On the road to Fort Smith, Arkansas and this place called Sanctuary.
Fabiana drew blood samples in the RV and discovered Brooke’s blood type was O Negative. She carefully drew blood from Brooke and injected it into Barbara Murray and Cathy Cardile, hoping that the natural antibodies Brooke, Kimmy, and Samantha seemed to possess would at least slow the infection.
As they neared the city, James radioed up to the RV that he had established radio contact with Sanctuary and that they were instructed to take the Hwy 41 exit, which for some reason would be the last possible exit they could take, and turn right at the bottom of the ramp. They would find a salvage yard about a half-mile up on the right. Someone would be there to open the gate.
As the convoy neared the exit for Hwy 41, the group could see the outskirts of the city ahead. The overpass that was supposed to carry US 71 traffic over Hwy 41 was, as they had been told, impassable. The northbound lanes into the city had collapsed onto the highway below. The southbound lanes were clogged with wreckage and a line of abandoned vehicles that filled the highway as far as they could see in the rain and lightning. It looked like it stretched all the way into the city.
The condition of the highway was not the most disturbing thing they could see through the dark and rain. That honor went to the wall of living dead they could see in the distance. The RV and the rest of the eight vehicle convoy made the right turn on to Hwy 41. As they had been told, there was a salvage yard about a half-mile ahead on the right. Through the rain, they could make out a figure in a poncho pulling the gates back so the vehicles could enter. Here, they were closer to the wall of walking dead they glimpsed from the highway. The things just seemed to be standing there, moaning in unison. Their drone sounded like a didjeridoo. Occasionally, other walking dead, in groups or singly, would shamble out of the storm, approach the wall, and join its ranks. The line stretched off into the distance to either side. It looked to be at least a dozen bodies wide and stretched as far as they could see to the southwest and northeast. There was no getting through them. After the last of the vehicles pulled through the gates, the man in the poncho wheeled the rolling gate shut as several of the group ran out to help. In the distance, several of them could make out the howls of a large pack of dogs that seemed to be getting closer.
To those who had helped him close the gate, the man in the poncho introduced himself as Geoff McCurdy. His Ozark twang was quite pronounced as he told them to get everyone out of the vehicles and follow him to the drainage culvert at the back of the salvage yard. He warned them to be quick, so they could get out of the area before the dogs scented them. He seemed genuinely scared of these dogs, and intimated that they were more than just a feral pack; that they were trained “sniffer” dogs. Someone asked about the wall of zombies, and Geoff told them that they been standing like that for a while now, just moaning. Someone asked Geoff if they would attack people who approached and Geoff replied that nobody he knew had been stupid enough to try.
The group quickly gathered everyone and only the essential supplies from the vehicles and followed Geoff to the storm sewer in the culvert. Those who couldn’t walk were carried. The huge steel gate to the storm sewer was opened from the inside by another man, who Geoff introduced as his brother, Ian McCurdy. The two men were intrigued by Trip’s accent and asked if he was from Ireland, their “mother country.” Trip verified that he was, and walked at into the storm sewer at the rear of the group with Geoff, as Ian led them into the tunnels as the baying of the dogs drew closer.
On their trip into the storm sewers, Trip, Bryce, James, Mike, and others asked many questions about the men and their survivor community. The McCurdy brothers told of the dogs, trained and likely even genetically modified by a giant pharmaceutical conglomerate called UNIMED. Apparently, UNIMED ran a huge compound in the city, centered around their corporate headquarters. Apparently, they provided for the needs of all the “sheeple” there, but denied them any basic freedoms and “prob’ly used them for experiments or sumthin’.” The brothers told how UNIMED raided their camp constantly, capturing or killing their people. They told how UNIMED had captured most of the children from the camp, to use for “who knows what.” After a few hundred yards moving through the wet tunnels, the group came upon the sight of a huge tent city in a large chamber in the storm sewer. There were dozens of people living here, under the city.
James remarked to Bryce that this Sanctuary was not “as advertised.” Most of the group was very skeptical that this camp had been providing Snyder Farms and several other survivor communities with the amount and type of supplies they had been receiving. They conversationally asked the McCurdy’s some pointed questions about supplies and diesel fuel and other things. Geoff told the group that they didn’t keep those things down here at the camp, but since the dead had walked out of the city and joined that wall, the whole place, except what UNIMED controlled, was a giant supply dump, “ripe for the pickin’.”
Geoff and Ian set the group up in several large tents within the camp before Ian left to tend to other business and Geoff went to get the group some food. Trip and Mike went out into the camp to verify what the brothers had been telling them. The stories seemed to hold up based on their scouting and information-gathering run. Also, confirming the reports of UNIMED capturing the camp’s children, they found that there were no children under the age of 17 in the camp at all. When Geoff returned with stew for everyone, they found it delicious and devoured it ravenously.
Fabiana set the children up in a central tent, along with Brooke. The young lady, already too skinny before the outbreak, was exhausted from the amount of blood she had given. While they were moving the children, Fabiana and Bryce noticed that Michael was bleeding from his right hand. When Bryce asked what happened, Michael told him that he’d cut himself back at the base, while cutting the fence open to let the shamblers into the main part of the base. On closer examination, Fabaiana thought it looked an awful lot more like a bite mark than a cut from the fence. Michael admitted he had been bitten. Fabiana knew she couldn’t draw anymore blood from Brooke right now, so she asked Michael his blood type, which turned out to be AB Positive. Universal recipient. Excellent. They drew the blood from Kimmy instead and injected it into Michael, again hoping to at least slow the infection. They discussed cutting off part of his arm to see if that would stop the infection. Waylon was surprised to learn that the doctor had never tried that to save someone before. In the end, they decided it had been too long since the bite and let him keep the arm.
Bryce gathered Waylon and Mike and began discussing a trip back to the vehicles to make sure they were safe from the UNIMED thugs and dogs, and to gather more supplies. Trip advised that if they went back, UNIMED and their dogs would have either found the vehicles or not, and there was nothing they could do by going back, except possible attract attention to them. While this conversation was going on, there was a loud explosion back in the direction the group had entered from.
After the explosion, the camp began to erupt in panic. The chamber was filling up with gas. Waylon rushed into the gas to save as many people as he could. The McCurdy brothers were calling for people to run to the sound of their voices at the opposite side of the camp. In the darkness, they could hear dogs and see silhouettes of people running, of armed men firing weapons. Waylon, who was close in, and Trip, who had been on the receiving end before, recognized the muffled shots as beanbag rounds, or “less than lethal” ammo. There were smoke grenades and tear gas. Waylon also saw someone get tased. Trip grabbed a propane tank from the cooking area, knocked the valve off, and tossed it into the smoke, knocking down an armed man near Waylon. Seeing the man down, Waylon dove for his gas mask, but the man rolled out from under him and got away before Waylon could grab it. At some point, one of the propane tanks Trip was hurling exploded, causing the entire chamber to rumble. Chunks of concrete began raining from the ceiling, and it seemed like the entire chamber was going to collapse. Seeing retreat as their only opportunity, the group gathered the children as the armed men closed in and ran towards the tunnels where Geoff and Ian were leading the survivors. The McCurdy’s were splitting people up between several tunnels to make it harder for the UNIMED thugs to catch them all. In the darkness and smoke, the group got split up.
Bryce, Trip, Mike, Waylon, Fabiana, Alison, Caitlin, and Brooke, along with Bryce and Fabiana’s daughter Kimmy, and Cathy Cardile found themselves with Geoff McCurdy, running down a tunnel in the darkness. Trip called out on the walkie-talkie to the others and told them to establish radio silence. Alison was practically carrying Brooke, Bryce was carrying Kimmy, Caitlin was carrying Barbara, Waylon was carrying Cathy, and Trip was carrying a final propane tank. As they stopped to catch their breath, they began to hear the dogs in the tunnel behind them and started running again. Trip left his propane tank in the tunnel, and as they ran ahead of the rapidly approaching dogs, Bryce tossed a molotov at it right as the lead dogs approached it and the resulting explosion ripped into the dogs as the group began running again.
Trip, seemingly the fastest in the group, was leading the way, when he saw a child in the tunnel ahead. Seeing the child, Geoff McCurdy called out, “That’s Dakota Givens, he’s alive!” he mentioned to the group that Dakota was one of the kids captured by UNIMED. Trip, Caitlin and the others immediately ran after the boy, who sped off into the darkness of the tunnel. With the boy running right at the extent of Trip’s vision, he suddenly ran out of sight and the group quickly came upon a “T” intersection. Trip quickly figured out that the boy had turned left. Looking down the right fork of the intersection, the group could just make out the forms of more dogs approaching from that direction. They followed Dakota Givens down the left fork and saw an approaching horde of the living dead. There were a couple dozen of the things approaching, including a few of the fast ones. Suddenly, the boy, Dakota, ran into the right wall of the tunnel and disappeared.
When Trip reached the spot where the boy had disappeared, he found a small access door embedded in the right-hand wall of the tunnel. With the moans and reaching arms of the living dead in front of them, and the barks, howls, and sharp teeth of the dogs behind them, the group ran to the door and managed to get through and get it shut just as the undead things reached it, pulling the last person through just as the horde arrived and slamming it shut.
Trip continued after the boy, and entered a chamber where he instinctively felt that something wrong was going on, so he hit the floor shoulder first and rolled to the side just in time to avoid a net that dropped from the ceiling. In the darkness, he could see the boy, Dakota, along with about seven other children, none older than eleven or twelve. Behind the kids stood a row of about a dozen shamblers, with more in the tunnel beyond the room.
The rest of the group entered the chamber and saw the kids and the shamblers and stopped. One of the boys, a larger kid about twelve years old stepped forward and said, “Hello, Mr. McCurdy.”
Geoff fell to his knees and called out, “Brandon Russo, you’re alive!” He was genuinely surprised.
Brandon told the group that the undead in the chamber and beyond are the children’s friends. Bryce and several others, looking out into the tunnel beyond the room, notice a familiar looking face, though one that has been changed somewhat by death and reanimation since they last saw the man. It was none other the captain of the mercenaries who had boarded the cruise ship back when this thing first started, John Breckenridge. The group had last seen Breckenridge back in Beaufort during the decoy supply run they had been forced into by Hell Feurrie and his Ghost Riders. He seemed to have an “honor guard” of the things around him and seemed to be in charge of them somehow.
Breckenridge, whom Brandon identified as “Grandpa Breckenridge” seemed to be able to not only communicate with and control the other living dead here through some form of telepathy, which Brooke and Kimmy could also “feel” but also to be able to communicate with his grandson, Brandon, through grunts and gestures.
Brandon told the group the story of how, when the McCurdy’s had run out of food for the camp, they had begun stealing the camp’s children and using them as a food source, telling the rest of the camp that UNIMED had taken them. Caitlin immediately began throwing up, retching violently as she choked out, “The stew…” Several others also began to bring up that recent meal onto the floor of the chamber.
Breckenridge grunted again, turned and shuffled off down the tunnel, with his honor guard of shamblers accompanying him into the darkness, leaving the children and the dozen or so shamblers in the chamber, who began to sway rhythmically back and forth. Fabiana noticed that Kimmy and Brooke had also begun to sway in a similar fashion.
Brandon told them that it was time for their revenge on Geoff and that they would find Ian soon enough. As the group backed away from Geoff McCurdy, Bryce kicked him hard, knocking him unconscious. Then, the shamblers moved in on him and began to tear him apart, leaving only his head, which soon reanimated. Bryce and Alison held Kimmy and Brooke back from the carnage, as they tried to advance, as if they were compelled to take part in it. After the things were finished with Geoff McCurdy, Brandon told the group not to follow him, and the kids moved off into the tunnels, with the shamblers blocking any attempts at following the children, through they didn’t seem to indicate any violence toward the group if they left the kids alone.
Trip broke radio silence and called for the rest of the group. A voice came over the radio telling them the rest of the group was safe above ground. UNIMED had them. By now, the sounds of the battle between the dogs and the walking dead out in the main tunnel had ended, and was replaced by the sound of footsteps. Mike cracked the access door open a a tiny bit and saw soldiers walking among the carnage, finishing off the zombies and putting any wounded dogs out of their misery. Trip lit a molotov as Mike shoved open the door enough for Trip to toss it against the ceiling, raining flaming alcohol on several of the soldiers as Mike prepared to open fire with his M-16.
As the soldiers also drew weapons, the man who appeared to be in charge yelled for everyone to “STAND DOWN!” And ordered his men to hold their fire. Mike held his fire and ordered the soldiers to drop their weapons. Their leader set his weapon down and backed away from it, with his hands in the air. His men soon did the same, as members of the group came out to collect their weapons. The leader introduced himself as Command Sgt. Major William Morrison, formerly of the US Army, most recently stationed at Fort Chaffee, now working with UNIMED to guard their compound here in Fort Smith. He told Mike that the rest of their companions, including a girl named Samantha, a Marine named Thomas, and a huge Scotsman named Sean, were now safe in their compound on the surface. Morrison offered to lead them to their friends, which the group accepted.
On the walk through the tunnels to the ladder they would use to reach the surface, Morrison told the group that the UNIMED compound was called Sanctuary and that The McCurdys had gotten one of their Humvees with a radio, which they found in the salvage yard, along with their dead men, before they raided the camp. The group was confused when they learned that Sanctuary was the UNIMED camp, and not the camp in the sewers, but things became clear as they put it all together. Morrison confirmed that some members of the Snyder Farms community were indeed “topside” at Sanctuary right now and that they had indeed been supplying them for weeks now, along with several other outlying survivor communities, along with the offer that they could evacuate to Sanctuary if necessary.
When they reached the top of the ladder, they were met with several other armed men from the UNIMED compound, and Morrison asked Mike, who appeared to be the leader of the group, if his men could have their weapons back to help protect them from any threats as they walked the few blocks to Sanctuary. Morrison offered to stay unarmed as a gesture of trust, and they set off down the deserted, ruined street toward the bright lights of Sanctuary that could be seen in the distance.
As they walked toward safety, the group noticed the heads of several of the undead things mounted on poles and whole bodies of the things nailed to telephone poles along the street. Morrison told them it was bait to draw their leader out into the open. The group told Morrison that they had met the leader in the sewers, which stopped Morrison in his tracks. They told Morrison about Breckenridge, former special ops, mercenary, excellent with tactics, and that there were some kids down there, including Breckenridge’s grandson, Brandon. This explanation made clear to Morrison why the things had been using advanced tactics against his men.
As they resumed their walk toward the safety of Sanctuary, a roar echoed off the buildings behind them, followed by several more in quick succession, seeming to answer the first. Morrison looked around at the group and his men, real fear in his eyes, and yelled for them to RUN!
As they ran, Mike, ever the curious one, kept stealing glances over his shoulder, hoping to catch sight of whatever had made such an inhuman sound. Brooke was nearly in shock at this point, and Alison was practically carrying her. She seemed to be losing it again, her sanity cracking. Mike caught sight of a huge, muscled arm as something slid an abandoned car out of the way and grabbed one of the UNIMED soldiers, yanking him behind the car. As the group ran as fast as their legs would allow, the top half of the soldier landed on the ground in the middle of the group, with a loud “splat” and a spray of blood and guts. Mike could now see that they were being chased by at least a half-dozen of the things. They were huge, at least 8 to 12 feet tall, well muscled, almost like big mutant gorilla-men, but not hairy.
The first one tossed the car it had dragged the soldier behind, as if it were a trash can. Another of the things flung a manhole cover like a frisbee, cutting another of the soldiers nearly in half with the flying piece of steel. Mike stopped running for a moment and took aim at the closest one, pointing the barrel of his M-16 right between the thing’s eyes from less than 30 feet away. He squeezed off a burst and hit the thing exactly where he was aiming, putting the bullets right between the eyes. The thing stopped, obviously affected by the shots, then slowly reached up and touched the wounds, feeling the blood, sniffing it, then it blinked, shook its head, and resumed the chase!
TO BE CONTINUED…