Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.

Day Zero

   “There have been several officer-involved shooting incidents in the Los Angeles area in the early hours of this morning, though Police Chief Charlie Beck has issued a statement assuring us that the situations were unrelated and should not be cause for alarm” [click]
   “…and reportedly a fourth incident in Lakewood” [click]
   “…clearly the police are out of control Tom, I think there’s more to the story of this morning’s shootings, and I’m demanding answers…” [click] why is it always talk radio in the mornings?? David wonders. It’s something he had often wondered. The drive to work would be much more peaceful with some good music, rather than jarring banter about the news or latest entertainment gossip.
   He turns off the radio and suffers through the morning rush-hour traffic in silence. It’s going to be another one of those days, he thinks to himself as he finally pulls into the parking structure at work. He walks briskly into the building, emerges from the elevator and enters the offices of the law firm at five to nine. Alyssa, the office manager, pointedly looks at her watch as he walks past. Another day in paradise, he says to himself.

   Ten A.M. at the coffee stand downstairs, the news is on: “…several more shootings reported this morning. This is a bit unusual, even for Los Angeles, here’s what people are saying on twitter…”
   “…well John, I do think there’s something going on here, I’m thinking it might be al-qaeda, or maybe the drug cartels are going to war in LA…”
   It's a bit odd but David doesn't dwell on it, street violence certainly wouldn't be permitted to spill over into the nicer parts of town.

   Around 11:00 David has sorted and delivered the mail, made all requested copies (and collated and sorted, and thought I spent four years in college to do THIS a dozen times), refiled all case files and loose documents that the lawyers are done looking at. He’s swept the floor and collected all the random paperclips. He’s even lined up the pens so they’re all lined up in a row on the table. He sits down to try to think of something else to do, and at that moment Alyssa walks in. She’d be attractive if she weren’t such a bitch – She’s only a few years older than David. Blonde hair in a ponytail, cute black collared shirt and knee-length pin-stripe skirt. With only a brief disapproving glance at David she steams out again.
Though she’s no longer in the room David jumps up and paces around looking for something to busy himself with. Minutes later he receives a call from the temp staffing agency whom he technically works for,
   “Is everything alright, David?”
   “Uh, yeah, why?
   ”Well, we just received a call from the office manager over there, she said you didn’t seem to be working very hard…”

   As the day goes on, the support staff are increasingly speculating about just what IS going on out there. – the lawyers themselves seem oblivious, all too drowned in the pursuit of “billable hours” to notice. While delivering and collecting things from secretaries’ desks, David notes that many of them have the news up on their computer monitors. It’s peculiar news, but it doesn’t make the day go any faster. If anything it makes the day seem even slower, as David becomes impatient to go on lunch and have an opportunity to catch an uninterrupted news report. The clock slowly ticks around to noon.
   Finally it’s twelve and David rushes off downstairs and across the street to the food court. As he wolfs down his thai food he catches snippets from the television despite the crowd around it – “…eyewitnesses report ‘dozens and dozens’ of shots fired…” “…the police department is still saying that there’s no reason to panic, though they have added that people should not travel unnecessarily in Los Angeles today.” “…here’s an interesting new report John, we’re getting reports now of CDC vans – that’s Center for Disease Control – near some of the accident sites.”
   An eyewitness describes how one of the shooting victims was "acting crazy" and kept coming at the cops despite being shot "dozens of times." the news anchors speculate it might be some new drug. Just before the end of lunch there's actually footage from a news helicoptor of someone (their face blurred) walking lurchingly down a street as people run away. A police car peels in and the officer is seen shouting from behind his door, two more squad cars swoop in beside him and the blurred figure starts towards them. You see muzzle flashes from the police's hand guns and the figure doesn't seem to hesitate. The police pour a continuous fusilade of fire on the figure, and though the news has blurred out a wide area around them you can tell there are clouds of blood being knocked off. Finally the figure stumbles to the ground but still appears to be moving. The channel cuts to the anchors again, who seem visibly shaken, at a loss for words for a moment before desperately launching into inane babble.

   David returned to work a bit shaken himself. This was no longer and odd distraction on the news, this was becoming quite concerning. Office staff no longer tried to hide that there were more interested in listening to the news than doing work. A senior lawyer came out and yelled at everyone for not working. David noticed the offices of the firm's partner's were empty. Soon it was in the news that the national guard had been called out, and as columns of humvees moving down the streets were shown on the new, one by one empty chairs started appearing behind desks as secretaries came up with excuses to go home to their families or just plain left.
   By three most of the support staff had disappeared. Unfortunately since David’s immediate supervisor was Alyssa, he knew he was unlikely to get permission to leave early. Finally around three thirty, with nearly no support staff remaining, David was walking past with a box of files when Alyssa emerged from her office looking flustered and distracted.
   “Hey, um, everyone’s going home early today. You can, um, clock out and go home” she said as she locked her office door. David straightened out his work area, grabbed his coffee travel mug, and was out the door. None of the lawyers had moved.

   Overhead dark clouds scudded across the sky on September winds as David entered the parking garage. As he exited, he called his mother and sister, and found out they were home already. He called his girlfriend but she didn’t pick up.
   Unfortunately the drive home was along the 91 freeway, just south of Los Angeles county and jam packed with traffic out of LA on the best of days, and on this day it was barely crawling. David sat in the mired traffic and listened to the radio, no longer noticing that no stations were playing music.
“we’re here in the Channel 7 newscopter over Crenshaw Boulevard and it looks like there’s a general disturbance down there, lots of people running around…” came in amid the background beat of helicopter blades “…there appear to be several people covered in blood and, oh god, one of them has just tackled a woman and … we’ve got her zoomed in on the camera here and she’s struggling, and, I can’t tell but it looks almost like he’s biting her. And now she’s not moving and he’s running again. He’s come up on the cars backed up at the freeway onramp now Ron. He’s trying to pull the driver out of this car it looks like. And someone else just grabbed him from behind to pull him off. Okay now there’s two men trying to hold the crazy one down, he’s gotta be on drugs or something Ron he’s giving them one hell of a time … oh it looks like the woman he attacked earlier is okay, some neighbours are tending to her and it looks like she’s getting up now and… oh my god she just lashed out at them, I don’t believe this Ron. Now they’re running away. She’s running toward the onramp and … okay now people are getting out of their cars and running up the onramp to get away. The men who were trying to subdue the first man are running up the onramp as well, they appear to be bleeding and the first man doesn’t seem to have been slowed down. I don’t believe this Ron, this is madness.”
   David eyed the bumper-to-bumper traffic around him nervously. It was essentially not moving. The people in the other cars were looking around nervously themselves, no doubt listening to the same reports, and having the same thoughts.
   “…there’s a veritable stampede down the highway now, Ron, cars can’t move and people are getting out and running—“
   “—where are the police Jerry can you see any police there?”
“Yes the police have arrived at the base of the intersection but, I think the situation is just getting out of control here Ron, the police are spread too thin. This immediate situation here would take a number of cars to secure the area but, you know, there’s still ongoing situations throughout the city”
   “What about the national guard, have you seen any of them yet?”
   “No Ron, they just got called in an hour or so ago so they’re not suited up and out on the streets yet. Also, Ron, in this case right here the police car can’t drive up the onramp past the abandoned cars either”
   David nervously tapped his fingers on the wheel, and felt sweat trickle down his back despite the car being well-cooled by the AC. He tried calling his girlfriend again but the network was busy.
   “Ron, we’re watching a police officer engage one of these … people. It looks like he just emptied his pistol’s magazine into the man and he’s still coming. Now he’s using the tazer and the crazy is down …. And he’s back up as if nothing happened. Officer is backpedalling quickly. Two more squad cars just got here. Many many shots fired. If you’re broadcasting the live feed from the camera, I’m sorry you’re probably having to blur out a lot of blood. I can’t believe this though. Okay it looks like the man is down.”
   David noticed several cars pulling onto the highway shoulder to try to get ahead, but within minutes that avenue was completely clogged as well. A few motorcycles weaved through the stopped cars. One motorcyclist even looked like he was bleeding on the arm.
   “Oh we’ve got a bad looking situation here Ron, people are stampeding on the 5 north from just north of downtown, and I'm assuming it's the same south of the city, this can’t end well. As you know the highway is raised above the street level here and you can’t easily get off where there isn’t an offramp. I don’t know how this is going to end, there’s people chasing the crowds from both sides. And it looks like a number of elderly or otherwise, a number of people haven’t gotten away in time all along the way and have been attacked. On the city streets the police are forming cordons around places order is breaking down but this situation on the roads Ron…”

   Just then the first runner went past David’s car. He realized his heart was pounding, and at this realization that the events on the radio were catching up to him, he suddenly felt faint. There was the sudden sound of numerous car doors as the people around him started to get out. Almost in a trance he found himself opening his car door to step out. Someone attempting to hurry between cars was stopped by the opening door and cursed angrily at him before squeezing past. He looked in the direction the crowds of people were coming from and could just see an ever increasing crowd coming along. In the air above, a news helicopter passed over, flying low. He grabbed his phone, shut the car door, locking it out of habit, and began jogging in the direction everyone was going.

   As he made his way with the surreal procession of people weaving between cars on the freeway, David’s phone rang, it was his girlfriend Jessie.
   “Jessie! Where are you??”
   “Hey I’m alright, I got down to Travis’s here in Aliso Viejo. You should come down here too it sounds like all hell’s breaking loose in LA right now.” David was relieved to know his girlfriend was with his best friend down in southern Orange County, 30 miles or so south of the LA border.
   “I’m going to meet up with my mom and sister, and then I don’t know what we’ll do. It’s crazy though Jess, I’m currently walking down the freeway!”
   “Oh my god you’re what?? You’re on the freeway?? It’s on the news! The freeways! You need to—“ the line cut out. He tried calling her back but the network was busy again. He began to feel even more uneasy about no longer having the car radio piping breaking news to him.
It would only be a few more miles to his mom’s house. Funny how what takes only a few minutes to drive can suddenly feel so great a distance when you’re on foot. Earlier there had been a few motorcycles weaving between cars but they had all either gotten ahead by now, or perhaps gotten on offramps in search of less congestion on surface streets, or simply become mired in the crowds.
   The crowd here was channeled along the freeway by high walls on either side. Slowly the crowds got thicker as more people moving faster from further back caught up. David and others found themselves inadvertently picking up the pace as they were surrounded by more and more people in a greater hurry. He heard an older woman cry out as someone rudely shoved past her, but the shover didn’t take notice. He passed a woman pulling two small children along by the hand – the children both looked terrified, and were constantly jostled by people hurrying past. A few people were bleeding, and David found himself wondering whether it was from scratches they got in their mad hurry, or actual contact with the berserkers. Every now and then a news helicopter would rumble overhead, and, most alarming of all, gunshots rang out in the distance frequently.

   Quite suddenly people began colliding with those in front of them, forward progress apparently stopped somewhere down the line. Thousands of voices expressed alarm and confusion. People continued to try to jostle their way forward through the crowd. Amid a great amount of shoving, people actually started moving backward, though many stubbornly tried to keep their places. Then the rumours flying around congealed into one statement: “they’re in front of us! Go back! Go back! They’re in front of us!” There was panic and screams. More people were still coming up from behind, and the crowd became more compacted. David climbed on the hood of a car simply for lack of space, but also to see ahead. The crowd was being pushed back for the next several hundred feet ahead, with more and more people clambering on top of cars to get away. Forward of that it looked like a moshpit from a rock concert -- the crowd was a thrashing turbulence. Periodically people got through the turbulence and would dash off forward to the offramp that lay a short distance beyond, or continue down the freeway. Beyond the distrubance thre freeway was still packed with abandoned cars and a desperate crowd beyond the disturbance ever more desperately fleeing. David could tell many people were getting hurt by eachother in their desperation to get away.
   Looking back in the other direction, it was just more compacted crowds for about a mile, but beyond that the freeway was ominously empty. Movement brought his attention back forward, and he saw that the compressed crowd had suddenly burst forward past the turbulence. All down the line people started moving forward again, but David stayed on top of the car. From where the turbulence had been he still saw people suddenly falling down, or jumping out of the way of something David couldn’t make out. The momentum of the crowd faltered and David could see once again a break in the crowd there with the forward edge of the crowd once again trying to retreat from that point. He saw several people a the front of the crowd get pulled down screaming but he couldn't see what was there. A few intrepid people dashed over the tops of cars in the area. Finally the crowd pulled back and David could see that the way between the cars had become blocked by piles of bodies. To his horror he saw a person, covered from head to toe in blood, lurch up from the pile and lunge madly at the crowd. Once again the crowd lurched backwards.
   Looking back the other direction it looked like the back end of the crowd was getting closer as well.
   Just a short distance ahead of David someone kicked in a maintenance door in the wall. Like the drain pulled in a bathtub, the surrounding crowd all began rushing for the narrow exit. People fell to the ground in the rush and were could be heard shrieking as people continued to hurry over them. David hoped desperately they were not being trampled to death. Several desperate scrabbles broke out in the narrow doorway, with punches thrown. Several other doors had been found in the wall at various points and David could see identical situations happening at all of them. Looking at the front line of the crowd David could see it was coming back faster now, with what appeared to be more berserk blood covered people wildly attacking the crowd. Evidence of how far forward the crowd had been was plainly visible, as the roadway for several dozens of yards further on was riddled with bodies and splashed with crimson blood.
   Making it through the nearest door looked like it would require a lot of fierce jostling with the crowd, but it surely wouldn’t get easier before the murderous berserkers got this far. Just as David was about to try to wade through the crowd he spotted the woman with the two children nearby. She was clutching them to herself looking terrified, and they were both bawling.
   “You need to get out that door!” he shouted at her above the din of panicked voices. She stared at him helplessly. “Here let me help you!” he shouted, and reached to pick up the larger child. The child looked at her and she nodded, so he permitted himself to be picked up.
   David was able to make it about a car length, with the woman and other child right behind him, before he found the crowd absolutely impassable. He placed the child on the hood of the car and then climbed up himself. The woman passed up the other child and then followed herself. They were able to do this to get ahead a few more car lengths but then there were already people clambering over the cars and to attempt to go over them meant risking getting shoved off. This close to the doorway the crowd was moving fast though, so David turned his back to the crowd and tried to push backwards through the mob, holding the one child and with the woman and other following closely behind. He almost tripped, and, looking down, saw someone’s arm and a lot of blood on the ground. A finger moved and David looked away, feeling sick. Forward progress was difficult on account of the ferocity with which terrified people were pushing back from the violent end of the crowd. Blood curdling screams sounded terrifyingly close in that direction.
   With renewed vigor David threw his back into the crowd. Someone elbowed him roughtly in the head, he felt someone else hook their arm behind his neck to lever themselves forward of him. All around him people were desperately scrabbling. Suddenly he felt the people on the doorward side of him disappear and himself roughly shoved in that direction. He didn’t bounce off of another person this time but felt himself fall down onto a sloped embankment, slippery with churned up ice-plant. He rolled down the embankment a dozen feet, doing his best to protect the child. Finally he came to a rest in a pile of squirming people. People were scrambling, scratching and kicking. He tried to get up but another person landed on him knocking him further into the pile. He was able to push the child to the edge of the mass of people, and after a little more struggling in the crowd managed to get to his feet on the edge and stumble free. He was covered with scratch marks and throbbed in several places from kicks and elbows.
   Looking back at the mass he was greatly relieved to see no bloody zombie-like monsters, it was simply people getting pushed out the door, sliding down the slippery embankment, and then panicking when they found themselves all in a pile on the bottom. As people got pushed to the edge they picked themselves up and either ran away or looked for friends and loved ones they might be with.
   David found he had lost track of the woman with the other child before he went through the door, and didn’t see her in his immediate scanning of the situation, but he had done his part to get them off the freeway and now he had to look after himself. Turning around, he found they were next to a suburban street. The owner of the nearest house was busily nailing planks over his windows. Not sure exactly where he was, David ran in the direction most other people seemed to be running.

   Running down the suburban street, David tried calling his mom again but the network was still busy. In front of a number of houses people were hurriedly throwing possessions in cars. There weren’t many cars on the road here but every now and then one would come squealing around a corner. David came to an intersection with a geyser of water shooting up in one corner where a fire hydrant had been bowled over by a car. He went left to try to continue in the direction he had been going on the freeway. A short distance down this road, however, he saw people running back towards him, and he realized the offramp that had been ahead on the freeway was probably down this way, spilling the freeway’s chaos into the neighborhoods. He backtracked and ran to the intersection and took the road that lead further into the city. A steady stream of people were still coming from the direction of the freeway.
   A national guard humvee rumbled towards and past him, with a uniformed soldier riding in the roof hatch with the large roof mounted 50 caliber machine gun in front of him. Feeling a little safer because of this, and with a painful side-ache from running, David slowed down again to a brisk walk and tried to picture in his mind how to get home from here.
   His sense of safety and distraction were soon shattered by the staccato of the heavy machine gun. First there were several short bursts and then it fired continuously, accompanied by the smaller sound of what must be the other soldier’s M-16s. David began running again. The gunfire faded away into, what David realized suddenly was a general background din of sirens, people screaming or yelling near and far, dogs barking, and frequent isolated bangs. Every now and then more heavy machine gun fire could be heard at various places. It sounded like it was particularly heavy near where the offramp had been.
   I think they’ve contained it on the freeway. God I hope they have David found himself thinking. The crowds of refugees had increasingly thinned out the further he got from the freeway, with some coming and going in opposite directions at intersections. He passed a body face-down on the lawn and just hurried quickly past it.
   He heard a shout of profanities up ahead and saw a man in a business suit backing away from a figure that was lurching towards them. David looked backwards but it was a long ways to the last intersection, he didn’t want to lose that much ground and time with things having every appearance of getting worse by the minute.
   There was only one of the zombie-like figures, it wasn’t moving very fast, and the street was broad, David decided to take his chances trying to dodge around the figure. As he got closer, he could see that it was a middle aged woman. She appeared to have some severe bite marks on the upper arm, but otherwise looked physically normal. She had a vicious unthinking feral look on her face though, and moved in an awkward lurching fashion. The man was still backing away from her, uselessly shouting “No! Go away! Shoo!” at her.
   David came up on them, staying on the opposite side of the street. The woman noticed him and seemed unable to make up her mind to stumble towards him or the man. While she was thus distracted the man edged around until they were on opposite sides of her, and then they both ran past her and down the street. The man became winded and had to stop running long before David, and soon David was on his own again.
   Despite the horrors he had already seen, David was stopped in his tracks when he came upon a house that had several bodies in a bloody mess on the front lawn. Their positioning seemed indicate they’d been trying to walk towards the front door, and moving his eyes towards the door itself, David saw that a table at been upended in front of it to create a barrier, and behind it, just in front of the doorway, sat a man with a grey mustache, trucker cap, Vietnam era camoflauge jacket, and brandishing a shotgun, with another slung on his back. As soon as David hesitated the man aimed the gun at him and called out “you god damn better keep walking!”
   David didn’t need a second invitation, he was on his way! He turned onto a familiar street at the next intersection, home was only a few blocks away! He stepped out of the way of a man carrying a rake – the pronged end of it was alarmingly bloody. It was no longer safe to walk in the middle of the road, as what cars there were usually came screeching down the street at a reckless speed. Everyone going anywhere seemed to be in an urgent hurry.
   Up ahead three figures were pounding on the front door and boarded up front windows of a house. From their ungainly movements David could tell they were “infected.” David also noticed that the front windows were smashed in on several of the houses that hadn’t boarded them up. Some of the shards of broken glass had blood on them.
   David tried to quietly hurry past the three on the other side of the road, his heart pounding, but to his horror first one, turned and looked at him, and then the oter turned and all three started quickly shambling towards him with drooling slack mouths and vacant eyes. He turned to go the other way but saw two more climb out of a broken window in that direction, heedless of the broken glass, and start to head towards him. He frantically looked from one group to the other. The figures were able to move surprisingly fast considering their ungainly gait, and it would be hard to get past either group without being potentially intercepted. He could dart between the houses, jump some fences, and come out on the other side, but there were too many unknowns with that plan – he might end up cornered in a backyard, or even be set upon by an unfriendly dog that had been worked up to a frenzy by all the chaos. He prepared to try to run past the two that had come out of the window.
   He ran towards them on the same side of the street as they, so that at the last minute he could veer around them in the street. As he prepared to run to the other side and pass them, a body he hadn’t noticed lying facedown on an overgrown lawn on that side picked itself up with the unmistakable movements of a the infected. David took a quick look behind him and confirmed that those three were closing in on him from that side. This was about to be very close.

   Just as David was beginning his run to get between the two window zombies and the new lawn zombie, he heard the screech of tires right behind him and three loud thumps. He couldn’t help but glance back again – a police car had come skidding to a halt right on top of the three zombies, which it must have bowled over.
   “GET DOWN!” the driver shouted. David hit the asphalt as the officer aimed an M-16 out the patrol-car’s window and unleashed a quick burst at each of the two zombies. The shots were aimed at their heads, and David noted that though they were each hit several times in the head – each hit marked by a sickening sort of crunch and cloud of red—they didn’t seem terribly deterred. They were alarmingly close and continued approaching. One of them, who looked to be a young man wearing a “hurley” shirt and backwards baseball cap, appeared to be having trouble seeing straight, David tried not to look at his one eye that was dangling out of his head. Two more bursts of gunfire just about destroyed both their heads, and they both slumped to the ground in pools of blood.
   The officer tossed his gun back on his passenger seat and hit the gas, hitting the lawn zombie and sending him flying. He landed in a broken and crumpled state, but was still moving so the officer moved his car relatively close and took several single shots at point blank range at its head until it stopped moving. “get somewhere safe and stay there!” shouted the officer to David, before speeding off.

I've often found it disappointing that nearly all zombie movies seem to skip past the beginning, fast forwarding to a point where everyone is already desensitized to the whole situation. I've been wanting to write a story that takes us through the very beginning of it, as the rigorous iron of social norms (such as office ettiquette) slowly gives way to the complete breakdown of society. For example I think the tremendous taboo against murder would prevent even adequately armed people from actually shooting a zombie until they were absolutely forced to, as social taboos are eroded. If I continue the story I was thinking I'd mirror the rescue of the child with David less prone to look out for others later on, as well as a key moment when he first has to kill a zombie himself.
   Also, in pondering how it would actually unfold, I was really struck by how the freeways would act like a wick or fuse, first becoming completely clogged and then becoming the panicked stampede, with some "infected" people with minor bites or scratches carrying it ahead like sparks before turning themselves.

Part of my continuing coverage of the Coming Zombie Apocalypse, this story is preceded by Patient Zero and followed by 28 Hours Later

Tags: fiction, lj idol, zombies

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