Paper to write on.
Oddly enough, it was the lack of paper to write on that made Ned realize what he had to do.
He’d done the math for water and food at the very beginning, but then the night he boarded up both his doors to the hallway, he started rationing so it could stretch even longer. So he knew he had plenty of food and water to last for a while, but since the internet went out, he needed pen and paper to put his thoughts down and had used the last blank paper a couple days ago.
Then at one point this afternoon Ned caught himself talking … out loud, and that he could not afford.
Three nights ago — a full 24 hours or so after he’d boarded both his doors to the hallway up — he listened in silence as the shit hit the fan throughout the entire building. Ned wasn’t surprised. After seeing those two idiots compromising the back door of the building, something clicked in his head. He kept seeing those soldiers muzzling and wrapping up Brewster so quickly, and then he saw everything.
He saw the doors to the street — two points of entry to the front and back of the building — to the hallways and the stairwells, then into every apartment from the hallways, and he knew what all those doors were: woefully ineffective at protecting anybody from the dangers of the moment. He realized that to a logical civilized human, doorways were actually more message than real protection. The message was, “Leave this shelter alone, and I’ll leave yours alone,” and people obeyed because they wanted to believe in civilization. They wanted to believe that such a flimsy little door would keep the monsters at bay, but deep down we all knew they’d never hold back a real monster. And the Rabid were real monsters.
Ned didn’t have a gun the way that Sergeant had. Not that even a gun would be any help at this point. The night the building fell, it had started on the first floor with gunshots, but within moments the moaning down there had gotten so loud, so quickly that Ned could barely hear the gunshots over it, until they stopped and were replaced by screams for help, then screams of pain. Only after those faded away did the moaning fade as well. For a while at least.
He’d instinctively known better than to respond to those screams, and he knew it wasn’t fear per se. It was common sense. Mind you plenty of other people in the building didn’t have that same sense, and little by little all through the night, the screams and moans had traveled up the building in mini-explosions of moaning and smashing and screaming, then the moaning would fade back down again.
At one point — it felt like just after midnight, though he had no way of confirming that — somebody had run down his hallway trying each door handle, sobbing and whispering urgently through the doors, but as bad as he felt about it, there was nothing Ned could do.
His doors were all boarded up, so even if he’d wanted to do something, he couldn’t. Regardless he knew that person was already dead. He could hear it in the voice. At first he just thought the panic would make the person do something stupid, but then he heard somebody up the hallway let the person in, and second guessed his instincts for a while. Then a couple hours later screams started from inside that apartment, and Ned instantly knew that he shouldn’t have second guessed himself.
As he listened to the poor Samaritan’s screams of pain and terror, Ned remembered the way the soldiers had hogtied Brewster after the Rabid had bit him and he made Rule Number One. In the moonlight, he wrote it down in the final few pages of a notebook he had used for work. He wrote, “Rule #1: Never help the wounded. The wounded are Rabid too. They just don’t know it yet.”
He hadn’t slept all that night. Even during the quiet moments, he’d been tracking and recording every single movement of the Rabid that he could hear through the doors and walls. As badly as he felt for all the people that died that night, he knew at any moment he could be next, but he was lucky that none of his nearby neighbors fired a gun.
He learned that whenever somebody screamed or fired a weapon or even spoke when the Rabid were near, the moaning would begin and moaning brought more moaning. Then once enough Rabid were at a door, they would just smash it in.
He did notice two other things though — they didn’t exactly warrant a rule on their own, but they were sort of related to what became Rule Number Two.
First he noticed that the Rabid didn’t use door knobs. Whenever he heard one shuffling up the hallway, they’d just moan quietly to themselves until there was some kind of sound nearby or some loud sound in the distance that would draw them away. But he never heard them try any door knobs at all. Then as the rising sun gave the world outside a golden glow, Ned heard yet another Rabid shuffle up the hallway without trying a single door knob. By then he’d been listening specifically for that, and that had been the fourth or fifth time since he’d first hypothesized it, so he wrote that into the notebook.
He also noticed they weren’t smart like humans anymore. Other than the moans, they didn’t seem to talk to one another. Also sound would bring them, but if the sound wasn’t loud enough to draw enough of them, and then if the sound stopped, the Rabid wouldn’t draw anymore Rabid, and eventually it would just wander away.
On the other hand, a gunshot always brought enough Rabid for door smashing. Both the second and third time it happened — which honestly surprised Ned that so many people in his building had guns — he could hear that multiple apartments would get smashed in, collateral damage for the amount of Rabid that the gunshot had drawn.
So that was Rule Number Two, and he wrote that into the quickly dwindling space in that work notebook: “Rule Number Two: Shut. The fuck. Up. Always.”
Whenever nothing was happening in the hallway during that first educational night, Ned busied himself by very, very slowly drawing his shades shut, and then just as slowly sealing the edges with duct tape, and that wasn’t easy.
Try pulling strips of duct tape off a roll without making a sound, and see how easy it is. Spoiler alert: It’s not. It’s hard as hell, and you have to do it very, very slowly.
Ned finished just before sunrise, but he poked two tiny little eye holes to peek out from either end — one that had a decent, but very narrow view of the street and one that had a terrible view of the alley on the side, but the best view he could find. Eventually though he realized he could hear more from it than he could see.
During that following day, he bounced back and forth from those two eye holes as quietly as he could, trying to gather as much information as possible. Most of it was boring as hell. There were sporadic moments throughout the neighborhood, near and far, that Ned could hear, but not see. They always followed the same pattern, some scream or gunshot, then a whole lot of moaning, then if it were close enough he could hear the screams but if not, he would just imagine them. Then eventually the moaning would die down.
At one point just after the sun was visible over the buildings across the street, Ned heard a faraway smash, then another, then another closer and closer each time. Eventually he could tell that it was a big truck, smashing into other vehicles as it drove down the street. It sounded like it was going east on 6th street, about half a block south of his building. The moaning grew as well. He could even hear the Rabid in the hallways and the stairwells going towards the sound.
Ned got excited. He pictured the guy behind the wheel wearing some big trucker cap hootin’ and hollerin’ as the Rabid probably poured out of nearby buildings to get mowed down by the big semi, but then a couple blocks after it passed his street, he heard one last smash, following by a whoosh, as a giant fireball shot into the sky over the buildings just to the south east. A roaring shockwave of heat blew through. For a few moments, Ned was afraid his windows would smash in as he heard windows closer to the blast shattering.
Ned knew right away, that the truck had driven into the gas station on 6th, and he couldn’t help but wonder if the trucker had done that on accident or on purpose. Had he dodged some massive vehicle in the way and accidentally nicked a gas terminal, or had he driven head on into it, screaming for joy? Ned didn’t know if he should mourn the man (or woman — no reason to be sexist about it!) or honor them for going the way they wanted to go.
For a moment, Ned put himself in the position of a long haul trucker stuck in the heart of LA, with no real hope of making it out, and that sounded like a pretty great way to go, all things considered. Of course Ned wasn’t stuck like that. He still had plenty of cards left to play. He just needed to know the rules. So he kept watching and making notes, and as the afternoon light started to dim, he saw something very interesting.
Across the street, in that narrow little slice of view that he had from his window, Ned saw Two Rabid come out from the doorway across the street. The door to the building didn’t seem smashed so Ned wondered how the door had opened. They were covered in blood, limping and slack jawed and moaning like the rest. They even seemed as dim as the rest, but how had they gotten that door open? Maybe the latch was broken, and they just pushed their way out?
But then as the first of the two started shambling down the sidewalk, Ned heard an almost instant increase of moaning all up and down the street. That first weird Rabid didn’t seem to notice at first and just kept walking down the sidewalk, but the one behind broke and went right back into the building clearly using the doorknob.
Oh shit, Ned thought to himself. Did you really think that was gonna work?
Within moments the first faker was tackled past where Ned could see, but he could hear the screams of pain and fear, while a whole pack of Rabid smashed their way through the front door of the building in less than a minute. By the time they got in, the first fake Rabid’s cries had stopped. Then after hearing a couple scream-moan-cry-fade cycles on various floors of the building across the street, Ned saw that first “fake” Rabid limping north, but this time it wasn’t faking.
How had so many Rabid been able to tell they were faking though, and how could they tell so quickly? He knew it couldn’t have been by smell. He’d stuffed old clothes under both of the doors to his apartment and taped up the edges during the night, but several Rabid had passed by his door before he thought to do that and he was stinky AF without any deodorant left, so it couldn’t be smell.
And the moans had been far away — one had even come from the street end of his hallway — three floors up and across the street too, so it had to be sight.
Earlier that day, just as he was finishing poking the second hole in the shades, Ned heard a Rabid in the alley below moaning and he jumped back, his heart pounding in his chest. He thought he’d been seen and that the Rabid in the alley was somehow going to alert Rabid in the halls, but as he continued to hide out of sight, he started to hear strange pulses of moaning.
He snuck a look out the hole he’d just made and saw that a small crowd of Rabid was gathering in the alley, but they were all looking towards a spot in his building below and to the left of him. He was relieved, but didn’t understand why the moaning would get loud all of a sudden and then sort of die down for a bit. It kept happening, and Ned couldn’t make sense of it until he realized some neighbor of his was playing peekaboo with the Rabid — disappearing, then reappearing. Toying with them, as if they were children or pets.
Eventually the crowd in the alley grew so huge it spilled into the street in front of the building, and eventually Ned could hear moaning from the hallway downstairs. That’s when Mr Peekaboo decided it was a great time to scream at the Rabid in the hallway, and that was basically that. Scream, moan, cry, fade and scene.
After the fake Rabid incident Ned finally put it together, and as the sunlight faded away, he wrote the first part of Rule Number Three: “The Rabid can tell non-Rabid by sight. I just need to figure out how.” He then used the last pages of the notebook to question and hypothesize what he had learned that day. How could the Rabid tell the non-Rabid by sight? Was it body heat? Did all the Rabid run cold, and could they see the infrared band? How was that even possible with just an infection? Their strength and ferocity seemed to match how regular rabies worked — as far as he knew, but giving them extra senses? It just didn’t make sense.
In any case, he wanted to figure it out in case there was a way to become more or less invisible to the Rabid. So many questions and not many answers, and nowhere left to write any of it.
That was two days ago. Ned always slept on his side now, knowing that snoring could be the death of him. Not that he was known to snore, but who had been around to tell him anyway? It just wasn’t worth it.
He tried to use the edges and margins of various different books to write his different observations and thoughts ever since the notebook had filled up, but it wasn’t enough. Then at some point in the afternoon of that third day after the shit hit the fan, Ned heard himself say out loud, “I need paper … and pens,” then froze solid.
It had drawn a moan from the room down the hall, but thankfully the rabid Good Samaritan and his guest hadn’t found a way back out of the apartment yet, and two just didn’t seem like enough to smash through the door, so he’d gotten lucky. No Rabid had been wandering by just then, but Ned knew that without a vent for his thoughts and observations, he was going to do it again and it might even get worse over time.
He had enough food and water for probably two months if the bath water didn’t evaporate quicker than he anticipated, but he wouldn’t make it two weeks if he started talking out loud to himself.
So he knew what he’d have to do. He’d have to find a way to raid his neighbors’ apartments, and he needed to figure it out soon.