By R. John Quisenberry
When Stephen got back to the snack room, he had recovered most of his composure. Even so, Lorelei could see that something was on his mind. “What’s wrong boss man?”
“You mean besides being hunted by maniacal sadists in a locked building that I have no hope of escaping? Besides having only you and a crowd of mindless zombies too passive to fight a housefly as my only allies? Let’s not forget that we have to sleep and there is no safe place for it… Everything is just PEACHY!”
“Hold it together boss man. As the sidekick here, it’s my job to freak out!”
“We need to find a defensible location. The managing director is doing an impression of Henry VIII and Torquemada’s love child! I saw him execute three of the zombified lower managers.”
“What do you mean ‘execute’?”
“Lopping off a person’s head.”
She was silent for a while as that sank in. “That would sure fit the word ‘execute’. So, Dick isn’t the only one who has gone aggressive serial killer. What the hell is going on?” Lorelei was red in the face and breathing hard now.
“Calm down. We need to think clearly and not panic. These people are depending on us to keep them safe. We also need to keep our strength up, so food and water are important too.”
Getting her breath back under control and visibly steeling herself, Lorelei looked around before responding. “Sorry, decapitations in the workplace put me on edge. We should see if we can break into the snack machines we have here. That and whatever uneaten lunches are still in the refrigerator should at least feed us all for the night. Water is the easy one, if we can secure this room, we have a sink with running water. Hell! We even have a water filtration system under the counter!”
Looking around, Stephen noticed a cut-rate power strip with basic surge protection built in… Looking further, he spotted a painfully cheap-looking coffee maker. So cheap, in fact, that the plug was of the polarized, but not grounded, two-prong variety… This got him thinking about the metal handles on the door to the snack room. Grabbing the coffee maker, he yanked the cord out of it. “Great, trapped in a building with murderers and vacuous passives, and now, no coffee!” griped Lorelei with a manic giggle that showed just how far she had been pushed by this situation.
“Pass me that power strip please,” said Stephen as he split the cord with the one real knife they could find, and began stripping the insulation from the two conductive wires. The little 1 1/2-inch paring knife worked well for the job. One wire, he connected to a wire coat hanger that he had scraped in key spots to insure good conductivity. The coat hanger was then hung from the doorknob. Next, he unscrewed the metal plate covering the transition from carpeting to cheap linoleum tile at the doorsill. “Now, we need a bucket and some salt packets as well as some more coat hangers…” Working quickly, he rigged up a framework with the coat hanger wire that would hold the small takeout container they had found, but allow it to swing freely. Next, he used the quick bonding glue from one of the drawers to mount the framework above the door in such a way that the opening of the door would dump the contents over anyone walking through. Next, he carefully filled the container with water and mixed in half of the salt packets they had found in the drawers. “Good thing I remembered that salt water is a better conductor than fresh water. When the water pours down, it should make enough of a connection between the doorknob and the floor plate to electrocute whoever opens the door.”
“Good thinking! What happens if there are more of them?”
“We had better run! At least this gives us some security and a chance that at least one of them is going down if they try to break in…”
Without speaking more, he took her hand and lead her to the corner farthest from the door and they huddled together for warmth on the floor. His back was firmly set against the wall as she lay her head against his chest. The others in the room continued to be oblivious to them as well as the danger held at bay by the carefully trapped door.
It was several hours later that they awoke to a scream and the smell burnt hair. Stephen quickly pulled the plug on the now smoking power strip. It’s surge protector function had managed to keep the circuit breakers from tripping, but it had itself been fried. It seemed to have been even less healthy for the scorched male body laying halfway through the doorway. It wasn’t Dick, but it looked darned close. “It must have stopped his heart,” said Stephen. Looking closer, Stephen noticed that the man’s head was not shaped quite right. It seemed lumpy in an odd way. The joints also seemed swollen. The skin had roughened in areas almost like he was growing leathery pads on his hands, and. Stephen was sure that, if he could bear to check, the feet would also have the strange alterations. He wasn’t sure, but it looked like there was something wrong with the man’s mouth as well.
“I hate to point out the obvious but, we need to get moving!” Lorelei said. “If one found us, more are bound to. Do you have any plans for where to go?”
“It depends,” he replied, looking around at the useless people who were now staring woodenly at the dead body on the threshold of the snack room. “We need to eat before we do anything. Then, I need you to give me a crash course in how this building is structured.” He was worried that Lorelei seemed to be blindly following him. It seemed unnatural for her to defer to him. She was not acting as passive as the victims they had rescued from Dick, but her attitude was much less challenging than it had been when they met.
Between them, Stephen and Lorelei broke open and emptied the snack machines. The passives (as they had come to be called) ate only when directly ordered to. Shoving the last of the wrappers into a trash can, Stephen stepped up in front of everyone.
“All of you will need to keep up and follow Lorelei and me. Tell us if you see any of the others such as Dick.”
“Do you think they will be able to follow the directions?” asked Lorelei.
“We can only try. Are you feeling alright?”
“Just a little dizzy. I’ll be fine. Where to boss?”
“We need to try the doors in the main entrance.” looking down at his watch, Stephen continued, “It is about 6:00 am. If the doors are still on the same timing sequence, they should be opening soon.”
“What if they aren’t? What do we do then?”
“Then we need to find a better hiding place and start figuring out how to fight back against the ones who have gone aggressive. There have to be some service entrances and access panels that they haven’t paid attention to. We can use those to keep from getting caught by them until the cops arrive. By the way, why haven’t I seen any fire alarm pull stations?”
“Fire-what?” she replied with a quizzical look.
“You know, to manually trigger a fire alarm. They should have them evenly placed all around the building.” his voice tapered off at the end of the sentence because she was looking at him so oddly. “How can you not know about them? All buildings have them.”
“Not anywhere I ever worked.”