What the Old Man Did 16

May 5, 2012

Three buildings were up ahead. I had been running for five minutes and my pursuers had fallen behind. But I knew they would keep coming unless I could distract them somehow. I took the three story office building on the right. The front door was open but apparently intact. Running through the doorway, I realized my mistake. Stopping dead, I looked around. Nothing in sight. I let my breathing slow down. Taking the door marked stairway, I was faced with near total darkness. Given past experience, I felt that old alarm that raised the hair on the back my neck. I held the door open, looking for something to prop it open. A book was laying the floor and I shoved under the door, pulling the door over it to wedge it tight. Then I turned to the stairwell. A shadow moved on the steps above me and I saw a figure in the gloom that gave me chills. It was a young girl. Maybe seven or eight years old, coming down slowly, with the deliberate motion I knew so well. Without thinking, I brought the rifle up. But before pulling the trigger, I just had to say it:

“Hey! Little girl!”

She flinched and then froze. They she ran. I held a bead on her as she approached and when she was a few feet from me, she stopped. I could see the tears running down her cheeks.

“Who are you? What’s your name?”

She said nothing for what seemed like a minute. But then spoke very softly,

“Sarah. My name is Sarah.”

I moved back into the hallway and waved her toward me.

“Are you alone? Are your parents here?”

“No. They . . . they went out a long time ago and never came back.”

I heard shuffling footsteps outside and tried to think through my strategy. What do I do now? I unwedged the door and pulled closed.

“Come on, let’s go upstairs.”

“There’s nothing up there,” she said in a tremulous voice.

“Good.”

Two flights up and we were on the top floor. There were two conference rooms on either side of the top landing. I gingerly pulled one door open. The room was not empty. Shielding the girl, I shut the door.

“Did you ever come up here?”

“No. Daddy said there were sick people up here and we needed to leave them alone or we would get sick too.”

So, sick people. Snap judgement was made. People who wouldn’t kill anything to save themselves. Idiots. I pulled the door open and found five of them heading toward the noise. Five silent shots later, five bloodless corpses were on the floor. The girl stood wide-eyed behind me. I said nothing. But moved to the other door on the opposite side of the landing. It was empty. I grabbed the girl’s hand and led her into the place.

“Are there anymore sick people?” I asked.

“No, they were all up here. That’s what my daddy said.”

I wasn’t so sure about daddy myself, but I couldn’t afford to shoot anymore. Thirty rounds in the backpack and I would need them all.

“Alright. I need to look out the window. I don’t think we can stay here. But just in case, how much food do you have here?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean there’s stuff in the basement that mom showed me how to cook.”

“How do you cook?” I added, surprised.

“I turn on the stove!” She seemed a little agitated.

I would investigate this later. Now I needed to know what my slow friends were up to.

The front windows were rather small, but I could see most of the street. And sure enough they were heading for the building. I wondered how they sensed things. It must be smell. Do living humans have a characteristic odor? And if so, could you disguise it? All questions for another time.

The creatures, I was distancing them more and more from “human” were coursing about the street in front of the building.

“Is there a back door to this place?”

“Yes, there are three doors. And there’s a tunnel in the basement too.”

That was very interesting news indeed.

“Have you ever been in the tunnel?”

“No. My mom and dad said never to open the door.”

“Well then. Let’s go down stairs, shall we?”

She led the way. She seemed to trust me for some reason. If we survived the day, I would have to ask her why sometime. Especially since she had just watch me kill. For all she knew, it must have seemed that I had just committed murder. Down the darkened stairs until we arrived at the basement door. We entered into a very dark room. Unerringly, she walked to a wall sconce and and turned something. A flame came up. I’m damned. A gaslight! She walked to several other spots and did the same thing. You could see pretty well now, though the room was quite large and there was total darkness at one end.

“So you cook with a gas stove?”

“Yup!” came the curt reply.

“Do you know where it comes from?”

“This is the gas company. My daddy worked here. He said there was lots of it and there would be for a long time.”

Well, that was good news I supposed.

“Will you show me the tunnel?”

Wordlessly she strode toward the darkness. It felt like 50 yards, but I’m sure it was far less. I was scanning every shadow. It looked like lots of boxes were back here. Finally we stood before a large steel door. Remarkably, it had a crossbar on it. Sturdy. I leaned closer and put my ear to the door. Nothing. I waited for a few minutes before pulling back.

“Do you know where your mother and father went, when they left? I mean how did they leave?”

She looked at me for a moment, puzzled. Then she pointed silently to the big steel door.

“Did they tell you to put this up,” pointing to the steel bar across the door. She nodded. Humm. Must mean that there was some danger beyond this point. Surely the parents would have returned if they could have.

“Show me the other doors, will you?”

“Ok.”

Back up stairs we went to the door I had opened. I listened again. Nothing. But much of the building was glass on the outside and I had no idea whether we would be spotted. I had no wish to be trapped in here, gas and food or no. I opened the door very slowly. Peaking out, I could see them milling about in front of the door I had entered and thankfully remembered to close. But just as I glanced back the other way a hand came out of nowhere and grabbed my face. It was strong, but clearly not human. A thousand things ran through my mind: was I now infected? I could feel the ugly broken nails digging into my skin. I tried to get my gun up but it was awkward and I couldn’t seem to find the trigger guard. Finally. The thing was knocked back as I put one through its skull. I could hear the girl whimpering behind me. My face stung. Pushing the door fully open, I saw no companions. For a moment, and then the crowd rounded the corner. I pulled back and shut the door. My face burned.

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