Blood trickled down her neck, and the thick walls echoed her shrieks as Jack snatched his daughter up. She put her arms around his neck, sobbing.
He picked his way, holding her tightly in his arms as he moved through the mass of bodies and the blood-slimed floor. Everyone understood what had just taken place—she been infected by a zombie bite. So far, Jared, her young boyfriend, was the only one who dared to go to her side.
As soon as he got his daughter past the massacre, Anna wriggled out of his grasp. She looked at no one. Jack understood why. She’d just been infected, and she was clearly terrified. So was he.
Jack put a hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “Anna, let me see the wound.”
“No!” she shrugged free of his grasp, sprinted into the bathroom, her footsteps contrasting their silence. He heard the click of the lock. Locked in darkness. After all, there was no electricity.
All of them stood in the great hall of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, speechless. As usual, Carla had her gun drawn. Mike and Joe had their blood-soaked rubber gloves on.
Jack’s dark thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Anna sobbing in the dark bathroom. They all listened in silence.
“Maybe we can stop the infection from spreading, somehow stop her from....” Carla’s voice trailed off. Jack didn’t blame her. He couldn’t have finished the sentence either. Not at the moment.
“How do you propose we do that?” Jack asked. His voice sounded angrier than he’d intended. Then again, he had just watched a zombie bite his daughter. Infect his daughter. “Cut off her ear?”
“Well... sort of. We’d have to cut off the blood flow somehow. The ear is mostly cartilage, so....”
Standing there now, as they waited, felt like hours had passed since battling the walking plague, the walking dead. Or, as good as dead, since the infection destroyed what was human in its victims. Turned them into zombies. Literally. Forced to relive his daughter’s attack—her surprised look as the hand of an infected grabbed her leg and pulled her down. Jack watched himself running to her in super slo-mo, as if from outside his body. He almost reached her in time... but almost never counts, except in horseshoes and hand grenades.
Now, Jared was at the restroom door, trying to talk Anna into coming out. If anyone could do it, he could. They were young, and in love. The events over the last ten days or so had convinced Jack of this fact. After all that had happened, he was over worrying about them getting too close.
Anna has been bitten. Those words resounded loudly in Jack’s head, and his heart ached at the thought of her going through what he’d experienced.
The cure, after all, was terrifying.
But at least there was a cure.
Jack repeated that knowledge over and over in his head.
Indeed, experience had shown the group one sure-fire way to reverse the infection. Still, Jack pushed the horrible cure to the back of his mind, to deal with it later.
Jack’s brother, Joe, now threw his gloves aside and slid down the wall next to the office. He drew his knees up and held his head in his hands. His Army buddy, Mike, followed suit. Carla looked up at Jack sympathetically. She loved Anna, he knew. But for now, she crossed the great hall and joined the guys.
Jack’s body felt numb as he walked over to Jared.
“Let me try to talk to Anna,” he said. Only then did Jack see that the boy’s cheeks were streaked with tears. He stepped aside for Jack, who knocked softly. “Anna?”
“Angel? Honey, it’s Dad.”
“Go away,” she answered, weeping.
Jack fought back a parental instinct to order her out of there. Reason, he told himself. She might respond to reason. As if there was anything reasonable about this. As if there was anything reasonable about the world turning upside down within the last ten days. A zombie outbreak had swept the world, along with all the chaos that came with such an event. Lives halted. Torn apart, literally. Yes, normal was a thing of the past.
“Anna, Carla says we might be able to stop the blood flow and....”
“Why don’t you tell Carla to come back after she’s been bitten!”
“Anna, you can’t stay in there. Come out and let me have a look at the wound.”
“No! I’m not coming out. Lock me in here. I don’t want you to see... see me... not like this.”
“Sir,” Jared was back to ‘Sir’ now. He’d just gotten used to calling him Jack.
He didn’t need to say any more. In thanks, or maybe in apology, Jack put his hand on Jared’s shoulder briefly, and walked back to the others.
“Let’s give them a little time. Just a little,” Jack said to Carla.
* * *
The four of them sat behind a podium near the main entrance of Griffith Observatory. It had become our refuge from the insane outside world. Or so they had thought. Last night’s attack from dozens of crazies obviously had proved otherwise. If they were going to find sanctuary here, they would have to sweep the building first. To secure every entryway and take care of those who had succumbed to the infection. Until then, and only then, there would be no respite for the weary.
Jack spoke of this and waited for a reply. Everyone was still trying to wrap their heads around the fact that Anna had been the latest bitten. Doomed to become a zombie!
Mike replied first, changing the subject, as he often did when things became too emotional. “We’ve got radios, right? Walkie-talkies?” He glanced at Carla, the cop. She had been close to being Carla, Jack’s girlfriend. But this ain’t the optimum time for romance.
That can wait, Jack thought. Maybe permanently.
“Yeah.” She rubbed her eyes. “I’ve got some. They’re in the office.”
“Three. There’s another one in my patrol car.”
“We can do with three for now, I think,” Mike said. None of them wanted to go outside, despite the daylight. “How about if Joe and I start a security sweep? We can start from the roof and work our way down. We can share a radio, if we stay together.”
“We’d better stay together. Two by two is a lot safer,” Joe said.
“Carla, can you cover them?” Jack asked.
“Of course, but—”
“Good. Use one of the radios and I’ll stay behind with Anna and Jared.” Jack paused. “I can’t leave Anna alone for a minute. Not now—”
Carla shook her head. “No, Jack. Let me stay behind with her.”