I move through the streets, following a coded map to avoid any of the street cameras that keep an eye on the first signs of the plague. I walk through the Marionettes Park and before reaching the street make my way into a nearby drainage canal that takes me beneath three different streets. Behind the cover of trees I climb out of the canal through the common yard of a projects block and then into a back alley. Right now, I’m somewhere behind St Anthony School. It’s closed now. I don’t want to even think about what the students did to each other. I heard there were a lot of amputations.
There are stairs that lead down to the old maintenance tunnels and a civil defence shelter built back in the heyday of the Cold War. I wonder if they ever knew this plague would come. That cloistering ourselves in places like this only intensified the effects of the plague. And that is why most of the schools are closed. How many children are there left in this city? I don’t really see them anymore.
The door that leads to the maintenance tunnels is unlocked left by my friends. I open it as quietly as I can, though it still creaks in the still air. Beneath the school, the air is stale and musty. Stagnant water has collected into large pools, making it difficult to move around quietly. It’s dark, the lights have been shut down long ago since the school’s closure. I reach in my pocket for a torch and turn it on. While I hear the occasional rodent scurry, I never see a rat, or mouse. I remember that even the crows and raven flew from this city first days since lockdown. There haven’t been many animals left in the city. Like the children, they have disappeared, only I feel that the animals have found greener pastures.
Holding the torch out I navigate my way around the tunnels. Two lefts, a right and another left. They were the instructions when I deciphered the code my friends gave me. We’ve been attempting to communicate in secret. If the authorities knew what we were up to, we would be in deep shit. You see, all of my friends are like me, able to see thing the regular police cannot. All of them strange attractors. We’ve used our resources, effectively police resources to plot, fund and execute our way out of the city. I only know part of the plan out of this city. We did this so we could all leave, and not one take the desperate attempt of taking all of the money, or all of map for the escape route.
I make it to an old storage room and there is a warm light coming from it. I open the door slowly, and I see four others in the room. There is Sebastian, a chain-smoker who originally investigated the ruins of the Matriarch Hotel on Valentines Day. Next to him Marcus, nervously chewing at the skin of his thumb, the rest of his fingers covered in bandages and plasters. There is Ina, who I know has investigated an event at an orphanage, but she won’t tell me about it. She has begun to pull her hair out, but still has enough to cover it. I wonder where Paul is, but Sebastian nods and Paul appears from behind the door, gun in hand, ready and lowered to the ground.
I breath a short sigh of relief, I understand that we need to be cautious, but I do not want to be shot by Paul. Sebastian is straight to the point, “Do you bring it all?”
It’s always money with Sebastian. “Yeah of course I did”, I say with a little disdain, putting down the case in front of me. Sebastian doesn’t seem to trust anybody with the possible exception of Paul. I think they both served in the military together. Putting the cigarette back in his mouth. Sebastian gets up from seat made from an old milk crate and goes to inspect the case. Clicking open the springlocks, he looks over the contents. With an approving nod, he locks the case and hands it back to me.
“Good, good, ” he says, “we’re just waiting on one more.”
“One more? ” I thought I was the last one. The entire plan was shared between us, a new person throws a wrench in our work. “We had everything here, what do you mean one more?”
Sebastian took a drag on his cigarette that it glowed red hot, then breathing out while speaking, “because he managed to get more money. We’re going to need it to get out, the more the better to bargain with.”
Sebastian was too focused on money. I knew who we had to deal with: the people who lived under the city. These were the ones who escaped the authorities’ control. I’ve heard they live in complete darkness. And they must be insane. They would have no use for large amount of cash. They wanted something else, but Sebastian wouldn’t tell me what…
We hear footsteps coming in, evenly paced, not rush. Calm, deliberate steps. “I guess this is him,” Sebastian says as he throws away the spent cigarette and draws another to his mouth. The man comes through the door just as Paul begins to hide behind it again, gun at the ready. I hear the safety click in his hands.
The man, I’ve met before. His name is David. He is another strange attractor, but I’ve never worked with him, nor really seen him around the offices. Maybe he worked the night shift. In his left hand he had a large dark kit bag, which he set down. But as he did, there was the sound of metal scraping. David’s hair is wet and there is sweat running down his brow, he would look exhausted if he wasn’t breathing so calmly. Something is amiss, the feeling is growing… Do the others feel this? I look at Ina, who eyes me back. I think she sees it too.
Sebastian is straight up, “Did you bring the money?”
David answers after a slight pause, as if attempting to compute the answer in his head, “… Y-Yeah. I also brought other things.”
Marcus is up, “what other things?”
“You know, tools, to help us, get out of here. See have a look”, David reach down to the bag zipper to undo it.
Marcus gets off the crate he used as a seat and goes to inspect the bag David is opening. I can’t see into the bag, but I look back at Ina and now she’s nervous. The feeling is a silent scream…
David reaches into the bag as Marcus peers into it. “Here let me show you, David says, as he grabs hold of something inside.
Then suddenly there is a glint of silver as David’s hand springs from the bag straight into Marcus’ neck. Blood is everywhere as the slash cuts him open. He barely has time to scream, only able to pull an expression of pure shock. So does everyone else as David is sprayed, covered in Marcus’ claret, frozen for a moment in what has just happened. There is an inhuman look in David’s eyes. Paul aims and fires, but it’s a glancing shot into David’s shoulder. David makes a beeline towards Paul knife raised for a second strike. David moves fast, but I see this as my opportunity to get out. I grab Ina’s hand and we run for the door. As we go, I hear Sebastian joining the fray.
Bolting down the hall, I can hear more gunfire, screaming and yelling. It steels us to run harder. Sprinting down dark halls taking nearest corners, almost blindly. We just need to get away. Ina is almost outrunning me. Neither of us have any idea where we are going, only praying that we just get away.
Soon enough, there is a door, without slowing down we both ram the thing and the lock, latch and parts of the hinge give way. Back outside we realise we’re on the other side of the school. Though exhausted from running, we begin to take in our surrounds. In the distance, a large column of smoke billows from the other end of the school. A part for the school where Sebastian, David were Paul were. Both Ina and I look at each other. How long were we down there? The realisation begins to sink in for both of us. Sebastian, Marcus and Paul had the other parts of the escape plan, in addition to all of the money we left behind. All of it up in smoke. We had no way out of this city.
We walk back cautiously to the smoke and find that the authorities are already attending. Mandlebrot is there. He seems almost pleased to see us. Fear creeps into my mind. Did he know of our escape plan? How much did he know? What would happen to us if he did?
“Ah, good. You’re here,” Mandlebrot says with a razor-like smile. It seems we have a problem. Looks like some of your type were having a meeting, maybe plotting to leave.”
I look at Ina. A calm seems to wash over her. Odd…
“However, one of them turned on the others and set himself alight,” Mandlebrot continues, “But I think we have enough evidence”
He produces a clear plastic bag and inside is a heavily burnt red notebook. How did David get a copy of the book? Will this plague get me?
“And this is fortunate. Last time, all of them were destroyed”
Last time. I think back to my apartment and the burn marks in the empty apartment. The burnt paper. They must have been notebooks. Maybe Paul investigated that event and managed to find a whole copy…
Mandlebrot snaps me out of my train of thought, by dropping the bagged evidence in my hands, “Come. We have work to do.”
As he walks off, I look at Ina, and find she is staring into the column of smoke rising into an equally dark sky.