“As often as you can, you need to sneak water and any other supplies up there.” I glanced back at the stairway door. “Andy doesn’t know we have access.”
One of the husbands spoke up. “What does that matter?”
“What does it matter?” I raised an eyebrow. “He’s an idiot, and it’s only a matter of time before he and his stupid crew bungle things enough to let the infected in.”
Linda bit her lower lip for a second. “So, what are you thinking?”
“When that happens, when the infected get in, while those guys are making a lot of noise shooting my guns at them, you are going to evacuate to the roof.”
One of the wives half rose a hand. “How would we survive up there? It’s going to be plenty hot.”
“OK, look.” I shot another glance at the door. “I don’t know how long this crisis is going to last. Could be only a couple of hours, could be a couple of days before the government actually does something. Your best bet is to be prepared for when Andy screws up.”
Her husband half stepped in front of her. “For when Andy screws up? You’ve got a lot of nerve trying to be a hero, pal.”
“That’s right. Tell us the truth, were those your cousins that started this?”
I couldn’t believe it. What had Andy and his friends been saying? I balled a fist and took a step toward him. “Don’t tell me you actually believe that crap he told you?”
Linda put a hand on my chest and gave a push. “Look, Gary, his mom was from Spain. Not the Middle East. And he’s a nurse, not a terrorist.”
He squinted his eyes at me. “You sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
“I still don’t trust him.”
I relaxed my fist. “That’s fine, you don’t have to.”
He shook his meaty head a little. “And why not?”
“Because I’m not staying here.”
Linda whipped her head around at me. Everybody looked like they were in shock.
Linda dropped her hand from my chest. “No, you can’t…”
“I have to go. If I stay, it’s just going to keep causing problems. Andy’s crew is always going to hate me, and anyone who sides with me. You’ll have the best chance if I leave.”
Apparently the whole group was a little dumbfound, as I could feel five pairs of confused eyes staring at me. I took the opportunity to explain my plan.
“Like I was saying a minute ago, I’ve got the only key to the roof door, and a shed up there. It’s full of camping gear. And you don’t want to hide on the roof yet, because Andy’ll probably be stupid shoot up the doors, but if he’s dealing with the infected, you’ll have a window of opportunity.”
I pointed to the other end of the hall at the rooftop stairs. “Just put some stuff in that stairwell that you can use to barricade the lower door. There is a spigot and hose up there, but you should probably take up as much water beforehand as you can. That’s basically it.”
Linda touched my arm. “What about you?”
“Things will just be worse for everyone if I stay. I’m just going to throw some stuff in my backpack and climb down what’s left of the fire escape on my side of the building. After that, I’ll find a place where I can fit in.”
No one voiced an objection, so I went into the shambles of my apartment to get myself ready. I changed from my scrub pants to a pair of cargo pants. I grabbed by backpack and threw in an extra set of scrubs, underwear and socks. As I was packing, I began to wonder where I might go, and even if I would fit in anywhere. I pushed the thought from my mind as I found a notebook and some pens, so I could at least document my part in all of this.
I decided my best best was to head for the light industrial area about eight or ten blocks to the south. It would be the emptiest there, so I could find a place all to myself if I needed. I grabbed some granola bars and the largest bottle of water I could find and crammed them in the backpack as well.
I was almost ready to go. I took a final drink from the quickly warming juice that was in my refrigerator. I put on the backpack and cinched up the straps. I went back to my bedroom and knelt at the side of my bed.
It had been a while since I had really prayed. My mother had taught me and at one point, I had been really good at it. After she died, I had little by little lost the will and the skill. I figured if I was ever going to start up again, now would be the time. Mostly, I asked for protection, and not much else. I finished and started to stand, then and idea struck and I dropped back to my knees.
I groped around in the mess that Andy had kicked under my bed. After a little searching, I pulled out my old baseball bat. I glanced upward and voiced a “Thanks, that was quick.”
As I stood, Linda walked in the the room.
She put her hands on her hips. “You’re not leaving without saying goodbye are you?”
“Look, Linda, about what happened earlier. I don’t…”
“It’s fine. Weird things happen in extreme situations. Besides, who could resist this?” She pointed to herself.
I cracked a smile. “Just think, at least now it won’t have to be torn between Andy and I, your two great lovers.”
She laughed a little, then came over to give me a hug. “Thanks for being a friend. Good luck out there. Her dad lives clear on the other side of the city, but if you do happen to see Kim, tell her I love her.”
“I’m sure she knows, but I will.”
I backed away toward the window. With no small effort I unstuck the window and got it open. With one final look back into what was once my world, I climbed out.
The fire escape was still attached to the building, but barely so. Years of no maintenance whatsoever had taken their toll. After a nerve wracking ten minutes, I finally go to the lowest level. The ladder that went to the ground was stuck, and the whole assembly was about ready to pull free from the wall, so I didn’t bother to try and un-stick it.
I let my bat fall to the ground. It made a lot more noise than I had planned on hearing. As quickly as I could, I grabbed hold a the lowest bar I could reach, then swung down. I hung to the fire escape assembly until my swinging was under control, then dropped the last couple of feet to the alleyway.
I cursed myself for making such a racket and looked around to see where my bat had rolled. I walked over and picked it up.
I turned back toward the street and froze.
A man with a vacant expression in his eyes had turned the corner into the alley. His left leg was bloody and wounded. His shirt had been torn in places.
There was no doubt the man was infected.
He limped straight for me.