“Oh my god,” Karly whispered.
Matt had to echo her sentiment. He had thought their plan over a number of times before leaving the fifth floor hotel room. They had every step covered. He realized how idiotic he was for thinking things would go as planned. They were in the middle of a plague. Nothing could be predicted. There was no making sense of what was happening. As he stood there, flanked by Karly and Stuart, Matt knew they would never know peace again.
“I…how…what do we do now?” Stuart stammered. He stood clutching his keys in his hand as if they were his lifeline.
The bus was their lifeline, Matt decided. It was a large vehicle. Maybe not meant to run over people, but it could get them further than his small car. The thought of his car had the wheels turning in Matt's head again. He slowly patted his pockets and found his key ring, right where he had left it. Even though they were leaving his car behind he carried the keys, just in case he had told himself. But what could his car do? It was small and on the other side of the pool fence. A lightbulb illuminated an idea as it blossomed in Matt's mind.
“My car,” he said.
“What about it? It's nowhere we can get to,” Karly replied. She hadn't turned away from the scene at the front of the hotel.
“If I can get to it, I can honk and draw away the zombies. Once they follow me, you guys run for the bus. Then, once we drive away from here, I can get into the bus when safe.”
Karly finally turned toward him, her eyes wide with fear.
“Are you crazy? Those things are everywhere. How will you get into your car? You have to climb the fence and the get into a seat before you get bit. Not to mention you want to separate? You promised…” Karly's voice was rising and getting shrill.
“Calm down. I'm not leaving you,” Matt replied. He reached out and took her hand in his. Her fingers clamped down, giving no chance of him letting go.
“You said we were safer together. You said we'd stay together,” she said, her voice quieter now.
“We are. Just in different vehicles for the moment. That bus is our best vehicle right now. I'm guessing it's plenty big enough for supplies and sleeping,” Matt said, looking to Stuart for confirmation.
“Oh yeah. There are leather seats along the back and sides. Plenty of cushions to get rest. And we can store plenty inside in the way of food and water,” Stuart added.
Karly didn't spare even a slight glance for Stuart. Matt was lost in her eyes and he knew he was falling. He didn't want to part from her either. However, keeping her safe was his number one priority. He would do what it took for them to survive and that would at times be something she didn't agree with. This wasn't a stroll down the Las Vegas Strip, meeting Elvis or taking photos in front of the Bellagio fountains. This was a zombie plague.
Zombies. It was an unreal word. An impossibility that was happening in front of their eyes. And he was in the middle of the most populated area of Las Vegas with a woman he was helplessly attracted to and a luxury bus driver. Matt wanted to shake his head and rattle the crazy out of it. But when he glanced outside again, he realized it wasn't him that was crazy. He was quickly reminded that the insanity had started somewhere else. The bloodied bodies shambling the parking lot were all the evidence he needed to believe things were falling apart.
Some dead would turn their head when vehicles would pass. They would go as far as changing their direction toward the noise of the engine. As soon as the movement was out of sight they would lose their interest and wander again. It was this behavior that gave Matt the idea to get them out.
“Karly, it will be fine. First you two will bang on this door. Make enough racket to get the dead in the area all around the door. With them busy over here, I can hop the fence and get to my car. I'll drive by here and that will be the signal that I got there safe.”
“Then what?” Stuart asked. Karly didn't speak, just stared daggers at Matt.
“You'll wait for me to make a few passes. Once I get most of the infected following me, you go for the bus.”
Stuart nodded his agreement. He put a hand on Karly's shoulder, squeezing his encouragement. She nodded her head curtly once and pushed Matt's hand away. He knew she was angry with him, but he knew the plan would work and they would all be in one vehicle soon. To avoid her anger, he moved to the front desk of the lobby. Behind it was a small alcove that led to a small shop. He opened the bag he carried and dumped all the snacks and drinks he could fit. Karly joined him and turned so he could use her backpack as well. Once it was zipped up, she walked back to the doors without a word.
Matt sighed, knowing it would take some work to make Karly understand. They couldn’t run only on fear. Tough choices needed to be made. If they only made decisions based on their fear of the situation, they would never find safety. Wherever that may be. Matt looked out at the roving horde again. He hadn’t thought far beyond escaping the Las Vegas strip. Thinking of safety, Matt didn’t know where the plan would go to find a place they could stay, safe and away from the infected that wanted to eat them.
He left the bag of food with Stuart, knowing he could move faster without the extra weight. In his mind he also wanted them to have it, in case something happened to him. With one look at Karly, he turned and walked toward the pool area. Just as he was reaching the doors, he heard Karly behind him.
“Wait,” she said, half in a whisper, half in a cry. He turned around just in time for her to throw her arms around his neck. He hugged her back tightly.
“You have to make it, ok?” She whispered.
“Everything is going to be fine,” he replied.
“That’s not for sure, and you know it. I just…I can’t handle losing anyone else. I don’t have anyone else,” Karly said as she pulled back to look into Matt’s face.
“You aren’t going to lose me. This will work,” Matt said.
Without warning, Karly raised up on her tiptoes and pressed her lips to his. The timing was all wrong. He knew it. In the rational part of his brain he knew she was only reacting to her fear of losing him to the infected as soon as he walked out the door. But the irrational part of him, the deeper basic nature of his mind, wanted to believe the kiss was more. He let his arms tighten around her waist, pulling her to him as he kissed her back with all he had. When they pulled apart, Karly was breathless and her cheeks held color he hadn’t seen since they woke up together two days before. He smiled at her and she immediately smiled back.
“Does this mean I’m forgiven?” He asked.
“Not even close,” she replied.
“I’ll see you in a bit. Just make sure Stuart follows me once we can get out of the parking lot. As soon as I see somewhere clear, I’ll pull over so I can get into the bus with you.”
“Hurry up,” she replied, and she released him.
Matt only looked back once, finding Karly still standing inside the door watching him as he made his way across the pool area. Luckily the fencing had stayed intact, keeping all the infected on the outside. He moved quietly, staying behind cabinets that held towels. From his vantage point he could see there were infected wandering around his car. There were too many for him to handle with his knife. A moment later a loud commotion could be heard echoing between the buildings. Matt knew that Stuart and Karly were starting their distraction.
He watched the infected near his car life their heads as they heard the noise. They seemed to move in sync though Matt couldn’t imagine they knew how to communicate. They were all driven by one single goal, the goal of human flesh. The noises coming from the hotel was like a dinner bell to them and they couldn’t fight the urge to follow and feast. Matt knew they would have no luck, with Stuart and Karly behind the doors of the hotel still. He tried to not think of Karly standing in the lobby with the infected banging into the windows. She would be scared, but that was just part of this plague.
It felt like an eternity as he sat hidden from the infected. Finally, his car was left alone and Matt took his chance. Using the chair they had landed on before, he pulled himself to the top of the fence. He dropped to the ground, careful to not injure himself in the process. He removed the knife from his belt, so he was ready for any unseen attacks. Diving into the driver’s seat, Matt breathed deeply to slow his heart. The plan was working so far and he was afraid of being optimistic. The car stunk of the infected. The windows were difficult to see there now that they were covered in grime, blood and other fluids.
He sighed as the engine sputtered to life. His old girl was going to get him where he needed to be. As long as he didn't run down too many infected. He was sure that would stop his reliable old car in its tracks. He laid on the horn to start his part of the plan. Honking was the signal for Karly and Stuart to hide from sight. Matt assumed without a visible option of food, the car would pull the infected from the door. He had to believe it would work. They didn't have a plan b. Keeping one hand on the horn he made a large circle to turn back toward the hotel entrance. As he expected the infected were pressed against the entrance, banging and clamoring over each other to reach the glass. Thankfully the glass door held, and he knew Karly was safe inside.
Once he was by the bus he slowed and honked the horn repeatedly. He could see when the infected changed their mind about what was a meal. He banged in the glass, making sure they could see his movements inside. He couldn't be sure what would attract them. As a group they began to turn his direction. He slowly made a circle around the bus. A man in a Hawaiian shirt and a camera around his neck bounced off the hood. Matt winced thinking about avoiding running any infected over. He swerved away from the dead tourist and continued his slow drive.
As he circled the bus, he double checked the doors, windows and tires. Everything looked intact and Matt felt hope. Hope that their plan was working. That the bus was going to be comfortable and worth all the trouble. Hope that he would find himself cuddled up with Karly that evening inside the safety of the big vehicle.
The infected rambled behind him and he led them back to the backside of the hotel. As he circled the large back parking area, the infected cut across the circle to get to him, so he sped up. He left the group where they were, knowing they wouldn't catch up with him before he circled the front again. When he pulled around the front of the hotel, he saw that only a handful of infected remained and they were drawing near his car. He slowly moved making sure they were interested enough to stumble after him.
The crack of a head slamming into his passenger side window startled him, causing the car to jump forward. He looked over to see a young woman, wearing a standard suit for a hotel employee. Her scalp was partially missing, what was left hung limply from her skull. The white of her bone was so shocking that Matt stared at her for a long moment. Her teeth snapped at the window and she began to bang on it with force. Matt knew it was time to go.
He drove slowly back toward the side of the building where the larger group of infected met him. He turned the wheel sharply, avoiding any collisions. They were persistent, looking for the warm meat that the car had promised. When he found himself turned back toward the bus he saw Stuart and Karly running from the hotel. He waited a beat before making his way toward them.
Stuart had the door unlocked in seconds. He shoved Karly through the opening before he dove behind her. The door shut with a slam and Matt waited for Stuart to appear behind the wheel. After some twisting and flipping, Stuart squeezed through the window between the driver area and bus cabin. He flashed his lights at Matt, the signal that they were ready to go. Matt couldn't have waited longer as the infected were beginning to reach his car.
Pressing forward, Matt slowly drive through the infected that had caught up with him. He allowed the bodies to softly bounce off the vehicle. He no longer cared about keeping the car in one piece. He just needed to get them out of the parking lot and somewhere he could jump into the bus. The larger crowd of infected began to show around the side of the hotel and Matt knew the time for being careful was over. His foot pressed down on the pedal and his car sped through the last of the infected in his way. Checking his rearview mirror he saw Stuart mimic his actions, and the bus followed quickly as they swung out of the parking lot onto the street.
The street was crowded with abandoned vehicles. Moving vehicles fought their way around everywhere Matt looked. He tried to think of the best direction to go, but all he could come up with was away from the Strip, away from the city. And away from the mass of infected that were wandering the mass populated area. He noticed the bus slowing down behind him and Matt realized that they would have a harder time than he thought getting out of the area. The vehicle was too large to get between some cars easily. Stuart would put his bumper to the smallest vehicle and slowly push it as he could. Matt slowed, waiting for them to catch up.
The further they moved away from the Strip and entrances to the freeway, the roads were more full of the living in vehicles fleeing in the area. The congestion slowed them again, but it was moving more smoothly for the bus and that was all Matt cared about. Right now the bus was their safe haven. As he sat in the chaotic traffic, Matt noticed the surrounding disarray. Gas stations were parking lots for people fighting for fuel. He watched as a mob of people crashed through the glass front of the station. A stream of people entered and left with arm fulls of different supplies. The scene reminded Matt that they didn’t have enough provisions to last them very long. A plan began to hatch in his mind then.
Both sides of the main road were flowing in one direction, vehicles fighting to get to the freeway. Matt took the first small alleyway he could, cutting behind a convenience store. He turned away from the freeway on the next side street he came to. He dodged cars that came his direction even though they were driving on the wrong side of the road. Stuart stayed close to Matt, following his movements, preventing either of them from crashing into survivors. Matt looked side to side down the road as they drove, looking for the one place he thought they needed to go. When a large sign boasted what he wanted, he sped in that direction.
Skidding to a halt in the destroyed parking lot, Matt stared as people looted from the store in front of him. The sporting goods store was the first place Matt wanted to stop. He thought of the knife he carried and wondered if that would be enough. Looking at the people running out of the building he didn’t know for sure it was worth the chance. They had no blankets, no survival gear, nothing to help them until they found somewhere safe to be. He looked over as the black bus pulled up next to him. Stuart looked at him through the window. Without any direct communication, Stuart nodded and Matt knew they were taking the chance.