Mrs. Morris waited for the bell to ring. The children were still outside playing, their noise muffled by the glass of the barred classroom windows. She had a few moments of peace and quiet before the day began. As was her morning ritual she took a sip of coffee and checked the chamber on her Glock 22.
It was still loaded, the .40 caliber bullet sat waiting ever so patiently to be fired. She chuckled thinking that just three years ago she would have been arrested for having a pistol on her hip. Now it was school policy that all teachers were required to be armed at all times. She glanced over at the corner of the room, the Remington 870 and Sig 556 were both still locked up.
The bell rang and her first graders began lining up outside the classroom door. Her children had been toddlers when the contagion came. They knew almost nothing about a world without the it. She looked at their clothes, most of the kids wore shabby hand me downs from their older brothers and sisters. When people ran from the zombies clothes hadn’t been high on the essentials list.
The teacher looked up at the playground guard Mrs. Hotchkiss, who pressed her radio, “All clear Mrs. Morris.”
She nodded and clicked back, “Thank you, I’ll let them in now.”
The Redheaded teacher got up, and removed the heavy steel pipe from its brackets and pushed the door out. “Good morning class.”
A mixture of tired, spunky and reluctant voices replied, “Good morning Mrs. Morris.”
“Put your backpacks in your cubbies and take your seats please.”
The next few minutes, chaos reigned as the students shuffled in from outside. She watched them like any good teacher, looking for any obvious signs of infection. Last year she had lost three kids. The isolation cage in the back corner of the classroom had been hosed out and drained but the young teacher could still smell death if she walked too close to the rusting bars.
“Mrs. Morris?” A little dark haired girl, named Farah raised her hand.
She chewed her lip before asking her question, “What are we gonna do today?”
The teacher closed her eyes, it was simple, the class schedule was up on the whiteboard. Every morning she wrote up their different activities so that she wouldn’t have to answer thirty three variations of that question. She put on a false smile and replied, “Take a look at the list dear.”
The girl scanned the board as if seeing it for the first time, about halfway down her eyes brightened and she knew she was looking at “Infection” one of the kids favorite games, involving Nerf guns.
A few minutes later everyone but Jose was sitting down. She looked at him from where he was standing next to his cubby. She thought she saw a couple of beads of sweat on his forehead. It was probably nothing, kids ran around when they arrived at William Jefferson Clinton Elementary.
“Jose, come take your seat please.”
He didn’t say anything but he was a shy kid. He shuffled off to his seat.
Turning to address the class she smiled, “Good Morning Class, it’s time for the pledge.”
The kids stood up, some practically leapt from their seats while others begrudgingly moved their butts. Zachary stood on his desk; it took the evil eye and a clearing of the throat to get him down.
Hands over their hearts the children looked at the solid green flag, “I pledge allegiance to the Safe Zone, and too the survivors who live inside. I will work my hardest today and every day to help keep the horde at bay.”
After the class sat down, Mrs. Morris picked up her pointer and indicated the second item on the list, the ABC’s.
“Alright class what does ‘A’ stand for?”
“Ammo!” they replied in unison.
“Ammunition.” The teacher corrected, “All survivors need to do their part to keep the safe zone stocked with ammunition.”
“Now ‘B’ is for…”
Mrs. Morris nodded, “Very good class. Berserker. These large, thick-skinned zombies are very dangerous and should be reported to a parent or teacher right away.”
“Careful.” The students said.
“Very good, because all survivors should be careful.”
They went through all the letters, the teacher was happy most of the kids seemed to have the majority of the alphabet memorized. Hopefully these simple lessons would help save their lives someday.
After the alphabet it was time for some pre contagion history. They picked up where they left off in the eighties.
Farah read from an old textbook, “Mr. Gor… Gorba,”
“Gorbachev.” She corrected.
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
“Why would Mr. Reagan want to tear down a wall? Don’t walls keep us safe?”
The teacher sighed and leaned back in her chair, “Yes children our walls help keep us safe. But remember this was a long time before the zombies came. The wall was built by the Communist Russians to keep people from escaping.”
“Oh.” The young girl said a split second before the bell rang.
The students bolted for the door. It was lunch time. Thankfully she didn’t have cafeteria duty and could spend the student’s lunch and recess time either in the lounge or up in the bell tower.
Grabbing a sack lunch from her desk drawer she made her way up to the second floor. A couple more classrooms to go she passed by Mrs. Sherman’s room. The older woman gave her a knowing grin and wink.
Feeling slightly embarrassed her cheeks flushed as she climbed the ladder up to the bell tower. Knocking on the trap door, three times she waited for the challenge.
“‘O’ is for…”
“Over watch.” She replied.
A heavy bolt slid back and the door opened. A gloved hand helped her up the rest of the way.
“Mrs. Morris what a pleasant surprise.” He said with false shock as he closed and bolted the door.
She slugged him in the arm, “Don’t ‘Mrs. Morris’ me. Only my students call me that.”
The handsome young sniper tipped his boonie hat. “Alright, Kate… is that better?”
“Much.” She said as she threw herself in his arms, he pulled her close. It felt so good to be held by the man who had saved her life back when the contagion came. Someday soon she wished he’d get up off his butt and propose. She sighed, she’d probably have to end up pregnant before he’d take a knee.
They kissed, his cold lips pressed up against hers. He’d been out in the wind all morning watching for anything that decided to get too close to the fences. The kiss was over too soon. As he pulled back she didn’t want to let him go.
“Hey easy now, you know when I’m up here I’ve got to be working. There’s still plenty of infected beyond those walls.”
She sighed and let go, “I know, Tom.” She grabbed a spare pair of binoculars off a milk crate and began scanning the horizon.
Kate rubbed her wedding ring; oddly she only felt emptiness where her husband and son had been. Dwelling on their deaths wouldn’t change anything. She closed her eyes and the image of her infected husband holding baby Peter in his mouth came back.
She shuddered, even after all this time she couldn’t forget.
“Hey, are you alright?” the sniper asked.
“It’s nothing, I’m fine.” She lied as she put the binoculars up to her eyes to hide the coming tears.
For a few moments all they did was watch the surrounding area. Former suburban homes had been demolished and turned back into cropland. As space inside the Safe Zone was at a premium.
Everything looked normal, the double fence and walls around the school were intact and the children had just been let out into the playground after finishing their meager meals. The teacher offered her boyfriend a roll which he took without hesitation. Nobody turned down food.
They sat in silence, each scanning the school grounds and beyond looking for threats. After five minutes she sighed and put the binoculars down. “Tom, how do you do this for hours on end?”
He grunted as he got behind the Bushmaster BA50 rifle and cycled the bolt, loading a .50BMG round. “Easy.” He took aim, Kate barely had enough time to cover her ears before he pulled the trigger. An unsuspecting Digger zombie coming up out of a fresh hole died as the half inch diameter slug hit its skull, scattering its brains all over a flower mural. “If I don’t do my job the kids and… others I care about will die.”
He cycled the bolt ejecting the spent shell and chambering a new one, he scanned the hole waiting for other infected to push the dead digger aside and come charging through. For the longest time nothing moved. The dead monster with its thick mole like claws was yanked back down the hole. Zombies didn’t care what they ate, even each other.
Grabbing his radio but not taking his eye off the scope Tom called down to the principal’s office. “Get the kids inside; we’ve got an incursion INSIDE the north wall, sector three. Diggers. And get Zombie Defense here yesterday!”
The fire alarm went off as a worker in the office pulled it. Kids ran toward the school like they had been taught leaving behind balls and toys as they streamed toward their classrooms.
Teachers and guards ran toward the north wall, shotguns and rifles in hand to cover the children’s escape.
“You’ve got a class to get to don’t you Mrs. Morris?”
She had been a bit stunned from the sudden attack. Hanging out up in the tower during a lockdown would be shirking her duties. “Yes Mr, Lewis.” She said as she opened the trapdoor.
The teacher pushed past the kids pouring through the chaotic hallways to get to their classrooms. The older students ran for their assigned rooms.
By the time Mrs. Morris made it back Michael the seventh grader was already there unlocking the long guns. The children were busy shoving their desks up against the exterior door. Once inside the classroom the teacher closed and barred the hallway door and began the headcount.
“Twenty nine, thirty, thirty one, thirty two… thirty two.” She swore silently, one of her kids was unaccounted for.
“Who’s missing? Michael check them all by name, and get their hearing protection on!”
“Yes Ma’am!” The shotgun wielding ninth grader replied as he grabbed a box of muffs. “Come on kids you know what to do.”
Mrs. Morris put in her custom molded earplugs and grabbed the Sig 556 rifle. She shoved a magazine full of hollow point .223 rounds in the magazine well, and pulled the charging handle. She put the safety before slinging the weapon and a load bearing vest over her business suit.
Going to the windows she jumped up on the counter, narrowly missing a Popsicle stick sculpture.
A muffled fifty caliber blast shook the glass as she opened a firing port and put the barrel of her weapon through. A massive hole had opened up by the north wall and the infected were streaming through.
Her heart leapt through her throat when she saw Jose clinging to the top of the jungle gym. Why hadn’t he come in with the rest of the children? She clicked her mic, “Overwatch there’s a child on the top of the playground.”
A burst of static filled her earpiece, “Roger First Grade I’ll see if I can keep them off him. But someone’s going to have to go get that student.”
The fifty fired again and another digger went down. A series of much softer pops told her he had switched to his M14 rifle.
The monsters were pouring through the hole despite the withering fire from the teachers and sniper.
“He’s not going to make it.” She said quietly to herself as she began engaging common infected with her rifle. She wasn’t sure how many she’d killed but it wasn’t enough. The bolt locked back on her Sig and she quickly reloaded.
“Damn it.” She yelled into her radio. “Jose is one of mine, I’ll go.”
The radio burst with chatter from the other teachers and administrators, most telling her to stay, that she’d only be killed too, and he was already zombie chow.
“I won’t tell his mother Maria that I stood safely behind bars while those bastards tore out his guts and ate him while he was still alive.” She said through the mic. That shut them up.
“Overwatch, Tom. If they take me down I’m counting on you to headshot me. I am not turning into one of those motherfuckers.”
After a short pause to his credit he replied, “Affirmative.”
“Move the desks!”
The huddled children scrambled and pulled the furniture away from the door.
“Michael you lock and bar this door behind me and don’t open it if they’re too close. Do you understand?”
The teacher took a deep breath and shoved the door open, “Covering fire!”
Shots erupted from the other classrooms and the bell tower as she ran for the jungle gym. It didn’t look good, they were swarming all over it. A fast Runner changed direction when it saw her and poured on the speed. She hesitated switching from her rifle to pistol her mind not knowing what weapon to use. By the time she decided to draw her Glock it was too late. Kate barely had her hand on the grip when it hit her. She stumbled back but somehow kept her footing as the Runner screamed.
It leapt as she wrenched her pistol out of its holster, as she pointed it at the beasts head it exploded.
Confused for a moment since she hadn’t pulled the trigger she realized Tom had saved her life again.
“Move your ass girl!” He yelled through the radio.
Jose screamed as a zombie missing half its intestines grabbed his shoe. Another shot from Tom’s M14 took it out, but there were too many of them for him to engage them all.
“Over here zombies!” Kate yelled, “Fresh meat!” She emptied her Glock into the mass of zed’s. Some dropped from the playground equipment to focus on her while others pressed the attack.
Reholstering the forty she transitioned back to the rifle. Shot after shot found their mark as her reflexes and training took over. All teachers in the Safe Zone were put through ZDF infantry training right alongside the regular soldiers.
Somehow she managed to cut a path through the monsters and made it below he frightened boy. He was clinging to the flag pole on top of the highest roof above the twisty slide.
“Jose jump!” She yelled above the din of the zombies and gunshots. “Come on boy snap out of it!” She said as she butt stroked a short once-female zombie. “Jump!”
A section of the north wall came down as a Berserker slammed into the tunnel weakened concrete. The massive eight foot tall demon of blackened skin and muscle entered the school grounds.
“Jump NOW!” She yelled almost ready to ditch the kid and save herself. Only her oath to lay down her life if necessary to save her students kept her standing there. “Damn it Jose.” She muttered under her breath as she grabbed the bottom rung of the ladder.
A half bald teenage girl with long claws blocked her path at the bouncing bridge. One round through its face made it stumble but she hadn’t hit the brain stem. As she adjusted her aim and pulled the trigger again she realized she was out of ammo.
The young teacher screamed and smashed the rifle barrel into the zombie’s head knocking it over the side. She just might live through this yet, she thought as her leg felt like it was on fire. It hurt like hell when she stepped on it but she clenched her teeth and pushed toward the slide.
Another zombie wearing a football jersey began climbing up the monkey bars. Ramming a thirty round magazine home she hit the bolt release and double tapped the monster in the chest. It probably wouldn’t die but at least it fell to the bark chips.
A Shrieker came up the twisty slide, its horrible noises made it hard to think even with her earpieces in. “Shut up!” she yelled as she jerked the trigger. That was one less monster. A glance out across the field told her they needed to kill many more than just one.
“Jose grab my hand!” She yelled as she reached her student. There was no use the terrified first grader had a death grip on the flagpole.
Lowering her voice she tried again, “Jose, its Mrs. Morris. You’re not in trouble, but we need to run.”
She caught a glimpse of his eyes. The teacher leaned in closer as he opened his mouth. “R… is… run.”
“Yes, grab on and hold tight.”
The boy reached out and snatched her vest, he didn’t weigh much. Most of the half-starved kids living in the Safe Zone didn’t. If she had the time that thought might have brought a tear to her eye.
She turned toward the stairs, the Berserker only a few steps away, knocking other infected away in its mad dash to kill them.
She grabbed the bar and swung down the slide kicking a zombie in the face knocking it off the side. At the bottom as Kate put her feet down she was reminded of the shooting pain in her calf.
Holding onto the boy with one hand and her rifle in the other she hobbled back toward first grade. A zombie boy not much older than the one she was carrying grinned at her with a mouth full of jagged broken teeth.
“It’s not a boy. It’s not a boy.” She told herself as she swiveled the rifle toward it and fired awkwardly with one hand. It fell as a hollow point severed its spine. Thrashing around it tried crawling toward them dragging its lifeless legs.
Every step was agony as blood began filling her shoe; she screamed hardly hearing her own voice.
The Berserker tore the plastic slide off the playground and hurled it toward them. Mrs. Morris felt the wind as it passed her ear.
“Tom I could use a little help right about now!” She yelled into her mic as she scrambled toward the reinforced classroom door.
Tom answered with a fifty caliber round.
Kate didn’t bother looking to see what the result was, but the roar from the beast told her it wasn’t dead. Those things weren’t easy to kill.
Michael was firing his shotgun, she could hear his double ought buckshot like a swarm of angry bees as it zipped passed and the sickening thwack it made as the lead pellets hit decaying flesh.
Something hit her from behind and the teacher fell, she pushed the boy away to keep from crushing him and was rewarded by landing on top of her rifle. Rolling over she was greeted by a snarling Fast Runner, he looked fairly fresh, a young man in a tattered ZDF uniform, his heart was probably still beating giving him human like speed. Before she could get a weapon in action he kicked her in the face.
I am going to die, shit. “Jose run!” The boy scrambled away toward the classroom. Before her head bounced off the asphalt she caught a glimpse of him making it through the first grade door. At least he would live, her life in exchange for the boys. It wasn’t so bad.
She saw stars as a combat boot found its mark.
A shotgun blast, dropped her attacker, but the First Grade teacher was contemplating letting them eat her. Everything hurt, she was probably already infected and would soon turn anyway, why keep fighting.
As she lay on the hard ground a chorus of young voices called out to her over the ringing in her ears. Farah, Zach, George, Larry, and others yelled at her to get up.
“Come on Mrs. Morris!”
“You can beat them!”
Michael shoved shells into the loading gate on his Remington, “Don’t give up!”
Somehow through the pain she made it to her feet. The Sig was in her hands and she fired at the advancing horde.
The Berserker grabbed a stiff zombie and tossed it against a cinderblock wall. She backed up and fired as the mutated freak approached, its twisted limbs were too long for its torso, stretched and rippling with disease fueled muscles.
Another fifty caliber slug hit the monster, tearing a huge chunk out of its neck, but it didn’t stop. It shrugged off her .223 rounds, even the ones that struck its head. Its thickened skull deflected her bullets.
As she backed away from the monster she tripped over the crawling form of the zombie boy she had shot. The Berserker swung a clawed hand striking the air where she had just been.
The beast leaned down and roared, its warm, disease laden, fetid breath choked the young teacher.
“Come on Tom, do your job. You’re not gonna let them turn me?” She asked.
He answered with a bullet.
Sometime later Mrs. Morris woke to a soft beeping. She opened one swollen eye and watched the little green dot of the EKG bounce up and down.
Her head pounded and her stomach felt like it had been turned inside out. She looked around the dimly lit room.
The walls were festooned with homemade get well cards, and every available counter space had vases filled with wildflowers.
“I’m not dead? How?” she asked no one.
A dark shadow in the corner stirred. It stood up and approached, once inside the soft halo of light around her bed she could see who it was.
Tom took her hand, careful not to disturb her IV. “Hey, welcome back to the land of the living.”
“But… water.” She croaked, her tongue was so dry it hurt.
A cup appeared and she sucked on the straw, cool life giving water filled her mouth. When she could speak again she asked, “How am I alive? I gave you an order, you… you were supposed to shoot me in the head.”
The sniper sat down on the doctor’s stool. “I couldn’t bring myself to do that, so I did the next best thing.”
“I shot the Berserker in the head.” He grinned, “He held still long enough for me to get a brain stem shot with the fifty cal.”
Kate’s eyes filled with tears, “Get out of here.”
“I… I don’t understand.”
“I’m going to turn. I don’t want you to see me as a zombie.”
Tom coughed, “Look I don’t know what you’re talking about. Yeah the Berserker fell on you but he was stone cold dead.”
“Go away!” she yelled, it sounded pathetically soft, as she hit the call nurse button.
Tom shook his head, “Kate look at me, the doc’s checked you out. You aren’t infected.”
“You know those tests take twenty four hours before they come back positive.”
The sniper chuckled, “Sweetie you’ve been out for a week.”
The nurse came in to see a stunned patient, with a glazed over look in her eyes. She nearly called security before Tom reassured her Kate was just in shock.
“So… I’m not going to turn?”
“No not today.”
Kate collapsed back into her pillow and closed her eyes. “But what about my leg? I swore a zombie cut me.”
“You took a double ought buck ricochet. Probably from that class kid of yours… what’s his name? Mark?”
“Yeah that’s the one.”
“What about Jose? Is he alright?”
Tom sighed; by the look on his face she knew the news wasn’t good. “He turned the day after the attack.”
“So I failed.” She said as she covered her mouth with a hand.
“No?” she coughed, “He got infected and had to be put down. That’s a failure.”
Tom sat on the edge of the bed, “No, he didn’t have a scratch on him. Contagion Research took him. Rumor has it he was infected before he came to school that day.”
He hadn’t been acting normal, and he’d been sweating. “Wait could this be another mutation?”
He shook his head, “Nobody knows but neither the ZDF, nor Contagion Research are saying anything.”
“What for?” He asked, a puzzled look came upon his face.
“For saving my butt.”
He smiled, leaned in and kissed her forehead. “Don’t mention it, Mrs. Morris. It’s a nice butt to save.”
She didn’t have enough energy to fight him so she just laid back and smiled. A bit if red came to her pale cheeks.
“I’d rather you called me Mrs. Lewis.”
It was Tom’s turn to blush.