The hallway was quiet. Jack looked first to his left, then his right, he was alone. All the doors were closed. He didn’t really know what he had expected stepping out from the safe sphere of his apartment. But he hadn’t expected things to be so normal. If his neighbours were awake they showed no signs of it. Jack squeezed the emergency kit until his knuckles turned white. He drew a deep breath, braced himself and started to move.
He walked past the elevators. He didn’t want to risk getting stuck in a cramped metal box if there was a power outage. Taking the stairs would be faster, and if the Grimes were hurt there was no time to lose. The automated lights in the hallway flickered nervously.
As Jack pushed the door to the staircase open he heard a door on a lower level slam shut. The sound echoed up through the concrete walls.
“Hello?” Jack leaned over the railing and looked down the winding stairs, empty. At least I’m not alone, Jack thought, but couldn’t decide if this was a good or a bad thing.
He hurried up the stairs to the next floor and pushed through the stairwell door. He walked quickly through the hallway. This floor looked exactly the same as his own and for a moment a feeling of being stuck in a loop hit Jack. He would find his own apartment door at the end of the hallway, not the Grimes’ door. The lights flickered like crazy, drew a synchronized last breath and died. The hallway was bathed in darkness.
Jack stopped, reached out his free hand to find the wall. The concrete was cool to his touch. Jack winced at his luck not taking the elevator. He would have been as stuck as you get right about now if he had. Being stuck in a pitch dark corridor wasn’t a whole lot better, but at least he could stumble forward. He didn’t have to stumble for long as the backup power switched on and the lights breathed new life again. A soft blue glow settled over the hallway, it was dim but at least Jack could see by it.
The door to the Grimes’ apartment was unlocked. Jack didn’t knock, he didn’t think about it. He just pushed the door open and stepped inside.
“Hello?” he whispered, “Mary? Carl? You okay?” No reply. The backup lights from the hallway only reached so far with its blue light and most of the apartment was draped with long shadows.
Jack took a few tentative steps forward. The weight of the emergency kit grew heavier with each step. His hand clamped around the bag. Suddenly his palms were wet with nervous sweat.
“Carl?” Jack took a step forward and stopped to listen. This time he heard something. A soft sobbing was coming from the bedroom. Jack crossed the living room, pausing only for a moment when his eyes fell on the thick pillar of smoke rising from the city, a deeper black against the dark night.
“Who’s there?” Carl asked as Jack appeared in the door frame, in the gloom of the apartment they were both just shadowy figures. Carl sounded exhausted, cried out.
“It’s me,” Jack replied and took a step forward. “Is Mary alright?”
“I had to do it Jack,” Carl replied.
“What do you mean, Carl?” Jack strained his eyes to see. Carl was sitting on the bed cradling Mary’s head, running his frail old hands through her hair.
“She’s been ill, Jack” the sobbing seeped back into Carl’s voice. “She went crazy, absolutely crazy. I couldn’t calm her down. Jack, I couldn’t.”
Jack stood frozen in the doorpost, he realized that Mary must be dead, her chest was still. Even in the dark he should have been able to see her chest move with her breathing.
“She started beating me, biting me, see.” Carl held out his arm, but Jack couldn’t see the wounds in the dark. The only thing he could see was the gleam of light bouncing of the gun in Carl’s hand. “I shot her,” Carl sobbed heavily. “I shot my wife. Fuck me, Jack, I shot her.”
In one last fluid motion Carl raised his gun to his head, a single gunshot exploded the darkness and in the momentary light Jack could see all of the blood, blood everywhere. He didn’t even have time to react. All he could think was that Carl was too fast, too fast for a goddamn old man.
To be continued…
© Hugo Oddlane, 2014