Please note, I make no claims to the world or characters of The Walking Dead. I am merely enjoying their playground
"Dr. Porter, you have to know something." Jennifer's wide eyes sparkled with unshed tears. "You're the smartest teacher we've ever had here."
Dr. Eugene Porter glanced up from the essay he'd been reading. How did he tell his student that he had absolutely no idea what might have started the rumors of the dead who walked in and around the major cities in the east? Her faith in his intelligence, his ability to work out any problem the students brought to him was both sweet and terrifying. Sure, he was smart, but intelligence was not going to be enough to keep him alive if the rumors held even a little truth.
"Jennifer, I promise that if I could tell you anything, I would. You know that."
Jennifer opened her mouth to say something else, but the scream of the tornado siren cut her off. The siren, located at the top of the town hall cupola, whooped over and over, playing longer than it ever had before. The students, used to the drills held each month, moved quickly into the hallway where they sat against the inner walls with their arms over their heads. Eugene followed them after glancing at both his phone and the sky outside. Neither indicated there was a tornado in the area.
The children huddled in the hallway while the teachers gathered together. Worry lay heavily on all their faces. While they awaited the all-clear announcement from the administration, Eugene listened to the quiet conversations around him.
"It must be moving west."
"But there wasn't anything on the weather report this morning."
"I wish they'd stop the siren."
Fear tickled the edge of Eugene's mind. He'd passed by the gate leading into Arnold Air Force Base on his way to work that morning and had noticed a lot of unfamiliar aircraft and frenetic activity at the usually quiet base. Could those new soldiers have something to do with this situation?
"Eugene?" Barbara Coltsville, the other biology instructor at Franklin County High School, leaned against the wall beside him. "Are you all right?"
"Sure, Barb. Just thinking about what was going on at the base this morning."
"I read something about Marine maneuvers this weekend. It was probably that."
Eugene nodded. He didn't really want to talk about what he thought might be going on. It had dawned on him that anyone who wanted to move around Winchester without being seen had made that possible by sounding the tornado siren. Every citizen was currently hiding in an interior room of the building in which they were located and none of them were standing near windows.
Eugene sprang away from the wall and stepped back into his classroom, ignoring the shouts from the other adults and the cries from his students. Outside the window, a soldier was touching down in the lawn and gathering up his parachute while others were gathering at the front door to the school.
Before the soldier at the window could turn and see him, Eugene slid to the floor and scuttled on his back across the room to the doorway.
"Barbara, get the kids the hell out of here," he whispered. "Get them to the basement shelter, now!"
Barbara's eyes widened, but nothing seemed to come together quickly enough. Before either she or Eugene could move, soldiers flooded the hallways and the tornado siren was drowned out by the screams. The students pressed themselves against the walls as the soldiers shouted orders and then ushered them all to the gymnasium. Eugene stayed with his students, but his mind was far away.
"There has been a medical emergency in Winchester," the ranking officer said when the school population had been collected in the gym. "Until we receive the all-clear, you are all quarantined here. You will be cared for, but you may not leave. Do not try to leave or you will be shot."
The officer turned off the microphone the AV/IT staff member had given him and then stepped out of the room. Eugene watched him go, knowing that the only chance any of them had for survival was to get the hell out of the school. No matter what the real emergency was, gathering people into one location never seemed to work out well for those who were forced to stay put.
"I'm going to go talk to the soldiers," Eugene said, getting up from the bleachers.
"Dr. Porter, can you find out why our phones aren't working?" one of the students asked.
"Sure. I'll find out where the rest of the residents are being quarantined, too. You kids stay put."
Eugene crossed to the door where the soldiers had exited the gym, walking as quietly as possible so he could listen before revealing himself.
"That's right. Downtown was overrun in a matter of minutes. The base was inaccessible immediately after we took off. There's only enough food in this place for about a week if we ration carefully."
His heart thundered in his chest as Eugene cleared his throat to make his presence known.
"Excuse me, sir," he said. "One of my students left their diabetic kit in my classroom when the siren went off. I'd like to go get it for her."
The soldier looked Eugene over, carefully assessing his threat level and making the same mistake so many made when they looked at him. Quiet, unassuming, overweight, and intellectual, Eugene never appeared to pose a threat until one got to know the keen mind behind the mask he wore to protect himself.
"Biology lab number two, sir. It's just down the hall. I'd just feel better if my student had her medication. Stress makes blood sugar go wonky, you know, and she's terrified."
"We really need to keep everyone together..."
"I understand, sir. Perhaps if you let me take a few students with me, we could gather all of the book bags so we need only make one trip. I'm sure it would make my students feel better if they had their personal belongings."
The soldier looked Eugene over once more before nodding. "Yeah, I don't see why not. Grab five of your students and tell the other teachers to do the same for your hallway. There are six classrooms down that way, right?"
"Get all the personals out of the classrooms and please make sure to close the doors before you come back."
"Thank you, sir." Eugene turned back to the bleachers, his heart thundering in his chest, and wondered how that soldier's supervisor was going to feel when he realized more than thirty people had escaped their quarantine.
"Barbara, pick five students to go back to your room," Eugene said as he tapped five of his own students. "We're going to get some personal stuff from our classrooms."
Eugene conveyed the information to the other four teachers from the hall and then waited with them for the soldier to allow them to leave the gym. The moment the door latched behind them, Eugene pulled the teachers aside and allowed the students to get a little ahead of them.
"Look, we have to get these students and ourselves out of here," he said. "I think the rumors of the illness in the east were not just rumors and it's made it here to us. If that's true, the worst place for us to be is cooped up together in this building. Contagion breeds in situations like this."
"What about the others?"
"We can only do what we can for these people. I wish we could get everyone out, but I don't see that happening. In fact, if we don't move more quickly, I'm fairly sure the soldier who let me do this will come to his senses."
"Eugene, where will we go?" Barb asked.
"I don't know. I heard them say there was something wrong at the base, but maybe the national guard armory is all right."
"I don't think this is a good idea," Mike said. "The soldiers said they'd shoot anyone who ran. I don't want to put my students in that kind of danger."
"Mike, I understand your objection, but I can't tell you how dangerous this already is. Think about it. Our own military came down like an invasion and shoved us all into the gym to await further instructions. Does that sound like something safe? Does it sound like they know what they're doing beyond getting us into that gym? I know I'm getting out of here with whomever will come with me and I'd like to take you and your students, but if you're not coming, you have to swear you won't give the rest of us away."
Mike, a chemistry teacher and usually a good guy, looked ashamed. "I'd never do anything to hurt you or our students, Eugene. Whether I agree with you or not."
The boom of someone pounding on the outside door startled screams from several students and a couple of the adults. From the direction they'd come, gunfire erupted and more screams echoed in the hallway.
"Get into my classroom!" Eugene yelled and ran for the door. As the last straggler made it to the door, a moaning, shuffling sound dredged straight out of the latest Wes Craven film rose to encase them. Eugene resisted the urge to see what was making the noise and slammed the door shut behind him.
"What was that?" Barb screamed.
"I don't know, but you need to calm down. Everyone." Eugene glanced out the window. "Whose cars are closest to my door?"
"I can see mine and yours from here," Mike said.
"Ok, we'll make a run for the cars. Just keep shoving people in until everyone fits. I know about seven people fit in mine comfortably, but we're not concerned with comfort."
"What about the rest?"
"I'll drive to the other cars and we'll bring them back here. Then everyone can head for the armory. We'll decide what to do from there."
Eugene stood beside the outside door which led from his room to the front lawn of the school. "When I give the signal, run for my car or Mike's. The rest of you, wait here until we get back with more cars."
He swung the door open and ran. He heard footfalls behind him and felt a sudden sense of elation. He'd done something heroic and good and right. He was saving lives. For the first time in his life, he trusted himself to be right and brave.
The man rounded the end of the car closest to the edge of lot and one of the students behind Eugene shouted, "Dad!"
Jennifer shot past Eugene, moving so fast, he got only a tiny brush of fabric as he grabbed for her. He'd seen what she hadn't. Blood and flesh in the man's teeth.
Before anyone could say another word, Jennifer reached what had been her father and fell against him. The wet rending of flesh and her siren-like scream washed away every good feeling Eugene had had only moments before. He watched the young woman fall to her knees as others like her father came out of the parking lot and fell on her like ravening dogs.
"It's my fault," he thought. "I can't pretend to be a hero. People die too easily. I'll die too easily..."
Several voices rose in protest and some of the students tried to veer off to help Jennifer, but Mike screamed at them to keep running. Eugene continued forward, Barb on his heels, but his steps faltered as more obviously ill people came around the side of the building. Blood ran from their mouths and hands and they sniffed the air like beasts on the scent of prey.
At the door to his SUV, Eugene jerked himself into the vehicle and shouted for the others to join him. Behind them, several of the shambling creatures had caught the stragglers from their party and had begun their feast. Eugene felt his stomach clench and jerk, but he fought it down as he threw the SUV into gear and spun the tires as they sped toward the main road.
"Eugene, we have to go back!" Barbara screamed.
"They're dead, Barb. I saw it."
"But you promised you'd send me back to get them."
"There's no one there to get, Barb. Didn't you hear me?" Eugene struggled to keep the SUV on the road as his terror peaked. "They're dead. They're all dead. We're the only ones who made it."
Barbara trembled and rocked as Eugene turned toward the National Guard Armory across town. Behind them, Eugene watched the flames rise from where Mike's car lay burning at the side of the road.