause. Akin to Flint, Michigan. It’s nothing to be alarmed about, we would encourage members of the community to make sure they boil their water before using or use bottled water for drinking. It’s a simple thing to contain, now that the problem is known we can assess the problem areas in the water supply and make the necessary upgrades and changes—through local agencies, of course.”
“If it’s so simple, how come Flint still doesn’t have clean water?” Elderton asked, but Wilcox didn’t answer. “Are the Flint townsfolk eating each other?”
Wilcox took out a silver cigarette case from the inside pocket of his suit. He lit up a cigarette and placed the case back into his pocket. He took a puff and blew smoke back at Elderton and Martha. “Well, that’s the local agencies’ problem. I hope your local agencies can work together to implement a solution quicker than Flint has. It’s all about teamwork, Miss Elderton.”
He smirked with the cigarette hanging out the opposite side of his lips. “This way,” he said as he turned and walked back to the high school building. Soldiers moved in around them, forming a circle around the group as they moved inside.
As they entered the building, the soldiers that escorted them stayed outside to guard the entrance. A new group of soldiers took over as their escort. They all walked down the hallways of the school, Elderton still trying to glean a truthful response from either Marsden or Wilcox. There were so many soldiers inside the high school, some classrooms had been opened up and there were soldiers inside with weapons, caches and more.
“So, if it’s just a water contamination issue,” she started, “why the show of strength? You can shoot the water clean?”
“Elderton!” Marsden reprimanded. “Show some respect. Wilcox and the others are here to help.”
“It’s a simple answer,” Wilcox started, but waved his finger in a circle to some soldiers ahead in the hallway. They quickly moved and closed the doors to the gym before they got to it. They stood in front of it, rifles in hands. “We got wind of certain behaviors, we thought maybe there was a security issue, so we came quietly to investigate. We do this sort of thing all the time. We like to think of ourselves as the silent protectors of America’s freedom. We’re always watching out for you, even when you don’t know we are. It’s a thankless job, really.”
As they passed by the gym doors, Elderton broke from the escort and pushed one of the soldiers guarding the entrance down and only got a slight glimpse of some large and dark object in the center of the basketball court through the window pane before being tackled by the second guard. They fell to the floor, and he pinned her down on her face to the tile. He held his rifle across her back and through her arms. She dropped her shotgun and it slid across the floor. She saw a soldier step on it as it slid; he picked it up and held onto it.
“You don’t make things easy, do you Miss Elderton,” Wilcox said. He stepped over to her, leaned down and looked at her face-to-face. He shook his head. “I see what you mean, Mr. Marsden, she really isn’t a team player, is she.”
With the pain of the tile being smashed against her cheekbone and her rage building up inside, she couldn’t hold anything back any longer. People were dying, people were killing each other. They knew something and were determined to keep her in the dark. Determined to prevent her from doing her sworn duty. She spit in his face. “It’s Sheriff Elderton, damn you, and you don’t have jurisdiction over me. Tell your man to get off me now.”
Wilcox was breathing heavy with anger from the spit. He casually pulled a handkerchief from his suit pocket and wiped it away from his face. He used the handkerchief to remove her pistol from its holster. She squirmed as he did so. He stood up and handed her pistol to the soldier with her shotgun.
“I’m coming back for those,” she told the soldier. “You better hope you don’t have them in your hands when I do.” He smiled. “Smile now, I’m gonna punch that grin off your face.”
Wilcox dropped his cigarette on the ground and stamped it out on the tile. He realized it had spit on it. He pulled out a new cigarette and barked orders while he lit it. “Put them in a classroom. You, watch them. Don’t let them out for anything. Make them use a trash can, if they have to piss. Watch them if they do. Don’t take your eyes off these two for one second. Not even to scratch your balls.”
Moments later they were shoved down into classroom chairs in the middle of a classroom. They were handcuffed together at the wrist. One soldier left laughing about something he’d said to the other, who had remained silent the whole walk to the classroom. He had been part of their escort inside the building. He pulled a stool from a lab station over to the door and sat down on it. He glanced out the window on the door, to see what he could make out from the position. He looked over to Elderton and Martha, both sitting silently. Both angry as hell.
“Sorry,” he said.
“Uncuff us,” Elderton said, lifting their cuffed hands up.
“I can’t,” he said, with a look of embarrassment.
“Then your apology don’t mean crap, does it?” Elderton asked. He bit his lip and looked painfully at odds with himself. Elderton turned to Martha. “Did you see in the gym?”
“How could I?” Martha said. “What did you see?”
“Something,” Elderton said. “Something strange.” She strained herself to recall the visual in her head. “It was large, black, but it wasn’t a box—I don’t think—it was oval shaped. If only I’d had more time to look.” She rubbed her cheek, where it had been slammed and ground into the floor. It was red with irritation.
Martha took her hand. “Thank you. Your strength has meant so much to me since…” Her voice trailed off as she tried to find the words to say without a complete breakdown emotionally. Elderton shushed her and pulled her into an awkward embrace with her hand that wasn’t cuffed. Martha rested her head on her shoulder and sobbed into it. Elderton laid her sore cheek atop her head and tried to quell the pain for Martha. Her cheek was another matter, but it would have to wait.
Chapter 11: Regulators, mount up
Mandy and Maggie had blockaded the broken door and locked and blockaded the other entrance. They had to pull teeth to get Lucas to open the office door a crack and toss the store keys out to them. They had to stand as far away from the door as possible before he’d agree to it. He was paranoid and scared in his little space. Mad, yelling, blaming them, blaming the government. Mostly the government. He was still ranting in his throne room about the chemtrails of airplanes, and how it was the government testing on its own people.
They stepped behind the counter and admired their work for a moment. It wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do. At least until they came up with something else.
“What about all these windows?” Maggie asked. “They can still see right in.”
Mandy thought for a moment. “Tape and cardboard. We’ll cover them up. So long as they can’t see us, they don’t know we’re here.”
They walked around to the back of the store, Lucas yelling at them about the chemtrails and government conspiracies as they passed. Mandy slapped the office door and told him to cram it. They found Dudley in the back of the store, hiding behind the soda dispenser. He jumped when they turned the corner. There was a large steel door near him, he was blocking it. Mandy figured he had been considering running through it, setting off the security alarm and dooming them all.
“Are they gone?” Dudley asked.
“They’re dead,” Mandy said. “No thanks to you.”
“Sorry, it’s just…” Dudley trailed off; he couldn’t find the words.
“You’re a coward,” Mandy said. “We get it. Come on Maggie.” She grabbed a large stack of folded boxes and walked off.
Maggie stayed for a moment and watched as Dudley shivered in the corner. “We’re boarding up, so to speak, to keep them out. It’s safe to come out now.”
“No thanks,” Dudley said. “It’s safer here.”
Maggie just nodded and picked up the rest of the cardboard. She headed back up front, wondering if he’d ever come out and help them. She stopped for a moment at the walk-in freezer door. She figured in a worst-case scenario it would be the best place to go. They could all bundle inside and jam the door. Hope they could wait out whatever that scenario might become. She hoped it didn’t come down to it. She always had a bit of claustrophobia when it came to the walk-in freezer. She always had a fear of being shut inside, trapped, until she eventually froze out of existence.
She really hoped it wouldn’t come down to that.
She found Mandy tapping cardboard over the windows, and she sat her stack of cardboard in a booth under a window. They could cover more ground if they split up. Mandy tossed her a tape dispenser of her own and she got to work. She kept working as she spoke to Mandy.
“You shouldn’t be so hard on Dudley,” she told Mandy. “We’re all going through something traumatic. We’re all gonna have different responses.”
“Fight or flight?” Mandy asked.
“Yeah,” Maggie replied. “Like that.”
“I can’t believe you’re invoking Walter Bradford Cannon from Mrs. Stewart’s psyche class now,” Mandy said. She shook her head. “I don’t see anyone fleeing. I don’t see anyone running. I see you and me fighting; Lucas has locked himself in the office and Dudley is peeing himself in a corner. Flight I could respect.”
“Exactly,” Maggie said, “Different responses. We’re all dealing with it differently. It’s like grief, everyone copes different.”
“It’s not grief, Maggie, jeez,” Mandy said and held up a piece of cardboard. “This isn’t grief. This is freaking survival. Earlier tonight, Dudley was asking me to the dance, and then when the crap hit the fan he ran into a corner. He abandoned you, he abandoned me. And Lucas, well, we knew he only looked after numero uno.” She sighed and taped up that last piece of cardboard she had in her hand. “I’m sorry Maggie. I’m not mad at you. It’s just hell right now, and we don’t need to be making excuses for the Dudleys of the world. If he wants to come around, and see what’s going on around him, that’s his prerogative. But I’m not holding my breath and you shouldn’t either. He’s only gonna do what’s comfortable.” She gestured around at their handiwork they had made of fortifying the Taco House. “This ain’t comfortable. This ain’t normal.” She pointed outwards, “And what’s going on out there, what’s happening to those people. That ain’t normal. It’s irrational and primitive. It’s gotta stop. Somehow. I want to make it stop so hard. When I was up here alone, covering up these windows, all I could think about was how to put an end to it all. But what the hell, Maggie, how does one even start? It’s like telling a rabid opossum to walk it off or telling a bear to give up hibernation. On the one hand, it’s something they can’t control anymore and on the other it’s been going on so long it’s in their nature now.” She sat down in the booth where Maggie was finishing up covering up her window. “I might be overanalyzing it. Maybe it’s simpler. Maybe it’s over my head. Who the hell am I, Maggie? I’m a damn teenager.”
“Best damn teenager of the year,” Maggie said. She taped up the last of her cardboard. She turned around in the booth and sat next to Mandy. She hugged Mandy from behind and laid her head on her shoulder. “I don’t know the right answer, Mandy, and I don’t think you need to have it. But one thing is certain, we’re kicking some serious butt.”
“Idiot,” Mandy said, and they laughed for a bit. “I’d kill for a cigarette.” Lucas started to pound on the office door. It was louder with each iteration. Mandy shook her head. “Is he pissed no one will listen to his conspiracy theories now? Jeez.”
He continued to pound on the door.
“He’s gonna draw their attention,” Maggie said.
“Yeah,” Mandy said, “I think you’re right.” She took a deep sigh. “Perfect.”
Chapter 10: Friday Night Lights
Elderton was driving down 10th Street with Martha in the passenger seat with her. Martha was shivering, not from cold, but from shock. Elderton put on her hazard lights and pulled over to the side of the road. Right under the lights of the high school football field. She shook her sheriff jacket off both arms and handed it to Martha.
“Here, Martha,” she told her, “Put this on.”
Martha put the jacket on, which proved a little too big for her scrawny arms. She sat there shivering in the jacket, as she zipped it up to the top. She looked like a little kid in her mother’s clothes. “Thanks,” she said. “What’s going on? Why are people doing this to each other?”
“I don’t know, Martha,” Elderton replied, “I just don’t know. I wish I did. I wish I knew how to make it stop. Put an end to it. But for now, we stay smart. We stay in groups as much as possible.” She put her arm around Martha and started to rub her hands up and down the side of her arm.
“What are you doing?” Martha asked.
“Trying to warm you up.” Elderton said. “I don’t need you going into shock or having a panic attack. We don’t know what state the hospital is in right now. I need you to push through, OK?”
“Alright.” Martha said.
Elderton continued to rub an arm against Martha while she reached and turned the heat all the way up in her patrol car. She turned back and continued to rub her arms with both hands. She looked over Martha’s head and noticed a lot of movement and lights in the high school parking lot. That’s when she noticed people in Army fatigues and suits enter the west entrance to the high school.
“There’s something going on at the high school,” Elderton said.
Martha turned around and looked out the window. She could see all the movement and personnel moving around. “Do you think they’ve come to help us?”
“We haven’t even put out any word that I know of,” Elderton said. “And I’d expect National Guard before Army. Plus, that’s a stupid fast response time. Something’s up. I gotta check it out. Stay in the car.”
“No, Kelly, I’m coming with you.”
Elderton looked at Martha and she could tell from her expression she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Besides, it would probably be better for the two to stay together, as she’d already noted. “Alright,” Elderton said, “But we’re probably walking into a mess. Just know that. And let me do the talking.”
Elderton and Martha got out of the patrol car and locked it up. But not before Elderton took her double barrel shotgun from it and a pocket full of shotgun shells. She handed the shells to Martha. “Here,” she said. “Put these in the outside pockets of my jacket. It’s the only pockets I own that can hold them.” She kept two for herself. She loaded the shotgun and checked her pistol. “All right. Come on.”
They climbed the chain-link fence and walked straight out into the lights of the football field. Elderton didn’t want armed officials thinking they were sneaking up on them. And to her amusement, they did her bidding when they reached the fifty-yard line. She saw a group of armed officers come out with a few suits. She couldn’t make out their faces with the bright lights of the field bearing down on her and Martha. She stopped and held her shotgun above her head.
“I’m sheriff of this county!” She shouted to the men at the back of the bleachers. “I’m Sheriff Kelly Elderton! This here with me is a citizen, a victim of violence tonight! We’re coming up to you!” Elderton turned and whispered to Martha, “Let me make the next step.”
She took two steps ahead of Martha and one of the suited men raised his hand. “Stop!” He shouted, and she obliged. “This is a matter of National Security, I can’t let you come up here! I can’t let you anywhere near the high school premises! Go back to the station and wait for me there!”
“I’m sheriff of this county,” Elderton started, “and if it involves the safety of my people, it involves me! We’re coming up!”
“Dammit, Elderton!” Another suited man yelled at her. She recognized it as none other than Mayor Kendell Marsden. He had been a thorn in her side ever since she was elected to sheriff. He was convinced she was unfit for duty. She never could get him to explain how he came to that conclusion. He was always butting in or leaving her out of matters. “This is Mayor Marsden and I’m commanding you to go back to the station!”
Elderton felt hairs tingle on the back of her neck. She was pissed off. “Wendy ain’t answering back at the station! There’s likely trouble, so I can’t go waltzing back with Martha in hand! We’re coming up, dammit!” She overemphasized the dammit in response to his.
She could see that Marsden started to step forward and yell at her again, but the first suit grabbed him and pulled him back. “Come up! And hand over your arms to my men!”
“Hell no!” Martha yelled from behind Elderton. Elderton turned and looked at her with surprise. Martha continued, “If you’d seen what I’ve seen tonight, you’d know why!”
Elderton looked back up to the group of men. There was silence while the condition was considered. Finally, the nameless suit nodded and shouted that it was OK. Elderton leaned over to Martha and whispered to her as they made their ascension up the bleachers. “Well played, Martha.”
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