Danny Patton checked over the settings one last time before stepping away from the camera. What he wanted to do was open a window, or pull the blinds up, but the fear of attention cancelled out his desire for proper lighting. Actually, what he really wanted to do was go for a walk outside, or drive his car down the turnpike, but the overwhelming fear of being devoured alive by the walking dead cancelled out frivolous desires. So he stayed here, in his fourth floor apartment, riding out the wave.
The only reason why he was alive was his commitment to a job his wife detested. Six months ago, he was looking at an extended leave after a two-year tour with the United States Army. The week before he was to come home, his commander informed him of a top secret military project and they were looking for suitable candidates. Those chosen had the opportunity of one day rising to high positions of leadership, perhaps even reaching the vaulted rank of General. The catch was an additional six months added on to his tour. When he called Marissa to tell her the news she was furious, until he informed her that upon completion of the project, his leave would be a full year instead of an extremely fast six months. In between the tears and putting their hands to the screen, she made him promise multiple times not do anything stupid and to come home to her in one piece.
They had gotten married eight months later and were presently living in an apartment building a block away from his in-laws. The newlywed couple had received a break with the rent due to the landlord being a family friend of her dad’s, and between the proximity of her job and her parents living two blocks away, the building was ideal.
Recently, Marissa had become vocal with Danny’s lack of outside activities. At first she had stayed quiet, not wanting to upset him. As time passed she would drop hints, such as leaving a beach chair by the front door. When this didn’t lead to a tan, she finally raised up enough nerve to bring up the discussion. Danny tried to explain how he was content spending his days leisurely around the apartment watching television or reading his book, another Christopher Markum classic. If he had any desire to go do something he would, just not yet. She was arguing his behavior wasn’t healthy and the conversation spiraled out of control. Voices were raised and eventually his wife just nodded her head and went into the bedroom, leaving Danny to be with HBO. It would be their last night together.
Z-Day was the twelfth of July. Marissa’s cell phone alarm went off at the usual 7:30AM, causing him to grunt and roll over. As she dressed for work, he dreamed of bombs and explosions. The last moment of sanity he could remember pre-Zpocalypse was her kiss goodbye, an act he had grown so accustomed to that he barely opened his eyes. Danny had done an excellent job of living a regret-free life. However, if he could have one do-over he would have loved another shot at the previous twelve hours.
The only reason why Danny saw 8:45AM on his clock was because of the accident in front of his building. It wasn’t the car smashing into the telephone pole that caused him to wake up and leave his comfortable king size bed. No, it was the blood-curdling scream. One, that despite his military background he had never heard, that made his eyes pop open. He ran over to the middle window, to the left of his bed, peeked through his blinds and saw… saw It.
It, being a middle-aged man, wearing what used to be an immaculate pinstriped business suit, now covered in blood and gore. It had an arm perched in his mouth like a dog carrying a prized bone. The arm in question belonged to the person responsible for the shriek, a boy who barely looked old enough to drive. The boy had obviously gone into shock, because he stood next to his smashed white Honda Accord, watching the man eat his arm.
Danny’s first instinct was to open up the window and yell. Fortunately, he suppressed the urge. His second instinct was to run down the four flights of stairs of his building and save the kid. Thankfully, again, he suppressed the urge. Instead what he did was pick up his cell phone, call 911 and unconsciously turn on the television. Looking back, he was more surprised at receiving a busy signal than what he saw on television. Carnage and chaos reigned supreme; every channel was devoted to the dead rising.
The first person he tried to call was his wife and instead received her voice mail. Trying not to panic, he went through his cell phone trying to get someone on the phone. His parents, her parents, his brother and so he went, scrolling through his contacts. It wasn’t until the eighth call, to his friend Ralph, that he heard an actual voice on the other end. Except it wasn’t Ralph. His co-worker Maureen had picked the phone off the floor, while Ralph was being eaten alive and was borderline hysterical. They didn’t have a conversation in the normal sense, just a running Maureen monologue of her screaming while he heard lips smacking and flesh being ripped from the bone in the background.
Then the call cut off.
The rest of the day Danny spent trying to call Marissa, strengthening the make shift barricade of furniture he had assembled in front of the apartment door and watching the news. Despite the horrors being shown all over he couldn’t resist. The hands on the clock seemed to fly as Danny paced throughout the apartment. Sometimes his thoughts were positive; Marissa was safe somewhere and trying to reach him. As night grew closer those thoughts were replaced by thoughts of dread. He hadn’t heard from her yet because she was already dead, and probably on her way back over here with all her newly made friends to make a proper introduction.
The harder he fought to remain awake, the heavier his eyes grew and despite his best intentions he fell asleep. The next morning he awoke still sitting on his living room couch with the television broadcasting the same images and his cell phone not showing any missed calls. Day number two was similar to the day previous – endless images and endless paranoia. There were brief moments of terrified excitement when he believed he heard something in the building and checked to make sure the front door was secure.
In spite of the tragedy and violence circling all around, Danny was grateful for two things. One, his apartment was located on the fourth floor, not the first. All those times they had cursed the steps while carrying up groceries had paid off, in a grotesque way. Second, Marissa had insisted they go food shopping two days previously. He was stocked up with enough non-perishable items for the foreseeable future.
The feeling of loneliness came to the forefront during the third night. Danny was used to dealing with the feeling of isolation from his years as a soldier, but this was different. When he was in combat, one way to prevent fear from swallowing him whole was to imagine his reaction in seeing Marissa coming down the aisle, or the house they would own one day. Knowing he had a future kept his mind from flooding with panic. Now there may be no future. There would be no Christmas shopping for Marissa’s gift because there might not be anymore Marissa. The thought of not having his wife gripped his throat and made it hard to breathe. He had to talk to someone, anyone. Then, the idea came to him. He raced to his spare bedroom, rummaged through his closet and found it – his video camera. If nothing else, he was going to document his experiences and maybe one day when the world had become normal again he could tell his story. As the days passed, there were times he spoke frequently, giving updates as to what he saw on the street, or a theory as to what had happened. Other days, when depression was in full bloom, he would stare at the camera and pour his heart out. Either way, for whatever reason, whenever he turned on that camera and spoke, it made him feel better. Like there was something out there listening to him, hearing his words, touched by his fears and more importantly, could save him and make this all go away.
It was the afternoon of Z-Day +4 when he heard banging coming from below. Previously, he had ideas of exploring the building and seeing if anyone else was alive although those thoughts were cancelled out by feelings of selfishness. What if he did find someone and brought them up here? He had enough food for himself, enough to last awhile. If you add another person to the equation, or a couple of people, then what would happen? No, he was better off alone in his apartment waiting out the storm. All those thoughts were eliminated however, when he heard the banging. It wasn’t a dull noise or a careless, random banging. No, there was purpose behind the sound – intelligence.
Grabbing his wooden baseball bat, Danny removed the “L” shaped couch he had stacked in front of the door, (the first piece of furniture they had bought together from Raymour & Flanigan) unlocked both locks, slid the chain off and slowly opened the door. The blue hallway was illuminated with sun light, and if it wasn’t for the stench of death pervading the Earth, Danny would have found this to be a beautiful July afternoon. To his left was apartment #7, and he hadn’t heard any activity inside since Z-Day. Not wanting to be surprised by an unwanted guest, Danny decided to do a sweep of his immediate area. The building had five floors with two apartments to a floor for a grand total of ten. Since he hadn’t heard a sound coming from next door since Z-Day, Danny decided to make the trek upstairs.
Subconsciously, he counted all seventeen steps as he made his way up, letting his free right hand slide up the old wooden banister. The hallway echoed with the sound of his flip-flops as he approached apartment #10. The first time he knocked his knuckles barely rapped the wood frame. Taking a deep breath, he knocked again, firmly, like his landlord would if he wanted the rent. Still, no reply. Danny looked over to the right and noticed the door for apartment #9 was slightly ajar. His friend Jacques lived there, and it wasn’t like him to leave the door open. He could hear his heartbeat pounding inside his ears and felt drops of perspiration slide down the small of his back. Gripping the bat with both hands, Danny pushed the door open and waited. After three Mississippis he stepped inside.
The apartment layout was just like his with a kitchen, bathroom and living room to the left, and to the right was a long hallway where the two bedrooms were located. Separating the two sections of the apartment was the open front door. Realizing that Jacques, or if someone else was inside, wouldn’t want to be surprised with a guy holding a bat, Danny called out, “Hello?” in his most relaxed sounding voice. When no one answered he turned and closed the door. He went to take a step into the living room, and a thought came over him. What if something was inside the building? The smart move would be to lock the door. After turning the dead-bolt, the knob and sliding the chain, he spun around and made his way inside the apartment.
The living room was nothing out of the ordinary. A three-sectional leather couch sat opposite a flat screen television hanging on the wall. Mail had piled up on the coffee table and there was a dirty dinner plate using an old Sports Illustrated as a coaster. Danny made his way to the bathroom, unoccupied, as well as the kitchen. The windows were wide open and a pleasant breeze swept across Danny’s shaved head. Jacques was a big man, over six-feet tall and tipping the scales way over two hundred pounds so he wasn’t surprised to find the fridge was filled as well as the freezer. As an added bonus there was plenty of food left in the cabinets. For the first time since everything had gone to hell, he felt half way decent. If this situation lasted significantly longer, he at least had a large stockpile.
Feeling a bit more secure, he uttered out a louder, “Jacques? You home?” Walking with some confidence, he made his way back through the living room, past the front door and down the hallway. The first bedroom’s door was open and he stepped inside. The room was a mess with clothes strewn everywhere, the bed unmade and dust covering the furniture.
“I suppose Jacques wasn’t the neatest of guys,” he thought to himself. With only the master bedroom left to inspect, Danny walked cautiously down the hall. The door was closed and if there was someone inside they were probably scared to death.
“Jacques, buddy, it’s Danny from downstairs. Your door was open and I came inside. I’m going to open your door now.” He paused in front of the door and thought to himself, “If there is something other than a living person inside, I just gave a hell of an introduction.”
The door clicked open and Danny did a visual sweep. The situation was routine, he had done these hundreds of times during his tours. Yet, what he saw made him gasp and almost drop the bat.
On the queen size bed, lying on his back, were the bloody remains of what used to be Jacques. His arms were sliced up and down, presumably with the Bic razor hanging on the edge of the bed. A rising fear came over him, as well as nausea when Jacques opened his eyes and stared at him. Danny back-peddled, losing his left flip-flop in the process and he stumbled out of the room at the same time Jacques, slightly unbalanced, made his way off the bed. Behind him he heard a guttural cry and turned to see “his neighbor” coming towards him.
In a panic, he spun around, dropped his bat and ran down the hallway. As he reached the front door full blown terror seized him – as a precaution upon entering the apartment earlier he had locked the door. Jacques was now standing in the doorway of the back bedroom, his eyes alert, looking like an animal he would watch on National Geographic, smacking his lips. There was now an immediate decision to be made. Remain at the front door and try to get his shaking hands steady enough to unlock everything or to keep running and hide in the bathroom?
Danny reached down, threw his one remaining flip-flop at Jacques and raced for the bathroom. The zombie made no effort to avoid the incoming footwear as it thumped off the side of its face. Instead, it bellowed and followed him. Making it with ease, Danny slammed the bathroom door, locked the knob and pressed all his weight against it while looking to see if there was anything not cemented down that he could use to support the door. Of course, this being a bathroom, there was nothing, but an old shower curtain. At the same time he could hear Jacques getting closer and closer, the sound of lumbering steps announcing his arrival. After seemingly an eternity, his zombie neighbor reached the door and began smacking it with all its weight.
Panic rose up inside Danny like a tsunami. He was trapped inside a small bathroom on the top floor of the apartment building.
What used to be Jacques would keep pounding on the door until it got inside, probably calling its buddies as well.
He could climb out the small window if he had to, but where would he go?
Jump five stories below, hoping to not only survive the fall but to somehow go undetected among the mass of bodies congregating outside?
The situation, which was already f.u.b.a.r had now become F.U.B.A.R He slid down the white wooden door, turned his body and sat against the tub with his feet planted against the base of the door.
The wood was beginning to crack and the bathroom tile vibrated. It was going to get in eventually,
there was no doubt in his mind.
Shit shit shit shit shit why did he drop the bat?
The loud noise made him jump followed by a loud thump to the floor of what he assumed was his former neighbor. After a couple of seconds he heard,
“You okay in there?”
He couldn’t believe his ears, or his luck. Did a real live person just say that or was he hallucinating? The voice spoke again,
“Hello? Are you okay? Say something!”
“I’m alive! I’m alive!” Danny started hysterically laughing. “Hold on, let me open the door!”
He jumped up from his crouched position on the bathroom floor and quickly opened the door. Seeing a bloody streak on the porcelain tile made Danny throw up a little in his mouth. The person had already dragged Jacques by his feet into the kitchen and was walking back towards him. He recognized her immediately; she lived in the apartment below his.
“Alyssa! Holy shit, Alyssa! Thank you!” Danny raced towards her and gave her a bear hug, picking her small Columbian frame off the ground and making her laugh.
“Alright, okay, you can put me down now. Did you not hear me making all that noise below you?” She said with a smile that showed all her teeth and some of her gums.
“No, I heard it, I just figured I’d start out investigating the top floor and work my way down.”
“Smart move,” she said while rolling her eyes. “Guess you weren’t expecting—“ She gestured towards his once again dead friend Jacques.
“So that’s his name. I always saw him downstairs in the laundry room and we would talk, but I could never remember his name.”
“He was a good guy,” he quietly said while staring at his friend’s feet.
“Son of a bitch,” she said while shaking her head. “I guess you’re lucky I had this gun!”
“And that you know how to use it.” The two of them shared a morbid laugh. They moved their way to the living room and sat down on the couch.
“So what made you come two floors up and save my life?”
“Well I heard a commotion and thought there was a chance someone was alive and in trouble. And since I have this,” she indicated to her handgun, “I figured I’d investigate. By the way, is that your bat over there?” she asked with more than a hint of sarcasm.
“He surprised me.” Alyssa gave him a look. “Whatever, that’s not important. Is there anyone else alive, or dead for that matter in this building?”
“Considering this is the first time I left my apartment I’d say the top floor is clear. You still want to work your way down?”
“As long as you have that gun.”
Over the course of two days, Alyssa and Danny cautiously made their way through the rest of the apartment building, with not a soul to be found. The scariest moment involved investigating the two apartments on the first floor. With only a locked glass door in the front, and a glass enclosure in the back leading out to the backyard, they were completely exposed like a zoo exhibit. After taking what they needed from each apartment, they raced back up to Alyssa’s on the third floor and began the process of blocking the steps. If they could barricade the steps leading up to her apartment, and then the hallway leading to her front door, it would give them a loud enough alarm system. Anything trying to break through would make enough noise to alert them to escape inside or upstairs, if necessary.
During the day Danny alternated hanging out in her apartment and going up to his for some time alone. At night they slept in Alyssa’s apartment, with enough furniture against the door to act as a backup to their other alarms. This was their routine for the first two weeks, hanging out and staring out the window, watching the zombies making their way up and down the street. The screams of horror had dissipated after the second day. Anyone alive either left the area or had barricaded themselves inside their own fortress. Now, the only sounds were the low groaning variety that came when a bunch of them got together. And so this was their day, looking and staring, foraging and bullshitting. This new routine had replaced the old.
The night of Z-Day +14, the two of them decided to go up on the roof and check out the stars. Danny grabbed a few beers they found in Jacques’ stocked fridge while Alyssa laid down an old blanket. They sat there looking up at the night time sky admiring the stars and for a moment forgetting about the hell that surrounds them. Danny was just popping open Alyssa’s beer when they both heard something that startled them. Danny raced to the ledge of the building and said,
“What’s the matter?” Alyssa said with more than a trace of concern.
“Something is going on next door. There’s a mob of zombies and they’re swarming into the building.”
Alyssa ran over and leaned on Danny’s right shoulder to get a better look.
“Have you ever seen anyone in there?”
“No, but then again we don’t exactly advertise ourselves over here either.”
“Danny, if there’s anyone inside they’re gonna die.”
He looked over at her and bitterly said, “And?”
Alyssa paused and looked indecisive. “I don’t know.”
Danny had stepped away from the ledge and was now pacing back and forth on the roof. “Look, it sucks. This entire situation sucks. This entire world sucks! But, if we even attempt to do something we’ll die. We’ll either die in the attempt or die by bringing the hoard over to our building!”
“Oh shit, Danny! Oh shit oh shit oh shit! There are people in there! Get over here! Look!” Alyssa screamed in terror.
Danny raced back over and saw what Alyssa was talking about. Two floors below them, standing next to an open window was a sobbing woman holding a kid who couldn’t have been more than ten in her arms. As soon as she saw Alyssa she began screaming,
“Help us, please! Help! The men are trying to hold them off, but they’re going to get in! Please!”
Alyssa looked at Danny with tears in her eyes, imploring him to do something, or at the very least say something. He paced back and forth, battling his conscience and his selfishness.
“Please! I can hear them outside our door! Please save my son!” The woman was on the verge of hysterics. Danny looked at them, then Alyssa and back at them. Suddenly, he snapped his fingers at Alyssa.
“Okay okay okay. Alyssa, go inside and grab as many bed sheets as you can find.” While she ran downstairs, he ran over to the ledge and calmly said to the woman, “Miss, I know it’s impossible, but try not to lose your shit. We’re going to do our best to help.”
“You hear that, Jason? The man is going to save us!” The woman squeezed her son, who was in shock and staring blankly out the window, in extreme relief. Two minutes later, Alyssa reappeared with red stained sheets in her hands.
“I found these in the first apartment I ran into…” Alyssa said apologetically.
“It doesn’t matter, start tying them together.”
“I didn’t mean to grab the bloody-”
“Alyssa it doesn’t matter,” Danny said in a slightly raised voice. He was trying his best to keep calm. However, it was becoming impossible.
“There’s no way it’ll hold both their weight,” Alyssa suddenly realized. The panic was quickly taking over all her emotions.
“Would you shut up and keep tying!” The idea of slapping her wedged its way inside Danny’s head as he tried to keep her focused.
“But, Danny!” Alyssa pleaded.
Danny stared at Alyssa for a second before mumbling,
“I know. This is for the boy. She’s not coming.”
“Listen, you heard her. They’re outside her door. We won’t have time to save the two of them. Let’s grab the boy and hope we have time for a second attempt.”
Their hands worked furiously, tying the blood soaked sheets until they had what they hoped was a long enough rope.
“Hurry! I don’t know how much more time we have!” The woman’s voice was a living, breathing panic attack.
In his calmest possible voice, Danny said, “Miss, listen to me. We’re going to throw the rope. You catch it and tie it around your son’s waist. We’ll pull him up and then come back—“
“I don’t care, throw the fucking rope!” the woman screamed in pure desperation.
Danny launched the tied up sheets at the window. The woman successfully caught it in the first swing and began tying it around her son’s waist. Suddenly, she heard a crash came from inside the apartment. She began to scream and sob, while still fumbling to tie the sheet around her son’s waist.
“Go! GOOO!” the woman pleaded.
Immediately the boy came out of his comatose state and clutched at his mother’s face.
“No! NOOOO! Mommy, no!”
Danny watched the whole thing unfold in slow motion and yelled for Alyssa to begin pulling up the sheets. He would pull from the ledge and Alyssa would be the anchor. He wanted to be the one to pull him physically, if necessary, over to safety. The boy jerked forward out the window, spinning from the end of the sheet while his little fingers clutched on for dear life. As he spun back around towards the window he saw three zombies grab his mother. He started to scream,
“MOM! MOM! MOM! MOM! MOMMY!” His face beat red, spit was flying from his mouth and his cheeks soaked in tears.
On the other end of the make-shift rope, Danny and Alyssa were hoisting up the boy.
“Okay, Alyssa we have to go easy. Strong pulls, but let’s try not to slam him into the building.”
Below they could hear the boy’s hysteria entangled with his mother’s screams while she was being eaten alive. Sweat was pouring down Danny and Alyssa’s face and every hair on their bodies stood on end. With each pull the boy came closer to Danny’s extended grip.
“How much more, Dan?” Alyssa asked between deep breaths.
“I can see him,” he cried. “A couple more and–”
Danny’s jaw dropped at the realization that the sheet had lost all its weight. Alyssa fell back with a loose, bloody sheet in her hands. She immediately ran over to Danny and saw the little boy lying motionless face down in the alley, while a mob of zombies raced over and feasted on his remains. Alyssa sobbed uncontrollably into Danny’s shoulder seeking comfort from this horrible moment as Danny leaned over and threw up. Alyssa looked up at the night sky that had been so peaceful moments earlier and began screaming obscenities while Danny remained hunched over, watching the death below. Like dominos, the zombie heads began peering up, looking to see where those strange sounds were coming from.
“Alyssa Alyssa shut up shut up! They heard us! Oh God, they heard us and they’re now coming towards our building!”
The two of them watched in absolute horror as a tidal wave of death came surging towards the front door. They could hear the glass shatter and the door being knocked off its hinges.
“We have to get inside and–”
“I don’t care anymore, Danny. I don’t care. We’re going to die anyway. Why not now?! Why fight tonight when we’ll just die tomorrow, or the day after? It doesn’t matter, everyone dies eventually!” She punctuated the last word with a high-pitched cackle and began hysterically laughing through her tears. Without saying a word, Danny tossed her over his shoulder and carried her firefighter style down the two flights of steps to his apartment. He could hear their moaning sounds echoing in the hallway as they rampaged inside the building.
“Probably making their way up the steps, seconds away from the first barricade.” He thought. “That gives us enough time to get inside and secure ourselves.”
They would break through eventually, there were too many to keep at bay. Suddenly it was very important to Danny that he saw the sunrise tomorrow. If nothing else, he was going to see the sun rise. He would deal with whatever came after that, but he had to see the sun rise. The two of them were in his living room and Alyssa was about to go into another round of hysteria.
“Alyssa, look at me, look at me!” Danny grabbed her shoulders, hard enough to get her attention. “Listen to me right now. We are going to survive tonight and deal with tomorrow. I promise you we’ll live through tonight. Just do what I say and we’ll be ok. Okay?”
Alyssa’s breath was halting as she inhaled deeply and nodded her head in agreement. “Okay, what do you want me to do?” She said in between her gasps for air.
Danny smiled in relief that Alyssa was composed. “Good. Now the first thing we have to do is pile up the couch against the door and put the TV stand in-between the couch and the wall.”
“That will split the apartment in half.”
“I know. So while I’m doing that you, get as much food as you can and bring it into the back bedroom.”
Alyssa ran to the kitchen and grabbed as much as her arms could carry. Meanwhile, Danny had placed the second part of the couch on top of the first and was grabbing the last part of the sectional. Alyssa came over and quietly asked, “Dan did they go through the barricade below?”
“I don’t know. They might have, yes, but I don’t know. All I do know is I promise you we’ll survive tonight. I promise.” He kissed her on the forehead and for a second they stared at each other before he motioned her with his eyes to go to the back bedroom. Placing the TV stand in-between the wall and the couch, Danny stood there and waited. He wanted to be there when they reached the door. He wanted to hear the first furious pound by a dead fist. He didn’t want to run until he absolutely had to.
“You coming?!” Alyssa quietly shouted from inside the back bedroom.
“Yeah, in a couple of seconds. Just want to see if this will-
The first dead fist hit the door, causing a weird vibration to resonate inside the apartment. Another. Then another. Fists and the remnants of humanity rained down on the apartment he and Marissa had shared, an apartment that had now become his crypt.
“Oh my God, Marissa!” An irrational thought invaded Danny’s head. What if she was outside trying to get in? What if she was trying to come home and she was outside and the zombies were going to get her! Danny reached for the TV stand and was about to pull it away when he heard Alyssa’s voice, coming to him like she was a million miles away.
“Danny! DANNY! What are you doing?! Get in here!”
He looked down and saw what he was about to do. A sob rose like a bubble from his chest to the back of his throat and he closed his eyes. Marissa was dead, just like his parents, just like Ralph and Jacques and that little boy from next door and like they would be if he didn’t get to the back bedroom.
“I’m coming!” Danny screamed as he raced down the hall.
For a half hour they could hear the door slowly giving way as more and more of them tried to force their way through. Fortunately, the narrow outside hallway space resulted in bottle necking the mob, buying them more time. Neither of them spoke for the longest time as they sat on his king size bed and waited. They had placed every piece of furniture in the room in front of the door and now it was a question of if and when. If they got in and when it would happen.
“Danny, what if we climbed out the window and…”
He cut her off in mid-sentence, because the thought had already come and gone from his mind.
“And what? Even if we managed to navigate our way all the way down all we’d do is drop in front of the building, where they’re all standing! And even if we managed to avoid them, where would we run to?” He jumped off the bed and paced around the room. “Where is it safe? No one is going to come to our rescue for the same reason why I didn’t want to get involved with the mom and her kid next door. The moment you try to get involved is the moment you are involved.”
“Are you blaming me for that kid dying?!” Alyssa stood up and screamed. “Don’t you dare blame me! We tried, Danny! We tried!”
“Yeah, and what happened? They died and we have death literally banging on our door.” He was shouting and realized it. Sitting back down on the bed he lowered his voice. “No, I’m not blaming you. I’m happy we tried. We tried,” his final words trailed off.
He reached over and pulled her in for a hug. She started crying first, but Danny’s tears caught up to her. There they sat, crying over those who had died and those who were probably about to when they heard the furniture scrape across the floor and the hinge of the front door pop off. From his armpit, Alyssa’s voice was muffled, but frightened. “Danny, they’re coming.”
Danny whispered quietly, “I know. Let’s get in the closet.” They climbed off the bed and went into the closet, pulling the doors shut. They could hear the apartment now, alive with the dead, inundated with zombies. The moaning was echoing in the hallway and it sounded like their personal symphony. The now familiar sound of a door being pounded on commenced and it was only a matter of time. Sunrise wasn’t for another two hours. Looked like his dream of seeing the sunrise would be his last. He looked at Alyssa and was going to say something before thinking better of it. Instead, they sat huddled together in silence, waiting for the end to come.
The door smashed open and the dead climbed over the furniture as best they could. Alyssa screamed and before Danny could throw his hand over her mouth they converged on the closet door, ripping it away. They started to slide to the corner but it was too late.
The first hand to reach in grabbed Alyssa’s ankle and she began sobbing and screaming, “NO NO PLEASE NO!” Danny grabbed hold of her wrists and tried to keep her inside, but they were too strong and dragged her out. He could hear her nails snapping off as they scraped over the wooden floor. Alyssa’s eyes were wide with terror as she mouthed his name. In a panic, he slid on his ass over some boxes and reached the other side of the closet. The sounds of her screaming and their feasting were mixed together in a ghoulish song. Danny lifted his left arm to cover his face and in the process smacked something hard.
The video camera!
His mind had snapped and all he could think about was preserving something of himself. The other closet door was being ripped off and hands were now reaching for him. Keeping focus on the task at hand, he blocked out everything and flipped the switch. They had his ankles and began pulling him out. Regardless, Danny was locked on the task at hand. Seeing the red light flash on, he turned the camera around and said,
“No more! No more! I want to go home!”
And then it went black.
“So what’s the final tally?”
“Candidate 1115SH lasted two weeks, two deaths due to hesitation, one out of fear. No kills and had to be saved one time. He performed adequately under moments of severe duress. He displayed courage when necessary and fought off his initial instincts of personal survival to help when the situation called for it.”
“What about his PDMS? Are they sufficient enough?”
“His panic decision making skills are not officer caliber, but he can carry out orders.”
“How were the videos?”
“They ranged between somewhat optimistic and feelings of doom. No mention of suicide.”
“Impressive, even our highly scored candidates allowed the thought to pass through their lips. What made him quit the simulation?”
“The zombies had broken into his bedroom and killed the simulated woman. To his credit, he waited until the last possible moment.”
Colonel Hollansby smiled and nodded his head. There was only one question left on his mind, “When can we expect him to regain consciousness?”
“You can go in now and talk. He came to ten minutes ago.”
Colonel Hollansby nodded at Doctor Appleton and entered the room. Danny laid there on his military hospital bed, hooked up to various tubes and electrodes. His face had regained color, yet his forehead was still caked with sweat. A look of recognition came over his face.
“Yes, Danny. Glad to see you remember me. Some subjects take days before they fully come back.”
“Did I do as well as expected?” Danny sat up with a struggle and there was a sense of urgency in his voice. Colonel Hollansby took a deep breath as he sat down at the foot of the bed.
“Danny, you did as well as any normal man would under the conditions we put you through. I think that –“
“Colonel, please. I don’t care about how a normal man does. I’m a Patton! Do I have a future leadership position in the United States Army?”
Colonel Hollansby pursed his lips together. “Alright son, you want it straight so I’m not going to bullshit you. Maybe First Sergeant, but that’s probably as high as you’ll go. Your PDMS just aren’t high enough. I’m sorry.”
Danny fell back on his pillow and he was having a great difficulty disguising his tears.
“I’m a legacy! My grandfather, great grandfather and my great, great grandfather, they all served proudly as generals in four wars!”
“Indeed they did, and if they had experienced Project Cranberry they would have scored very high, I have no doubts about that.”
“I waited! I didn’t quit because I couldn’t handle it, I quit because I was going to die!” his voice cracked with emotion.
“I know son, that’s very admirable of you. Plenty of other men snapped and quit long before real danger presented itself.”
Danny regained his composure and he meekly pleaded his case. “Is there a chance they could be wrong? I mean the United States Army is never going to face an army of zombies. You can’t make decisions off impossible scenarios.”
Colonel Hollansby stood up and said rather firmly, “Danny, did you believe your life was in danger?”
Bitterly he swallowed and said, “Yes.”
“Did you fear for your life?”
Quietly he said, “Several times, yes.”
“Did you believe those you loved were dead?”
He barely nodded his head.
“Did you argue with your simulated friend that it was pointless to help out the simulated boy and his mother?”
He stared at the Colonel and said, “Yes to everything, sir.”
“Well, Danny, in war there is going to be moments when your life is in imminent danger and you’re going to have to make snap judgments based on your assessment of the situation. They might not be zombies, nevertheless your enemy means to kill you just the same. Based on your actions we are all extremely confident you will make a good soldier. Perhaps you’ll even have some responsibility. In terms of making it up the chain of command, to aspiring to the rank of General, well, that’s just not possible.”
His meekness had retreated and anger had taken command of his emotions. “A grunt? My future is to be just another grunt? What kind of future is that?”
“Look at it this way, Dan. Just a little while ago, you were promising your simulated friend you would see the sun rise. Well, look out the window!”
The Colonel patted his hand on Danny’s foot but Danny lay there quietly. He went to say something else except Danny turned his head to the side and closed his eyes. Colonel Hollansby recognized the cue, turned around and strode out the room.
Danny laid there, staring out the window. His whole life he had dreamt of being a general, a leader of men who would follow his every command. Now, due to some stupid simulation all hopes were crushed. At that moment he wasn’t sure what was worse, being killed by a group of zombies, or just being part of the group.