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Barricade

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There’s a woman lying on the hot asphalt of the road, reaching out for Ian, and he isn’t trying to help her. Some small part of him, in the back of his head, is telling him that he needs to do his job and rush in to save her life, but he can’t seem to move. His EMT kit hangs heavily, loosely from his shoulder. Somewhere, Rita is yelling at him, but Ian can’t seem to move because the woman is snarling gutturally at him, and the woman is torn in half.

She’s actually dragging herself across the road, bloodied fingertips digging into the rough surface, and leaving the rest of her body behind in the car wreck. The more she moves, the more internal organs spill out of her, but she doesn’t seem to care. She’s not screaming. She’s not in pain.

She’s not alive, Ian’s brain whispers to him, and he knows what crazy feels like and this isn’t it. This is really happening.

‘Ian, what the fuck are you doing?’ Rita has grabbed his shoulder, is dragging him backwards. He feels his arm lift of his own accord and point at the half-woman clawing her way determinedly towards him.

‘She’s…’

‘Ian, I know. We’re supposed to leave those ones. Focus on people we can save.’

Finally, Ian lifts his head. He stares out across the stretch of highway, the pile-up of cars, the people screaming and crying and scrambling over them. There’s a man running towards Ian, blood running down his face, and he doesn’t see the woman on the ground. She grabs his leg and he trips and then she’s biting him. Sinking her teeth into the fat of his calf while he screams and screams and…

Finally, Ian snaps out of it. He runs forward and unceremoniously kicks the half-woman in the face, and her head is ripped free of the man’s leg with a mouthful of flesh between her teeth. The man leans heavily into Ian, sobbing, and Ian’s knees nearly buckle. Throwing the man’s arm around his shoulder, Ian pulls him away from the half-woman, staggers back to the ambulance. Rita joins him, helps support the bleeding man, puts pressure on the wound as some people stream past and others gather round, begging for help, tugging on Ian’s uniform. 

‘What’s the ETA on the cavalry?’ he asks Rita, a little stunned by how calm he sounds.

She clenches her jaw. ‘They’re not coming. 

‘What do you mean, they’re not coming? 

‘I mean, they’re not coming, Ian. It’s like this everywhere. The city’s being evacuated. The army’s moving in. We’re supposed to grab whoever we can and move to a camp they’re setting up off I-88.’

A woman pushes through the crowd, holding a wailing toddler out with both hands. The little girl’s arm is broken and there’s blood running down her face and her mother is babbling in a language that Ian doesn’t understand but he nods, grabs the girl, mutters something about how she’s going to be OK as he puts her in a seat in the back of the ambulance. The girl’s mother clambers past Ian to get in with her daughter, and it’s already getting too crowded back there. They’re surrounded on all sides by people begging for help and Ian helps a couple more into the ambulance but there are too many of them.

‘We gotta go,’ Rita says quietly, close to Ian’s ear. ‘We need to go now or we’ll never get through this crowd.’

Running on autopilot, Ian nods. ‘You drive,’ he says, climbing into the back of the ambulance, pulling one door closed as Rita slams the other one. The chorus of wails gets louder and people start banging on the doors and on the side of the vehicle. Ian sees Rita barely manage to climb into the front seat, tendrils of hair all over her face as she starts the engine. Slowly, slowly, they peel out and away from the crowd of fleeing people. There are more thuds on the side of the ambulance as people desperately try to catch a ride, but they fall away as Rita picks up speed.

‘Hold on to something,’ Ian tells the huddled, terrified passengers, his eyes darting around as he tries to figure out who needs the most immediate attention. He settles on the man with the bitten leg, who seems to be mostly unconscious, his face turning grey as his eyelids droop.

As Ian grabs a big pad of gauze and puts pressure on the wound, his mind races. Carl is back at military school, thank god, but Lip, Fiona, Liam, Debbie… Ian has no idea where they might be. Did they get out of the city already? Jesus, this all happened so fast. There were an oddly high number of calls to the station when he arrived at work that morning and then, just a few hours later… chaos.

‘Sir, can you hear me?’ Ian says sharply to the man with the bitten leg, who is completely unresponsive. Ian frowns. It doesn’t make sense. The bite is nasty, for sure, but it’s mainly a superficial injury. Ian’s seen people pass out from shock and it doesn’t look like this. It doesn’t even look like the guy is breathing.

Wait. The guy isn’t breathing.

‘Shit,’ Ian mutters. The little girl with the broken arm is staring at him with wide eyes.

Ian grabs the guy’s wrist, feels for a pulse. Nothing.

The rocking of the ambulance is making Ian feel sick.

‘Everybody make room!’ he yells, dragging the guy to the center of the ambulance floor and laying him on his back. Blood pounding in his ears, Ian starts to go through the motions of CPR - which isn’t easy at the best of times, never mind in the back of an ambulance full of people going 60 miles an hour.

‘What’s going on back there?’ Rita yells.

‘Just keep driving!’ Ian yells back. And while he’s distracted, the guy wakes up again.

And snarls.

And grabs Ian by the throat. 

What happens next, Ian only remembers later in flashes. He remembers the little girl screaming. He remembers the dead guy’s teeth snapping close to his throat. He remembers how strong the man suddenly became, like an unstoppable force. He remembers thinking about the bite, and about the little girl, and about the very real danger that every passenger in the ambulance was in.

And he remembers saying, again, to Rita, ‘Just keep driving.’ 

He remembers saying, again, to the frightened passengers, ‘Hold on to something.’

Ian only means to open the back of the ambulance and throw the guy out, but the guy is so strong and he won’t let go of Ian’s throat. Ian loses his balance, feels the lurch in his stomach as he’s dragged backwards, and then he’s tumbling over and over and over with pain bursting in fresh spots all over his body, until he finally rolls to a stop. His bloodied face pressed against the ground, Ian listens to the wail of the siren fade as he’s left behind.


The Gallagher house is empty when Ian finally arrives.

It's eerie to find the place so quiet. He can see the empty places where belongings have hurriedly been snatched on the way out, but the family baseball bat is in its usual place and there's a note roughly impaled on the nail as well. Ian reaches out, touches it with bloody fingers.  

 

Ian

We're heading to the emergency shelter.

Don't fucking die.

Lip

On the step directly below the baseball bat is Ian’s old school backpack. Clenching his jaw against the pain, he kneels down and unzips it one-handed. Inside are bottles of water, packets of jerky, Pop Tarts, a few bruised apples, a can of pepper spray, and Ian’s remaining pills. He was due to go to the clinic for a refill soon, and there aren’t many left.

Ian feels a clench in his chest as he looks down at the hurriedly assembled supplies. They were fleeing for their lives, but they took the time to throw this together for him. To leave a note, even though they had no idea whether or not Ian would come back here. He zips the bag up again, stands up and hefts it into his shoulder, hissing in pain as he does so. Then, with his one good hand, he lifts the bat off the nail, grabbing Lip’s note as well and stuffing it into his pocket.

He doesn’t stop to search the house, to try and pack anything else into his bag. It will only slow him down, and Ian needs to get the hell out of South Side, out of the city. He needs to find his family. He needs to find out what the hell is going on. He needs to help people, if he can.

As he exits the house again, Ian sees the old lady who lives across the street, Mrs. Abramovich, sat on the porch with a shotgun resting across her knees. She smokes a cigarette and watches him walk away with her small, mean eyes. Apparently the Abramoviches aren’t interested in being part of the evacuation.

The streets are mostly deserted as Ian drags himself through them, his injuries weighing him down with exhaustion. In the distance he can hear the wail of sirens and the pop-pop-pop of rapid gunfire - admittedly not uncommon sounds in this neighborhood.

Ian pauses, just for a moment, as he passes the Kash and Grab. The windows are all smashed and the door is hanging loosely from one hinge. There are looters inside, shoving food and water and cigarettes into their pockets and into bags. There’s a dead man in the middle of the street, a bullet hole in his cheek, and Ian remembers Linda’s skill with a gun. Vaguely, he hopes that she and the kids got out of the city OK.

Then, for the first time (really, who could blame him?) Ian wonders where Frank is in all this chaos. Probably passed out in an alley somewhere, completely oblivious. He might be dead, but Ian doubts it. Frank is harder to kill than a cockroach.

Ian doesn’t intend to stop. He intends to keep walking, to hitch a ride or walk all the way out of the city if he has to. But he’s passing by the Alibi when he hears a familiar sound - a sound that sticks his feet to the sidewalk, freezes him in place.

There’s a baby crying inside.

‘Shit,’ Ian mutters. It may have been a while since he last pulled babysitting duty, but there’s something about that cry that strikes him right in his gut.

The doors are all locked, but Ian knows for a fact that there’s a window in the men’s bathroom with a broken lock, so he heads around the back of the building. He drags a dumpster over to the window, climbs on top of it, and forces it open. Old paint and crumbling mold fall down in a shower, but Ian manages to get the window open wide to let him through. He tosses his backpack and baseball bat in, then crawls in after them, splinters scraping his belly.

The wailing is much louder in here. It’s coming from the bar.

Ian picks up the baseball bat again, and grabs the pepper spray from his bag. Slowly, cautiously, he approaches the door of the bathroom, listening the whole time. He can’t hear anyone else in here, and it occurs to him that trying to sneak up on a violent, fiercely protective Russian mother might not be the best plan. Taking a deep breath, Ian calls out softly, ‘Svetlana?’

The only answer is continued wailing.

Ian pushes open the door to the bathroom slowly. ‘Svetlana? It’s Ian. Ian Gallagher. I’m coming out. Please don’t fucking shoot me, OK?’

There are no crazy Russians waiting for him on the other side of the door. The bar is deserted, save for one of those bouncy toddler chairs over in a corner by one of the booths, and in the chair…

‘Yev,’ Ian says, his voice cracking a little. He runs over, drops the baseball bat and the pepper spray and picks the screaming toddler up out of his chair, hugging him close, shushing him, pressing his nose against the top of Yevgeny’s head and breathing in that baby smell of powder and soap and… poop. No wonder Yev was crying. He had a seriously dirty diaper.

Ian casts his eyes around the room, spots a note on the table of the booth. He leans in, tries to read it, but it’s in Russian and he can’t make sense of it.

Yev is screaming right in Ian’s ear, banging his tiny fists against Ian’s chest. Ian holds him tighter, rubs his back. ‘It’s OK, little man,’ he murmurs, not sure if Yev can even hear him over the noise he’s making. ‘I’m here. I’ve got you.’

Gunfire rattles, a few streets away.

After stealing the Alibi away from Kev and Vee, Svetlana had installed a new TV above the bar, and Ian walks over to it, bouncing Yevgeny in his arms. He grabs the remote, switches it on, praying for the TV to tell him what the hell is going on in Chicago.

Here’s what the TV tells him: it’s not just Chicago.

There are breathless reporters being filmed live in New York, in Orlando, in Houston. Ian sees the words global pandemic. He sees the word zombie, over and over again. He sees shaky cellphone footage of people with missing limbs and horrible injuries and dead eyes who are somehow still moving. He sees people screaming and fleeing. He sees reports from France, from Canada, from Mexico.

Mexico.

It’s like this everywhere, Rita had told him. Ian had assumed she meant it was happening all over Chicago, but this was happening everywhere. Including Mexico.

Ian hugs Yevgeny tighter to his chest, panic rising in his throat.

This is happening everywhere.

Ten minutes later, the power goes out.