Judgment Day: Part 34
I long ago stopped trying to edit these. I don’t even know what I’m pasting below!
Before following the path through the tunnel, though, they broke off and stepped into a parking lot across from the Barnes and Noble and the commercial district surrounding it. It still looked like the Bethesda of Daryl’s youth out here, on the fringes of the nest of high-rise offices and apartments. Trees lined the road heading into the city center; even in this grim world, it was still vibrant and bustling.
There wasn’t any movement in the city and Daryl hoped that the monsters had crawled off to die in a corner somewhere, but the cleared streets suggested otherwise. They walked past the restaurants and bars, the doctor’s offices and the high-rise apartments. Along the way, Daryl studied every office and dining room. He half expected to see Whittier’s name on one of the doctor’s plaques, waving in the wind, like a happy Hollywood coincidence. Stumble across it and Whittier’s mutant secretary would pull them aside to a swell of music; begin act two. And who would Whittier be? There was an image of Keye Luke from the 80’s film Gremlins that came to mind. Some wizened Chinese man who turns when they enter and says, ‘I’ve been expecting you. Now, you’re looking for a way to defeat the jellyheads, yes? Very dangerous, very dangerous.’
They walked until they hit Old Georgetown road, just a block from the Bethesda Metro Station, which was the other end of the line from where Daryl’s train was headed. He hated to think of all those trains down there, full of the dead, and found himself shaking. The thought of this empty city was overwhelming – dead above around and below. They stood out amongst the traffic in this silent city and glared in four separate directions. Daryl was trying to kick his sense of claustrophobia, the weight of these buildings all around, but he wasn’t very successful.
“Where are the dogs, the cats?” Martin asked. “You’d think they’d be running wild.”
“Or maybe they’re just smarter than we are.” Molly replied. “We aren’t going to find anything.”
“Or maybe something weird has happened to them?” Azizi whispered.
“Let’s pretend Azizi didn’t just say that.” Martin replied.
“Good, thanks.” Daryl said over his shoulder, turning around to look back the way they came. “This is like some sort of Twilight Zone episode.”
“I’m going with cracked fairy tale.” Azizi said. “The story of the misanthropic knight who rode into Bethesda and never rode out again.”
Daryl was about to suggest they make a hasty retreat when Azizi made a small sound and raised his hand. Then he heard it, as well. Footsteps, voices, heading in their direction.
“I don’t know about you kids,” Martin whispered, “But I ain’t feeling too sociable.”
The corner of Old Georgetown and Woodmont, where they stood, was about a block from Bethesda’s city center. It was one of the few pockets of the city that has remained unchanged since Daryl’s high school days, but the encroachment of progress had it under siege. On the east, heading up to the city center, office high-rises squeezed in. But on the west, one block was taken up by a gas station which, in its simplicity, was an anachronistic icon of simpler days. A small island, grass surrounding, and a tiny bunker for the cashier. No garage, and no house shaped building. It seemed impossible that the station could have survived the development this long though now, of course, it would survive forever.
Daryl and the others now backed up across wet grass, crouching behind the brick and glass bunker and a pile of tires that had been piled up behind it. Behind them, an apartment building rose into the sky, a canopy of young trees still bare, and Daryl glared through the limbs at the mirrored windows of the apartments looking down on them.
Across from the gas station, a one-story development of shops also stood out against the hustle and bustle around them. The restaurants, except for a pub and a Greek place, changed regularly, but the other shops had remained static for nearly 20 years now. This included an Olsson’s Books, which had somehow managed to muddle through the dark years which had begun with the arrival of the three storey Barnes and Noble just a few blocks away, near where they had parked the HumVee. The little strip had supported the moneyed residents of Bethesda, who lived in houses that also seemed to be under siege as progress, traffic and the population exploded around them. But the money and the people remained. Bethesda and Chevy Chase had come together as two of DC’s most affluent suburbs. The residents and their allies had stood strong, though now they lay dead in their homes, the lights from the little strip of shops, designed to fit into a Bethesda that had vanished just a few years ago, still blazed away, and the intersection was packed with the cars of the dead. Except for a center aisle, cleared by heavy equipment, judging from the damage done to the cars.
It was up this aisle in Old Georgetown that a group of survivors came shuffling into view from the west. In front, nearly a dozen survivors shuffled listlessly, chained together. Behind them, four men with guns shouted orders. The chained survivors looked like they’d been through a wringer – wet, dirty, clothes torn. They’d been on the run, or in hiding. Their faces were a mask of shock and horror. As they drew closer, Daryl saw that the men and women had been separated – two groups, chained together.
The men behind them, however, were a different sight. They were clean, and each wore similar clothes. It was a uniform, if only in coloring – blacks and greys. They seemed to be taking orders from a large, bearded man with two pistols. He would have been a ridiculous figure, a movie-style pistolero, if it wasn’t for the very real terror of the situation.
They marched their prisoners through the intersection and on up towards Wisconsin Avenue, the geographical heart of the suburb, and where the Metro station entrance lay.
The Metro had become a weight on Daryl, burning in his mind with memories of smoke, fire and death. He knew, he could simple feel it, that these gunmen were in the employ of the monsters, and the Metro would play a part in his future. He felt this with such certainty that he swore to avoid the situation when it came up.
Azizi placed a hand on Daryl’s back. He was also on his stomach, looking out at the road. He nodded and Daryl knew just what he meant. So did Molly. Azizi and Martin wanted to follow the group.
“No,” she hissed, her back pressed against the brick wall.
“It’s what we came for,” Martin whispered, squatting down between Molly and his friends.
Azizi and Martin rushed across the street, weaving through the cars, and leapt into the shadows of an office building. They stood there, backs to the wall, then began a slow walk to a plaza connecting four separate office high-rises that filled the elongated suburban block. They vanished around the corner. The two office buildings facing Old Georgetown were connected and filled the block. One end looking out on the corner where Daryl and Molly now stood, numb and shaken, and the other side looking down on the city center and Metro entrance.
Daryl looked over at Molly. She was shaking her head, biting back tears. He took her hand. “We’d all better stick together,” he said lamely.
She shook her hand loose and hissed, “Don’t give me that shit! You boys are fucking insane! This is a goddamned war zone; we’ve got to leave!”
He took a breath and glared across the street. We’ve got to stick together, he thought. Jesus fucking Christ. He stood and raced across the street, cleared the little decorative bushes and slammed against the wall in the shadows, staring wildly around him for any signs of trouble. He crouched low to the ground, and then Molly was beside him, panting. They followed Martin and Azizi round into the plaza and Molly ripped open a glass door leading into a back lobby. This looked to be more of an employee entrance. A stack of deliveries and the corpse of a UPS man lay in the way, and a pair of elevators waited patiently at the end of the hall. Martin and Azizi waited by them.
Besides the corpse, the lobby was empty. The silence, the sunlight and the glaring overhead light made the building an eerie ghost, like coming to work on a holiday. Daryl and Molly ran the length of the corridor and stopped, breathless, in front of the elevator.
“Expecting trouble, D?” Martin asked with a smile, punching the up button.
“Yes?” Daryl barked, “Are you crazy?”