Aurora J. Marie
The lab’s New Year’s Eve party wound down with a whimper and Cecily wanted to kill her boss. They had broken up a week ago, but the jerk didn’t have to flaunt his newest conquest. Amanda the slut, on a fast track to promotion, vacuumed up to Phil constantly.
Phil was drunk, grabbing ass while he danced with Amanda. Occasionally, party cap cocked to the side, he smiled across the crowded room at Cecily. He really wasn’t a bad guy, just an alcoholic slob with no class. Still she couldn’t help imagining what it would feel like to knock the stupid lug-nut to the auditorium’s floor.
Instead she left without a tear, passing Burt’s empty security station. She flashed her card key and retreated down to the lower levels of the facility. She normally worked the graveyard shift and had only popped up stairs to be polite to her coworkers. Big mistake she realized, for now she would be thinking about the dummy half the night.
She checked the numbers on the digital thermostats of the freezer units to reassure herself. Picking up the quality control book, she began her rounds. The facility stored DNA tissue, plasma, cells, micro organisms, viruses and vaccine cultures to every possible disease known to man and domestic animal. All tucked in nice and cozy in their minus seventy-degree vaults and fluid baths.
Finally she finished the last of her QC, by inoculating the morning shift’s blood agar plates under the biohazard hood. Ready for the long break that she regularly snuck in, sometimes to read novels and other nights she just took a nap. The one thing she liked best about the nightshift besides working alone.
Yawning, she collapsed in her cushy chair behind the desk. Kicking off her shoes, she closed her eyes for just a moment. Burt never came down stairs, not that he would squeal on her and everyone else should be home in their beds by now.
Cecily left the control room and climbed the stairs to the upper levels. Pushing through the last set of doors, she froze staring at Burt slumped at his desk. She could tell he was dead from the slackness in his face muscles and the dark-blue tinge where the blood pooled in his jowls and hands. Burt was overweight, but only middle aged, she found it hard to believe he had died of a heart attack. Had he been murdered? Or worse?
Snapping out of her shock, her training took over, and she jumped back through the doors pulling them shut. Breathing heavily, pulse racing, she pulled the HEPA mask that dangled about her neck back on. She blindly dug in her lab coat’s pocket for a pair nitrite gloves. She stared straight ahead and brainstormed for answers.
Fumbling with her cell phone next, she knew from past experience there was no reception in the center of the building. But she still looked for bars.
On the other side of the door, a microbiologist’s worst nightmare awaited her. She examined the man closer, his body stiff with beginning rigormortis. He had been dead at least an hour maybe two. Cecily found no reasonable explanation for his death. Worried she declined to use the phone next to Burt.
Standing just inside the front entrance, she punched in nine-one-one on her cell phone. Never in her life did she think Emergency Services wouldn’t answer. The receiver on the other end beeped with a busy signal.
She picked up a land line from the front receptionist’s desk and called the boss, the other end rang until his answering machine kicked on.
“Phil, pick up. We have big problems at the lab. Phil, come on.”
Every number she tried on the emergency call list either just rang or a cutesy voice told her they would get back to the caller.
Finding the main doors still locked, she went back to the central corridor to fish the keys from Burt’s belt clip with her pencil. Belatedly, she tried to keep her distance, despite knowing the circulating air would have long since infected her if whatever killed him were airborne.
Locking the doors behind her, she stripped off her gloves and lab coat. The walk to the car across the icy lot unnerved her due to the silence of the nearby highway. She drove from the parking area, intent on going to Phil’s nearby house to bang on the door until he woke up.
Her denial of a catastrophe ended at the first intersection she came to. A few cars were stopped, but still running on opposite sides of the light. They all held more dead bodies. Vehicles that traveled across the intersection were in disarray up and down the street. A truck protruded from a liquor store’s glass frontage not far past the light. Everywhere she looked she found only the dead.
Never the one for hysterics, Cecily still tried to keep from speeding to Phil’s house. When no one answered the door, she used the key under the flower pot to let herself in. She recognized Amanda’s light-blue coat thrown over the couch. A quick glance in the bedroom told her all that she wanted to know. Having left the lab unprepared, she grabbed the fancy coat on the way out the door.
Next she stopped by the police station. Finding the front unlocked, but the inner door still secured. Peering through the plate window she saw the desk Sergeant on the floor. She decided there wouldn’t be any help from the law, for not even they were immune to the death that seemed to have overcome the community.
When she pulled up into the drive in front of her condo, she heard the neighbors English Shepherd barking his head off. She went to Adrian’s door and knocked. The dog barked even louder. Walking over to the flower bed she picked up a rock and busted the small widow in the door. Reaching through to flip the lock, she called her friend’s name.
Taz came running out of the bedroom, happy to see her. No doubt the smartest dog she knew, he darted back and forth between her and the bedroom. Adrian’s still form lay under the covers.
“Come on, boy.” Numbly, she closed the door and went in the kitchen to feed the dog.
Plopping down at the table, she placed her head in her hands. Tears flowed, Adrian’s death slapping the realty of the horror around her to the forefront of her mind. There was never a better friend than Adrian or a sweeter person.
“I don’t know what happened, big boy, but you’re the first living creature I’ve seen all morning.”
The dog wagged his tail as he finished gulping down the food. He looked up at her and woofed. Claws rattling on the tile he came over to lay his head in her lap.
She wiped at her eyes with the sleeve of her new coat.
“Yeah, you can come live with me.” Grabbing up his kibbles, she lugged the bag all the way to her front door and let him in.
Turning the television on, she flipped through the channels, finding only static or a black screen with white lettering that declared the program would be available in a moment. Giving up, she tossed the remote to the coffee table. Not even the civil service alarm that she half expected blared at her.
In disaster mode, she filled every water container she could find storing them in the refrigerator. She opened her pantry and cupboards accessing her available food. Next she began making a list, one page for what she could use and another for what she needed to do.
“Come on, Taz. We’ve got work to do.”
Intending to start at the grocery, she looked at her Ford Taurus, paused and glanced down the street at Nate’s place. The double cab truck parked in his driveway beckoned to her. Why not, she shrugged. Who would stop her? Realizing that to survive she needed to ditch her old way of thinking.
Nate’s single story ranch gave her more trouble than getting into Adrian’s place. The windows covered with Spanish style ironwork, plus a metal door. She spent almost a half hour looking for a way in.
The nylon tow strap in her car’s emergency kit solved the problem. Backing her car up, she put the hook on the lower cross bar and crawled under the car, in Amanda’s coat, looking for a place to hook the other end. She found nothing designed for towing, but settled on the bumper mount.
Taz sat in the passenger seat grinning his doggy smile at her.
“What’s your problem?”
“Woof,” he replied, sounding almost like a sneeze.
“Hang on.” She pressed the accelerator to the floor and took off. The barred cover ripped off the window frame flying after the car. A horrendous tearing of metal and plastic dragging on the ground followed her.
Slamming on the brakes, she looked over at Taz. He cocked his head to the side and looked back at the mess behind the car. Cecily, afraid to look, opened her door anyway.
“Crap!” she said to Taz, as she looked at her bumper peeled back away from the car. Looking up to glance about the neighborhood afraid someone would report her. “Hell! What am I worried about? Come on dog. Let’s go see what Old Nate’s been keeping from us.”
Pulling off the screen, the window slid open when she pushed on the glass. Pushing the curtain aside, she hiked one leg over the sill and slipped inside. Taz leapt in behind her.
Nate sat in his easy chair by the window, jaw drooping open on his chest. The television’s static hissed throughout the room, with the remote still in Nate’s claw like hand. Walking across the room she turned the flat screen off.
“Don’t mind us Nate; we thought we would pop in for a moment. You don’t care if I borrow your truck do you?”
Cecily’s attitude suddenly struck her as crass. The stress of the day once again lay heavy on her reasoning. Her morbid humor being the way she dealt with the mass of casualties around her. “Sorry Nate, but I need your truck more than you do.”
Looking the house over, she realized that her condo didn’t compare to Nate’s. The list she made in her planning already done for her.
After searching the house for his keys, she decided to check his pockets. Grossed out, her sensibilities had a hard time digging in his pants pocket. Retrieving the keys, she couldn’t get out of the house fast enough.
She momentarily sat in the big diesel, while the engine idled, feeling sorry for herself. Wondering why everyone lay mysteriously dead around her. Not a religious person, she still contemplated the question if God were responsible. But why on earth would He spare her? At that moment, she named the New Years Day, Dead Friday.
Taz whined and licked her hand.
“Yeah, you’re right. Sitting here crying about my predicament isn’t accomplishing anything. You ever go in a grocery store?”
“Well today’s your lucky day.”
Cecily woke up in the middle of the night, Taz’s low whisper of a growl next to her head. Sitting up, she followed his stare to her bedroom window. Getting out of bed, she crept to peak outside. A pack of dogs scrounged in the neighbor’s over turned garbage cans.
The fact the catastrophe had only killed off the human population laid forefront in her mind. She had spotted cats and birds during the day as well. As the dogs found less to eat, would they be a problem for her?
She couldn’t help thinking of all the animals that were probably trapped inside, or tied up in backyards. The city didn’t have a zoo, thankfully, but how wide spread did Dead Friday extend across the country?
What if someone else survived just like her? Did being underground have something to do with her survival?
Cecily tried to think of any place else beside the Bio storage facility that lay deep underground. Military bases, subways in the big cities, there just might be someone else alive.
Did the National Guard shoot looters? For now she decided to keep her foraging to a minimum. Just to be safe. Where the hell was the National Guard anyway?
The storage facility also nagged at her mind. The responsibility of keeping the unit safe perhaps trivial now, but she still felt like she needed to check on the freezer units. The building had a backup system in case of power failure. Still, she would check in the morning.
The first thing she did was go back to Nate’s. Carrying a baseball bat, she checked between the houses for the dogs. She went straight for the rifles in his gun case. She grabbed the three-o-eight, being familiar with her father’s and loaded all the clips, each in a buttoned down pouch of the bandolier. Two holsters hung from the wall with nine millimeter and forty-five caliber shells in a cabinet. Seeing no pistols, she scrounged around until she found one in the drawer of the end table next to Nate.
Sitting down on the couch near him, she agonized over moving him. His place was safer to live in, but she couldn’t bring herself to throw him out of his own house. Wandering around, she settled on the attached workshop for now. Surprised that he hadn’t started to stink, she wrapped a blanket around him and dragged the chair through the back of the house.
“Okay, Nate. No haunting, right?” she asked half joking, and the other half from desperation having no one to appeal to. “I don’t know what’s going on or what killed you, but you know it wasn’t me. By the looks of the place, you’re a survivalist, so you know the score. You watch the back of the house and I get the front. Deal?”
Cecily left him there and locked the door. “And God bless your preparedness.”
She spent the day moving in. Nate’s house took awhile to setup to suit her needs. The window cover she ripped off the wall was hell to get back on. Come dark she popped the cap on one of his winter ales and thanked Nate once more.
She sat in the air controller’s rolling chair, with the radio’s procedure manual in her lap. “Hello. This is Fairbank’s calling anyone out there, over.” She tabbed up to the next frequency and tried again. “Fairbanks calling, anyone alive out there, please respond.”
No one had answered her e-mails or forum posts either. Not even the Government websites. Some of the sites she tried weren’t connecting. No news updates at all.
She spent the rest of the day driving around checking the university, cruising up and down the main streets inspecting the malls. When she pulled up at the main gate to Fort Wainwright Army Base, no one was there except the guards on duty Dead Friday. Driving east she found the same at Eielson Air Force Base.
The clinical side of her mind noted that all the bodies she encountered weren’t decomposing normally. They should reek with bloated stomachs and leaking body fluids. Instead they seemed to be dehydrating, skin tightening about their exposed faces and hands.
Come afternoon, she finally decided that she really was the only person alive in the area. She stepped up her foraging taking what she needed to survive. She held no illusions that living on her own for the rest of her life would be easy. Tossing anything in the back of the truck she thought she might need.
The power went out on the third evening, Nate’s backup generator kicked on automatically. After the brief darkness, Taz crowded in close sitting next to her on the couch.
“It’s okay, boy. You and me. We’re going to make it.” Cecily left the lights on all night to reassure herself as much as the dog.
In the morning, she and Taz stepped out the front door. Almost off the porch, Taz stopped and growled. Looking about she spotted the dogs, a lot of dogs and none of them small.
“Back in the house Taz.”
The dog stood guard, constantly growling, until she unlocked and reopened the door. Going to the window she looked outside. The dogs moved in to sniff at house, the porch and the door. Several lifted their legs on the truck and her car. First one started barking and then the others joined in.
Cecily guessed that the generator and lights had attracted them. She was torn between trying to feed them all versus ignoring them. If she fed them they would never go away. Retrieving Nate’s twelve-gauge, she wondered if they could be scared off.
At the last minute, she changed her mind and went to get a forty pound bag of dog food. Opening the door, leaving Taz inside, she dragged the bag to the end of the porch. The dogs closed in, anticipating being fed.
A husky mixed with something else, stepped forward trying to bluff her away from the bag. A big boned hound brushed by to be first and the husky snapped at her hind quarters. A fight broke out instantly and a rush of dogs leapt in.
Cecily turned for the door and in two strides was back inside. She hurried to the window to watch. Taz stepped up to join her. Shaking her head, she looked down at him.
“Well that was stupid.”
Taz looked up and woofed.
“Oh, you agree do you?”
“Thanks a lot.”
The dogs camped out on the front lawn, giving no sign that they had any place else to go. Trapped inside, the two watched a few DVD’s until nightfall. Cecily debated leaving the generator and lights on, but decided to take the risk of turning them off. She had no idea how much fuel the outdoor tank held. Plus, she hoped the dogs might go away.
Taking a flashlight, she went out to the garage and turned the indoor kill switch. To her surprise the lights stayed on. Only then realizing the house was on a battery back up system. Still she went about turning the lights out. Hoping the dogs would be gone in the morning.
“Wishful thinking,” she told Taz, letting the curtain fall back in place.
“What do you want for breakfast?”
“Woof’s not on the menu. A veggie and ham omelet sounds good to me.”
The howling soon began, continuing all through the food preparation and the meal. Getting angrier by the minute, Cecily tried to hold her temper. The dogs weren’t only howling, but some were barking in a constant yap as if purposely trying to annoy her.
Back in the front room, she eased the curtain back to watch. Some of the more aggressive dogs stalked about, hair raised on their backs snarling at each other. Cecily started counting and gave up at twenty-two, because they moved around so much.
“To hell with this!” She grabbed the shotgun, unlocked the door and stepped out on the porch.
They rushed the door, the female hound and the large husky mix in the lead. Cecily blew them both off the porch with the first round of buckshot. Pumping another shell into the chamber she randomly fired at the pack until the gun emptied. She gave the dogs a reason to howl as they yipped their way down the street.
Cecily surveyed the two dead dogs at the end of the porch, realizing that she would have to get rid of the carcasses. Going back inside, she went to the garage to get some rope. She was determined to drag them off before they attracted the ravens.
Reloading the gun before going back out, she and Taz stepped out to clean up the mess. Tying an end through each collar, she looped the center of the rope over the trailer hitch. Walking around to the driver’s door, shotgun in hand, she observed Taz watching something.
Spinning around, expecting to be attacked, she spotted a dog crouched down on its belly. A German Shepherd with chin to the ground, the dog’s ears pointed toward her. When the dog saw her watching it crawled forward whining.
Taz barked and the strange dog wagged its tail. Cecily lifted the gun expecting trouble. She hadn’t seen the dog with the pack earlier. The dog inched a little closer, thumping its tail on the ground.
Cecily walked to the back of the truck and dropped the tailgate. Going strictly on instinct she returned to open the driver’s door to let Taz in. Climbing in herself, she looked over at the Shepherd.
“Get in the back of the truck.”
The dog launched from the ground, scrambling to jump up in the truck bed. Cecily noted that she was female and probably not much older than a year. She looked over at Taz, who hadn’t taken his eyes off the other dog.
“You should have told me that you had a girlfriend.”
“Woof.” Wagging his tail, he watched the Shepherd nose up to the back window.
Cecily heard the multiple drone of engines as she and the dogs left the storage facility’s entrance. Scanning the horizon she caught the movement of the dark-green, C-130 circling around toward Wainwright’s airfield. The plane leveled off and descended out of sight.
“Don’t just stand there wagging you tails. Get in the truck.”
They both jumped in the back and she closed the tailgate. The two barked their fool heads off on the way to the base. While Cecily anticipated greeting the soldiers, even thinking she might give the men a hug each.
The plane was parked near the tower as she drove onto the service road. Camouflaged uniforms scrambled for cover, opposite of the greeting Cecily thought she would receive. She slowed down, wondering if she should stop or turn around. Then she got a grip on herself and continued on.
“Stay in the truck,” she told the dogs.
Standing where the soldiers could see her, she waved as one popped out from behind a large truck. In moments she was surrounded by helmeted figures closing in. Something was wrong about their shapes. The hair on Cecily’s skin stood on end and goose bumps crawled up her arms.
They weren’t men, she realized. Eyeballing each one, their hair short or tied up off the back of the neck. Not one any taller than herself.
“Who are you?” asked a commanding voice.
“Doctor Cecily Estis.”
“Any men survive?”
“No one but myself.”
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“I’m Major Barrette out of Elmendorf,” the female officer informed her.
“Dead Friday, hit Anchorage too?”
The Major, flashed a stiff, tight-lipped smile. “Just me and my girls.”
“Do you know what’s happened?” Cecily asked again.
“Some kind of nano virus for all I know. Not a single male alive across the country.”
“So there are more survivors?”
“A few military personnel, and all women. Were you underground?”
“Yes. The Arctic Institute of Biology’s storage facility.”
“You a medical doctor?”
“That might be useful. Maybe we should be asking you what happened?”
“Doesn’t matter. With nothing but a bunch of Eves the world won’t be repopulating anytime soon.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that.” Cecily lifted her eyebrows. “What’s your preference in men? Blonde, blue eyed or dark and handsome?”
“Major, UAF supplied over a thousand male sperm donors this last semester. If you come up with a doctor or some good nurses you can have all the babies you want.”