Leaving that locker room, even with a sack full of deadly firearms, wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. It wasn't so much about using any level of stealth as it was a matter of blending in with the rest of the chaos. People were injured, people were shouting, countless officers highly exhausted from endless hours of working overtime. The phones were ringing so much that we couldn't even hear it anymore. One phone rang out over another one, and after a while you become numb to the noise of it all.
Needless to say, an officer walking around with enough firepower to go to war with the entire state of Florida in this case doesn't really stand out as being 'odd'. Not today.
Making it out of the office wasn't the problem. It was finding the keys to the squad cars in the lot. Sergeant Clark kept them right behind his desk, and he had at least three people in his office at the moment. I looked around the rest of the precinct as this growing mess started to spill over the edge of their crowded desks to litter the floor below. I tried to not make eye contact with anybody else around me, not that they had much time to notice me anyway. I just needed Clark to empty out that office. Just for a second. I didn't want to make up a lame excuse or go for an obvious distraction, because there's no way that I could get out of here with enough of a head start before he had half the force tracking me down. I had to slip in and slip out without being noticed. Not something that I would call simple.
Looking at the clock on the wall, a panicked flutter went through my heart, throwing the steady beat off rhythm. I thought about Spencer...scared and alone...depending on me to find a way to get to him in time. I might have been able to go out to the lot and find an officer coming back to base in order to try to take their keys off of them instead...but that might be a fight. I don't want to hurt my fellow officers. And again, that only buys me a couple of minutes before I get hunted down and thrown in a cell. I can't have that. My son needs me, and I'm not going to let him down.
Minutes pass as a bead of sweat rolls down my cheek. Come on, come on, come ON! I need to go! I have to find another way out of here!
Then, as I looked at the growing disturbance taking place at the front counter, the writhing crowd of agitated civilians getting more hostile by the moment...I noticed something in the center of it all. A rather large man was standing there, his sleeveless shirt covered in blood and dirt, his bald head shining as it reflected the artificial lighting above. But he wasn't moving with the rest of the mob. He wasn't shouting out any demands. He wasn't shaking his fists. He wasn't trying to physically push his way to the front of the line...although with the solid muscle packed onto his arms alone, he surely would have been capable of doing so.
Instead...he was still. So very still. So silent. His face had no emotion in it. And then, his eyes began to flutter. A twitch or two at first, but then much more violently as his pupils rolled back until only the whites could be seen. He started to shake, but nobody in the crowd was paying any attention. Not even when blood began to run out of the sides of his mouth. Before I even had time to process and react to what was going on...his eyes stopped moving. In fact, they looked...'dead'. I've seen those same eyes on the faces of different people in combat. Expressions of fallen soldiers, friend and enemy alike. They're always the same. You never forget what that empty stare looks like. Never.
But this man was still very much alive,indeed.
Without any warning whatsoever, the large man took hold of the guy in front of him, his massive hands wrapping around his shoulders...and his head lunged forward to take a DEEP, unsympathetic, bite into the nape of his neck! Some people saw it happen, the others didn't realize that anything was wrong until they were sprayed with a warm shower of blood!
The hysteria spread quickly as the man cried out in agonizing pain, the ferocious attack registering in his brain just seconds before he pulled himself away and allowed the soothing sensation of total SHOCK to take hold of him. Screams erupted from the crowd, and this giant behemoth began lashing out at every last person he could get his hands on! Swinging wildly and grabbing hold of people from the center of their bonded 'herd'. Even from a distance, I could hear the loud 'clacking' of his teeth as he craned his neck forward to bite into whatever pieces of flesh he could find.
People did their best to fight him off, but he was much too strong for them to hold him back. Police officers rushed in to contain the threat, but despite their shouted warnings and drawn weapons...this man just kept going! Just...just like the injured officer said...
"They wouldn't stop! They're everywhere! It's already too late!"
People spread out as best they could, but he had already taken a few bites out of them before they could move away in time, some of them hitting the floor as more officers hurried in to keep the peace. This was getting SO bad, SO fast! You always think that you're going to be prepared for something like this. That, with all your training and experience, you'll be able to think clearly and quickly and take care of yourself in a rational, logical, way. But these are arrogant thoughts. It simply doesn't work like that.
The horror...the horror always comes first.
The angry man kept advancing on the officers and someone shouted out, "He's one of THEM!!! SHOOT him!!! TAKE HIM DOWN!!!" The officers held off for a moment, but when he kept stomping his way forward, they lowered their pistols and shot him in both legs! The gunshots echoed off the walls of the precinct and every single head turned as he fell to the floor and kept crawling! His fingernails scraped the dirty tile as those dead eyes focused on the armed officers and he pulled himself forward, thick puddles of blood being dragged behind him from the wounds he sustained. I heard this...unnatural shriek come from him, and his gnashed teeth began to bite angrily at the air as he slid ever closer towards his prey. More shots rang out...but he still didn't stop. He refused.
While watching this madness, I noticed that Sergeant Clark and everyone in his office suddenly ran out to see what the fuck was HAPPENING out here!
I don't think I truly knew the meaning of 'Deus Ex Machina' until I had it actually happen to me in real life!
I didn't have time to think or rationalize over what kind of consequences I might face if I got caught doing this. I just saw an opportunity and I took it before it was gone for good. I left my bag of weapons outside Sergeant Clark's door and I ran into his office, top speed, to snatch the first set of squad car keys that I found on the rack!
There was SUCH a commotion outside! Fighting and wrestling and finally...one of the officers was forced to deliver a 'kill shot'. Right to the back of the man's head. It was the only thing that could stop this...this 'thing', from gaining any momentum and doing more damage.
I should have stayed. I should have helped fix the growing problem that was, clearly, now knocking at our front door. But I didn't. I was too busy doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. I had a choice to make. Help the department do what they do best...or take the distraction to pursue my own selfish reasons and go retrieve my son from the hospital.
I chose the latter. Proudly, I might add. I'll just have to regret it later...
I made a quick dash out of one of the side doors and hurried out into the precinct parking lot, a duffel bag full of weapons slung over my shoulder. Any minute, that place is going to empty out like kicked over roach motel and I'm hoping to be out of range by then. I strapped myself in with a seatbelt and put my phone on the seat next to me in case Spencer had any need to call me again. I also turned on a handheld police radio and put it next to me as well, disabling the radio in the car. I don't want them to track me down too easily. I'm far from being invisible, but the least I could do is make them work a little harder to find me. Besides, I need my ears open to find out what's ahead of me. Because it seems that society is crumbling a lot faster than anyone ever could have expected it to. I can't afford any big surprises along the way.
I started up the car and waited until I was a few blocks out before turning on the siren. The whole time, my heart felt like it was banging on the inside of my chest in an attempt to escape. I could feel the throbbing of it in my throat. I just needed my son to be ok. I had to make sure that he was safe. He's all I have left in this world and I'm not going to lose him. Not today.
It took a lot of self control to keep from flooring that gas pedal and racing through these North side residential areas. But with the current panic going on, I could only go so fast and still look out for some irrational pedestrian to come bolting out into the street in front of me. I'm already AWOL and probably out of a job now...the last thing I need is a vehicular manslaughter rap on top of it.
I was fast, but cautious. Keeping it under 50 and slowing down at every intersection. The siren had the desired effect, and even during these crazy times, many people pulled to the side and let me pass. There were a few nutjobs out there, as there always is with Chicago traffic...but it hadn't become too much of a problem...yet.
As I looked at the faces of the people in the neighborhoods and small shopping districts...I noticed a commonality that seemed to be mimicked by all. A blank stare. A look of bewilderment. Some of the people were dressed in namebrand clothes, with namebrand shoes...but they were covered in dirt. Some covered in blood. Their shirts soaked with sweat as they leaned up against a nearby streetlight, sign, or brick wall...trying to catch their breath. Some people looked as though they were trapped on the rooftops of their own houses. Others...locked themselves up in their cars. There was a time when people would hear a police siren approaching from the distance during situations like this...and they would frantically run out to capture my attention, thanking the stars above that someone had come to rescue them. But not today.
Whatever this outbreak was...it was beyond the police force, and they knew it. My passing by brought them no comfort. They just stared through my windows, watching me ride by...figuring that I was just as helpless as they were. Who knows? Maybe I was. But I'd rather not think about that right now.
As I got closer to Lake Shore Drive, the traffic seemed to have swelled up considerably. Less people obeyed the law of the siren now. More car horns could be heard honking in the distance. The screeching of brakes and worn tires as more cars began swerving around one another with a sense of growing frustration. An intensifying fear. Its not like I didn't expect this to happen eventually...I was just hoping that I would have more time.
Cars were now outside of their lanes, some on the wrong side of the street, others cutting corners by racing through the parking lot of every corner gas station. I passed large grocery and convenience stores, only to see people running out with supplies. Two armfuls. Bottled water, canned food, tools...those with small children and infants had the biggest economy bags of diapers and formula that I've ever seen. The city is going to be emptying out soon. I needed to get ahead of things before I found myself trapped in it.
I increased my speed, but in the minutes to follow, I noticed the hysteria growing around me. I could hear people shouting in the streets. I saw the 'L' train packed to capacity, and yet people were still trying to get on at every stop. Cars had suitcases and boxes strapped to the roof. Ambulances were practically forcing their way through the streets like a herd of charging rhino. So I tried to go faster. Find a hole and get through this, John. The time bomb is ticking...
By the time I had gotten to the congested entrance to the Drive, fights had broken out on both sides of the street. I saw broken windows...and blood in the gutter. The cry of honking horns was almost deafening now. Every driver was on the edge of a major road rage tantrum. Almost every car on the street had some sort of dent in the side, a crumpled up back bumper, and broken headlights galore. People were freely running through red lights now. The 'rules' of traveling through the city were quickly being tossed aside as the merciless survival instinct began to sink its claws deep into the world around us.
I was startled as I suddenly heard the 'pop pop pop' of gunshots being fired in the distance! I heard screaming. Cars were crashing into one another, literally pushing the people ahead of them into the intersection, only causing more trouble. This is it. The beginning of a total, city-wide meltdown. And I'm stuck in the middle of it.
Somehow, I don't think my police siren is going to do me anymore good at this point.
The radio in the seat next to me came to life with a buzz and a the crackling of static. Keeping my eye on the street, I blindly reached over and attempted to turn the knob and zero in to get a signal. “...Zzzkzkkkzzzkzzz...Reports coming in from all OVER! We can't….zzzkzkzzzz...so many of them! Where are they all coming from...zzkkzzzkzzzzzz...” Shit. I'm losing the signal. Come on people, give me the goods. I turned the dial some more. ”Zzzzzzkkkkzz...I just shot Officer Blaine! He...he got chewed up pretty bad...but then he just...zzzkkkzzzz...got back up and he….zzkkkkk...emptied a full clip! What the fuck is going on???...zzkkkkzzzz...” While trying to figure out a way to get a clear channel to work, my mind was taken off of my driving for a split second. That's all it took to suddenly have a taxi cab charge through the intersection and smash into the front end of my car! FUCK! He didn't stop. In fact, he stepped even harder on the gas to further push me out of the way. Luckily, it wasn't enough damage to keep my car from being fully functional, but as I saw him scraping and bullying his way past even more cars to get to Lake Shore up ahead, I knew that I'd have more automotive warheads coming my way soon.
Looks like recess is over. Time to go to work!
I gripped the steering wheel tightly and slammed my foot on the gas, veering off into the lane of oncoming traffic just long enough to get a few more car lengths ahead. More honking horns, more tire screeches...and then...pandemonium.
In the rearview mirror, I could see more and more cars rushing up behind me...most of them being reckless as they all tried to force their way forward. The sounds of metal on metal crashes began to ring out from every street corner, intersections rapidly filling up with wrecks and broken glass. The 'zero to sixty' change was baffling at first, but I soon found out why it was happening...
”...zzkkzzzzz...Being overrun! Too many of them! All over the street!….kkkzzzzzzz...STOP! Don't move! Get me outta here! Get me...ahhhhhhh!!!!” Even with the windows rolled up, I could hear an entire symphony of screams approaching from multiple directions. Masses of people running towards the street like a giant tidal wave, they started running between cars and crawling over the hood, hoping to get away from whatever it was that was chasing them.
One thing that I've learned about panic...it's contagious. More cars began to swerve out of line, haphazardly speeding between cars, hitting pedestrians, ramming into anything that would dare to get in their way! Some cars tried to dash down the closest alley or side street, others tried to muscle everyone out of their path, and some ran up on the sidewalks, hitting mailboxes and fire hydrants while the crowd of fear stricken citizens did their best to jump out of the way.
I did my best to navigate through this mess, but everything was going to shit faster than I expected. I weaved between a minivan and a delivery truck just seconds before they rammed smack into one another, getting me to the final intersection before Lake Shore Drive and letting me on as I watched some of the hurried vehicles behind me crash and flip over as everyone fought to get ahead.
I could hear the strain on the engine as I got even faster, whipping around the cars in front by swiftly driving into whatever small pockets I could find and passing them up two at a time. More gas! BRAKE! Gas! Brake! Dodge right! No LEFT! Go left! Fuck!
I saw other cars trying to keep control while moving at top speed, but they didn't have the skill or the training to keep up with the rapidly scrolling pavement beneath them. They were wobbling all over the place, and every on ramp that I passed had another flood of amateur drivers trying to flee the madness! Stay alert, John! Keep an eye on what they're doing, or it's game over for all of us.
I was trying to race past a car on its left side, but then heard a loud bang as the front, driver's side, wheel blew out and the rubber of his tires went flying everywhere, leaving only a metal rim and a shower of sparks behind as the car sharply jerked over into my lane! I slammed my foot on the brake to keep him from hitting me and turning me over, but couldn't stop completely as more speeding cars were rushing up at me from behind! Switching back to the gas, I swerved right and nearly missed the car as it ran into the concrete partition on the side of the street.
Everyone was now moving into a demolition derby mentality, where cars were littered all over the place with no clear plan of action. It was then that I heard the radio again...full of blood curdling screams that sent chills up my spine. In the distance, I could see billows of black smoke coming from different parts of the city, cars completely flipped upside down in the park or out by the lake, some of them on fire. And yet, there were still more cars piling up both in front and behind me. I dodged back and forth between wrecks, the speed of my car causing the entire frame to drastically lead from one side to the other, my back end nearly fishtailing as I prayed my tires would continue to grip the ground beneath me! The road, littered with twisted metal and broken glass, I saw another car spin sideways and go into a deadly roll right in front of me! Dodge left! LEFT! My tires screamed from the effort, but thankfully they kept me going strong! ”Zkkzzzz…MAJOR outbreak in Wrigleyville….kkzzzzz...losing ground...need backup, ASAP!!!” The radio sizzled, and then another voice said, “You've got incoming! ETA...three minutes!!!” I was nearly thrown off balance as I suddenly heard the thunderous sound of low flying military choppers streaking overhead, seemingly out of nowhere! There must have been at least six of them, moving top speed, and armed to the teeth as they flew towards the downtown area! What the hell has been happening since I left the precinct???
Looking up at the helicopter armada, I almost didn't see a city bus trying to swerve back and forth on the right of me. It was too top heavy to stay the course, and I BARELY had enough time to weave into the left lane as I saw the bus tilting over to fall on its side and slide to a halt, with two more cars running right into the back of it. My car door was being scraped against the concrete separator and I had to bump another car over to get back on the street. I could hear more cars flipping over as they smashed into one another, the Drive becoming more clogged up by the second.
Don't worry, Spencer! Daddy's coming!
Explosions could be heard all around me as things got infinitely worse. I wasn't able to dodge as well as I was before, now bashing up against other vehicles during my every attempt to pass by them. And then...I heard something else on the radio. It was faint...but it was unmistakeable. A voice that I definitely recognized.
Dodge left! Dodge right! BRAKE! Gas!
I zigzagged as skillfully as I could before blindly reaching over to turn up the radio volume and tweak the knob to find the right channel. It was surprisingly clear this time. ”Logan! Come in, Logan! Talk to me!” What the…???
I swiftly darted around an ambulance that had been turned on its side in the street and saw the handheld radio almost slide right off the seat next to me. I lashed out with my hand JUST in time to catch it before it fell to the floor mats! Then I yelled out, “Sanchez???”
“Oh! So you decide to pick up now?” He said.
“What are you doing? How did you find me?” I asked.
That's when I heard Officer Frye's voice on the same frequency, “You didn't really think we were just gonna let you take an extended lunch break from work and not take us with you, did ya?”
Just then, I looked in my side mirror to see two more black undercover cop cars hitting top speed as they weaved around the cars and wreckage to pull up close on either side of me. Sanchez grinned, “You LOST us a few times back there, speed freak! Do you want our help or not?”
Frye said, “I told you...that was some CRAZY birthday cake! We need to keep Spencer safe so I can have the first piece next time!”
With all three cars straining to go as fast as possible, I let a warm feeling of comraderie wash over me as we saw the downtown Chicago skyline in front of us...blazing with smoke and fire. “It's nice to know I'm not the only crazy one out here today!” I said.
“Not by a long shot!” Frye replied. “So, you need a hand, or should we just leave you to your stunt driving exercise?”
“I'm certainly not going to say no!” I told him.
Sanchez said, “You heard the man, Frye! Let's clear a path and give him some room!” I heard their engines get even louder as they pulled ahead of me and started bullying the drivers in front of me with some serious maneuvers of their own. With heavy duty police bumpers on their front and back, they did their best not to hurt anybody, but they definitely made it clear that they needed to get the fuck out of our way before they ended up rolling over on their sides like some of the other unfortunate souls out here. Like a well practiced football team, Frye and Sanchez 'blocked' for me as best as they could, keeping them out of my path. All three sirens blazing, we pushed harder to get to the city...where things were getting much worse by the second.
“Sanchez!” Frye shouted out. “On your right!” Sanchez slowed down to keep someone else from cutting me off.
“Left side, Frye! SUV at 9 O'clock!” Sanchez replied, and Frye had to bump him off to the side to keep the lane clear.
I turned the wheel back and forth, doing my best to hold on. At one point, I think I felt the two right tires of my car actually leave the ground before slamming back down and getting right again. I saw two cars in another lane fighting for a spot...causing them to crash and flip up and over to roll right off the road! I could see more helicopters flying around the city, a harsh tilt as they circled back around to take care of the immediate threat. This didn't look good at all.
“Eyes open, Logan!” Sanchez hollered at me as a truck in front of me began to swerve back and forth as the driver began to lose control. “Keep your head in the game!”
Suddenly, I saw a few straps snap and give way...and a cluster of untapped beer kegs came spilling out onto the street, their heavy metal clanging filling the air as they bounced along violently behind their carrier. As if I didn't have enough to worry about! I dodged around the falling kegs as best as I could, but they were everywhere! My tires actually rolled over one of them, nearly launching me in the air as the entire jumped wildly from the impact.
Frye asked, “Ummmm...beer kegs don't explode...do they?” Before he could finish his sentence, two of the kegs burst wide open and were thrust into a series of insane spins as the highly pressurized beer gushed out of the metal cracks and sprayed the windshield. “Shit! Yeah...beer kegs explode! HEADS UP, people!”
I barely had time to turn my wipers on before the beer had completely covered my vision and left me trying to navigate with near zero visibility! I could hear and feel the kegs bouncing off of my hood, the headlights shattering as they slammed into me. But we couldn't stop now! I was so close! So very close.
At this point, I was able to get around the offensive beer truck, and cleaned my windshield just in time to see a MAN fly up onto my hood! The shock of it terrified me. At this speed, if I didn't kill him, I would have definitely broken every bone in his body. I instantly felt sick to my stomach. I didn't see him. Nor did I see the man that I hit shortly afterward. Or the woman after that. Then I noticed something...that stare. That dead stare. The bloodstained clothes, the soiled teeth, the murderous gaze. Looking ahead, there were tons of these people just wandering around in the middle of Lake Shore Drive! Even in all this traffic. And not a single one of them felt scared as the autos nearly turned themselves over trying to avoid hitting them. Not only that...but on a closer look, they were all wearing Chicago Cubs T-shirts, jerseys, and hats. The whole giant cluster of them. Possibly coming from the overrun Wrigleyville massacre going on right now.
Cars were running them down by the dozen, but the few that had the compassion to stop, were being dragged from their cars...thrown to the ground...and devoured alive!!! Jesus!
It was then that I heard Sanchez say, “No way! Please tell me these goddamn 'things' didn't just fuck with the World Series!”
Frye grinned to himself. “Haaaa!!! The curse continues, bro!”
Sanchez replied, “Alright...*NOW* I'm pissed!!!”
“Easy, Sanchez...” I said. “We've got civilians out here too.”
“I know, I know! But if I catch anybody in a White Sox jersey...consider them road kill!”
It was impossible to tell the hostiles from the victims they were pursuing, so we just tried to worm our way around them all. Cars were piling up left and right. I had never seen such devastation. The curves in the Drive were getting more severe as I got closer to the center of downtown. After all the wear and tear that I had been putting this cop car through over the last 25 minutes or so, I don't think I'm going to be able to handle these corners as well as I was before. Especially with all of this 'tire popping' debris in the way.
“What's the plan, John! Things are getting tight around here!” Sanchez called out.
“We've gotta get off the Drive! I doubt it'll get us around the city safely! Not with it breaking open the way it is!” I said, revving the engine to cruise past a pick up truck as it hit another car on the side of him. “Do you think we can make it to lower Wacker?”
“Don't do it!” Frye warned. “If it's as clogged up as this road to hell is...you'll be trapped down there! Sardines in a can!”
“So what's the game plan then???” Sanchez hollered, nearly running right into the back of a tow truck before skating around it just in time.
“I need time to THINK!” I told them.
“Not a luxury we've got to give right now, kid!” Frye said.
That's when I saw it. Heard. Practically felt the street rumbling beneath the car. A huge 18-wheeler truck was coming up behind us. FAST! The front end had already taken a lot of damage, seeing as the driver had been using it to smash his way through all opposition! A metal gladiator, valiantly tearing through traffic like something straight out of a monster movie. He wasn't even giving other cars a chance to get out of his way...he simply rolled right over them or knocked them off the road as if they were mere toys in comparison.
“Ummm...are you guys seeing what I see? Or am I fucked up right now?” Frye asked.
“Yes, and yes!” Sanchez told him. “He's coming hard, Logan! He'll be on top of us any minute!”
Frye had to slide into the concrete wall and fight to get back on task as fiery sparks erupted from the passenger side of his car! “Let that mother fucker PASS! Big dog doesn't look like he's playing games!”
“No can do, Frye!” I said. “If we let him get ahead of us, he's going to leave such an apocalyptic MESS in his wake that we won't be able to get around it!”
As soon as I said it, I saw the 18-wheeler tear through two more cars, ramming them in the back and causing them to spin off to the side. Another car in front of him tried to swerve out of the way, but missed the curve and rolled right off of the off ramp, rolling helplessly into the side of a tree!
He wasn't stopping. He was headed right for us. And Sanchez and Frye couldn't do a damn thing to stop him!