Rock and a Hard Place by: Rebecca Wrigley



Rock and a Hard Place
Rebecca Wrigley

If you were going to pick one of her biggest pet peeves about the Zombie Apocalypse, thought Jane, it would have to be the smell. She never ventured outside without a cloth tied around her lower face to filter out some if not all of it. Everything rotted without electricity or people to store it properly. Of course all the dead flesh wandering around was rotting. It all stank enough to make your gorge rise. She’d even had to stuff the cracks in her windows and doors to keep it out, which made for a different stink – the stale air unwashed body and clothing funk. Unavoidable once running water had become a fond memory. Things had gotten pretty funky in general in the last five years.
She stared out of her third floor apartment window at the trash strewn street below. Cars sat where they’d spun out, driver’s ripped from their seats, or smashed into one another. Some had just rolled off to the curbs. It had been rush hour when the thing hit Jane’s part of the city. And just to be clear, it wasn’t a Zombie Apocalypse exactly. Zombies originated from Hatian beliefs and they were supposed to be dead people brought back to life to serve their Bocour, to do whatever he said – basically cheap manual labor. No human flesh eating involved there. Whatever was wandering around on the streets outside of Jane’s apartment definitely did, to the exclusion of everything else. She’d begun calling them The Canibalistic Undead, or CUD for short.
The variety of them was different too. Jane had grown up with the films where they had been either fast or slow. But now they seemed to age. When they were fresh they moved quickly, but no more quickly than they could in life and less so if they were damaged in some locomotive way. When they were a little on the off side they started to creak a bit but their reflexes remained fairly good and a they had a firm grip, these could still be dangerous on their own. The wasted Zombie was a shuffler, slow, usually missing appendages by then, but in numbers they could cut off your escape and take you down in a horrible inching death. She’d once seen a CUD lose a leg simply by breaking down. Its tendons and cartelage must have finally dried out and snapped a long time ago. She had no idea how long it had been dragging the useless apendage. It must have been hanging by a few ligaments that gave up one at a time until the CUD fell to the ground and, without pause, began crawling.
Jane had seen pretty much every kind of mistake made by screaming survivors from her window. She’d always wanted to call down and warn them, but inevitably, she hadn’t. Logically it would only have drawn the survior’s attention away from the danger, ensuring their death. But, more importantly, and this made her shudder, it would call attention to herself and her apartment. The only reason she had survived the first few weeks of the Apocalypse was that she’d missed most of it.
Twenty seven, Jane had a night job as an advice nurse at St. Jude’s. She’d worked some extra hours and swapped some holiday time with a co-worker to have a whole week off. The plan was to sleep, play video games, read comics, and eat junk food for seven days. She’d been careful not to tell her parents about this little vacation. So that’s what she was doing when it all hit the fan. Behind her double paned windows with the airconditioning on and the TV switched to X-Box, she was completely oblivious. The Zombies didn’t seem to master the art of climbing stairs so no one had come knocking. Her neighbors on the third floor gradually disappeared, going out to forage for food or weapons and failing to return. Jane missed that too.
Somewhere around day five, she wanted to go out for some Chinese. She went to the window to check on her car which should have been parked on the curb below. That’s when the newsflash hit. Jane turned on the TV and got a lot of static. She checked the radio and finally got an emergency broadcast about going to your nearest shelter. Like she knew where that was. But the weiredest part was the warning. That the dead were regenerating, running around and eating the living. Worse, bites could spread the disease from the dead to the living. They weren’t sure of other disease dispersal vectors such as insects and animal bites but bites from the regenerated dead were absolutely gauranteed.
That first day, Jane made a careful inventory of her cupboards and refrigerator/freezer. It did not look promising. She had a lot of Hamberger Helper meals with maybe a quarter pound of iffy looking hamberger left in the fridge to cook it with. There were lots of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese boxes (not very nutritious -- no real protein there). A couple of Chef Boyardee meat ravioli cans (score!). Some cream cheese growing mold, and half a bag of hard bagles. The rest she’d been polishing off for days now. Scoop-up Fritos, spinach dip, Hostess chocolate cupcakes, grilled tuna melts on rye with pickles, Dijorno Hawaiian pizza. Drifts of candybar wrappers lay over all of it, Twix, Kit Kat, Butterfinger… All the food she could have saved if she’d known what wad going on.
Then she came to some hard conclusions. She was going to have to go out and forage. And she was going to have to arm herself to fight those CUDs. Because she was going to have to fight them at some point. Jane started by looting the empty third floor apartments. Unfortunately, others had been there before her. Even the emergency fire axe was missing from it’s shattered glass case. At last she found a child’s baseball bat under a bed. It made her want to weep but it was was heavy, solid wood inspite of its size. And she told herself she’d only need it until she could get to the hardware store down the street or the sportingoods store further away on Fifth and Pearl. She had decided to make body armor out of strips of matress padding when she recalled that the kid in 1D on the ground floor took Tae Kwon Do. She was small and thin, she might be able to fit into his stuff if it was still there.
She tied on some padding with rags just in case and ventured down the stairwell. Her building was enclosed with a locked glass door at the front of the stairs and first floor apartment entryway. Likewise there was a locked back door leading to the alleyway behind the building. She hadn’t gone down the stairs since the Apocalypse and nothing had come up but she had no way of knowing if anything had come in.
Jane crept down to the last few steps. More and more deposits of useless but much loved things lay abandoned on her way. Photos, stuffed animals, snowglobes, worn out slippers, a single earring. She heard nothing but her own footsteps. As she made contact with the first floor a loud BANG and rattle threw a scream out of her. Jane had been looking at the hallway of apartments, preparing herself for any occupants that might be of the CUD variety. This had come from behind her. She swung around, whipping the little baseball bat like a policeman’s batton. A CUD stood directly infront of her, repeatedly smacking itself against the outside glass of the front door. She didn’t like the look of that, not just the viscous black and gray fluids smearing the glass, or the torn skin revealing muscle tissue as green-black as spoiled steak; but the repetion. It was thick glass but how much of that could it take?
Jane decided time was now a factor. She padded as quietly but quickly as possible down to apartment 1D. She’d still had electricity then so the hall light made things a little easier. Unlike the other apartments 1D was locked.
Crap!” said Jane, “You have got to be shitting me!” She could still hear the thumping from the front entrance.
Jane whirled and race-walked to the super’s office. The keys were on a peg board behind a large wooden desk. That’s why she didn’t see Mr. Sudakis at first. She felt pressure on her ankle as she stepped around the desk. Jane looked down and recognized him, or some of him lying under the desk. The top half. From his armpits down he was ribcage and muscle, loops of instestines and gristle. Just this last Christmas she’d given Sudakis a nice bottle of California rosé. Now his hand was fastened on Jane’s ankle and before she could react he bit down on her calf. She could feel the indents of his teeth through her padding and screamed. Then she started whaling on his head with the bat like it was a pinata at a birthday party. He must have been decaying for quite a while because his head didn’t stand up to the beating. It looked like a pulped orange when Jane was through. Apparently there really was a first time for everything.
She shook with adrenaline but now was not the time to lose one’s shit. Now was the time to get the key and get down to business. Jane didn’t bother to scrape off the bat, she just checked her padding for tears and then took off for 1D. The door scraped open onto a stale smelling entry/living room just like hers. It was empty but the furniture looked untouched, unlooted. Checking the kitchen and bathroom briefly yeilded no one and no CUDs. Unlike her apartment, this was a two bedroom. Both doors were open. Finally she entered the master bedroom. On the floor in one corner she found a frumpy matron slumped, both arms laid out in a suplicant posture, one vertical slice in each wrist and dark maroon stains that spread wide around each. On the wall written in more of the maroon stuff was “Please forgive me.”
Jane turned away, taking in the rest of the room, trying to obliterate the image. She’d talked with that woman on a number of occasions. That’s how she’d known about the kid’s Tae Kwon Do. Jane was suddenly afraid to check the next bedroom. Would she find another suicide? Maybe an “assisted” suicide?
But the Tae Kwon Do gear would be in the kid’s room. She went in bat raised, made a full sweep of the floor and corners. No bodies. She even checked behind the door. Nothing. No writing on the wall either. And no Tae Kwon Do gear. Closet then. Jane opened it up and found the gear. The kid was wearing it, drooling black goo and sporting a week old pent up funk.
Well shit,” said Jane. She raised her bat. She needed that gear. In the end it really came down to this, CUDs don’t remember anything they used to know in their lives before (like Tae Kwon Do let’s say), and those odds n’ ends drawers often hold such useful weapons as heavy duty screwdrivers which can be thrust directly into the brain through an eye socket. Jane wiped off the screwdriver and would forever keep it on her person in the future.
With a little sqeezing she fit into the sixteen-year-old’s Tae Kwon Do gear. Built of heavy duty vynil stretched over thickly packed synthetic padding, there were a pair of full forearm gaurds, a pair of jabbing mitts, a full torso guard with shoulder epaulets, and a helmet that drew tight around the face. There were also a pair of thick plastic shin gaurds which she opted to combine with the mattress padding. She kept her own shoes. Tae Kwon Do footwear tended towards the open-toed. Armed with just the bat and the screwdriver, she checked all the other apartments for weapons but came up empty. It was time to go out.

Now the only grocery store that still had canned items within a two mile radius of her apartment was well flanked by empty cars, a plus. But it was several blocks away from her home, a definite minus. Suited up in her padding, weilding a machette she’d discovered stuck in a still twiching CUD’s head, and wearing a tool belt that carried her screwdriver, a hammer, a whet stone, a can opener, a flash light, and a magnesium fire starter, she cased the store. Jane hated foraging, hated going this far out again. But she was low on canned and dry goods. She could only take so much with her each time in the pack straped to her back. It wasn’t like she could roll a cart back to her apartment.
The ocasional CUD shuffled past the storefront. Jane crawled into a car with both its doors partially open. From there, she lowered herself behind the next car one width closer. There was another car jogged just a step further with a tiny gap she had to move through quickly and low to the ground. She made it in a single hunched stride. Finally, from here she could take her usual route. There was a car that had smashed into the storefront itself. Luckily for Jane it was a big cab truck with a bit more clearance off the ground than most cars. She lowered herself to the ground and slithered under the vehicle and into the store, this was the hardest part because of the tool belt dragging beneath her. She had to take it slow and easy not to make any loud noises.
Jane had long ago covered the glass windows and doors with news paper and duct tape. It kept the CUDs from seeing movement inside the store and banging on the glass to get in – a lesson she’d learned by doing the same for her apartment building entrance. It was amazing how easy it was to manipulate them if you had half a brain cell. She emerged into the murky gray light now and went straight for the stuff she wanted. Jane checked under aisle shelves first. There was a can of pea soup stuck under a shelf on one aisle. On another there was a can of strained tomatoes. Then there was a stack of dog food cans left on a shelf completely untouched. She’d been saving these for last resort. She stuck several in her pack now. Unaware, she swallowed saliva that swelled in her mouth. Preapapocalypic Jane would have been shocked. That Jane was used to having a mocha latte java with an extra shot at the Starbucks in the St. Jude’s Cafeteria. That Jane would never have needed to eat dog food or know how to use a screwdriver as a deadly weapon.
She found a few bags of dry pasta under the lip of the dairy aisle shelf with rats chewing on them. The market was infested. She’d done her best to transport drygoods first but she obviously had missed a few. Jane used her machette and screwdriver to pry the rats off and threw the rescued bounty in her pack too.
She moved deeper into the market, the shadows were longer here, blacker. She put the pack on both shoulders to free her hands, doubled them on the machette handle, and proceeded with more caution. There was a back entrance to the store. She’d secured it months ago but you never knew. A shadow passed in the corner of her vision. Jane turned to varify but saw nothing. Rats? She turned the next corner.
A silohuette at the front of the aisle brought her flashlight up and on. It was a fresh one so its head rotated smoothly in her direction. The ripped strands of muscle and tendons in his throat stretched and squelched as it moved. The eyes were clear. His clothes mostly soaked with his own wet blood. The only thing that identified him as a CUD was the fact that he was standing and moving around with his throat opened up like a Christmas goose.
Jane gritted her teeth. Facing was better than running if it was just one. Running put your back to them which made you vulnerable. That was all the time she had for assesment. It was on. She immediately dropped the flashlight. The CUD was racing for her. He was an average middle class male, a little paunchy, and his injury didn’t interfere with his legs or arms. This was going to be fun.
She planted her feet firmly, hands doubled on her machette handle again, raised her arms slightly and seconds before he met her body, she brought the blade down into his skull. Her arms vibrated with the blow. Jane had known to strike her hardest. Fresh CUDs had strong skulls, not like the ones that had been rotting for a while. His eyes rolled up into his head as though trying to see the machette lodged there. She blew out a breath of pent up anxiety. It almost felt anticlimactic.
Jane pulled on her machette but it wouldn’t come out. She tried to wiggle it but it wasn’t budging. That’s when she felt pressure on her left shoulder. She wrenched away and around trailing a thin rope of gray saliva from the CUD that had bitten into her Tae Kwon Do shoulder padding. It was a shuffler but it was close and her machette was useless at the moment. She’d screwed up. She hadn’t been paying attention. Always remain aware, even after a kill. Especially after a kill. Where there was one to kill there might be more to take you down. Jane reached for her screwdriver and – Suddenly a short arrow looking thing sprouted in the CUD’s forehead. It dropped to the floor and Jane turned slowly, screwdriver at the ready, instinctively swooping down to grab her flashlight.
Behind her, behind the CUD she’d hacked with her machette stood a tall figure in in thick leather biker’s gear with football padding strapped on. It wore an enclosed motorcycle helmet and weilded a crossbow stocked with more of the same arrows.
The figure reached a leather gloved hand to its visor and popped it up. “Hi, I’m Phil. You OK?” a pale face squinting in the light appeared.
Jane was staring at the first living man she’d seen in over three years – if you counted the ones she’d seen from her window. She nodded violently, unable to make words in her head.
You can put that away,” said Phil, “I promise not to shoot you.”
Jane realized she still held the screwdriver at stabbing height and slid it back into her tool belt.
Phil shook his head and blew out a low whistle. “You’re the first living person I’ve seen since this thing hit. Or you would be if I weren’t completely blind right now.”
Oh!” Jane lowered the flashlight “Sorry.”
In the softer light she could see that his face was remarkably clean, not even any stubble. He looked so civilized it made her want to cry.
Look, I want to talk and figure this out but not here.” Phil gestured at the two dead CUDs with his crossbow.
Jane swallowed and nodded her agreement.
I’ve got transport and a secure location. Are you in?”
Yeah.” Then she kicked at the handle of her machette to free the blade from the CUD’s skull.
You can leave it,” said Phil. “I’ve got plenty of these and I never miss,” he patted his crossbow arrows.
Jane hesitated for a moment, then, a little ashamed of her vulgar need, gave a couple more kicks, the machette clattered to the floor and she scooped it up. Phil led her to the back entrance where it looked like he’d cut through her chains with a bolt cutter. She didn’t mention it, seemed moot. Everybody did it these days.
He snapped his visor down, cracked the door and then popped it wide. “Good to go. Let’s go fast.”
Jane followed cautiously and found Phil holding the passenger side door of a Humvee open for her. Holy shit!
She wasn’t stupid enough to stand and gawk. Jane leapt in, shut the door and fastened her safety belt. By then Phil had jumped aboard and was strapping himself in. Before starting the engine, which would draw CUDs from everywhere. He leaned over and flipped open a compartment in front of Jane. He took out an energy bar and held it out to her.
Hungry?”
Jane looked at him as if he were from outer space. Then she grabbed the bar and opened the wrapper with her teeth. As she was spitting out the plastic she said “Thank you.”

The Humvee pulled into a hospital. St. Jude’s actually. Phil drove it toward the equipment loading dock alley. At the mouth he stopped, and without a word, jumped out. Jane was left siting in the passenger seat with her mouth open. Phil darted toward a line of junk strung across the alley entrance. He put down two CUDs in the process. He dragged a series of objects out of line, to the sides, then hopped back into the Humvee. Phil was breathing a little faster but otherwise he seemed calm. The Humvee pulled through the narrow slot between the removed junk and Jane could see that they weren’t piles of junk, they were bear traps, balls of razor wire weighted to two by fours, palates with large iron spikes driven up through them… As soon as they were through, Phil did the same in reverse, reforming the defense barrier.
Makes getting in and out of the Hummer a lot easier,” said Phil. “At first, they got caught on them and I had to clean out the remains two, sometimes four times a day. Then it was like they started to veer off, like they learned or somehow passed the word that this place was bad news.”
Wait,” said Jane, “you think they can learn?”
Phil shrugged as he pulled into the loading dock. “Maybe, in a rudimentary way.”
Wonderful, thought Jane, it just gets better and better.
He stepped out with his crossbow drawn, checked the undercarriage and the area around the Humvee. When he made it to Jane’s door he opened it and motioned her out. “Stay tight with me. I’ve sealed off most of the hospital to make it defendable, but it’s still easy to get lost if you don’t know it.”
She thought about mentioning that she used to work at the hospital but then discarded the idea as stupid. It would have come out lame too she was sure.
What about CUDs?” she asked without thinking.
Phil was busy unlocking a heavy chain but he looked up. “See-You-Dees?”
Jane flushed; at least she knew she was dirty enough that it wouldn’t show. “I just call them that,” she pointed out towards the creatures roaming outside the alley. “Stands for Cannibalistic Undead.”
Phil nodded her toward the door he held open. “I like that,” his voice sounded like he was smiling. “CUDs.” They passed through and he used the same chain and lock to secure the door from the inside. Jane noticed he had a thick ring of keys. There must be a lot of chained doors like this, she thought. “No, I cleaned the place out when I got here. Then I sealed off a defendable portion, locked it down, and marked off the dead-end doors with spray paint. Of course I made sure to include the generator in the sealed off section.”
A generator?” She’d forgotten about the genny in the basement. He must have started it up.
Phil nodded his helmeted head and gave a muffled laugh. “Pretty sweet, yeah?”
She wheezed an expletive.
There’s an artesian well piped to this place too so we’ve got running water.”
That was total news to her. Halleluiah.
He began to lead her through a twisting maze of corridors. A lot of the chained doors had large black spray-painted X’s on them. Some of them were simply numbered. Some of the walls bore post-Apocalyptic graffiti, sad desperate vulgarity. All of it passed in a blur as Phil chatted with her about her experience of the Apocalypse until now. She was trying to split her concentration between taking in her surroundings and on not giving up too much information about herself and where she lived. She liked Phil so far but she wasn’t sure she wanted him showing up at her apartment three days from now at two in the morning with his crossbow in hand. He told her about his stockpile of weapons and ammunition (enough to see him through the next century), the gas and propane he was set with for power and cooking into the foreseeable future, all food he had stocked, mostly MREs. Everything under lock and key, and he patted his pocket where they jingled.
Abruptly they came to a set of double doors and stopped. Phil pulled the keys out and unlocked the chain. He swung open one of the doors and ushered Jane through into a large well-lit room she recognized as an OR. He didn’t bother to lock the door behind them. It was a wide room with several gurneys pushed around randomly. At least one, she noticed, was heaped with tarped equipment. The walls were painted a pale surgical blue.
Phil pulled off his helmet and set it down. His crossbow he propped gently beside it on the same gurney.
Jane felt as if she’d been gut punched. He had sweat-dampened blond hair that would probably fall in perfect brief waves around his chiseled features. And he had the ice blue eyes of a Nordic god. She was completely out of her depth here.
Jane?”
Mmm.”
You all right?”
Ha. “Yeah, sure.”
Good,” he smiled and his teeth were perfect too. “Thought I’d lost you there for a moment.”
She smiled weakly. “Nope still here.”
This is fantastic,” he laughed, “a real live human being after all this! You think we’re the last?”
I don’t know,” said Jane. “ I never thought I’d see anyone again.”
You have no idea how grateful I am to see you Jane.”
Oh, I think I can take a pretty good guess,” she countered, a little cautiously. He might have gone a little nutty with the isolation. Who knew?
And you seem capable, reasonably intelligent, healthy, and best of all a real survivor. So much more than I could have hoped for.”
Jane stiffened a bit. “Yeah, you seem swell too. Maybe we should take some time to get to know each other though.” She was starting to think about that locked entrance door and where the keys were.
See,” he said moving toward the equipment lumped gurney, “my work before the Apocalypse was something that required a certain element that is in short supply, has vanished really, since.” He rolled the gurney over to the center of the room. With a bit of a flourish he removed the tarp.
And Jane really wished he hadn’t.
Underneath was a CUD, strapped down to a gurney that was tilted up. Straps held down the head, wrists, thighs, and ankles. Pieces of it were missing. Not in the normal way that CUDs lost pieces, in rips and shreds, well there were those too. But these were surgical removals. A leg cleanly severed with some sort of bone saw. Skin partitioned off in squares like a sick muscular chess board. Part of its brain was exposed and scoops had been taken out. Jane gagged. She wasn’t sure if it was at the CUD in general or its condition.
I know, they’re foul. But they’re all I have to work with these days,” sighed Phil. “The real problem is that they don’t fight back or scream for mercy. Their only interest is in eating you and if they’re tied down they just drool and bite incessantly. They’re such a disapointment after so many years of…” he trailed off with a blissfull look on his face.
Something cold flipped in Jane’s stomach.
I’ve got a whole room of them next door,” he pouted. All of them failures. They have no will to live, so they have no fear of death. I supose because they’re already dead.” He turned back to Jane (who wanted to crawl under a gurney). “But you, Jane, you’re something else!”
Shitshitshitshitshit, thought Jane.
You’re the real deal. I didn’t think I was ever going to see one of you again. We are going to have so much fun!”
I’d rather not, Phil,” Jane said hopelessly.
That’s disappointing,” he sighed. “This is how it works, You get to keep your tools, and you get a headstart. Isn’t that fair? Then I hunt you. Whoever survives, wins. Of course if I win I won’t kill you right away.”
Jane shuddered. This would teach her to follow home guys she met in postapocalyptic supermarkets. He hadn’t been there to forage for food. He’d been looking for fresh CUDs and got lucky finding her.
Phil made a quick lunge around the gurney toward her and she nearly fell backward. “Let’s play Jane!”
Jane shook her head.
Not an option. I’ll take you down right here if you don’t go.” He reached over and hefted his crossbow easily, bringing it to bear on her in one smooth arc.
She felt herself backing up until the double doors smacked her shoulders.
You can turn and run, Jane,” said Phil. “I promised you a headstart. That means no shooting. You’ve got five minutes.”
She had no reason to trust him so she didn’t. Jane backpeddled through the doors, whatching as he lowered the crossbow. She finally hit a corridor wall and had to make a choice, left or right. Impulsively she chose right, just to keep moving. Her first animal instinct was to put as much distance between herself and Phil as possible. But he’d be expecting that, wouldn’t he? She couldn’t afford to do the expected here.
She knew this hospital, at least as well as he did, if not better, best to use that to her advantage. Jane raced to the lobby she’d have to pass through to get to the Appointment and Advice Call Center. At least she’d be on the most familiar of territory there. The lobby doors were chained shut and locked with a big black X sprayed on them.
She turned around without stopping and ran toward the woman’s OR lockers. There was a laundry shute that emptied into a basement bin – basement might not be locked. Locker room was locked off with a black X, probably figured things could get in through the basement.
There was a lab on second – she’d dated one of the techs – that had windows and possibly useful chemicals, like hydro choloric acid, The door to the stairwell was chained and locked. She whimpered, took out her screwdriver and pried at the lock in a fit of useless rage. All it accomplished was a deep gouge in the door. The hammer wouldn’t do any better and it would probably break the machette. The whet stone and fire starter were useless. Then it dawned on her, custodian’s closets – cleaning supplies, chemicals. She slid along the wall until she came to a likely door, no chain on it either. Of course upon opening it she found nothing. It was bare to the Formica finish. There weren’t even any fire extinguishers to be had.
Jane wasn’t getting anywhere without keys.
Then she heard footsteps in the hall. “Let’s see, Jane are you the frightened rabbit that runs as far and as fast as you can?” Phil asked in a controlled soto voche. “Or were you clever and tried to do the opposite, knowing I’d be looking for the rabbit?”
She’d run out of time without a hiding place.
Rabbit or fox? Which is it Jane?”
Jane tried to stop breathing and flattened herself against a corner wall.
The footsteps were even and lightly placed. If she’d been running around and panting she wouldn’t have heard them at all. Jane waited for the footsteps to receed before squatting to use the whet stone on her machette. She’d need to slice through a lot before this was over because she was going to have to get those keys somehow.
Thinking of surgical tools, Jane made her way back to the OR they had started from. She moved the way she had learned to move on the streets avoiding the CUDs, quick and light, no more sound than rustling paper. Before she got there she reached the OR next to it and found the chain and lock missing from the door handles. A metal bar slid in their place. A piece of paper was taped to one of the doors and it said “DARE YOU”.
She suddenly recalled what Phil had said about having a, “whole room full of,” CUDs in the next OR. What was he daring her to do and to what end? Jane slid the bar out and cracked the door. The room was just as well lit as the first OR. There were dozens of gurneys, each with a CUD strapped to it. The CUDs were in varying stages of decay and surgical “study”. All of them squirming like bugs on pins. One, a female, was shoved to the front of the room, it was a fresh CUD, struggling viciously against its bonds. The strap that would have gone over its head was missing so the thing whipped it back and forth and banged it up and down with rabid fury. Spittle and foam flew in arcs and the teeth snapped so fiercely that it had bit its own lips and tongue. Strung on a choker of ribbon around its neck was a key ring. The keys jingled with each violent jerk of the head.
Son of a bitch,” whispered Jane. She’d have to get those keys, and she’d have to do it quick, because if he didn’t find her soon, he’d know where to look for her. She took the bar with her into the room, hefting it in one hand, the machette in the other. She’d have to make a quiet kill in order to avoid giving away her location. So that left out bludgeoning the thing with the metal bar. Fine, so use the machette. She set the bar aside, gripped the machette double handed and brought it down on the CUD’s head. Because it had been whipping around so fast, instead of dead center she’d hit it about one third from the edge. At least it pinned it to the gurney. She quickly slid out her screw driver, feeling the thing’s teeth grind against her arm padding. Her heart was beating so hard she thought her ears would burst from the sound.
Then in an instant the teeth had a full grip on her arm. They were chewing awkwardly through the padding. She could see breaks in the smooth cover opening to the stuffing beneath. Her palms went slick and the screwdriver slid right down to the tip of the handle. If she pulled out the machette to attack the CUD again the head would be free to move and it would likely rip through her padding and into her arm. Jane tighened her fingers on the screwdriver until her short fingernails dug in to the cracked plastic handle. Milimeter by milimeter she dragged it up into her palm. The CUD was so still and concentrated on her arm that it presented a perfect target as Jane brought the screwdriver up and into it’s eye socket. It stopped chewing then.
Drawing a shaky breath, she quickly grabbed the keys from the CUD’s neck. She was backing out of the room when an idea hit her. It was an idea with promise. But she had to move now. Later maybe. Right now she had to figure out this piece to the puzzle. Because it was just a piece. There was no way any of these opened the entrance door. What they did open was the question. She hoped she hadn’t just risked her life for nothing.
The generator room. Interesting. First that the keys worked on anything of value. Second, what did he imagine she might do with it? There was the generator, of course, and a stockpile of propane and gasoline as well. Things ticked in her head. Phil didn’t know about the fire starter in her tool belt. But if she shut down the genny to put him in the dark he’d know right where she was. She left the genny alone, took some supplies with her, and locked up. It was hard going and difficult to do quietly but she set the stuff up where it needed to be. Then she weakened some straps with her machette and got out.
Jane retreated a corridor away to hide. Seconds later Phil stalked past. She was floored at the simplicity. Double handing her machette, she brought it to bear on his neck.
Drop the crossbow.”
Jane. I knew you were special.” He casually dropped the crossbow.
Kick it aside.”
So smart.” He did as she asked.
I just sharpened this, Phil.”
Why not just kill me then?”
I need the keys.”
Oh and then you’ll kill me.”
What you think you deserve, you sick bastard?”
You want to know what I think?”
Jane felt a hard ankle hook around hers flipping her leg around until her hips followed. The next thing she knew she was belly down on the floor, but she wasn’t there long. Phil grabbed her up and held her from behind, one hand gripping her Tae Kwon Do helmet the other holding her own machette at her throat.
Jane, Jane, Jane. I was really hoping this would last longer. In the end you’re really not all that smart are you?”
Jane’s arms were still free, and her right carefully slid the hammer from its tool belt loop. It was awkward, swinging backward, but she put as much thrust into it as she possibly could and her aim proved true. Phil made a tiny scream. The machette fell in a clatter and he collapsed to the floor clutching his groin.
How ya’ like me now, bitch?” snarled Jane.
Then she felt pain of her own. A crossbow bolt had sheared through her shoulder padding and the meat of her shoulder. It wasn’t stuck there, it had left a deep graze though. She could feel the blood seeping between padding and skin. He was already setting another bolt to fly. Jane ran, scooping up her machette on the way. She ran toward the ORs, ran a little past them and waited.
In a few minutes Phil came hobling, pretty fast considering what he’d sustained, along after Jane. She could see he had about three crossbow bolts left. He paused at OR number two as Jane had hoped he would. She’d taken a pencil from one of the hospital desk cubicles and scrawled a big 2 next to his “DARE YOU”.
He looked so furious at that moment. She couldn’t have hoped for better. With an angry swipe he removed the bar and went in with his crossbow leveled. Jane darted forward and replaced the bar.
Jane heard the commotion immediately. He must have shot three of them first. Then it was left to avoiding and smashing. Finally he made it back to the doors and smacked against them only to find they’d been braced behind him.
JANE!”
Phil.”
Let me out!”
Why?”
I’ll give you the keys.”
Give me the keys now.”
You’ll never let me out.”
I promise I will. I’ve never broken a promise.” It was true. She never had.
There was a gap under the doors just wide enough for the flattened group of keys to slide through. Phil hesitated but in the end he had no other choice. He pushed the keys to Jane.
She nodded and said, “Good doing business with you Phil.” Then she walked to the end of the gasoline trail and waited. She waited until he’d been screaming for a good ten minutes before she sparked a light with her fire starter. A flame that would travel into the OR and up to the large flowing propane canister that would hopefully explode, splattering dead flesh in tattered piles, Phil’s included.
I win.”

It was too bad about the promise. But there was a first time for everything.


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