By the Shores of Time
Screams echoed through the halls as the chilly breeze entered the western hall’s hole. The ashes piled atop the dried blood with a faint light, giving the darkest segment of the precinct a haunting comfort. Sporadic gunfire overlapped the eerie squeals of the infected as they overwhelmed the dark premise. Victorious grunts and snarls filled the air as they clamored toward the closed double doors leading to the lower eastern wing. The sound of the dying was consumed by the darkness, leaving its victims faceless. The towering, bulbous creature thrashed against the second-floor balconies, letting out a bellowing sound as to rally the infected.
Elizabeth’s eyes widened to the familiar grotesque scene, frozen by the gnawing of flesh and the wails emitted through the creature’s body. When an infected noticed her, she ran through the thicket, evading their grasp as they slipped along the pooled blood. She didn’t look back, continuing up the stairs, her heart racing as she felt them close the gap. The nurse stumbled forward as she reached the top, missing the tentacle as it swung wildly, tearing through the walls above. An infected leaped onto her when she turned onto her back. She held it off with one hand, but it continually lowered, its visceral chomps grew louder over the frenzy below.
N—Not like this, she panicked, not seeing a way out.
She glimpsed a figure to her right before a knife plunged into the side of its head. Its limp body lingered momentarily before her savior shoved the body away. Freed from its grasp, she sat up, seeing Gabriel walk over toward the stairs with several infected stumbling toward them. He kicked one down, sending it to the rest, halting craven ascent toward their new victims. Gabriel looked over his shoulder, saying nothing while she ran to her room.
“God,” he muttered upon seeing the horrific sight.
The ceiling’s dim lighting revealed the guards ripped apart by the mob. He couldn’t look away, making out the body parts and organs adorning the floor. The burst of bloodied and hungry infected reminded him of the danger when they scrambled up the stairs. Gabriel rushed to the door, seeing Elizabeth hold it open for him. An infected tried to grab him before being stabbed in the throat. He tossed him back, tripping over the few that ran after him.
Elizabeth shut the door upon entering the room, jumping back as the infected slammed into it. Gabriel shoved the nearby desk over to block its path while Celeste watched on against the weak candlelight. They looked at one another in silence for a while, waiting for the infected to lose interest. The flame cast its shadows against the walls. Celeste fixated on the door while the others stood like statues. As their presence faded, Elizabeth sighed before taking a seat.
“Thanks,” she said.
“What the hell is going on?” he asked.
“I—Don’t know… When the lights went out—”
Elizabeth shivered while delivering her response. She remembered Greg’s agony as she watched helplessly. Had it not been for him, Elizabeth wouldn’t be sitting in the same room with Celeste and Gabriel. She remembered the note he gave her, having read it for a moment to find the strange truth of everything, yet she didn’t want to speak on it. The weak lighting revealed the tear trickling down as she tried to speak. Celeste went over to console her as she cried into her shoulders. Gabriel waited for her to finish, only concerned about what they needed to do.
“Did you see Victoria?” he continued, meeting her watery eyes.
“You’re not thinking about—” Celeste glanced over before he interrupted.
“We don’t have a lot of time. If we—”
“You’re going to get yourself killed.”
“What difference is it going to make if we sit around doing nothing? If those infected won’t get us, whatever comes from the dark will. We need to find a way to get those lights back on.”
“Victoria,” Elizabeth spoke weakly. “She’s probably in her office, but from what I can tell, they’re pinned down.”
“Great,” he nodded as he paced along the bed.
Celeste looked toward the vent above, which was small enough for her to fit. She didn’t want anything to happen to him. Elizabeth seemed at ease as her friend rubbed her shoulder. She’d already imagined the pushback she’d get if she suggested it.
“Let me go,” Celeste insisted.
“What?” he snapped. “No, you can’t—”
“But I can,” she gestured toward the vent. “I can get around without coming into contact with them. Well, not that much at least.”
“With those things in the vent? Celeste—”
“Let her go, Gabriel,” Elizabeth supported her. “You wouldn’t get too far going down there.”
“Already,” he readily conceded, handing her his knife. “But if anything happens, come back.”
“I’m not an expert in layouts, but it would be a drop to the first floor,” she responded while examining his knife. “I’m only coming back if we managed to drive them out somehow. But—”
“Do you know where to go to get it back on?”
“The holding cells—”
“Are compromised,” Elizabeth finished his sentence, drawing their stares. “We can probably try to get to the hole in the hall in the west wing.”
“What?” Gabriel gasped. “If the power is out for good then—”
“Maybe, we can reroute the rooftop’s electricity? I think that runs on a backup generator.”
“What would be the point?” he winced, growing suspicious of her motives. “We should just get out while we can.”
“And go where?”
“Anywhere but here—"
“Eh,” Celeste reluctantly interrupted. “I can try to draw their attention from the vents. That could thin them out so you don’t have to deal with so many.”
“What?” he grunted, looking toward her. The illuminating light cast a grave scowl against his bearded face.
“Maybe Victoria has an idea of what to do. The lights—It doesn’t hurt to try.”
They moved the table under the vent. Gabriel used his knife to break the latch open before helping her up. She realized how much tighter the space was, seeing nothing but darkness. She felt the knife’s trembling handle as she brought it in front of her. He was worried but wasn’t willing to show it as he took a deep breath.
“Please, Celeste,” he spoke. “Be careful.”
“You too,” she smiled.
Her heart’s rhythm paced after making her way through. The space allowed little movement as she reached the corner. Her breathing was the only thing she could hear as her limbs banged gently against the aluminum siding. An infected slammed against the wall after hearing the slightest sound beyond the door. The panting of a couple who kept at the edge of a storage room drew their attention.
Shaken, she continued moving silently, mindful of each bump against the metal frame. The infected slammed against the door, launching the top hinges from the frame. Celeste paused upon the woman’s panic. It drew the attention of the nearby infected as they rallied behind the first one. Observing from the vent’s slits, the man stood with a metal pipe in hand. A faint light from the chipped apart entrance.
Please shut up, she thought, watching helplessly.
He took a few steps back, withholding his terror as the woman next to him was reduced to a screech of panic. It didn’t take long before they broke down the door as the room filled with them. The infected, the hungry, and blood-curdling screams competed within its macabre chaos. Celeste looked away, trembling as she tried to withhold her terror from the horrifying sounds next to her. The man somehow managed to escape their narrow clutches as his footsteps scurried away, whilst some parted to chase after him. She looked through the slit ahead, seeing him shut the door before they reached him.
Maybe there’s a way around, she thought before looking ahead.
With the knife’s handle, she began slamming it against the vent immediately garnering their attention as they looked along the walls. Footsteps drew near the main hall, packing the area as she hoped. Celeste continued making more noises, aggravating the infected who lingered just to her side. Another bang nearest to the vent’s slit ahead prompted a nearby infected to tear it off to crawl in.
“Shit!” she panicked as it tried to grab her forearm to bite her.
She drove her knife into its eye, watching it become limp. After nudging it away, she crawled by the open space, hoping another wouldn’t grab her. Her adrenaline pumped before the space drew another’s attention as it tried to grab her foot. She stomped against its face repeatedly, eventually breaking its jaw before it finally released its firm grip. It tried to growl through its blood-curdled veil as it tried to grab her again. Before she knew it, many tried to compete to climb in, filling the once silent shaft into an echo of the restless.
As she reached the edge, she glimpsed the darkness below, having second thoughts about the plunge. The ventilation system hugged along the edges of the second-floor wing and Victoria’s office was the next floor down. She looked toward the opposite end by the drop she would’ve taken. She had a better chance at climbing down a window to reach the elusive lieutenant.
An infected managed to climb in as it sluggishly crawled toward her. She pulled herself over the drop, crawling away as she began making her way toward the other end. The vent slit slammed into the shaft, but it was too high for them to grab her. Breathing erratically, she felt their fingers tap against the metal. Their animalistic snarls sent fear down her spine as they could be heard fighting amongst another. She slammed her knife against the shaft once more, met with a violent rumble before the shaft came at an angle. She drove her knife into the shaft, holding onto its grip as it came down.
A jolt of pain surged upon the vibrating impact. She glimpsed the infected trying to reach her. Clinging against the frame carefully, she drove her knife into the shaft with each move while they struggled to climb up. The metal began to warp from the weight, signaling her to speed up before the entire shaft collapsed onto the mob. Creaking metal soon showed signs of warping as she made it over. Once she pulled her feet away, it crashed down, drowning out the boisterous infected.
The frenzied mob was too focused on the collapsed shaft to notice she slipped away. She continued toward the room the man escaped into. The vent hugged closer above the windows, providing a glimpse of the unassuming workspaces. Long abandoned, much of the precinct hadn’t been repurposed, lending a snapshot at a time. The tilted blinds gave a haunting glow against the otherwise bland setting. When she reached the room the man was in, the barricade he set up was still in place. She heard nothing but the infected crowding the vent outside.
“H—Hello?” she whispered to no avail. “Sir, are you here?”
Celeste forced it open, waiting a moment to see what would happen. She slid out feet first, after waiting. Her landing sent her stumbling face-first onto the ground, dropping the knife as it slid away. She got up, clenching her nose to stop the running blood. A metal pipe pressed against her throat as she was forced to lay on her stomach. The weight on top of her all but confirmed the man, hearing his angered shallow breathing. She desperately tried to find a way out of her predicament, feeling her airflow tighten with each gasp. No amount of prying helped, as it only became tighter.
Use your head, she recalled something Gabriel would say.
Her taxed breathing couldn’t hold back her grin as she slammed the back of her head against her attacker. His grip loosened, freeing her for a breath of air, which she could only enjoy for the moment. She quickly rolled to her side, grabbing her knife as he tumbled onto his backside. His mouth was bloodied with words incoherent as he spat out something from his mouth. She kept against the barricade, reminded of the infected behind it.
The man tried to run at her without his weapon as she reflexively sidestepped his tackle. His entire weight bludgeoned against the barricade, dismantling parts of it. The loud ruckus drew the ire of the infected.
“Why?” she muttered. “Why’d you attack me?”
“You got her killed,” he mumbled.
“You left her behind! I saw it, I saw everything.”
“We were fine until you showed up, making her panic—”
“Don’t put that on me.”
“If it were someone you loved, and you had a chance to get back at the person who got them killed, wouldn’t you?”
Celeste froze, unsure of how to answer. She glimpsed the man’s defeated face. His mouth was full of blood, drenched against his stubble. The man was one of the guards who fled with their loved one as most quickly abandoned their post. The door began breaking down, but their eye contact remained unbroken.
The man had no energy left to fight her as the snarls flooded the once quiet place. Celeste ran toward the window, opening it without looking back. She glimpsed the foggy distance as it enveloped their safe haven. The alluring beauty of the trees adorned the perimeter, reminding her of what little life was left. The door broke down, but he no longer had the will to fight as they piled on, tearing him apart before they proceeded toward an empty window. Out of sight, she clung to the sturdy drainpipe as she fixated at the window, hearing his muffled cries. She tried not to let her emotions sweep over, but regret quickly filled her as she looked toward the lower window.
“Down I go,” she whispered.
Things seem uncertain now...
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