"...if you have any questions."
A wash of murmuring voices jolted Dylan Green awake. He looked around, blinking heavily several times before remembering where he was and what he was doing there. Shit. This was one presentation he really shouldn't have slept through, what with the zombies and the plague and the end of the world and everything. But he was seventeen, they were in a high school auditorium, and his brain shut off the moment he'd slid into the tattered, cushioned seat. Pavlovian response. Presentation equaled sleep.
Dylan turned to the guy on his right. "Who are we supposed to talk to if we have questions?"
The guy, who looked like an older nerd with thick glasses, uncombed black hair, and a pock-marked face, answered in a surprisingly deep voice. "Your room monitor."
The high school had been turned into a refugee center. The classrooms on the second and third floor had become bunk rooms, while the rooms on the first floor had been heavily barricaded except for the gym, cafeteria, nurse's office, and auditorium. The military ran the center under the command of Colonel Bleecher, that much Dylan knew. He also knew what room he was in - 315, assigned when he passed through quarantine into the building. What he didn't know was literally anything else.
Dylan rose from his seat when the other people to his left stood, and followed the shuffle out of the auditorium. Dylan stood tall at 6'-6" and could see clearly over most people's heads. He had the lanky build of a basketball player - he played small forward - and could out-sprint the zombies with ease. With wavy blond hair, soulful blue eyes, and good skin, girls had been all over him at his high school. A couple guys, too, whom he'd turned down since he didn't play that side of the court.
The hallway hummed with people coming from orientation. Dylan bet a few hundred of new survivors had been there. Not many old-old people or little kids. They couldn't move fast enough, or were too noisy. In quarantine, Dylan had been asked if he had any chronic illnesses, like diabetes or asthma, things that required medication. People with those conditions wouldn't last, either, Dylan figured. Where were they going to get their medicine? It wasn't like Walgreens was open any more, and besides, every store Dylan had seen had been looted when the shit hit the fan.
Dylan reached the stairwell and joined the throng heading up. He reached the third floor, walked past the orange lockers that spanned the hallways between classrooms. The cinderblock walls were painted institution beige. Colorful cardboard posters appeared here and there, announcing the upcoming spring dance. Two armed military personnel patrolled the hall. Someone sat in a chair outside each of the bathroom doors. Dylan wondered why they were there. He probably would know if he hadn't slept through orientation.
The wall of windows in room 315 overlooked the back parking lot of the school. Because of all the school shootings, a 15-foot high steel barred fence enclosed the grounds, with only three access gates. No one, including zombies, could get in easily. Armed military personal patrolled the perimeter, bayonetting zombies in the head through the bars. The pile of festering corpses along the outside of the fence made a decent second barrier, even if it stank.
The classroom desks in room 315 had been removed to add to the barricaded rooms on the first floor. About 30 sleeping bags, with clothes and a bathroom kit piled on top, lined the scuffed tile floor in even rows. Men and women of various ages sat on the bags or stood looking out the windows, most wearing expressions of weary dread. There was one black woman in Army camouflage, who didn't look much older than Dylan, standing with a clipboard near the door. She had braided black hair tucked under a cap and a pink, puffy scar on her cheek.
"Name?" she asked, when he came into the room.
"Dylan Green." Dylan watched her write it down.
"I'm Coleman, your room monitor. Grab a sleeping bag. This room's on lockdown today."
Coleman narrowed her eyes. "Weren't you paying attention in orientation?"
Dylan winced. "Uh..."
"Fucking civvies." Coleman muttered under her breath, though it was loud enough for Dylan to hear, which was probably the point. "Next orientation is at 1500 hours. One of the MPs will escort you, and you'll listen this time, or I'll have the MP toss you out the gate. Understood?"
Dylan prickled, getting defensive from the threat, especially since it came from someone around his own age. "You can't do that."
Coleman leaned out the doorway and looked both ways before calling out in the second direction, "Hey, Sanders, Blackman! I have a kid here uninterested in authority."
Dylan felt a panic fluttering in his chest. The two armed men who'd Dylan had seen patrolling the hall appeared in the doorway a moment later. Their names were on patches on their chests, and they had MP arm bands. They were older, and eyed Dylan with contempt. "This him?" Blackman asked, gesturing at Dylan with his chin.
Coleman turned to Dylan. "So, am I throwing you out?"
Everyone's eyes were on Dylan, now, including the other people in the classroom. Dylan felt his face heat, and he lashed out from perceived emasculation. "What the hell? You're not in charge. You don't have any right to do that."
"He's all yours." Coleman stepped back, and Blackman leveled his rifle at Dylan.
"Let's go," Blackman said, motioning with the rifle for Dylan to leave the classroom.
Dylan stomped out of the room, vacillating between alarm and defiance. They really weren't going to throw him out, were they? They couldn't do that. He was an American! He had rights! He was alive and uninfected!
Blackman and Sanders marched him down the stairs to the first floor, past the barricaded classrooms, and to another set of stairs that led down to the football locker room. Rows of lockers and benches divided most of the dimly lit room, and Dylan caught a glimpse of the showers as he was escorted to a door in the back guarded by two more armed, uniformed men. A uniformed third man, with the name C. Warwick stitched on his chest, sat behind a desk, with a clipboard, pencil, and black Sharpie in front of him. Next to the desk was a box containing bottles of water.
"Name?" Warwick said to Dylan, sounding bored. Warwick had clipped gray hair, a bulbous nose, and sagging jowls. His girth stretched the buttons on his army jacket.
Dylan thought about not answering him, but Blackman prodded him with the rifle in the back. "Dylan Green."
"Um, this morning."
Warwick wrote the information on his clipboard. "Extend your hand."
"Why?" Dylan frowned, but extended his hand.
Warwick uncapped the Sharpie and drew a small B on the back of Dylan's hand. "This mark will prevent you from returning to Bayside High until it wears off." He capped the Sharpie, put it down, and took a bottle of water from the box. He held it out to Dylan. "Hoover High School is about twenty miles from here. Don't fuck up if you get there."
Dylan's eyes widened, as the two men guarding the door opened it. "You're kicking me out?!"
"The only way to ensure survival for everyone is to get rid of the upstarts immediately," Warwick said without emotion.
Dylan turned to flee back into the school. Blackman smacked him in the jaw with the butt of the rifle. Dazed and in a lot of pain, Dylan was grabbed by the arm by one of the door guards and dragged through the tunnel leading up to the football field.
Outside, the sky was overcast. Dylan was forcefully led across the field and out of the stadium on the opposite side. Tall cement barricades lined the path through the parking lot to the parking gate. A Humvee with a top-mounted machine gun stood in front of the gate. Five soldiers patrolled the narrowed area. Piles of the dead littered the ground on the opposite side of the fence.
One of the men stabbed a zombie through the eye with a long pike, adding its corpse to the pile. A woman standing on the hood of the Humvee lifted her binoculars and scanned the immediate area. "Clear."
The gate was pulled open just far enough for a person to be let through. Dylan was unceremoniously shoved outside, falling over the dead. The gate closed behind him with a clank of the bar lock. He was no longer within the safety bounds of the school.
Stunned and hurting, Dylan dragged himself over the corpse wall and got to his feet. He turned to the gate, starting to shout to be let back in, only to come face-to-face with the sharp end of the pike.
"Better get moving," the soldier with the pike growled. The water bottle Dylan hadn't taken soared over the fence and landed with a thud by his feet.
Dylan grabbed the water bottle, gave one last look at the soldiers safe behind the fence, and hustled off. He couldn't believe that they kicked him out. How many others had they'd done this to, for being an 'upstart' or whatever? How could they do this to uninfected people? Would it be the same at Hoover?
The thought made Dylan worried, as he dashed past a car with a family of zombies trapped inside. Their loud moaning would draw others, and he had a long way to go. He'd been on the streets for two weeks before he'd managed to get to Bayside, and none of it had been pleasant. Dodging zombies, scavenging for food and drink in looted stores, finding a place to sleep where he didn't have to worry about being eaten, all of it had been hard. And now he had to do it again.
A zombie wearing a pinstriped suit and tie stumbled out the broken window of an attorney's office as Dylan went past. A floral-wearing zombie secretary followed. Dylan knew, at every turn, there was a possibility of running into the plague-infected, shambling dead. It was a fictional nightmare come to life, and Dylan didn't want to be out in it.
When he got to Hoover High, he was definitely going to listen at orientation.