“He’ll be fine,” Helen whispered to her.
Karly just nodded to the woman absently. She wanted to see outside the door to know what Matt was seeing. All she could think about was what she would do if he was dragged away by some zombie person that wanted to eat him. She concentrated on keeping the door from latching so he would have somewhere safe to run if he needed it.
“Breathe,” Helen whispered.
A gush of air came from Karly’s lips, the breath she didn’t realize she was holding. She knew that her safest bet was Matt. Even if he wasn’t, she would have wanted to stay close to him. There was something in the way he looked at her, that made her feel safe and cared for. Two days, two strangers and the apocalypse and suddenly she was having feelings for the man. In her mind she chided herself, knowing her reaction was purely stress induced.
“He’s taking too long,” Karly whispered.
“Have faith, girl. He’ll be back.”
Helen patted Karly’s shoulder reassuringly. Karly wanted to shrug her off, feeling like there was nothing she could guarantee. As panic began to rise in her chest, she started to debate opening the door to see for herself what was happening. Her hands trembled and just as she was about to swing it open, a soft knock sounded. The door pushed against her and Karly stepped back allowing Matt back in.
“Oh my god,” Karly exclaimed, throwing her arms around his neck.
“Uh. Ok,” Matt replied.
Karly jumped back, feeling foolish. She looked down and pretended to examine her bare feet.
“It’s mostly clear out there. I expected more of the sick ones. But if we stick together I think we can make it to the garage. We have to be careful, because they can come out of anywhere,” Matt said.
Both women nodded their agreement and Matt hefted the large duffel bag again. He opened the door and stepped out first. Karly followed quickly and her eyes flew wildly around outside. She hadn’t expected to feel so scared as soon as they were in the open. But the panic she had moments ago was gripping her again and she had to work to control her breathing. Passing out wasn’t going to help anyone at the moment.
Karly had to step carefully, watching the ground for any debris. She was afraid to cut her feet on anything and then not have a way to get to the car. Luckily the weather wasn’t incredibly hot, so the asphalt they walked across wasn’t burning the soles of her feet. Matt moved slowly, which made it easier for Karly to keep up. Helen was directly behind her, breathing hard. Karly worried about how much the older woman could handle.
When they reached the parking garage, Karly suddenly realized how ominous the structure was. Cars still filled many of the spots, leaving shadows and dark corners everywhere. Matt slowed when they reached the stairs for the garage.
“I’m on the fourth floor. Don’t think the power is on, so we’ll take the stairs,” he said.
“Do you smell that?” Karly asked.
Matt nodded at her, his eyes serious. Karly had immediately noticed the smell of rotten meat somewhere nearby. The parking garage had infected in it or did. And they were now walking in blind. They were all aware of the risks. Stepping on the stairs, Matt led the way. Karly worked hard to keep up. She had to admit her feet were starting to feel sensitive. She wasn’t prone to running around barefoot, always working to keep her feet smooth and soft. She was paying for that now.
As they rounded a bend on the stairs, Matt and Karly bounded up and Helen stopped trying to breathe at the bottom.
“Wait, I need to rest for a minute,” Helen called out.
Matt skidded to a stop almost causing Karly to crash into him. They turned and found Helen bent at the waist trying to get her breath. When she looked up at them again, Karly cried out her name. She felt like she was in a nightmare as she began to run back down the set of stairs. It was only a moment of confusion in Helen’s eyes before the infected behind her grabbed her and sunk its teeth into her neck. The infected that none of them saw as they rounded the corner, but was attracted to Helen at the bottom of the stairs.
Karly screamed as blood from Helen’s throat sprayed out across her face and chest. Helen’s eyes locked on Karly’s as she reached her hands out to the woman. Karly reached forward to try and pull Helen from the zombie’s bite, but it was gnawing too deeply to be pulled off. Matt jumped the last few stairs with his pole above his head. The sharp tip embedded into the infected and as it fell it took Helen with it. Her hands slipped from Karly’s as she went down.
“Oh, Jesus!” Matt cried out.
Matt and Karly both knelt next to Helen. The woman’s hands fumbled at her throat where blood gushed out. In her mind, Karly knew there was nothing they could do for her. But watching her bleed out at their feet was something they couldn’t handle. Matt ripped off the shirt he was wearing and he pressed it as hard as he dared against Helen’s neck.
“Dead,” was all Helen managed to say before her body went slack.
“No, no, no, no,” Karly stammered.
Matt sat for a moment, his hands still trying to stop the blood from Helen’s neck. He finally stood and went to the infected he had killed. He pulled the pole from its head, only to find the sharp tip to be snapped off. Luckily it killed the infected before breaking. Karly looked up at him, tears streamed hot down her face. She could see the pain in his eyes, but his face was set in determination. He reached down and grabbed one of Karly’s hands. Pulling her to her feet, he looked her squarely in the eye.
“We have to go. Now. This isn’t safe. There are more here,” he said.
“But….she’s….” Karly whispered.
“Dead. Yes. That’s what’s happening here. Karly, please. I need you with me on this,” Matt said. He shook her a little, his eyes begging her to find a way to function.
She couldn’t answer, just nodded her head. Matt’s hand slid down her arm and grabbed her hand to pull her with him up the stairs Karly looked back once at Helen’s dead body, with the shirt covering her wound. She hadn’t known the woman. That fact didn’t take away from the pain she was feeling in her heart. Seeing any person killed in that manner wasn’t something Karly could handle.
As they reached the fourth floor, Karly had to pull Matt to a stop. Near a trash can, Karly turned and emptied her stomach contents. All of the running, the pain in her feet and seeing Helen mutilated by the infected were just too much. Matt understood without her saying anything. He stood over her, watching for an attack while rubbing her back with his free hand.
Once she was done, she turned to look back at Matt. She used the bottom of the t-shirt she wore to wipe her mouth. Red came away and Karly started to panic, remembering that Helen’s blood had flown across her face. Matt calmed her frantic hands and used her shirt to wipe the last of the blood off. He then took her hand again and pulled gently. She nodded to him and followed. They ventured into the dark aisle and Karly jumped at every corner. Matt carefully checked between cars as they went. He had his keys out before they reached the car and Karly almost cried out in relief when she saw the lights blink on a small sedan.
With the car in sight, they both ran full speed to get to the safety. Matt checked around the car to make sure no infected lurked between his car and those parked nearby. Once deemed safe, he threw the duffel in the back seat and Karly jumped into the passenger seat. They both sat staring out of the windshield, silence surrounding them.
Karly couldn’t help but think that Helen should be with them, in the backseat. Guilt riddled her thoughts, thinking if she had moved faster maybe she could have stopped the infected. She looked at the pole she carried and thought about how she was useless. She let the pole drop from her hand. It rolled to a stop at her feet and she continued to stare at it.
“It’s not your fault, Karly,” Matt said. He had shifted in his seat and was turned toward her.
“I should have helped. I was too slow,” she replied. She sniffed as tears started again.
“Shhhh, don’t cry. You couldn’t have done anything.”
Matt reached across the center console and pulled Karly into his arms. She fell into him, letting his skin warm her. He rubbed her back as she cried into his chest. As she started to calm, she realized she was pressed against Matt’s bare chest, his shirt left on Helen in the stairwell. She found it odd that his skin smelled good. Pulling away, Karly chastised herself for having inappropriate thoughts at a time like this.
“Thank you. You’ve been so nice,” she said softly.
“Well we’re in this together,” he replied.
“Are we? Why? You met me two nights ago. I passed out in your bed. You don’t owe me anything,” Karly said.
She didn’t know why she was starting this line of conversation. The fear of losing him was more than she could handle. Facing it head-on and assuming he would be gone anyway was easier for her than handling the emotions welling inside her. Matt looked at her strangely, only confirming she was acting out of character. At least from what he had seen so far.
“Karly, stop. This isn’t about owing you anything. If you don’t want to come with me, that’s ok. I’ll take you wherever you want,” Matt said.
“You are taking me with you? Where?”
“I thought we could go to Montana. I have a small house, on a piece of land. We could fortify it. I have a great uncle that lives there. He’s a crazy good shot. If we stuck together, we could stay safe.”
Karly looked at him incredulously. Was she crazy enough to go states away with a virtual stranger? On the other hand, this stranger had protected her from the sick. He had made sure she had somewhere safe to sleep. Shared his food with her. If she didn’t know anything else about him, these things all made him seem to be a good man. Though, it didn’t answer the question of why he wanted to help her.
“I don’t have anywhere I need to go. I live in an apartment. I don’t think that would be safe right now,” Karly replied.
“I agree, it wouldn’t be the best choice.”
“So I can come with you?” She asked, hesitantly.
Matt nodded as he sat back in his seat. Karly looked passed him and let out a shrill scream. At the window, a bleeding infected was pressed against the window. Nails raked along the window as its teeth gnashed together, trying to get to the living inside the car. Karly pushed herself against the passenger side door, in an attempt to get as far away from the infected as possible. Matt’s face paled as he jammed his keys into the ignition and got the engine running.
Karly turned to look back and she saw that the noise of the engine brought additional infected out of their hiding places. She grabbed Matt’s arm and pointed back. His eyes went to the rearview mirror as he threw the car into reverse and stomped on the gas. An infected man that was near the back bumper fell away from the car as he was struck.
“Put on your seatbelt,” Matt said, as he spun the wheel hard to run down two more infected coming their way.
She didn’t hesitate to listen, thinking that dying in a car accident would make this whole trying to survive thing a waste of time. With the belt on, she curled her legs up and Matt put the car into drive. He drove as fast as possible through the aisle until he got to the ramp to exit. At the bottom, they could see infected wandering the street beyond. Matt looked at Karly.
“Ready for this?” He asked.
“Do I have a choice?” She replied.
Matt shook his head and stomped his foot onto the accelerator. The car gained speed quickly going downhill and when they reached the infected, Karly covered her face to not see them as they plowed through. The sounds of bodies rebounding off of the car echoed in her ears. She stifled down a sob, feeling overwhelmed with everything. Part of her wished they had stayed in the hotel room. At least there they weren’t in the wide open for the infected to find at any point.
When the noises seemed to stop and the car turned violently, Karly finally opened her eyes. She gasped at what she was seeing. The Las Vegas Strip was a smoldering mess. Accidents lined the street on both sides, some with people still in the vehicles, dead from impact or from the infected. Infected bodies wandered between the vehicles. Some reached into car windows and grabbed for the bodies inside. Fires and smoke could be seen smoldering in hotel towers. Windows were smashed out in the businesses and living people still ran from place to place, looting whatever wasn’t nailed down.
“This is madness,” Karly said in a whisper.
“There are too many people down here. It makes sense that it would be chaos,” Matt replied.
“We need to get out of here.”
“That we can agree on. Which way is the hotel you stayed at?”
Karly gave the directions as she understood them, to the small hotel she and her girlfriends had stayed in. She looked at the road again and then to Matt.
“How are we getting through that?”
“Very carefully. We’ll use the median and the sidewalks as we can,” Matt said.
Across the strip, she studied the casinos. The Treasure Island casino with its pirate ship out front looked desolate. No lights shined anywhere. At the top of the hotel tower, where the penthouse rooms had to be, windows were busted out and smoke spiraled toward the sky. Karly wondered if it was people trying to survive up there or if people were just looting and being destructive. She couldn’t understand the immediate presence of people looting for things that weren’t even necessary to their survival.
Matt turned his car so that they straddled the bike lane and the sidewalk. They passed a few accidents this way. He turned sharply to cut through two additional accidents, one car scraping along the passenger side of their vehicle. Karly looked at Matt’s grimace.
“Want their insurance information?” She asked.
Matt looked at her for a second. She meant to keep a straight face but when he looked at her like she was crazy, Karly immediately began to laugh. When Matt realized she was joking and hadn’t completely cracked, he joined her laughter.
“I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be able to go this way,” Matt said.
“Aren’t there some main streets this direction?”
Karly pointed. She could see the Wynn hotel in the distance and she knew they would get to a main intersection near there. Matt nodded and he became focused again on moving the car through the chaotic street. Their moving vehicle caught the attention of the infected that were wandering with no true meal in mind. They would amble toward the target, but Matt would quickly get them out of distance and the infected would lose interest again. They seemed to wander aimlessly until their hunger was peaked by something living.
As Matt drove, Karly stared out of the windows. She couldn’t believe how fast everything fell apart. The few healthy she could see ran from place to place. She knew that was smart because by the time the infected noticed them they were already too far away to be caught. But being out in the open wasn’t safe in general. That made her think of poor Helen and how just a small rest had cost her.
Looking out the windows, Karly noticed a nearby wreck they passed. The driver’s door stood open and blood pooled on the asphalt. The death had to be recent because the blood still sparkled wet in the sun. People who thought they were escaping, didn’t make it far before the infected caught them unaware. She gulped down the panic she wanted to feel. If all of these people couldn’t make it, why would they?
Finally reaching an intersection, Karly gave additional directions to get them somewhere near the hotel her friends should be at. Matt complied, though she could tell he was hesitant. Cars and bodies littered every direction away from the strip. It didn’t matter which way they went. Now, they would always be at risk in some way. Once they checked on her friends, they could continue to Matt’s friend’s house. Then to Montana, she guessed.
Montana. The thought of just going home with Matt seemed farfetched. She didn’t imagine the world was going to get back to normal. Not anytime soon. She wouldn’t be expected at work. No one other than the friends she came to Vegas with would be looking for her. Staying safe was the number one priority now.
A drive that had taken her ten minutes in a taxi before the plague, took them over an hour to make. The congestion caused them to pass the hotel and backtrack on a different street because there just was no way to get close. With the car parked a few blocks from the hotel, they sat looking at the area around them. Nothing moved at the moment, but they knew things could be lurking in any dark corner. Matt hit the horn a few times and it made Karly jump in her seat.
“The sound seems to attract them. Hoping this will bring them out before we have to get out of the car,” he said.
Bring them out of hiding it did. Karly’s mouth dropped open as walking dead corpses appeared from doorways, behind cars and alleyways. They moved together in a unison that shouldn’t have been natural for the dead. All had one driving desire, to reach the living that were making all the noise.
“Oh my god,” Karly breathed.