“Spooky,” Billy said. “Volcanic ash?”
“Probably… What do you think the trails are?”
Billy frowned. “It has to be the dead.”
“It doesn’t have to be the dead…”
L.A: Billy Jingo:
Evening: March 9th
He came up from sleep fast, Jamie’s face above him, her voice a low, panicked whisper.
“Wha… What… What?”
“Downstairs… It’s downstairs,” she didn’t finish, but she didn’t need to. A crash came to his ears, but he could not tell if it was from the downstairs hallway. At least he hoped it was the downstairs hallway, not the stairs outside of their apartment, or, God forbid even closer.
He jumped from the tangle of blankets, started to pull his shoes on, and then reached for his machine pistol instead as another noise came from the hallway. This time it did sound like the downstairs hallway; the steel gate that closed off the lobby. Billy thumbed the safety off the machine pistol and ran for the apartment door.
The hallway was nearly completely black. The hallway windows let in the light from outside, but it was very little. He slowed and felt his way to the staircase. He sensed her before his hand brushed against her.
“Don’t you fuckin’ shoot me, Billy Jingo.” Beth whispered tightly. A small penlight clicked on, and he could see her leaning against the wall from the upstairs apartment.
“No,” Billy said. It was stupid, but he could think of nothing else to say. “Going down,” he told her. He made the stairs and headed down toward the lobby. Behind him Beth had turned out the light, but he could feel her following behind him.
The noise became louder as they made their way downward. Billy tried to count the steps as he went. Fifteen to the landing, turn to the right, feel for the banister. Fifteen more to the bottom, but he missed the last step. He had made himself count the steps just earlier that day in case he had to navigate them in the blackness.
He nearly fell before his foot found the floor, and he regained his balance. He could smell them now though, hear them; just fifteen or so feet across the lobby. He felt Beth’s hand brush against his back. A second later she pressed up against him and whispered in his ear.
“When I flick the light on them, just shoot!”
“But what if…”
“Fuck What if… Just shoot. Who do you think it would be, the fuckin’ Avon lady?” Silence fell. The noise stopped. “Goddammit,” Beth muttered.
A second later the penlight came on. It was like a floodlight in the narrow hallway. The gate was broken, forced part way open at the top. Another few minutes and they would have been through. Six dead were transfixed by the beam: Two with iridescent red eyes that seemed to glow in the light from the penlight. Both snarled and lunged at the gate to force their way through to them.
His pistol was in his hands, but it was like the beam had frozen him too. He did not begin to fire until after Beth’s pistol began to fire. The noise was huge; everything in the closed in space. All six of the dead fell, and they thrashed on the floor. It was over fast; so fast that Billy had not even thought to breathe.
He stood frozen, looking at the dead. Two still moved. He walked forward and shot both of them in the head, one by one. The beam left them and moved to the doorway.
The aluminum door frame was buckled in the doorway. The safety glass had been smashed out and lay on the floor in one spider webbed sheet. Two heavy sledge hammers lay just outside the doorway. Another three were scattered among the dead by the steel gate.
“Son of a bitch,” Beth breathed.
“Jesus. You don’t think they were using those, do you?”
“Are you fuckin’ kidding me?” Beth asked. She shone the light up and down the door frame. “We’ll need a steel door and a welder to fix that,” She said.
Billy nodded, realized she couldn’t see it, and then spoke. “We can get one tomorrow.”
She brushed against him as she squeezed past and walked toward the gate. His arm felt on fire from the softness of her breast as she had slipped past him. She turned and looked back at him. “They almost got in.” She shone the light on the steel collapsible burglar door. It had been there for as long as she could remember, and she had lived in the building for several years. The top was nearly separated from the steel bracket that held the hinge mechanism. Billy got his feet moving, walked over and examined the top of the door.
They had hit it with the sledge hammer repeatedly. The steel had finally split, and it looked as though they had been trying to use sheer force to rip the rest of the bracket away from the wall where it was mounted. Billy stepped back.
“I think,” he began, and that was when a zombie came through the shattered aluminum door frame and slammed into the steel gate. Fingers shot through the gaps in the steel and clutched at Billy’s arm. The Zombie missed the arm, but got his shirt sleeve and immediately snarled and began to pull back.
It lasted less than a full second before Beth’s pistol roared. The zombie’s head blew apart in the narrow hallway, black zombie blood running down the walls.
“Got you? Got you?” Beth asked.
“No… No… No, I …” Billy couldn’t find the words. Something moved outside the door, and he opened up on it. A second later there were four more Zombies flooding through the door. None of them made it to the gate, tripping over the other dead, and both Billy and Beth were firing immediately. One made it back out the door, a hole in its side that had blown away part of its spine as it had exited. Billy could not believe it was still able to move, but it was. Canted to one side, legs twitching as it ran, causing it to lurch from side to side. It disappeared into the darkness before either of them could get another shot in. The silence came back full.
“You have got to get your shit together,” Beth said quietly.
“I got my shit together,” Billy shot back.
“You never saw that one coming through the door. What if I hadn’t shot it…?”
“Well, fuck, if you hadn’t… Never mind… Okay… I’ll get my shit together.”
She said nothing.
“Okay… Okay… Does us no good to get on each other… None at all… We can fix this tomorrow.” He looked around the lobby.
“Help me for a moment?” he asked. He headed for a length of chain they had bought back to use for something. It was about to be re-purposed, he thought. As Beth held the light he wound the chain through the separated sections of the gate, pulled it tight and ran a short length of nylon rope through the eyes, tying it tightly.
He stepped back and looked it over. It would have to do until morning; her flashlight was already flickering, causing shadows to jump and fall on the walls. Batteries were getting tougher and tougher to find. He looked at his wrist and cursed low. Old habits die hard. Watches were worthless now. He hadn’t worn one in a few days.
“I don’t know either… I think a few hours until dawn,” Beth said. “That should hold for a few hours, at least slow them down enough to shoot them if they do try to get through it.”
“Well, I’ll sit here and wait for it… All we can do,” Billy said. “Go on back up and get some sleep. I got this.” He settled back onto the step, sitting with his back to the upstairs.
Beth stayed silent for a moment and then came and sat next to him. “Got it with you,” she said. She sat next to him, and he immediately lost his words. Her arm pressed against his. The flashlight snapped off, and the heat of her arm became everything.
“Billy?” His name whispered from the upstairs hallway: Jamie.
“I’m here until daybreak,” Billy whispered back.
Silence, and then… “It’s safe?”
“They won’t get past us,” Billy said.
She said nothing more. A few seconds later the door slammed upstairs. Billy sighed.
“Sorry,” Beth said. She was aware how Jamie felt about her. Jamie and Billy were not really together, but Jamie felt she owned him. Billy didn’t help matters by staying with her, sleeping with her, yet not making it official, and Jamie knew Billy was hung up on her too, Beth knew. For that matter, so was Scotty. She wasn’t interested in either of them. She didn’t feel like she absolutely had to have a man to protect her, define her. Yet ironically, she reminded herself, she was doing the same thing with Scotty. Staying when she didn’t feel the same, couldn’t feel the same. “I better go up… keep the peace.” Beth said quietly.
“Yeah… I’m good here,” Billy said. He wasn’t though. He wanted her to stay; he just didn’t know what he could do to get her to stay. Nothing, he supposed. “I’ll be good. Morning’s not far away.” Her arm pulled away, and a moment later he heard her soft footfalls on the stairs as she ascended them. Billy sat quietly, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, his machine pistol in his hands…