Authors: Liz Craig
Race to Refuge
Copyright © 2015 by Liz Craig
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, organizations, and events of the story are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
I was late for work and it felt like everything that could go wrong was going wrong. The session had already started and I was still trying to make it through security. I work as an aide for a North Carolina state senator. Mostly, it’s a glorified gofer job when they’re in session. The security guard was being really diligent with my handbag, for some reason. Usually, I’d look at it as a great way to stay safe, but today, late for work, hair damp because of a shorted-out hairdryer, clothes wet from rain, emotionally drained from the toxic relationship I was in, I was just ready to get on with it and start my workday.
Finally, I was allowed farther into the legislative building and I jogged up the red-carpeted stairs. Scott, a work friend of mine, sidled up to me and murmured, “It’s feeling like a Monday.” He rolled his eyes and straightened his blue and white striped bowtie.
“For a Tuesday, that’s never good,” I said. “But you’re right. Today’s got the Monday vibe going. What’s happening here?”
Scott raised his eyebrows and leaned closer. “Take a look over there,” he said, gesturing to a desk across the chamber.
I squinted across to a desk near the front of the room. The Sergeant-at-Arms crouched over a rotund figure on the floor. An aide hovered anxiously nearby, talking on his phone while waving his hands around rapidly. The figure on the floor convulsed violently as if in the throes of a grand-mal seizure. More security ran in to assist.
“Is that Representative Murdock?” I whispered. “What’s happening to him?”
Scott shook his head and was quiet for a few seconds before saying, “He had some sort of weird encounter before he came into the building. I was heading through security while he was and he was really shaken up about it. Said some strange man came up to him in the street and … attacked him.”
I pushed a strand of wet black hair behind my ear. “Attacked him? You mean, started yelling at him? Someone who didn’t like his policies or something?”
“No,” said Scott, lowering his voice to the point where I had to lean in closer to hear him. “No, I mean that he
him. Physically. The guy bit him on the neck and Murdock had to beat him off with his briefcase. Said he snarled like an animal.” Scott’s face, usually so laid-back was uncertain.
I spoke slower than usual, trying to process what he was telling me. “So, did the police get him?”
Scott gave a cough that was supposed to sound scoffing but sounded sort of strangled instead. “Cops? No. They wouldn’t have been able to get him because he immediately lumbered off into the crowd and left. Snarling as he went.”
I shivered. “Sounds like someone who is disturbed, maybe? Do you think the Representative was especially targeted?” I’d hoped today was going to be one of those workdays where I coasted at the office on autopilot while working through my personal problems. But it sounded like I needed to be right on top of whatever was going on here.
Scott shrugged. “Who knows with those types of people? But I can’t imagine that was the reason. This wasn’t a protester. This was someone behaving like a rabid animal.” He paused and narrowed his eyes. “You haven’t had a run-in with that person, have you?”
I forced a light laugh. “Of course not. Why?”
“Well, because you’ve got a big bruise right over your eye. Actually, I’d call that a
eye.” He leaned in closer. “Somebody hit you, Mallory?”
“No, I just tripped last night when I was on my way to bed. Hit my head on the bed knob,” I said. “Clumsy.”
Scott nodded slowly again. I could tell he didn’t believe a word of it. Which was perceptive of him. The truth was that it had been a rough couple of days. And I
a clumsy person.
The rest of the morning was almost a blur. I was doing my job, but only with half my mind on what I was doing.
“Closed session,” called out one of the legislators. “Everyone else can break for lunch.”
Scott sidled up to me again. “What’s going on?” he asked under his breath. “Closed door session? That’s not on the agenda.”
I nodded. “I know. Weird. But it works for me because I’ve got an errand to do and I’ve got to take a long lunch. If I’m not back in an hour and a half, can you cover for me, Scott? Tell the senator that my errand is running behind but that I’ll be there soon?”
Usually Scott would be nosy about this mysterious errand. But it was obvious he was totally wrapped up in the unusual closed session.
Traffic was heavier than usual with lots of people blowing their horns. Raleigh, North Carolina, isn’t exactly a huge metropolitan area, so this wasn’t what I was expecting during my lunch hour. Everybody was in a hurry. A minivan swerved past me, blowing its horn as it went and I blew back. It looked like some kid driving the car, too. I shook my head. I was starting to sound like my parents. And I was only twenty-eight.
When I got to my apartment, the parking lot looked busy with tons of cars in the parking lot.which was surprising, considering it was a workday. I picked all the polish off my nails while I waited for a parking space in front of our unit. For once, I
want a close spot. If I was going to just throw all my stuff in the Subaru with no boxes or anything, I wanted to be as close as I could be. At least Brendan and I lived on the ground floor. I’d never really liked being on the ground before … too many sounds from the upstairs units. But now it was a good thing.
Finally I got a spot and backed into the parking place. I opened the trunk and all the doors on the car. Then I ran in and started grabbing everything that was mine. I knew I was going to end up leaving some stuff behind, but I really didn’t care. There was no way I was going to risk a future confrontation with Brendan because I took the TV that we’d both bought. It was
There are sirens everywhere as I grab clothes and toiletries and prescriptions and towels and pictures and toss them into the Subaru’s trunk and backseat. Must have something to do with all the traffic and the crazy way people were driving. Maybe the cops pulled over that kid who was driving a hundred miles an hour.
The phone rang, which made me jump half a mile. It was the land-line, too, and not many people had that number. I checked the caller ID. It was my college roommate, Annie. She was still my best friend, even though we hardly ever got to see each other anymore what with work and living in different towns.
I hesitated for a second, and then picked up. “Annie? Hey. Listen, I’m just at the apartment for a minute and I’ve got to get back to work.”
“Have you seen the news? I mean, I know you work with government and all, but did you hear what’s going on?”
Annie’s voice was tight and anxious and not at all like her. She’s one of the most laid-back people I know. One of those hippie-Earth-mother types who makes her own household cleaners and eats organic and that kind of thing. “No, I’ve had a crazy day and haven’t turned it on. What’s up?” An icy chill was already going up my spine, though. It was almost like I
“No time to explain, Mallory—just—you’ve gotta get out of there. Out of the city. It’s some crazy kind of virus or something. Like rabies. It’s making infected people attack other people; then
people are getting sick and attacking other people.”
My head was spinning so much that I sat down on the arm of the sofa that I was going to let Brendan keep. “Zombies? Annie, you realize you’re talking about zombies.” I gave a sort of humorless laugh. “That’s sort of crazy. This isn’t April Fools, is it?” But my mind went to what Scott was telling me this morning and the attack near the state house.
“Mallory, listen. Just get out. Leave Brendan behind if he’s not there … you know I think that’s not a bad thing anyway. Throw your stuff in the car and get out of town. Jim and I are going to go to our getaway in the country—you know—near the border of North Carolina.”
I did know. Annie and Jim lived in DC, but escaped as much as they could to their hideaway in the middle of nowhere. I’d been there exactly twice and wasn’t sure I really could get myself back. Nor was I convinced that this is something I needed to do. But Annie was usually super-logical, even if she was kind of a dreamer.
Annie’s voice was shrill and nothing like her. “221 Crepe Myrtle Lane. The code for the lock box on the door … have you got a pen?”
“Yes.” I poised the pen over my hand. I had a pen, just no paper.
“It’s 4474. Okay? Mallory, be careful. And just go, all right? I’m serious. Leave Brendan.”
I gave a humorless laugh as I glanced around the room to see if I was forgetting anything important. “I’m one step ahead of you there, Annie. Brendan and I had an epic fight this morning. You know how we’ve been arguing about whether we should take the next step and marry. I want kids. He doesn’t. Except, this time he decided to punctuate his point with a punch.”
Annie’s voice was now furious. “Jerk.”
I’d called him other names, actually. “It doesn’t matter. It made me realize that I needed to move out. I’m just mad that I misjudged him enough to have a relationship with him for a year. What a waste.”
Annie said, “Right. And now you’re getting out of there and heading to Crepe Myrtle Lane. Now. Right?”
Her voice had that odd urgency again that wasn’t like her. Ordinarily she’d want to bash Brendan for a while on the phone. That chill crept up my spine again. “Yes. I guess. Annie, I’ve got a job, you know.”
“They owe you time off. Besides, they won’t even know you’re gone—it’s going to be crazy over there. Mallory—run. I’ve gotta go.”
The line went dead.
I was playing a zombie RPG when I heard about the attacks. A weird coincidence. Even weirder, I was playing the part of the zombie, not the zombie hunter, in the role play.
It was about time to leave for school. Most of the time, my parents didn’t want me to play before school, but this morning they were distracted. It took me ten minutes to get ready for school, anyway. I scooted off real quick in the shower, pulled on jeans and a tee shirt, grabbed a granola bar and a glass of milk, and was all set. I’d even packed my backpack and made my lunch the night before, which was practically historic. But there was an online player that I knew was going to play this morning and I wanted to have a quick match with him if I could make time.
I’d signed in and was starting out with the game when a chat box popped up. Captain Crunch was the player. He usually sounded real chill whenever he chatted online. Just real laid back. I think he might have been an older dude … maybe in college. This time he sounded urgent.
Don’t go to school
I hesitated. It’s not like I trust people online or think they’re like my real life friends. I’m not stupid. They’re friends. But they’re different. I’m not giving out my home address or doing something idiotic like that. But I’ve played with this guy a while. If I felt like I really knew anybody online, it was him. “Why not?” I typed.
There’s some crazy stuff going on out there, dude. I’m in New York. I know you don’t live here, but there’s some kind of sick virus or something. They said on the news it’s almost like rabies. People attacking other people. Seems more like zombies to me. I know it sounds nuts. But look outside. Check the news. Skip school so you’re not trapped there. Don’t go.
He signed out of the game and I sat there for a minute, staring at the screen. Did Mom and Dad know I was playing games? Or could I still get away with saying I felt sick?
“Mom?” I called out.
I could hear Mom and Dad talking to each other downstairs. They had that morning-stressed tone where they were flinging things around, trying to find their stuff so they could get out the door. Of course, they were usually stressed when they were around each other, anyway.