Erin pressed the shotgun to her shoulder and aimed high. She inhaled through her mouth to avoid breathing in the stench of decay then released it as she pulled the trigger. The explosive blast vaporized the skeletal zombie’s head clear off its shoulders. The headless corpse continued shambling toward her. It must not have registered it should have been dead for good the second time around. With three more clumsy steps, it got the message and collapsed among the putrid collection of headless bodies scattered across the rooftop.
Six shells left, she counted. Six shots away from ending up in the belly of a walking corpse. Five, if I swallow one myself.
She fought against the infinite swarm of the undead knowing it was all for nothing. Their numbers would eventually overwhelm her. She would be a dead woman, or rather, an undead woman, if she wasn’t rescued.
Erin turned her gaze to the sky and cursed the storm clouds overhead. The clouds responded to her obscenities by unleashing a deluge upon her.
At least we won’t die of dehydration, she reassured herself as she entered the tent and joined her children.
Don’t worry, the bad people won’t get us, she promised then changed her mind about using the remaining shells on them. As Bob had said earlier, it was a mercy.
Three shots left…
Erin’s original escape plan did not include getting stuck atop the roof of her apartment building. Much like everyone else, she’d hunkered down at home and waited. In the meantime, she watched the collapse of society on television. It was exactly as depicted in the movies and television shows. Hospitals were overcrowded with the sick and injured and become epicenters for the spread of the disease. Planes fell from the skies. Police and army blockades were overrun. Posts were abandoned. Government officials hid away in underground bunkers with their families leaving the rest of the population to the authority of the old school street gangs and warlords battling for control of the streets.
Once the news stopped broadcasting, the collapse of society was right outside the window. Fires raged out of control throughout the city, burning entire neighborhoods to the ground. If they didn’t succumb to smoke inhalation, people were forced out onto the streets where they made easy targets for the undead, the murderous insane, or whoever else got to them first these days. Getting captured by the living was worse than being eaten alive or stabbed to death. The videos and images posted online revealed the sickening extent human depravity could reach.
During the crisis, her building hadn’t caught fire and none of the others nearby had either. A lucky break for a time where luck was in high demand and in low supply. Most of the tenants had abandoned their homes attempting to escape the city before the bridges and tunnels had been closed. She always wondered why the government hadn’t blown them up after they realized it was a lost cause. Keeping several million walking corpses in New York City would have made sense. Releasing them upon New Jersey had only made the spread of the infection worse. As the most densely populated state in the union, it never had a chance. Thinking about all the could have’s, should have’s, and shouldn’t have’s was a waste of time anyway. The world was as it was and Erin only had to care for herself and the children now. She knew it wouldn’t be long before the scavengers realized her building was a prime target for supplies.
Erin heard their footsteps stomping on the pavement outside. She looked out the window in time to see two armed men enter her building. The echo of the door slamming shut behind them boomed all the way up to her floor in the silence of the abandoned building. Outside, a procession of corpses shambled down the street following the pair of men to the building like an undisciplined army marching to war. The repugnant stench of dead flesh decaying in a summer heat wave wafted through the air and into the building forcing Erin to gag.
Shit, why’d they have to come here of all places?, Erin cursed her luck.
Another crash made her jump. She stifled the involuntary cry in her throat. She didn’t want these men knowing she was there.
A man’s voice shouted: “Upstairs!” and their rapid footsteps became grew louder as they ascended the staircase. Erin dared a glance out the window to confirm her suspicion about the crash and shouting.
Knowing the men were inside the building, the undead crowded together in the street outside surrounding the building like an angry mob. Erin imagined the doors would have held up at least a little longer before the overwhelming weight of the horde pressing up against them broke through. Their only saving grace against getting overwhelmed was the natural bottleneck the narrow corridors of the building formed. The staircases were like labyrinths to the undead. Navigating the stairs would present a challenge to them but inevitably, they would make it to the top of the building.
Erin sprang into action knowing she couldn’t stay in her apartment anymore. The undead possessed the uncanny ability to detect life and stop at nothing to eradicate it. Whether it was through sight, smell, sound, or vibration, the corpses simply knew. Getting trapped inside her apartment was a death sentence. Her only option was the roof. She’d have only a few minutes of lead time against the men charging up the stairs. If they’d survived this world as long as they had, the men would have realized their mistake as soon as they’d gone up the second or third flight of stairs. If she had to bet on it, she’d say they were heading to the roof with the hopes of being able to use the fire escape or jump onto the roof of a neighboring building.
The fire escape wouldn’t offer any salvation. It would drop them off in the street where the horde stood. The gap between the neighboring buildings was much further than humanly possible to jump. Erin had spent hours on the roof with her children before the end of the world. These men didn’t realize their fate was already sealed.
Having been prepared to leave at a moments notice, Erin grabbed the tote bag of supplies she kept near the door and ran out into the hallway. It had been weeks since she’d stepped out of the apartment. The change of scenery felt foreign to her despite having lived in the apartment for nearly five years. Wasting no time, she ran to the end of the hall and climbed the staircase.
Footsteps echoed from below as the men continued climbing. Erin figured the men were only the fifth floor. She climbed the remaining three floors of the building to reach the twelfth floor. Upon reaching the last floor, she sprinted the length of the hallway to the other side of the building, and plowed through the door leading to the last staircase she needed to climb and took the stairs two at a time until she reached the roof access door.
Erin’s window of opportunity dwindled fast as she surveyed the roof trying to find something with which to barricade the door with. If she could keep the men in the staircase, she wouldn’t run the risk of exposing herself or the children to them. A cornered animal is an unpredictable one. Humans were no different.
Giving consideration to everything available to her on the roof, a plastic table surrounded by plastic chairs, a pile of loose bricks, and a pair of children’s bicycles, Erin gave up on the idea of barricading the door. Utilizing the remaining time before the men came through the door, Erin went into the tent she’d placed on the roof for the children.
“Stay quiet. There are men coming and Mommy isn’t going to let them get you,” Erin said in a hushed tone.
Here it is!, a shout came from the rooftop door.
“I’ll be back,” Erin stated and closed the tent flap as the first man emerged from the door. He was a middle aged man with a shotgun in his hands. He was dressed in a beat-up pair of faded jeans and a short sleeved charcoal colored t-shirt. Dark hair peered out from beneath the sides of his Yankees baseball cap. The man turned to face the door as another man came through. He was younger and leaner than the older man and shared similar facial features and hair color.
A father and son…, Erin assumed feeling a bit more relieved about her new friends. She inhaled and exhaled, settling herself down before making herself known to them.
“Close the door!” she shouted at them while running out from behind the spot where the tent was hidden from their view. The younger man pulled a handgun from his holster and pointed it at Erin. She raised her arms into the air and dropped to her knees.
“Please, my children…,” she pleaded. The older man frowned.
“Don’t worry about her right now. Get the door,” the older man commanded.
“The lock is busted!” Erin shouted not taking her eyes off the ground.
“Fuck!” the younger man cried out as he turned away from Erin and tossed the door behind him. It swung inside the building and slammed against the wall behind it. Erin, for the moment, was saved.
“Stop making so much noise!” the older man warned. He nodded to Erin signaling her to stand. She came to her feet but maintained her hands in the air. The younger man ran to the edge of the building and surveyed the distance from one rooftop to the next.
“It’s too far,” the younger man called out.
“How about the fire escape?” the older man suggested more to Erin than to his son.
On que, she replied: “Fire escape drops right into the street in front of the building”.
“Shit, she’s right,” the young man confirmed.
“Fuck me sideways,” the older man repined. Both men ran across the rooftop searching frantically for an escape.
“There’s no way out…,” Erin whined. Both men ignored her. They continued checking the roof, looking over the side of the building, and arguing on whether or not going down the fire escape was suicide. The reality of the situation would sink in soon. Erin would continue playing the part of the scared young woman until their attention turned back to her.
“What’s your name?” the older man asked Erin.
“Erin,” she answered with a slight tremor in her voice.
“I’m Bob, and that’s my son, Robert Jr.,” Bob pointed to his son. Robert hadn’t stopped circling the roof.
“Well, Erin, it seems as if we’re trapped up here,” Bob explained as if she hadn’t noticed. It confirmed that her acting like a helpless young mother was working. They underestimated her. Exactly what she wanted.
Erin dropped to her knees and cupped her face in her hands. She wailed and shook her head from side to side. Her wail sounded exaggerated to her. She cringed internally and stopped the wailing for fear of overacting her grief.
“What are we going to do?” Erin asked. If Bob and Robert decided to make a move, she’d let them go ahead of her, even if they demanded she come with them. Any decision would be suicidal. If they decided to hunker down, she’d see how the night would play out…
“We’ll camp out here tonight and come up with a plan,” Bob replied.
“I’m so happy to finally have company!” she exclaimed sweetly.
As nightfall settled over the city, New York came to life as it always had. The glow of the out of control fires raging through the city replaced the beautiful lights of the famous skyline. The popping of gunfire could be heard in the distance as street gangs fought against each other for control of city blocks. As Bob and Robert explained it, no one gang controlled territory for much longer than a week. It was a stalemate of going back and forth with nothing to show for except dead bodies littering the streets and the undead coming to feed upon them once they were finished.
They also explained the drumming Erin heard in the distance every night. It coming from Madison Square Garden. Robert and Bob confirmed the rumor of a city existing within the walls of the world’s most famous arena. They told stories of merchants hawking wares where the concession stands once stood. The arena housed dozens of soldiers, scavengers, and professionals who ensured the safety and continued existence of the city.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows at The Garden though.
Those considered enemies of the Garden, prisoners, slaves, or those who disagree with the affluent within the establishment were forced into gladiatorial combat on the basketball court where the Knicks once played. It was a bloody tribute to the Garden’s tradition of sports and entertainment. It was a perversion of the new world’s brutal predilections. Drugs, prostitutes, and other depravities were sold openly next to the stands selling fresh water and food. The latter were in short supply while the former were rampantly abused and available to the populace. Extreme taxation forced families into giving up essential supplies in exchange for housing and protection. Those who couldn’t pay were either thrown out onto the merciless streets or forced into slavery until their families could pay their back taxes.
Erin listened to their tales intently making mental notes of names and places they mentioned, in case she ever needed to visit the city. She couldn’t believe order had been resorted to any area of the city, even if it was as awful as it sounded.
“You want to bring your children out here? I haven’t heard them make a peep since we’ve been up here,” Bob commented, pointing a flash light into her eyes.
“They’re sedated,” Erin replied. “If we’re going to meet our end, I’d prefer it be in their sleep,” she explained. Bob nodded in agreement.
“Whelp, I’m beat to hell,” Bob yawned with a stretch. “Robert, take first watch and wake me up in a few hours then it’ll be Erin’s turn.”
“Sounds good,” Robert agreed. He grabbed the shotgun from his father’s lap and took the flashlight too. Bob crawled to the edge of the building and curled up onto the floor. He was snoring within seconds.
“Old man take more naps than a newborn,” Robert criticized. Erin chuckled politely.
“Is your mother at the Garden?” Erin poked knowing the subject would be a sore one. The young man frowned and stirred uncomfortably during their discussion of the Garden’s policies.
“No. She’s gone,” Robert answered making it clear it wasn’t a line of questioning he wanted to continue answering. Erin poked further.
“Was it the undead, one of the insane ones, or plain old people?”
“Plain old shitty fucking people,” Robert replied shortly.
“Damned shame,” Erin commented feeling there was more to his avoiding the question. “At least she’s in a better place,” she added hoping she’d kicked the hornet’s nest.
“No, she’s not,” Robert argued. Hated filled his voice.
“What do you mean?” Erin played the ditz.
“She’s a fucking sex slave,” Robert spit.
“Oh Jesus, I’m so sorry,” Erin apologized.
“They took her from us,” Robert continued gushing like an open wound. “We were about to be kicked out of the Garden. Owed back taxes to the fucking slum lord. My mother volunteered to work off our taxes until we could buy her back from the whore house.”
Erin nodded her head and remained silent allowing the young man’s words to hang in the air.
“I’m sorry,” Erin apologized. She stood, feigning embarrassment. She glanced to the sky and then said, “I’m going to check on the children to see how they’re doing.”
Robert nodded and turned to face the door.
With Robert on guard now and Bob taking the second turn, Erin could rest for a while before it was her turn on watch. Erin opened the tent flap and crawled inside without uttering a word. She adjusted herself into a comfortable position and wrapped her arms around the children. She closed her eyes and fell into a restless sleep thinking about how much longer it would be until she was rescued…
Erin awoke unable to determine how long she’d been asleep. She felt rested but sore from sleeping on the concrete floor. Robert and Bob were whispering to each other in a heated conversation. It must have been this which had awakened her.
“Come on, Dad, it makes perfect sense,” Robert urged. Bob didn’t reply right away. He paused as if gathering his thoughts.
“I don’t know. How would you like it if someone did it to us?” Bob asked.
“Someone DID do it to us!” Robert whispered sharply.
“Your mother knew the deal going into it. We can’t do this to this woman and her children,” Bob replied.
“Mom is being raped every fucking night, Dad. And you’re sitting here arguing for letting it continue,” Robert hissed. “Who is this woman to you? Who knows if she even has children in that tent with her? What if the kids are dead and she’s sleeping with a bunch of fucking baby corpses in there?”
“As long as we’re stuck on this roof with her, I’d prefer not to provoke her if she is as mentally unhinged like you think, son,” Bob hissed back.
“How about this? We take our chances on the fire escape. I’ll go first and volunteer to become the distraction. Erin goes behind me. Then we send the children down next. If they’re young, it’s even better because you can go last and volunteer to carry them down. If they can handle themselves, it’s whatever. Once we’re all on the latter, I’ll throw the bitch off and while she’s getting torn apart, we’ll take the kids and head back to The Garden. We do a straight up trade, all the kids in exchange for Mom,” Robert explained.
“What if those kids are dead like you said?” Bob asked after moments of silent consideration.
“Well then keep the bitch alive and trade her instead. Kids or mother, kids and mother, so long we’ve got warm bodies, Bain is willing to trade,” Robert answered.
Bob took a deep breath and let it out with a groan.
“I don’t know…,” Bob sighed.
“Come on, Dad, her and those kids would be better off at The Garden. They’re going to die out here. We’d be doing them a favor,” Robert pushed.
Bob took another deep breath and groaned again.
“Fine,” Bob relented. “Tomorrow, at first light, we’re out of here.”
Father and son remained silent, stewing in their thoughts.
Erin smiled as a plan formed in her mind as well…
“Hey Erin, it’s your watch,” Bob whispered into the closed tent flap. He shined the flashlight into it. Erin was certain he couldn’t see inside. It didn’t matter either way. Erin had been awake since she’d heard the conversation.
“One moment,” Erin called out and then turned to her children. “Don’t worry, Mommy is going to keep you safe,” she reassured voicing it so Bob could hear it. She removed her shirt and then turned to the side pretending to grab another. If Bob could see through the tent, the silhouette of her naked body would distract him from searching for the children too hard.
“Hey Bob, can you give me a moment of privacy?” Erin requested. Bob took a moment to reply. He couldn’t find a way around it without saying no.
“Sure. I’ll be over by the door,” Bob replied and walked away. Erin put her shirt on again and then opened the tent flap to make certain Bob and Robert were gone. The coast was clear. Erin stepped out and walked over to Bob who stood near the door.
“Here you go,” Bob said handing Erin the flashlight.
“What about the shotgun?” Erin asked.
“Oh, don’t worry about it. If you see one of those undead coming up the stairs, just give a shout and we’ll take it down,” Bob reassured.
“I can handle a gun,” Erin replied curtly.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t trust someone I just met watching my back. Obviously, I ain’t handing over my weapon to them either. It’s nothing personal,” Bob admitted.
It took all of Erin’s strength not to crack a smile when he said he didn’t trust her.
Backstabbing son of a bitch, she thought.
“Understandable,” Erin agreed and turned to the doorway. She’d have to do it the hard way.
She stood guard at the door allowing Robert and Bob time to settle into a lumber before enacting her plan. Erin walked away from the doorway, across the rooftop, and climbed onto the ledge. She turned on the flashlight and shined it upon the undead mass still pushing into the lobby. She hoped the sound of the drumming or gunshots would have pulled them away from the building.
Unfortunately, Bob and Robert didn’t have luck on their side.
Erin shined the flashlight away from the ground and pointed it into Robert’s eyes. He startled awake and immediately raised his hand to block the light from his eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Robert asked shaking sleep from his head.
“I know what you’re planning to do,” Erin called out.
“What are you talking about?” Robert questioned.
“You want to trade me and my children for your mother,” Erin accused.
To her right side, Bob emerged going to his son.
“That’s not true,” Bob argued. “It was just talk. We wouldn’t ever do that.”
“Bullshit!” Erin screamed shining the light on Bob now.
“It’s the honest truth. Robert just wants his mother back. He doesn’t know what else to do and wanted to take the easy way out of it. I wouldn’t allow it to happen,” Bob replied. Bob was almost believable. He’d hesitated earlier but relented to his son’s treacherous wishes. She wasn’t going to drop her guard.
“You don’t have any choice now,” Erin called out to them. “I-I-I…overdosed the children with the sedative.”
“You fucking what?” Robert screamed in a rage.
“You aren’t going to take us alive,” Erin declared. She shined the flashlight into the horde below indicating she planned to jump.
“No…no…,” Bob uttered.
“Dad…,” Robert pleaded.
Erin lifted her foot and dangled it over the ledge. She supported herself on one leg taunting the depraved father and son.
“You need me to get her back,” Erin stated.
“Come on down and we can talk about it,” Bob pleaded.
“You needed my children to get her back,” Erin ignored Bob.
“Get off the ledge, you crazy fucking bitch,” Robert seethed.
“Shut up, Jr.,” Bob commanded.
“Listen to your father,” Erin taunted. She couldn’t help herself even as she pretended to lost balance on her planted leg.
“Forget about him. Let’s you and me talk,” Bob started. “I understand you wouldn’t want to go to The Garden. I wouldn’t want to either but let’s face facts. You and your children were going to die out here anyway.”
“You did those kids a favor by putting them out of their misery. That’s something a good mother would do. Spare her children a lifetime a pain and suffering. Hell, I’d do it for Robert Jr. if he wasn’t old enough to make his own decisions. It’s all water under the bridge now though. Killing yourself won’t do anyone any good. You jump off the building and if the fall don’t kill you, those corpses are going to tear your apart. Do you really want to die that way?”
“No,” Erin replied softly. She placed her foot back onto the ledge. She taunted them with some hope. Bob couldn’t keep the smirk off his face. Robert seemed to be holding his breath. He didn’t seem as eager to join the conversation now that daddy was handling it.
“Good…good…I understand the thought of life at The Garden sounds horrible but it’s not all bad. I mean, think about it this way, at least you’ll be among people who can protect you. You won’t be turned away either since slaves and essential personnel don’t have to pay tax. You’ll have food, water, and a bed to sleep in at night. Who knows? Maybe one of the rich folks will buy you. You’re young and pretty. In these times, good looks can get your real far. You’d have a better life than you can imagine and you’d be giving my family a chance to leave The Garden together. I promise, we won’t ever come back. You’ll never see us there again after you’re there. Come on, what do you say?” Bob concluded.
Erin couldn’t help but admire Bob’s mental gymnastics. Submit herself to slavery to give their family a chance at freedom. Erin laughed in her mind at the thought of someone actually taking their deal.
“Okay…,” she submitted. Erin stepped down from the ledge and dropped to her knees once again. She cupped her palms into her face and pretended to cry like earlier. Bob’s footsteps approached her. Luck was on her side. She’d wanted him first.
Bob placed an arm around her shoulder.
“It’ll be okay… I promise,” Bob comforted and helped Erin to her feet.
“Yes, it will,” Erin agreed. She turned to Bob as if to embrace him in a hug.
Instead of embracing the older man, she shoved him over the edge of the building. Bob shrieked loud enough for all the undead of New York City to hear him. His scream was cut short as a heavy thump replaced it. A moment later, the blood curling screaming filled the air again until it tapered off into a wet gurgle.
“DAD!” Robert Jr. cried out. He raced toward Erin screaming obscenities. His hands were curled into fists. Murder was in his eyes. Erin smiled realizing the boy had lost all control of himself in his raged induced madness.
She’d thought he’s at least have the intelligence to grab his handgun. As she expected, the young man had underestimated here. He didn’t even try for his father’s shotgun on the ground where he’d been sleeping. It would have been a footrace to see who’d grab the gun in time, a footrace Erin would have certainly won, however, this was going to be much easier than she had anticipated.
Erin took one step forward and waited for Robert Jr. to reach her. In one fluid movement, faster than Robert Jr. had time to register, Erin sidestepped him as he punched the air where she’d stood only a fraction of a second ago. He felt her hand on his back shoving him with a strength he never imagined such a petite woman possessing. His right knee crashed against the brick, shattering upon impact. Adrenaline numbed the pain as his momentum, aided by Erin’s shove, sent him hurtling over the edge of the building.
In addition to sharing the same facial features and the same hair color, Bob and Robert Jr. screamed the same way. Robert Jr. wasn’t as heavy as Bob so the thud his body made wasn’t nearly as dense sounding when it hit the pavement. Robert’s barely registered at all. Another blood curling scream echoed through the streets of New York City as Robert Jr. was torn to shreds in the street below Erin’s apartment.
More of the undead would set upon her location now. She could already hear the ones inside the building reacting to the noise with as much excitement as a walking corpse could manage. They’d try harder now, crawling all over each other and shuffling up the stairs. They still had a long way to go but they’d be set upon her soon. Erin grabbed the shotgun from the floor where Bob had left it and checked his bag. She found an unopened box of shells and brought them with her to the tent.
With one more glance to the sky, Erin sighed and opened the tent flap. She adjusted herself into position and cuddled up with the children once more.
Eight more days…, she calculated and closed her eyes.