Chapter 5 - In The Thick Of It All

“Are we good?” I asked everybody, watching as Frye and Sanchez both held their weapons against their chests...breathing hard from moving so fast for this long, adrenaline on high, and trying to get their heads together to keep going.

I felt bad for even having them run out and put themselves in this position for my benefit, but they both nodded, regardless. I couldn’t wish on any falling star for a better set of guys to have your back in the field. God DAMMIT, I loved them for doing this for me!

We didn’t move too quickly, as there were hidden dangers around every corner, behind every dumpster, and ready to jump out of any blindspot or shadow that we weren’t watching if we weren’t careful. Knowing how much chaos was taking over the downtown area, I was just praying that those delivery docks might have been left open or somewhat accessible due to the panic that everyone was going through. Prolonged periods of high stress situations and trauma tend to make you forget the little things. That could be our way out of this mess and our way in to a temporary safe haven so we could get our thoughts together and figure out what our net ten to fifteen moves were going to be when it came to navigating our way through the rest of it.

Suddenly, we heard a series of dull ‘thumps’ hitting the concrete behind us. They might have been one of those zombie things that Frye keeps talking about...but I couldn’t be sure. They looked awfully human to me. And just before the third ‘thump’ hit the alley ground behind us...I saw a body dropping down from the high rooftop above us. Definitely human...and splattering with a sickening splash of red plasma as their bodies scattered all over the unforgiving ground below.

We looked up and saw more of those creatures, running at top speed to jump off of the same rooftop and come crashing down to the harsh pavement below right behind them...but they continued to twitch and spasm and scream...eventually able to get back up on their hands and knees...broken bones and scramble over to lick up the gory feast waiting for them as thick rivers of blood rushed towards the already flooded gutter.

More abnormal shrieks hovered above our heads as others came dropping down upon us...and we were suddenly forced to run towards the end of the alley for fear of having them fall right down on top of us like heavy sacks of rotting meat. Even with our legs fatigued and almost numb from the effort, we knew that we couldn’t get surrounded in this alley! To say that it was a guaranteed death trap would be an understatement! So we just held our heads down and moved as fast as we could as more and more zombies dropped down from the high ledges on either side. We tried to weave, back and forth, to keep from being squashed along the way...but the rain of bodies was getting to be too much for us to avoid. We were getting bumped, knocked aside...and the ones that fell in front of us were hard to run over without tripping over their twisted limbs or slipping in their pools of blood.

I heard Sanchez fire off a couple of rounds to protect himself, and Frye did the same. That’s one on of those things hit the ground right in front of me, and immediately started crawling on its elbows to pull itself towards me, mouth open...teeth already covered in blood and torn flesh...and I had to slide to a quick stop and shoot the son of a bitch in the FACE to keep it from biting me!

We didn’t have far to go...but we were quickly being overwhelmed. I had to make a split second decision, and shouted that we should keep stomping our way forward. Maybe my leadership skills were taking a backseat to my biased concern for Spencer’s well being...but we had come too far to stop now. “Let’s MOVE!!!”

They kept pressing on right behind me, and we finally reached the end of the alley just as more heavy artillery began to obliterate the people down below. Many of them innocent, I’m sure of that. But we were helpless to do anything other than run for cover. Even if it meant wearing their pointless casualties on our sleeves later on. Something that I was sure was going to cause all three of us a great deal of perpetual trauma from this day forward...

...Assuming that we’re able get out of this alive at all.

“LEFT!!! Turn left! This is it!” I shouted over the screams and gunfire, just as I saw a few of the slower zombies lumbering around the corner in a thick crowd. “Up on the dock! Check the gate behind the open truck! I’ll check the doors!”

Sanchez went for the gate, but there were zombies on the truck that instantly caught sight of him and started to head right for him. Not knowing whether they would be some of the faster ones or the slower ones, Frye came dashing around the corner and started unloading a heavy load of ammo right into the approaching riot of infected humans. Sanchez froze for a moment, wondering if he should keep working on the gate, or if he should assist Frye with the cluster marching up behind him while he still had a chance.

The doors were on automatic lock, and I couldn’t get them open, but Sanchez said that he’d be able to pop the lock on the delivery dock’s gate if we could just manage to buy him enough time to use some of the tools on his belt.

“You’ve got tools for this sort of thing?” I said.

“A man’s gotta shop for birthday, Christmas, and anniversary, gifts somehow, right?” He answered.

“Bruh...” Frye said, shaking his head. “Don’t even get me involved with you on this one!”

“It’s a criminal talk for a later date!” I said, moving over to stand shoulder to shoulder with Frye as Sanchez knelt down and began working on the lock.

Frye and I saw the hordes walking, rolling, scraping, and scrambling, around the corner from both sides of the alley, and we made sure that we were both loaded up with an extra clip or two ready to go just in case there were more of them than what we expected. And just as they turned towards us, we tried to conserve as many shots as we could with short, controlled, bursts...hoping that Sanchez was as good at cracking that gate open as we were both hoping he was.

I started firing off more rounds as I saw some of them getting closer. I think the noise was alerting them to our location, and they were desperately craving fresh meat. But Frye reminded me, “SAVE some work for when we get moving, Logan!” Then he turned to holler, “What’s the time stamp looking like on that lock, Sanchez???”

“Two or three more minutes, man! Just keep them back!” He said, trying to concentrate.

“If you can get that damn thing open faster than that, it would really help us out here!” I said, firing off a few more rounds and watching a few more of the hostiles dropping down to their knees and falling over to the side. But it wasn’t helping us out with any of the other ghouls that were lurching our way.

“ALMOST!!!” Sanchez said...but it was then that we saw some of the ‘other’ creatures suddenly running quickly around the same corners...and they were jumping over the other bodies to get to us! There was no more conserving ammunition now. They were coming at us WAY too fast to hold them off a few shots at a time. And just when I began to think that we were going to have to abort the original plan and start running to see if we could find another location...I heart a loud, metallic ‘crank’, and Sanchez managed to get the downward lock open.

He was only able to lift the gate about three feet off of the dock before the zombies were too close for us to wait a second longer! We shouted at Sanchez to roll underneath the narrow gate, and he tried to lift it a bit higher so Frye and I could roll underneath right after him with all of our gear and weapons on! I could feel the zombies’ hands clawing at me, hear their teeth snapping, and we were able to quickly lay down and slide underneath just seconds before they were able to grab a hold of one of us and drag us back down off the dock to devour us alive. And that took all three of us to work together and use all of our remaining strength to pull the gate back down as arms reached in trying to grab at anything that they could get a hold of.

We couldn’t close the gate all the way with so many hands frantically trying to snatch us back down, and even firing a few rounds into their arms did little good as the hunger outweighed whatever pain we could possibly cause them. If any at all. So we just trapped their hands underneath the gate as best as we could and backed away, praying that they would find themselves another distraction before they found a way to lift it up and infiltrate the dock before we could find another way inside the building.

However, when we all turned around, we found ourselves with a couple of rifles pointed at our heads...

“Whoah whoah whoah...slow down, man!” Frye said as we all put our hands up. There were two men at the inside edge of the delivery dock, one with a full beard and the other with a goat tee.

“You boys need to find yourself someplace else to go!” One of them grumbled with a scraggly voice.

With my hands still up, my gun now hanging limply from my finger to try to show him that I meant no harm, I said, “Nice and easy, there. K? Nice and easy. We’re just trying to get out of the center of that mess outside for safety’s sake.”

“Do we look ‘safe’ to you, tough guy?” He said.

The one with the goat tee said, “You tried to break in here on us...”

“Do you see what the fuck is going on out there?!?!” Sanchez, angrily stepping forward before both of the rifles turned on him.

I tried to deescalate by keeping my voice as calm as humanly possible, nodding towards Sanchez to make sure that he didn’t make any sudden movements that could get us in trouble. “Listen to me, very carefully...” I said, “...We’re CPD. You hear me? We weren’t trying to invade your space here, we were just looking to get off of the streets...”

“Well, will you look at that, George? Here come the Chicago to save the day.”

“I think they need to look somewhere else, Hank. Don’t you? Or did they not hear us the first time?” The other man said.

I could tell that neither one of them were probably good enough with a gun to really shoot straight if they had to...but at this close distance, they could easily make a real mess of all three of us before we were able to get the jump on them. “Look, guys...I get it. Ok? This is your spot...”

“You’re damn RIGHT this is our spot!!!” Hank said, getting louder and more agitated.

“That’s right. It’’s your spot. We’re not looking to take anything from you and we’re not looking to stay. Understand?” I said, Frye standing just to the left of me in silence as though h was waiting for some kind of signal. “Look, we were taking a detour through the center of the city, and we got detoured. Everything is blocked in. We just need a few minutes to check out our map to find our way out of here, and we’ll be out of your hair in no time flat. There’s no need to bring any hostility into the mix. The sooner you let us in, the sooner we can be on our way.”

“George? Hank? What’s going on in there?” Came a lady’s voice from inside the warehouse.

“You stay back there, Angie! Don’t you come in here, now!” George called back, never taking his eyes off of me.

I reassured him, “It’ll just be a couple of minutes. We rest up, we plot out our next point on the map...and we’re gone like the wind. You have my word.”

Easing up a little bit more, Hank said, “If you’re the cops...why aren’t you out there putting a stop this bullshit?”

“There is no putting an end to this. There’s simply too many of them...”

“Too many for the goddamn POLICE to handle???”

“There’s too many for anybody to handle, ‘Hank’.” I said. “I’m sorry...but Chicago’s been overrun. It can’t be saved. Not right now.”

My attempt to humanize us by using his name backfired immediately as both men tensed up and got even more nervous and agitated than before. “Don’t act like you know me, mister! You DON’T fucking know me!!!” He growled, aiming that rifle directly at my face and causing me to take a few steps back.

“Don’t handle us, cop!” George grunted.

“Is that what this is? You trying to ‘handle’ us, cop?!?!” Hank said.

Frye was still waiting for me to give them the signal. Both him and Sanchez were both quick on the draw and one hell of a shot. I doubt we’d have any real problems here if it came to that. But I figured...the less immediate conflict, the better. People in this situation can be really unpredictable, you know? “We’re not here for all that. Alright? We’re just trying to make it through downtown. That’s all.” I said, hands still raised where he could see them.

George looked at the patch on my arm. “You from one of those North side precincts?” He asked suspiciously. “If you wanted out of here...why didn’t you keep heading North? What are you doing coming South to Downtown?”

“We don’t have TIME for this, Logan!” Sanchez snarled, but I put my hand out to calm him down.

“We’re gonna make time. Ok?” I looked George in the eye, hiding the nervous tremble in my voice. “You hear me? We’re going to make time.” I happened to notice a middle aged woman with dyed red hair peek cautiously around the corner to see what was going on. She seemed just as scared as the others, but nowhere near as aggressive. I figured that appealing to her might be my best bet here. “ son...he was in a hospital bed when everything fell apart. I’m hoping to God that he’s still there now. I came to cut through the city, get to him, and get him out that place before things got any worse out here.” I looked back to the lady around the corner, who seemed to be sympathizing with me at the moment. “His name is Spencer, ok? He’s just a little boy. He’s all alone right now and it’s my job to protect him. I’m just here to catch my breath so I can run out and grab him and keep him safe. You understand?” I stared at the woman around the corner, making an intense level of eye contact in the hopes that she’d understand. “You get it? Please. Just give us a couple of minutes to pass through. He’s my son.” I said. “My son. You understand?”

Tensions began to ease up a little bit, and after a few breathless moments, George and Hank lowered their guns and gave us a paranoid side-eye as they allowed us to walk in through the back door. It was a sigh of relief for all of us, believe me. But I doubted their temporary truce was going to last for very we needed to find our way out of here as soon as possible. Anyone who’s even survived this long is already wound tight enough to snap like a dry rubberband.

They led us down a long corridor and through the back door of a restaurant and bar that was facing the street. The big window and the door were boarded up tight, but we could still hear a constant rush of civilian screams and gunshots from the people clawing and tearing at one another outside. All of them desperately trying to get out of this city and avoid the apocalyptic horror that would inevitably be chasing right behind them once they were exposed to the fading light of the afternoon. Slow zombies...mindless zombies….smart didn’t really matter in the end. They all posed a serious threat to us that even our darkest nightmares couldn’t have ever prepared us for right now. If anything, they had numbers on their side.

No wonder they were so on edge...hearing the nonstop hysteria happening just on the other side of that door was already driving me a little bit crazy too.

There was another young woman in the restaurant with a little girl, about age 14 if I had to guess, and another guy who was standing by the billiards table, playing pool as if he was trying to find a decent distraction from the insanity. Then again, that’s what we all do, isn’t it? Even during the recent pandemic...we just want to pretend that we have SOME level of control over our lives for a little while. Even if it’s just sinking that almighty 8-ball at the end of a game.

All eyes turned to us as Frye, Sanchez, and I, came walking into the room, even under gunpoint. Even as a police officer on duty, I found it hard to remember when I had to deal with so many dirty looks from one group of people.

“You let them IN here?!?!” The woman said.

“They said they were Chicago police, Maddy!”

“And that makes it better?” She said, and I saw her pull her little girls closer into her arms. She glared at me with one of the most evil looks that I had ever seen and she said, “What do you all plan to DO about this???”

What makes people think that us cops are friggin’ superhuman in situations like this??? You know? “Ma’am...we’re just doing what we can to keep as much of the peace as we can right now until we can figure out a better course of action. I’m sorry...but that’s all that we’ve got to work with for now.”

“All that you’ve got to WORK WITH???” She shrieked. I’m stuck in here with my daughter, Brandy, right now...and you’re telling me that you have no way of keeping us safe???”

“Please...understand...all of this is hitting us just as hard as it’s hitting you, right now. We have no idea what’s going on, but we’re doing everything in our power to fix it as fast and as efficiently as we can.” I told her. “It’s no secret that this is an unprecedented attack on the city...and I can’t give you any directions on where to go until we all figure out where it’s coming from. Until then...we just need to focus on what supplies we have and how to survive...”

George was already highly strung out and gripping his gun so tightly that I’m surprised that it didn’t go off by accident at this point. “I know how to fucking survive! I’ve seen the military rush into town when the shit went down! We can’t just trap ourselves in here and wait to die! We need to get our asses outside so they can FIND us and take us some place safe!”

The little girl, Brandy, began to cry on her mother’s shoulder, and it almost looked like Hank was going to back him up and have the whole crew run for it at once. But I stepped in to try to talk to sense into them.

“You hear that?” I said, pointing up as more fighter jets flew overhead. “Those are JETS! Fully stocked and loaded! That’s not a rescue mission, George! That’s an elimination of as many hostiles as they can possibly take out before they feel that the perimeter is even remotely safe enough to risk a caravan rescue mission.”

“They wouldn’t just leave us hear to DIE!!!”

“You’re not HEARING me!” I said louder, trying to get him focused. “If you hear jeeps, boots on the ground...if you hear the sound of helicopters hovering over the street...that’s a rescue mission. Ok? That’s the military coming back for survivors. What you’re dealing with right now…? They’re just trying to minimize the collateral damage as best as they can. Nothing more. And with they kind of firepower I saw making my way into city...they’re not doing a good job of it.”

Frye looked at them, and he said, “The city of Chicago is ‘done’, bruh. Period. I’m not saying that a rescue is impossible...but it won’t be any time soon. You try to go out there now and they’ll splatter you seven ways from Sunday. Trust me on this.” Sanchez found himself a chair and rested his sore feet and legs for a little bit as he attempted to steady his breath. Frye sat across the table from him, hoping to do the same as quickly as possible. “You’re all better off just sitting here and waiting for the storm to pass. Because there’s no WAY that you’re going to have a chance of making it for more than a couple of minutes out there!”

It looked like half of them were listening, and half of them weren’t. So it was really just going to be a matter of who convinces who once we get settled in. And something tells me that our little refuge from the madness was going to last for long. So we needed to get our shit together, and head back out as a three man group before we lose what little breathing room that we have to work with.