“Stop here Amelia, the lights are attracting too much attention.” said Diane.
“We are so close though, the Arvada exits start at Ward Road, just another few miles!”
“Deary, another few miles with every zombie in the world coming down towards us on the highway could mean we don’t make it at all, pull up here. The Solar Research Lab? Hm, a Marriott though, try that, I mean what can it hurt?”
Pulling into the exit, navigating around three wrecks that looked like they happened when the drivers were going the wrong way on the off ramp, Amelia turned left, drove across the overpass and pulled her car into the parking lot of the Marriott hotel. Huge, the hotel was huge. Amelia drove up to the valet service area and kept on moving slightly past it, then put the car in reverse and backed it right up to the front door, stopping about five feet shy of them. She killed the engine and they looked around for any movement. Nothing. Nothing inside, nothing outside, nothing anywhere. The lights for the parking lot came on abruptly, creating not only pools of light across an acre of concrete, but also pools of darkness on the outer fringes. There were some lights on in the hotel too, various rooms at different levels were lit. Amelia caught a face looking out of one of the windows, a movement by a curtain and the face and light were gone.
“Did you see that?” she asked Diane, who shook her head no. “It was up there on the, one, two, third, fourth floor there, maybe, what eight rooms from the end? It looked like a person there, a living guy, not a zombie.”
Diane gave her a skeptical look, but nodded, “It could still be a zombie you know.”
“No, no it looked like a little kid, not a zombie, we should go up there and see.”
Diane thought about it for a few seconds and said, “Yeah, yeah we should, heck we need a room anyway and I doubt there will be anyone here that can give us a key now. Are you ready to go in?”
Amelia scanned their surroundings again and then slipped out of the car, making sure to take the keys with her. Diane followed suit and when the doors were shut Amelia used the remote to lock them. Together they moved to the main doors, pressing on them they found them locked. There were two side doors as well, one for both Amelia and Diane to try. Amelia’s would not budge, but Diane pressed the handicap button and her door swung open with an automated noise. Both women went in and emerged in the lobby of the hotel. The place was dark, apparently no one had turned on the lights and they were not automated. Using the light cast off by the parking area Amelia could see the front desk, and signs indicating the way to the restaurants, pool, hair salon, massage therapist and gift shop. She grabbed Diane’s arm and pointed to the sign, indicating they should follow the sign to the gift shop.
Puzzled Diane nodded and both women set off down a dark corridor and arrived in front of the closed down gift shop. The doors were locked. Amelia looked around and spotted a bench, she said, “I am going to break the lower door window so we can get in there.”
She took the bench and, trying not to flinch, shoved it hard into the lower section of glass on the door. It made a loud thumping sound, but did not break. Amelia was amazed, she had not gone all out with her push, but had expected the glass to give away easier than that. She pulled the bench back and lifted it up off the ground for a stronger push, more like a battering ram this time. The bench struck the glass with another thumping sound the glass starred, but did not give in.
“Jesus wept.” She said, “How hard do I have to hit it? Diane I don’t think I would make a good burglar. You better help me this time.”
Diane replied, “Amelia, why are we breaking into the gift shop?” as she picked up the end of the bench.
“Flashlights, I bet they have flashlights and batteries in here, it looks like we will need them.”
Together their third attempt still did not shatter the glass, but it did push the edge of one corner out of the frame and Amelia used her foot to force it down into the store so the women could crawl through. The problem was it was very, very dark. Amelia cold just make out the cash register and made her way towards it, hoping for a key chain light that most places had as ‘last minute’ purchases situated around their cash registers. She was in luck and found an entire plastic container full of them, she pressed one and tossed another to Diane before turning and filling one of her pockets with them. Diane grabbed three or four, looking for the red ones, even switching out the blue one Amelia had given her for a red one from the canister. She caught Amelia watching her and shrugged, “I like the red ones.” The women then scanned the rest of the store, there was a battery rack and on top of it a half a dozen packs that included flashlights. Both women grabbed three, split the packages open and loaded the flashlights up.
“These are pretty good flashlights, very bright.” said Amelia.
“Yeah you cannot beat these new LED bulbs, they are hard to break and last forever. I got my husband a wind up one, it was a piece of junk. Oh sure it was bright while you were cranking the thing, but once you stopped it dimmed down pretty quickly. Still no batteries required.” As she was saying this she was scanning the store with her light looking around. There were no other doors to the place, no stock room, no bathroom, but there was a sink near the coffee maker. Amelia went over to the prominent Pepsi cooler and slide a door open, the machine was off but the drinks were cold. Looking around it she saw that the machine was unplugged from the wall.
“Hey Diane, someone unplugged the pop cooler.” Bending over Amelia plugged it back in and the machine chugged to life, including a built in light, which cast a thin glow into the shop. “Who would do that, do you think?”
“I don’t know, come here and get a candy bar, I know you have to be hungry we have not had anything to eat all day. What's your poison?”
“Snickers. And a nut roll. Least bad of all the candy bars. Oh heck give me a packet of the cashews too, protein and salt, almost everything I need. A bathroom is next though.” The last time the women had a chance to go had been a stop about three hours ago when they refueled the car at a deserted seven eleven store, Amelia had an ex-boyfriend who had worked at a seven eleven when she was sixteen, he had shown her how to turn the pumps on and off on one of the many times she had sat through his shift with him.
“Okay now a bathroom, then let’s go check out the fourth floor.” The women crawled through the broken door with their loot, stopped at the lobby bathroom and headed over to the far wing of the hotel. Once there Diane was unsure of how far to go up, from the outside she had thought it was the fourth floor, however the hotel had rooms on the ground floor, which she thought were obscured from her vision when she counted. She opted for the fifth floor and they made their way slowly up the stairs until they were outside the door leading into the hallway to the rooms.
“Ready? I mean, not to sound scary or anything, but the kid was probably locked up in the room for a reason, so I am expecting the worst.” said Amelia. Both women had makeshift weapons, Diane had a novelty walking stick from the gift shop and Amelia had opted for a fire poker from the fireplace in the lobby.
Amelia slowly opened the door and they peered down the corridor beyond, it was a straight shot and while the lights were off, the electric ‘exit’ sign cast it's red shadow beyond where Amelia thought the door they were looking for was.
There were things in the hallway, a lot of rubbish and, it looked like suitcases or maybe bodies, plus there was someone moving three quarters of the way to the end. ‘Shit’, Amelia thought, ‘I was hoping it was just a scared kid, not a scared kid with zombies at his door.’ With as much reluctance as resolve she stepped into the hallway towards the movement.
As she passed the doors she found some of them open, and the smells from within were not comforting, it seemed like every other room staggered on each side, was an open doorway. Some of the doors had been battered open, most had not. Amelia, followed closely by Diane flitted from doorway to doorway, trying not to draw the attention of the thing down the hall. The first open doorway they ducked into had three bodies, a woman perhaps thirty years old, with two kids, one was maybe ten, and the other looked to be six or seven. Amelia almost vomited her cashews, Diane did. While Diane was retching Amelia watched the doorway and whispered, “Quiet Diane, I know, I know, but you have to stay quiet or whatever it is will hear us. Shh, shh.”
Turning back to the doorway Amelia heard running and was then confronted by woman in her mid thirties who smiled at her wickedly and said, “Oh you have come! Help is here, thank God!” as she rushed forward to embrace Amelia with arms flung open.
“Stop!” shrieked Amelia, after momentary losing her senses and almost, opening her arms to comfort a fellow woman in distress. Instead she stepped back and raised the poker up to the woman’s face.
The woman, who was hard to see in the dim light, smashed the fire poker aside, but Amelia was quicker and somehow had been expecting the blow. She swung the poker back around and struck the woman a sharp blow across the front of her face. The woman screamed in agony, “That was my eye you bitch!” and leaped towards Amelia again. By this time Amelia had stepped back into the room right next to where Diane was trying to get up from vomiting, there was little more room without stepping over Diane or leaping over the bodies, which were on the first of two full sized beds in the room. Amelia yelled, “Get back Diane!” and trusting her to do so Amelia half leaped, half rolled over the bodies to put a bed between herself and demonic woman. The zombie opted to go for Diane, who had just enough time to get her feet under her before being barreled over. Amelia was there in an instant striking the zombie in the back while it tried to maul Diane, whose arms were up in a defensive posture trying to push the thing off her. To make matters worse all around, she had not stopped vomiting and the mess and smell was nauseating. Amelia swung back for another strike when the zombie seemed to realize something was very wrong, it rolled over and tried to move sideways away from the blows Amelia was raining down upon it. Now it's hands were up in a warding posture, however it could not go sideways, there was not enough room, it ended up wedged half under a desk with its legs sticking, and kicking, out at Amelia.
The zombie started making an injured mewing noise and Amelia switched from swinging to poking the thing, while Diane, who had now rolled back over to her hands and knees crawled towards the window of the room.
Finally Amelia was able to get herself into position and poke the zombie firmly in the throat, which seemed to take a lot of the fight out of it. She followed up with three rapid pokes to it's head and then drug it out from under the desk to finish it off with blows hard enough to bend her fire poker. Diane, meanwhile, had gotten to her feet and was watching Amelia with a look of horror on her face.
Amelia stopped, concerned, “What? What Diane? I had to finish it off.”
“No.” sobbed Diane, “No. That is not it.” She held up her arms, both of which were bleeding fiercely from bite wounds.
“Oh no.” Amelia said softly, “Oh no, oh no! I tried to get there fast enough Diane, I couldn’t get there, she, it, it was so fast! It moved too fast, but I thought I got to it before it did anything to you. I am sorry Diane, I am sorry.”
Amelia moved towards Diane, then stopped herself and said, “Let me get towels!” she moved into the bathroom and grabbed several of the clean towels, casting a glance at the room’s door she moved to stand near the window where Diane was attempting to staunch the flow of her blood from a ghastly looking wrist wound. As Amelia tried to bandage her arms, Diane, whispered, “There is another one behind you, a slow one.”
Amelia pretended not to hear but looked for her fire poker, there! On the bed, next to Diane’s flashlight. Diane fainted and pulled out of Amelia’s grasp, Amelia turned and grabbed the fire poker swinging it around on another soccer mom, this one in really bad shape, missing most of one arm, it's shirt was torn down the center revealing one breast which hung by fatty tissue to her chest. The zombie lurched forward grabbing for Amelia, after the first zombie Amelia was surprised at how incredibly easy it was to dispatch it's slower brethren, one quick, undeflected blow to the head, then several more blows to make sure it was down for good and not just pretending.
“I gotta shut the door, I gotta shut the door!” Amelia said to herself looking for a something to keep it shut as she advanced on the doorway. She kept her poker raised and approached the door quietly, listening for movement in the hallway. There! She heard a footstep, slow, tentative, another slow zombie! Amelia readied herself for a killing shot and when the zombie came through the door she bashed it in the head, only this one was quicker than most and deflected the blow with its forearm, it was a young one, maybe eleven years old and it went down under Amelia’s assault, she was getting ready to whack it again when her inner voice told her to stop, stop! Her mind lurched forward looking for a logical reason why to go with her instinct to not strike again and she found it when she realized the zombie was screaming and crying! Zombies had not yet cried, so far as Amelia knew, but she veered her shot to land in the carpet beside the body and stepped back. Crying. Crying and sobbing, “Don’t. Please. Plee-ease don't!” then bawling. Amelia still was not sure.
'This is crazy.'she thought, 'I can't even tell humans from zombies now!'
She opted for not bashing the child’s head in and instead grabbed it's ankle and pulled it into the bathroom, slamming the door on it before turning back to the main door of the room, which she slammed shut. There was nothing to block it with and as the door had been forced she could not simply use the deadbolt. Instead she fastened the security chain, thinking it might at least give her warning if someone came into the room after her, then she turned and grabbed the two corpses on the floor and piled them in front of the door, they could be shoved out of the way, but it would take a lot of effort to do so and would make even more noise. The sobbing in the bathroom continued, Amelia turned towards the shut bathroom door and said, “If you are not a zombie kid I am really sorry for hitting you, but I didn’t know. If you are a zombie kid then I am not sorry at all and either way you better stay in the bathroom right now or I will think you are a zombie and brain you. Got it?”
The only answer was the deadbolt on the bathroom door sliding closed with a metallic ‘snick’.
“Good enough, stay in there while I help my friend.” Amelia turned back to Diane, letting her eyes linger once again on the bodies on the bed. Going to Diane she found the woman was still bleeding profusely, Amelia had no medical training, she did not know what a critical amount of blood loss was, but there was a lot of blood everywhere. She pulled Diane up onto the bed closest to the window and pressed a towel to the worst wound, wrapping it tightly around her wrist, before turning to the other hand and doing the same thing. Amelia could not keep the bandages tight and wound up snagging a pair of scissors from what looked like a crafting basket and cutting a bunch of strips out of the sheet on the bed. Once she did this she took the soaked towels off Diane’s arms and bound them with fresh towels fastening them securely with the strips of sheeting. Amelia did have some sense that she was doing something wrong, 'Changing the bandages' she thought, 'maybe that was it, if you changed them it did not allow clots to form? Maybe it was the tightness of the bandages, cutting off circulation to Diane’s fingers?' She checked Diane’s fingers pinching them and feeling them, both hands were cold and white, that didn’t look good.
Diane’s breathing became labored and she abruptly sat up, wheezing, “Amelia!” Diane cried out, “Amelia!”
“I am here Diane, I am here! You’re going to be alright.”
“Amelia, it hurts pretty bad. I want you to know it is not your fault. I should not have been throwing up, I knew what to expect when we broke in here and couldn’t keep from tossing my cookies, if I had been faster I could have got out of the way. It is not your fault, okay?”
“Shh Diane, don’t worry about it, just calm down, okay?”
Diane did calm down, she took a few deep breaths and looked up at the ceiling while trying to stay calm, the problem was she could not feel her hands and her arms were aching terribly. Unlike Amelia, Diane did have first aid training, from a course she had taken after her grandson fell while playing at her daughter’s house and broke his arm. Diane did not like the helpless feeling she had that day while waiting for the paramedics to arrive and had soon after enrolled in and completed both a first aid and a cpr course offered through the local Red Cross. She pulled her arms up in front of her face and said, “Amelia, shine a light on my hands, please.”
Amelia did so, Diane said, “Okay you have the bandages too tight they are cutting off circulation to my fingers and hands you have to loosen them a bit. Not that I am complaining, you stopped me from bleeding to death. Let see if we can’t get them a little looser and still control the bleeding.”
Amelia did as Diane said and eventually they found a compromise between suppressing the blood loss and allowing Diane’s hands circulation.
As they were adjusting the bandages, Diane heard the sobbing from the bathroom, “What is that Amelia?”
Amelia explained about the child-zombie in the bathroom. Diane was shocked, as if the thought of a zombie child had never crossed her mind. “Are you sure it is a zombie?” Amelia shook her head ‘no’ and said, “Uh-huh, I don’t know but I had to get you taken care of before I dealt with it. Her. Him. I dunno whatever it is.”
“Honey, you better deal with it now, because if it is a little kid you are going to feel really bad if you wait too long. Go to the door and try to find out, ask it questions and see what it says.”
Amelia moved over to the bathroom door and said, “Hey in there? You okay?”
The crying stopped and a small voice answered, “No. My arm hurts and I can’t hold anything with it. You hit me so hard!” The anguish in the voice was full of reproach and Amelia felt awful. “Why did you hit me?”
“Look I didn’t know, I thought you were a zombie, in fact”, and Amelia felt bad for saying so, “I still don’t know if you are a zombie or not. What were you doing in the hallway?”
The crying started again.
“Hello? What were you doing in the hallway?”
Through sobs, the voice answered, “I thought you were here to save me!”
‘Oh frick, no way to know unless the kid opens the damn door and even then how can I know for sure?’, she thought, then out loud she said, “Okay, you gotta come out here and let me look at your arm, my friend knows about these sorts of things, she can tell us if your arm is broken. Okay.”
“No. Go away.”
“Diane? Diane, the kid won’t come out. What do I do? It has the door locked from the inside.” Called out Amelia.
“I suppose candy wouldn’t work. Just keep trying, we have to go soon, at least to a different room and if the kid wants to come with us they need to come out. Now.” replied Diane
“Okay, okay.” back towards the door she said, “Look kid, I am sorry for hitting you but I didn’t know okay? We cannot stay in this room. Here, we cannot stay here, so unless you want to be alone again you are going to have to come out and let us look you over to make sure you are not one of them.”
Nothing. The door did not unlock, the sobbing continued quietly.
“Kid! C’mon sweetie, open the door and come out, we have to leave this room it is getting creepy. Which room were you in? The door must still be okay, if the zombies could not get in, let’s move back to your room, okay? Kid?”
“That’s what the other zombie said too. I had to come out so we could ‘go’.” replied the voice. “Then they said, they would just keep me there, penned up like a meal for when they got hungry again.”
“Oh honey, I…I we got to get out of this room, do you have a light in there? Anything?”
“No. I don’t have a light.”
“Hey then why don’t you open the door enough so I can pass you a flashlight, okay?”
“You won’t hit me again?”
“No, I won’t. Here I will sit the light on the floor you can come out and get it and I will stay away from the door and everything.” Amelia turned one of her flashlights on and pointed it towards the wall, setting it down near the door. She then stepped back and waited. She saw a small head and eye peer out from underneath the door sideways.
“Move farther back.” Amelia moved until her butt was up against the far wall.
The head disappeared from the floor and the lock clicked open. The door slid open slowly and a hand reached out and took the flashlight, instead of closing the door eased open farther revealing a child in an overly large ‘Colorado Rockies’ t-shirt and gray shorts was revealed.
From the kid's hair cut and clothing Amelia thought it was a boy, probably. “What is your name?”
“Cory.” he said.
“Cory, I am Amelia. I am sorry for hitting you. It is just I was fighting the zombies and I thought you were one of them.” as Cory stood there listening Amelia could see him trying to stop from crying, silent tears were forming in his eyes and he shifted awkwardly with his left hand holding the flashlight, his right arm was mostly hidden by the oversized rockies shirt and was pointed straight down along his side.
“Cory, could you pull up your shirt sleeve and let me see your arm?” Cory did this and Amelia was saddened to see the result of her swing, his arm was bruised to the point of being black and the arm was swollen with broken skin at the impact point. “Oh God. I am so sorry baby, so sorry.”
With that Cory started to cry again and then flung himself forward into Amelia’s body. Amelia did not know how to respond and hated herself for it, she wanted to comfort the boy, at the same time she was waiting for his teeth to tear into her abdomen or worse into her breasts like the second zombie she had killed. Cory did not seem to feel her grow stiff beneath his one armed embrace and just held her until Amelia was sure he was not a zombie, then she patted his head and made soothing sounds trying to get him to quiet down. Eventually she brought him over to Diane, who said probably the arm was broken, but she did not know, still it would be best if they treated it as if it were broken for now, just to be safe. She had Amelia cut more off the sheet in a triangle shape and then talked her through making a pretty fair sling for Cory’s arm. Partway through the proceedings Amelia was able to throw blankets over the bodies on the bed and she also took a spare blanket from the closet and tossed it over the bodies near the door when she noticed Cory’s eyes being drawn to them like ants to a picnic sandwich.
Once everyone was bandaged and bound up Diane pronounced that she was ready to go and Amelia asked Cory if they could go back to his room, he said sure and after Amelia moved the bodies away from the door and checked the hallway, they proceeded down another dozen doors to Cory’s room. His door had not been forced in, though it was battered and there were two bodies outside of it.
Cory pointed to them and said, “They were fighting, then the smart one came along and bashed them, the other one followed the smart mom around and she said she could make it do what she wanted.”
There was no one in Cory’s room, Amelia checked all the closets and the bathroom after they shut and locked the outer door. She then moved the hotel’s table over in front of the door and put both the chairs in front of that as well. Diane lay down on the bed which was made and Cory sat cross legged on the other bed, obviously ‘his’ bed. Amelia noted he took his shoes, those plastic kind that all kids loved during the summer, off before getting on the furniture, obviously a well behaved kid in ordinary circumstances.
Amelia opened the drapes to let in some light from the parking lot and slowly got Cory’s story out of him. He and his mom were there for a ‘Academy of the Brain’ event, where kids and their parents got together and formed teams to compete against each other in building robots, answering trivia questions and figuring out logic puzzles, he was ten and had just qualified this year, after hearing about it from his cousin the whole last year and about what a good time it was. Each team was modeled after those of a popular children’s book into separate houses and his was down by three points. Which Cory assured Amelia was nothing, they were practically in the lead as the next team out of seven was behind them by a whole eleven points. They were supposed to compete that day, but his mom told him there was some kind of emergency and they would not get to play again until later. Then the power went out and Cory’s mom went to find out what was going on. She never came back. After that someone started screaming down the hall and when Cory stuck his head out to see what was going on he saw the zombies doing bad things to people. He locked his door and hid in the closet, the beds had solid bases, otherwise he would have hid there, he confided.
Nothing happened for a long time, until eventually the banging started on his door, then there was a fight or something out in the hall and a woman told him it was okay and he could come out. He almost did, but when he pushed a chair over to the door to look out the peep hole he saw another lady all bloody next to the mom type who was asking him to come out. She was looking like right at him, almost like she could see him through the door, she tried to talk him out of the room when he heard a car in the parking lot, he went over to see and saw Amelia and Diane go into the lobby, before the woman banged on the door really hard with her hands, but the door did not give in. Then she told him it was just as well she would just save him for ‘later’ when she was hungry. Cory then hid in the closet again and when he heard the fight down the hall he opened the door to get help, when the zombies did not come out of the room he sneaked up really quietly to peek inside, where he got hit with the fire poker. Cory was from a small mountain town called ‘Eagle’ which Amelia recalled had gained some notoriety for a criminal case against a basketball star years before. He was very much alone in town and there was no question that he would be coming with them when they left.
“Cory do you have a radio?” Diane asked, breaking her silence after Amelia was done getting Cory’s story.
“No. Not really. I have an i-pod though, it has a radio.” he responded.
Diane sighed, as if knowing she got the right answer to the wrong question, “Hey buddy, would it be okay if Amelia tried to listen to your i-pod radio for a minute?”
“Sure.” Cory hopped off the bed and rummaged around in his suit case, half of which appeared to be full of toys, eventually he came up with the popular white music player, which he handed to Amelia, saying, “You turn it on here, and this, I think this is how you get to the radio, I never use it, so I don’t know.” As he spoke he pressed a series of buttons until Amelia, who had one earplug in could hear the static of the FM band.
“Thanks Cory, I got it from here.” Smiling, she thought of her i-pod which she had left sitting at home on her dresser. Kids.