The rusted hinges on the metal door creaked loudly as I pushed it open with one hand, the chair leg held high ready for an attack. I let Cable go first with a light, and Sevina went after him. Aber ushered Luke quietly through and Mary held Gabe close as Jenni filed in last. I closed the door quietly, jamming a piece of broken furniture as a wedge just in case the stairs proved more unsafe than outside. I flicked my light on and I saw Aber click his on and we all moved upwards like a slow train, hand on each other’s shoulders in the dark cave of some unknown office building. The occasionally crunch was heard from underfoot and a few disembodies screams echoed through the tunnel of the stairs as they climbed higher. Jenni turned to me as we came to a halting stop.
“What level do we stop at?” she whispered.
I allowed her time to get the message through to Cable in the front by a series of hushed whispers and before long we were moving once more. A few more steps and we came to another stop.
“Cable doesn’t want to go in first,” she said.
I rolled my eyes and made my way to the front of the train, tousling Luke’s hair as I passed hoping to cheer a smile out of him. I shined my light up to Cable’s face and he looked scared. They all did and I could understand. It had been weeks since we were in this kind of predicament and the group had been used to the peace. I rubbed the doorknob and pushed but nothing happened. I tried once more but still it wouldn’t budge so I had Cable hold my light. With as much force as I could muster, I forced my shoulder into the door and it banged open loudly. I paused and counted the seconds as I listened, waiting for any kind of noise that would indicate dead on this level. I took my light back from Cable and allowed everyone to come in. The twentieth level was full of cubicles and many small places to hide but everything looked relatively in place. When the disease struck, it was a holiday so many people had been visiting family members rather than at work. That was the only good thing that came out of the apocalypse. Empty buildings meant safer refuge if it didn’t contain the dead which happened to fancy the large areas. A few chairs had been flipped over but otherwise everything was in place. There was a horrible musty smell, and a few dead flowers decorated desks as we walked stealthily. We circled each desk making sure it was clear before setting up a small camp in the far corner. Mary set up a few solar paneled lanterns and Jenni handed out snacks as me and Cable stacked chairs against the door for safe measure. I winched as I shoved the last chair against the door he gave me a worried look.
“No, I’m not,” I said shaking my head and showed him the nasty bite mark reddening against my palm. He stepped back bumping into a desk and knocked a vase off the surface, smashing to the ground in a thousand pieces. The group looked over at us with fear in their eyes.
“Nothing, just a mouse,” I called back smiling. Mary started talking about how mice were cute and Jenni was expressing disgust. I grabbed Cable’s shirt collar firmly and pulled him close to me when everyone went back to their own business.
“Don’t tell anyone. Not even Sevina. Got that? This stays between me and you,” I said dangerously.
“F-fine. Nothing happened I swear,” he stuttered and I let him go roughly.
He hurried back to the lighter area of the floor without another glance back at me and I sat back against the desk. I squeezed my hand and allowed it to ooze out before taking the medical kit from my bag and applying a fresh wrap to my hand. Within the bag I noticed a pair of black winter gloves. Putting them on, I entered the little circle of light and drank deeply from a canister of water. The group grew quiet and Cable refused to look at me, huddled in Sevina’s arms.
“What do we do next?” asked Mary. Luke was sleeping in her lap and I hesitated as I tried to come up with a rough plan for the next twelve hours.
“We wait till the sun comes up. In the morning a group of us will go check the front, if they’re still there we need to find an alternate exit. Presumably one near the back of the building.”
“Hark, what if both exits are blocked off. What next?” said Jenni.
“I can’t afford to think there isn’t a safe way out of here.”
Aber pulled a bottle of scotch from his jacket pocket and held it up. I chuckled a little which prompted a series of horrendous coughs.
“You okay?” asked Gabe.
“Sure my man, just a small cold coming on,” I smiled tiredly at him and accepted a glass of scotch from Aber. I grimaced as the amber liquid rolled down my throat and he offered me a second glass. I shook my head as much as I wanted a second helping. He gave Jenni a small shot and was gasped with disgust.
“Is that why you’re wearing gloves?” Gabe giggled shyly.
“Sure is,” I smiled.
I watched the group quietly from my spot on the floor and knew this was my chance to say good bye, to tell them it had been a hell of a go while it lasted. But I couldn’t muster the strength to do so as I watched Gabe chuckle and giggle as Jenni tickled him or Mary saying no to that glass of scotch even though every fiber in her body meant to drink that whole bottle dry in an attempt to drive away the stabbing want. Eventually after Gabe had fallen asleep and Jenni huddled up to Mary for warmth, did I finally pass out.
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