I woke up sometime later with a stomach in revolt and a screaming headache. I was also pretty certain that I couldn’t feel my face.
The air in the stairwell was still as hot and heavy as it had been when I collapsed.
Alone and in total darkness.
I tried to roll to my hands and knees, but found that my body was not responding the way it should. Instead, I sort of flopped face down on the cement landing.
I tried to gather my thoughts, but still couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t even work myself into a panic. I was in a complete haze.
I forced myself to take a couple of deep breaths, hoping the extra oxygen would help my situation.
The air burned as it filled my lungs.
I blacked out again.
The next time I came to, the stairwell was noticeably cooler. Not even close to comfortable, but cooler.
It must be near morning, the building’s not as hot.
My thoughts were again coherent, and my headache was down to a minor dull throb. My stomach was twisted up worse than ever and I was hesitant to sit up.
The first sound I noticed was my ears ringing. As that subsided I heard something far worse than dead silence.
The noises echoed in the stairwell. There was an awful lot of commotion going on somewhere in the building.
I struggled to a sitting position and listened for a moment.
The noise had to be coming from the first or second floor.
A wave of nausea washed over me. My stomach tightened.
I clutched my knees and tried to breathe through it.
After a while it subsided.
As soon as I thought I could handle being on my feet, I reached around until I found the railing. I was weak and shaky, but somehow struggled to my feet.
Being up made me feel woozy and even more nauseated than before.
I began to dry heave.
Harsh, painful contractions gripped my midsection. My legs shook wildly.
I bent over and leaned on the railing.
My whole body seemed set on making me vomit, but I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything for a long time, so there was nothing to throw up.
At long last a load of stomach acid burst from my mouth and nostrils. It burnt terribly and I spit several times trying to get it out. At least the heaving was subsiding.
I was finally able to take a deep breath. I got a hold of my self and realized I had been making a fair amount of noise. Whoever or whatever was breaking things below could have my echoed groans.
Could have, and did.
The clank of a door opening rang out and a faint light entered the stairwell from far below.
Has to be the first floor. But is it…
“Hello?” I called out.
There was no vocal response. Just the sound of something as it slapped the ground, as if it had tripped.
I held my breath for a moment and listened as hard as I could. There was definitely movement.
The door clanged shut and again I was in total darkness. But now I wasn’t alone.
I knew it was one of the infected. I knew I couldn’t fight it in the dark and without a weapon. I knew the door that lay somewhere behind me was barricaded by a madman. There was only one possible escape. If only I can get there first.
My heart pumped full speed and adrenaline coursed into my veins. I flailed in the dark for the railing against the wall and did the best I could to run down the stairs.
I could almost feel the thing racing me to the door on the second floor.
I rounded the corner on the in-between floors landing as fast as I could. Only one problem with that. I misjudged the distance to where the stairs began again. When I to put my foot down, nothing was there.
I fell face first into darkness. In the moment before my first bounce, I made a grasp for where I thought the railing should be. It was no use. My left arm hit first, followed my the top of my head.
My momentum carried my body over and my back made the next contact.
I rolled sort of sideways and banged my knee on a stair.
After what seemed like and eternity of tumbling, I finally plopped and skidded to a stop on the next landing.
Pain bit at my arms and legs, but I didn’t have time to care. In a heartbeat, I scrambled toward where I thought the door was but instead found the railing. I spun and launched myself wobbling through the air toward the door.
I exploded through the door and somehow managed to keep my feet under me. I glanced back over my shoulder.
Just as the closing door blocked the view, I saw it.
A bloody arm reached onto the landing, as if its owner had crawled up the stairs.
No time to block the door. Got to get my stuff. I limped to the office where the doctor had shot me. I flung open the door.
The bright morning sun stung my eyes.
I squinted, entered and slammed the door closed.
In the hall, I heard the stairwell door open.
I opened my eyes as much as I could stand it and caught sight of a visitor chair. I grabbed it and jammed it under the door handle.
In between gasps for air, footsteps sounded from the hall.
I almost despaired. Now where?
I rushed to the large window and nearly tripped over my backpack.
The infected pounded on the door.
My eyes still hurt with the light, but I forced myself to face the world outside and scan for options.
I hadn’t noticed it before, but there was a small cement ledge that ran around the building. The right window pane slid on a track.
Another crash at the door. It gave a little.
I fumbled with the locking mechanism.
Another crash. And a splintering sound.
I stole a glance back.
The thing had punched through the door. A gray hand gripped the edge of the hole and tore a chunk free. It wouldn’t take long before it was in the room.
I was again shocked at the raw strength of the infected. I didn’t have time to think about it, though. I shook my head, focused again on the window and slammed it open.
A quick shove popped the screen from the window.
The torso of the infected woman was now visible through the hole in the door. It had been a woman. Her shirt was caked in blood, and deep scrapes covered the visible parts of her skin.
I didn’t think to check if it was safe outside. I just tossed my bag and my bat onto the street below, then lifted a foot up, over and out onto the ledge.
A terrible rip splintered what was left of the door frame and a large chunk fell away. The infected stepped through the wreckage.
Don’t they ever stop? I hopped the second leg over.
The infected stared blankly ahead and walked straight for the window.
I dropped to my knees then lowered my legs off the ledge.
From the window came the sound of the infected plowing into the desk.
I swung my right elbow free and held the ledge with my left harm and right hand.
The thing was certainly almost to the window now.
I tried to swing my other elbow down and fully extend myself. My grip was too weak, and I fell to the street below.
The drop was not terribly far and the impact was not a great as it had been back on the stairs.
Still, it hurt plenty as my legs crumpled and I careened backward toward the cement.
My head made a sickening thud as it made contact with the ground.
The world around me started spin, and blackness crept in around the edges of my vision.
If I pass out, I die. I closed my eyes and attempted to take a deep breath as I rolled onto all fours.
Up above, something fleshy slapped the ledge.
Pain shot through my leg as I stood. At least it’s still holding weight.
Up above the infected had flopped itself headfirst out the window onto the ledge. Two battered arms and an expressionless face hung over the edge.
I lurched for my bag, keeping an eye on the scene above.
Still on its belly, the infected crawled off the ledge.
I hopped back further.
It landed on its head. The crashing weight of the body bent and snapped the neck with an audible crack. The body crumpled into an awkward heap.
I stood dumbfounded for a moment at what had just happened.
The infected corpse was motionless.
I scooped up my bag and bat and made a quick survey of my surroundings.
The remains of the gas station were still smoldering, but the mob had left.
Where did they go?
I looked again at the lab building.
My stomach knotted.
The front door had been propped open. He had invited them in.
I became aware of a noise crackling above. I stepped back to see what it could be.
I couldn’t believe it.
On the ledge outside the third floor was a large pile of burning office supplies.
And he called them here. I tightened my jaw and squeezed the bat.
I was powerless against the effects of his stupidity, his indifference, his insanity. To make it worse, I knew that I would never get a chance to exact revenge. I could only hope that somehow they would beat down his door.
Then it struck me. I was alone, in the open and thoroughly battered.
But not alone.
Movement from the door caught my eye. The mob of infected poured from the building.
I was too tired, too beaten, and to pissed off to be frightened like I had been before. I am not going to die here.
I grunted, turned and half-limped, half-jogged down the street in search of safety.
Will Corbin ever find a moment’s rest? Find out now in Chapter 17: The Lonely Side Of The Street