Sarah saw a tactical flashlight behind the glass of the front desk. She reached through the open sliding glass window and took the cold aluminum light from the desktop, then walked out the front door, past her rough idling pickup.
Several yards ahead of her were people heading toward the winery’s grape field, several blocks from the police station. She kept the flashlight off and matched the cadence and posture of the people ahead. The red glow from the sky gave enough illumination so that Sarah could see that people of all ages were being affected, even mothers with babies.
Then it occurred to her, how was she going to get back to the station without drawing attention to herself. She decided that she would solve that problem later as she continued to follow the crowd down the tar-bound street, over mowed lawns, and through parking lots. Apparently, staying on the sidewalk was not an efficient path to their destination. They walked past the winery to the sloping vineyard.
Sarah slowly veered away from the people until she found a place where she could hide and still see, to some degree, what was happening. A lawn’s manicured hedge provided the perfect hiding place next to the field’s rows of drooping grape vines. She knelt down and pushed aside the stiff branches so that she had only a partially obscured view of the field’s tractor lane, and the spot inside the vineyard where the people were gathering.
The sky grew brighter as a blue orb appeared above the vineyard. The already inadequate shadow of Sarah’s hiding spot was disappearing. The sphere hovered slightly higher than the water tower before shooting a brilliant blue cylindrical beam of light to the ground. Frenzied people began to moan and call out in pleasure as they pushed and shoved to get near the uniform ray of light, large enough to absorb bodies.
She watched as people entered the beam and then disappeared. What is happening to them? Are they getting beamed up to the orb or are they disintegrating? What is that thing, a spaceship? And why aren’t I affected and that prisoner?
No sooner had the people entered when some began to exit the same beam, looking more possessed than ever. Their posture seemed twisted and their gate was less fluid as they lumbered in Sarah’s direction, the rows of grape vines forcing them to exit the field in straight lines.
“I’d better get out of here, this is not looking good.”
Bent low, Sarah dodged between bushes, houses, and cars parked randomly in the street as she made her way back to the jailhouse where Jack and Jibber were waiting. She noticed the pickup was ready to stall when she reached the front door. Looking back to where she had come from, she saw people, if they were people, continuing their disorderly trudge toward her.
She burst through the door and shot down the hallway. “We got to get out of here!” she said, gasping for breath.
“Finally, you see it my way,” Jack said, trying to shake the cell bars.
Sarah approached the cell. The other two men were more agitated as they hit the cell wall violently with their bodies. Blood dripped down the white painted blocks, likely from clawed off fingernails. She looked at the lock. “How do I unlock it?”
“There should be keys or a button at the control desk,” Jack said. He looked back at his crazed jail mates. “You better hurry up before these guys decide that I’m more interesting than that wall!”
She ran to the door of the glassed-in control room. It would not open. It must close and lock automatically, she thought. The sliding window was open; it was her only way inside the room. She pushed a plastic chair under the window, stood on it, then reached through and sat the flashlight on the counter. As she climbed through the opening, she scraped her elbows and knees on the window track.
When she got inside the room, she shined the flashlight around as she opened drawers and scanned the walls and desktop for anything that looked like a way to open the cell door.
“I can’t find the keys!” she yelled back down to Jack.
“Look under the desk.”
She turned her gaze toward the front door. Past the panes of glass, she saw that the disorderly crowd was across the street and heading their way. Dropping to the floor by the desk, she felt every nook and cranny. She was starting to get panicked when she felt them. They clinked as she took them off the hook.
“I got them!” Sarah yelled. She opened the control room door and placed a small wastebasket next to the doorframe to keep the door from closing and locking, and then ran back down to where Jibber was still standing guard. There were several three-inch keys on a metal ring. She fumbled with them, trying one after the other.
“Come on, get it in there, we’re running out of time,” Jack said, looking back at the crazed men behind him who now were turning around. Blood dripped from their foreheads, down their faces, and onto the floor, as they stared at Jack. “Hurry up, Sarah!”
“Got it!” The key turned and the door clanked open. Jack took the ring of keys from Sarah and slammed the cell door shut behind him, locking the inmates in as they reached for him.
Jibber barked as they ran to the main door, but the mob was only feet away from it.
Jack looked down at the orange jail sandals flopping on his feet. “These damned flip-flops are not going to make it easy to run, but they have my shoes locked away . . . with my wallet.”
Sarah glanced down at Jack’s feet then up at the people beyond the door. She stopped dead in her tracks and gasped, “They’re like zombies.” She could not see them well, but she saw them well enough to notice that the skin on their faces was an ashen gray and their eye sockets were dark and sunken as if the fluid and blood in their shambled bodies had been partially removed.
“We can’t get out this way,” Jack said, grabbing onto the door handles to keep it closed. “Find something to put in these handles to keep it from being opened.”
“Doesn’t it have a lock?”
“It needs a different key than the ones on that key ring,” Jack said, using his weight to pull back on the doors. “We don’t have time.”
Sarah went back into the cage where she had seen a billy club on the counter. She ran back to the door and slid the short stout club into both handles. “This is going to fall out, we need something longer.”
The spooky others were outside the glass doors, pushing on them rather than pulling. “I don’t think they know how to pull,” she said. No sooner had she said that when the zombies began to pull and bang on the glass. Sarah looked at their faces; it was as if they lost their humanness and gained the anguish of a painful death.
“Stop looking at them,” Jack said. “Go to that closet and see if there’s a broom or something.”
Sarah moved quickly to the door that appeared to be a closet. Jibber was restless, holding back her instinct to run down the hall. Sarah found a janitor’s broom and placed it in the door pulls, alongside the club. They backed away from the door, pausing only for a moment to look at the invading bodies. Their faces contorted and drooling.
“You’re right; they are like frickin’ zombies,” Jack said, taking Sarah’s hand, his palm damp with perspiration.
“Their moans sound like they’re in pain,” Sarah said, looking at Jack’s concerned face. He frowned as his eyes darted between the broom and the things on the other side of the glass.
“We got to get out of here before they eat our brains or something,” Jack said, only half joking. He pulled Sarah away from the door and down the hall to where Jibber was already waiting for them. They could hear the bangs as force was applied to the broom and club lying loosely in the handles.
“Them eating our brains doesn’t sound like an implausible idea,” Sarah said, running next to Jack, letting her hand slip from his. “Look, Jibber found the back door.”
Jack tried to open the steel door; it would not budge. “We’ll need a small key to get out,” Jack said, looking at the lock. He put his ear next to it. “I don’t hear anything.”
Sarah looked at the keyring stuffed in the back pocket of Jack’s jeans. Large keys dangled out. Then she saw it, one small key. “There’s a little key on that ring!” She took the bunch from his pocket and held up one small brass key.
“Let’s hope that’s the one,” Jack said, taking the keys from her.
Sarah watched as Jack placed the key in the lock. It turned. He opened the thick door and then closed it.
“What are you doing?” Sarah asked, rolling her eyes. “We got to get out of here.”
“We need weapons,” Jack said, running back down the hall, toward the zombies beyond the glass.
“We don’t have time; we have to get to the truck before it stalls,” Sarah yelled back at him.
Jack tried to not let the sound of bodies thumping on the glass distract him. He entered the control room through the propped open door and went to the gun cabinet.
“The guns are locked up, we don’t have time to get them,” Jack said as Sarah ran up next to him.
Sarah saw Jack’s eyes land on the billy club holding the door closed. “Don’t take it, don’t even think about it.”
Jack did not listen. He ran out of the control room and stood in front of the doors, for only a moment, before sliding the club from the handles. “Let’s go, that flimsy broom won’t hold long.”
They ran back to the rear door where Jibber anxiously awaited. Jack opened it and slowly walked out. “It’s clear,” he whispered.
Jack was leading the way down a pea gravel path to the corner of the building when they heard the broom handle snap and the front door crash open.
“They’re coming,” Sarah whispered, petrified. If Jack were holding her hand now, it would be trembling. “We got to get to the truck.”
Sarah was close behind Jack, and Jibber was close behind Sarah as they followed the brick wall to where they could see the front parking lot. The sputtering truck was in sight.
“Shit,” Jack said, pointing to a white pickup surrounded by zombies. “Is that your truck?”
“Unfortunately.” Sarah grimaced.
Then they heard the back door, from where they had just come, open and slam into the side of the building. The sound of feet dragging through the gravel was getting louder.
“It’s like they can smell us,” Sarah said, drawing closer to Jack and the heat of his body.
“Time to go,” Jack said, holding up the nightstick. “Follow me.”
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