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Last Stand (Part 2)

James had run with the Lieutenant wildly into the dark. The city was a cacophony of nightmarish sounds and images. He swore he saw the end result of someone who had fallen, or been pushed, off a balcony several stories up. But the terror of stopping was too great to grasp what he had seen. He just followed the Lieutenant, hoping his sure-fire mentality would get them out. And for the time, at least, it seemed to have succeeded.

They had ducked into the open gates of Old City Cemetery. Aptly named because it was, in fact, the oldest cemetery in the city. Any other night, and being in the cemetery would have given James the creeps. The dark shadows from the trees and above ground tombs always had a wicked feel to them at night. But this night, it was a haven.

In the midst of the chaos, no one sought the cemetery. Their only guests were those already dead, and they put no protest to their presence.

In their momentary rest, James sat down on the ground. A short wall had been erected by two graves, Mary Ann and Rebecca Scott. There, he removed his riot gear that had almost cost him his life while trying to flee the barricade.

James just finished removing his shin guards when Lieutenant Lanese came back from watching for intruders.

“What’s your round count?”

James patted down his belt. “I have two magazines.”

“I have three shells left in my scattergun, and three pistol magazines.”

James stood back up. The cemetery concealed them in a blanket of darkness. The town was a blaze in the chaos still. He could see down part of West Park Avenue, what they called “frat row” and saw a large fire had engulfed one of the large sorority homes. The dancing flames superimposed dark figures that were in a macabre show for them, fleeing or attacking. Of fighting, or of killing.

“Have you heard anything on the radio?”

“No. Not since we got here. Last I heard, it sounded like the station was under siege, too.”

“What are we going to do?” James asked.

“There was a group of guys from the Capitol City Police that had a contingent set up to help evacuate the staff if things got too bad. They set up at that intersection in front of City Hall, on East Jefferson and West Pensacola Street. We can try to regroup there.”

James looked out in that direction. It would only be a quarter mile, but he felt that might as well be the moon.

“Are you sure they’re still there?”

“No, I’m not sure of anything.” The Lieutenant’s voice lowered to a whisper. Not that he felt they were being overheard, but from the weight of the situation, the desperation was lowering his voice.

“Can you try to raise them?”

“I haven’t heard anything from any of the stations. Have you?”

While the question was likely legitimate, James felt it to be rhetorical. He hadn’t heard anything on his radio after their barricade had fallen. “No, I haven’t.” James finally answered.

Lanese produced a cellphone from his pocket. The screen lit up, and James could see the concern and dread etched onto the Lieutenant’s face.

“They activated the emergency service lines on all cellular networks. I can’t make a private call, send a text. I can’t do shit.”

“Ok.” James chewed his lower lip for a moment. There had to be an action taken. They couldn’t wait in one spot. They were useless to everyone who needed them here. “What’s the best route there?”

Lieutenant Lanese leaned against the low wall and pointed out into the dark at the South East. “We cut across the road behind that salon right there. We stay in the dark across that park. That’ll take us up against West Park Avenue. We should cross Park at that healthcare firm there. We can use their parking lot as cover to avoid these crowds. Then it’s a mad dash to the IMAX Center, and that’ll be it.”

“Ok.” James acknowledged the plan. It was simple, and the straightest path they could get there.

Without further pause, the two men ventured into the darkness. Crossing the last resting place of so many others would be their easiest part.

The immediate road out of the cemetery was North Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. They both took a knee there to scan up and down the road. Far up the road to their left was a Baptist church. There was a fire there, and they could just make out a mob of figures that darted back and forth between the darkness and the light.

To the immediate right, across the street was their first goal, the women’s salon. The owner had a sense of humor, having the title “Silent Neighbor’s Cuts” being located across the street of the cemetery. It was a repurposed house. A small white picket fence lined the back side they looked at. There were a couple of cars that were parked on the side of the street. Not a soul stirred.

Further down the road was the intersection at Park Avenue. There was a wreck there. Several figures lurked around in the dark. Their calmness in the wake of the disaster was more unsettling to James than anything else.

They have to be crazies. He thought.

The two officers darted out into the night, across the street. They hopped over the short white fence, under the cover of a large willow tree.

James was going to continue after his vault, but Lanese stopped with him with a hand to his chest.

The back side of the house turned shop, was a small deck with a ramp leading up to it. There on the ramp was a woman. Tangled red hair stuck to her chest where blood plastered the strands to her skin. The woman threw her head back, like she was howling at the moon, but no noise came out.

A rancid smell rose to them, making James first think of trash. Looking harder, the grass had the red-brown of blood, the tatters of clothing, the shards of human remains.

The woman walked up the dark gangway of the deck and into the maw of the house. She disappeared into the darkness there, and a shiver ran up James’s back.

“C’mon.” Lanese hurried at the opportunity.

James tried not to look at the remains on the grass. Dead bodies were not a new sight for James, but the thought that they might have been eaten made it worse.

They went around the side of the house, away from the road.

They had just gotten to the A/C unit of the house when something slammed against the window of the house above their heads. They both stopped.

James felt an electrifying need to move, but Lanese stayed still in a crouch. Something was beating against the walls inside. Lanese just raised one finger to his lips. They both moved forward in a crouch, staying away from being seen through the window.

They came to the front corner of the salon house. Another large tree with Spanish moss provided them cover as they surveyed the route before them.

The street was West Park Avenue, which was really two one-way streets divided by a small grass park. A dead animal was between them and the park, but in the dark, James could not make out what the animal had been.

“The park’s really open.” James whispered.

“It’s the most direct route.” Lanese pushed back.

James didn’t like the idea of running out across an open field. There was nothing to help conceal themselves. They had to hope the darkness was going to be enough.

With nothing else to say, the two jumped the fence and crossed over into the park. Something distantly howled, a tormented noise behind them. James ran faster, but looking back, nothing new pursued them.

Crossing the park diagonally, they could see the building that was some sort of doctor’s office. Then across that front street, North Bronough St, was the post office. There was another accident at the Bronough intersection. A pickup truck had been hit in the side and flipped over. The passenger's head was against the dashboard where the cab light framed the dead visage.

Neither officer stopped. They both ran crossing the road out front of the post office.

A ghastly shriek stopped them. From the covered steps of the post office, a man screamed. His lower jaws were smeared with blood that stained his blue shirt black.

Lanese leveled his shotgun at the charging figure. The shotgun roared. A bright blast crumpled the man with a scattering of pellets.

The darkness around them came alive with hoots and screams. Hunting calls.

“Keep running!” Lanese called as he pumped his shotgun.

James torpedoed himself around to the post office’s parking lot. There were several vacant cars that still occupied spots there. He looked back to see Lanese catching up, but a group of pursuers were only a short distance behind him.

They sprinted across the parking lot. James heard the roar of Lanese’s shotgun again. He didn’t stop to look.

James had started cutting across West College Avenue. He had intended to run up along the shopping center between the IMAX theater and the restaurants and immediately saw the trap.

Dozens came pouring out of the storefronts.

James skidded to a stop.

“They’re in front of us!” James called as Lanese fired his last shotgun blast.

“Go up the road!” Lanese pointed up College Avenue. He drew his pistol.

James started to run and saw Lanese had veered off.

“What are you doing?” James screamed back. But his mind already answered.

Lanese ran under the parking garage to the left. It was a large business building the college used for their real estate foundation. Lanese fired at the infected people, effectively cornering himself into the parking garage with them.

James rounded the corner that made Duval Street and College. He looked back, hoping against fate that he was wrong. That Lanese had followed. A crowd was streaming into the garage. The windows of the parking structured were barred, and each shot Lanese fired from inside sent bright flashes out from within.

James said the fastest prayer, that whatever happened to Lanese would be quick.

Distantly, the shots grew more rapid, more desperate, and then abruptly stopped.

Duval Street was jammed bumper to bumper with cars that had been abandoned by their owners. The hope was towering above him though. The top of the capitol building could be seen looming over the town from where he was. The top of the building still had lights on.

He ran.

He just needed to get to Jefferson Street, and he’d be there. It was just the next road up on his left.

James went across the street. He had taken the bend around the front of a car and caught his hip on it. In the recoil he thought he had caught the bumper, but the edge moved. He had ran into a woman who was crouched between the cars.

The wild face turned to him. She held her hands up with the remains of who she was eating off the street. Something wet flung from her mouth as she screeched at him.

Panic let training take over. He moved laterally away from the woman. James fired his Glock. The sights on the pistol not even a concern, he was too close. He fired three quick shots. The woman spasmed and dropped to her knees, but the rage still burned in her wild eyes.

He fired two more shots and the body slumped over.

“Holy Jesus.” James let out. His adrenaline fully dumped now he ran. He imagined he could hear them pursuing him. He didn’t look to check. He just ran.

His heart fluttered for a moment as he reached West Jefferson Street. Large orange Jersey barriers blocked the road. The thick letters across them read ‘POLICE’ but there was no one nearby.

James ran past the barriers. Up along the desolate street of the once magnificent street.

James came to the odd intersection of where East Jefferson, Pensacola, and West Jefferson met at the front of City Hall.

There had been something here. But James slowed his run to realize he was walking through the ruins of whatever had been set up.

In front of City Hall, on the brick walkway, along where the benches had been made of brick was a pop-up-tent. Under it were two folding tables. One had been knocked over. Several boxes of equipment sat idly by. A wet smear of something on the brick indicated the first events of what had happened here.

The parking spots along Pensacola street were still lined with a variety of vehicles. One of which was a white news van with a large dish on the top. The side door was open and along the array of blurred screens and electrical devices hung the legs of a mutilated man.

The corner bar that made up South Adams and East Jefferson had the windows and doors broken in. Something in the far distance of the darkness shambled. The awkward movement was too jagged for James to trust as another person.

James started forward towards the Capitol.

Up East Jefferson, James could see another barricade. More barriers and squad cards had been used to block the road along with a temporary fence. The street on the other side, South Monroe Street, was packed with vehicles left by their owners.

The unsettling truth of the situation dawned on James. These really were not riots. Something had burned through their city like a raging wild fire.

Alone on the desolate street, he knew he had to move. With no other options, he continued forward. He looked up to his destination, the large towering capitol building ahead.

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Sep 25, 2023

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