0
followers
follow

Harper Hopkins

A TV reporter who won't tolerate lies, but hides her own weaknesses.

0 · 440 views · located in Season 3

a character in “The Walking Dead: Online”, as played by Fear of a Female Planet

Description

.: Character Profile :.

Image

Description:

 Template
#3

 Profession
TV News Reporter

 Age
29

 Gender
F

 Height/Weight
5'8" / 132 lbs.

Hair/Eyes
Brown / Green

 Nationality/Ethnicity
American

 Tattoos/Scars
None / None

 Clothing/Outfit
Dark blue skinny jeans / Black long-sleeve cotton tee / White camisole / Tall cognac-colored Frye riding boots / flak vest & helmet (from a prior assignment in combat zones)

Image


Myers-Briggs Type: ISTJ (Introvert Sensing Thinking Judgmental)

Traits:

 3 Strengths

Good People Skills
It's Harper's job to strike up dialogue with anyone she needs to get information from, to calm down that reluctant passerby who really doesn't want to be in that camera shot, console a war widow who had agreed to an interview, or connect with almost anyone. However, this is a skill she's had to hone and perfect in order to acquire information from others, and she doesn't share much about herself in the process.

High Intelligence
Harper doesn't suffer fools and she loves facts. She can read body language, do fast math in her head, and has a photographic memory. She sees "the big picture" and analyzes situations and details quickly. She focuses on facts first and feelings second.

Charismatic
With a charming smile, good posture, and trained mannerisms, a it's easy to get people to follow you anywhere. Harper is a natural leader. She's not prone to manipulation but will resort to it depending on what she's aiming for. In the meantime, when she chooses to shine, she does. If she takes a leadership role, she's quick to restore order and reduce chaos. She's very dutiful and driven to do well with any task she undertakes.

Image
Image

 3 Flaws

Stubborn
Journalists are not known to be people who acquiesce easily. Harper asks tough questions and has a hard time letting go of those questions that remain unanswered. If she is not solidly convinced of something, she will stick to her guns come hell or high water.

Neurotic
Journalists tend to be a little on the neurotic side, and Harper is no exception. She agonizes over her mistakes, for instance. Sometimes she falls into deep depression, or drinks a little too much. She works hard to conceal her fairly high level of anxiety. She tends to blame herself if things have gone poorly.

Explosive Temper
Harper's got a pretty long fuse and works to tolerate things, but when she's reached her limit, it's over. She becomes very angry and her mind and mouth are on an autopilot, charting a course for heading straight into the ground. Usually she is very calm and collected, so outbursts such as these are extremely uncommon, and only take place when she cannot logically justify something.

Image

Personality:

 Fears
Others discovering just how anxious she is, losing the trust of another person, rotting/lost teeth

 Aspirations
To win another Emmy, become a top-market TV anchor, become a member of the White House Press Corps

 Dominant Emotion
Inquisitive

 Demeanor
Harper has worked for years to come out of her shell. Growing up in a large family meant that she had to learn how to work around her shyness. She's traditionally-minded but isn't in the habit of harshly judging others on things not based in fact. In fact, Harper loves facts. She's concerned with the world around her immediately, and satisfying goals and work deadlines. She's extremely capable and effective, and does an excellent job of understanding and explaining tasks and concepts at the most basic level, which helps her in her career as a journalist. While she's worked hard to pick up on social cues from others, she's not always successful at pinpointing emotions and motivations from others, but once she knows about them, works hard to cooperative with someone with good intentions. She's very loyal and faithful to those that she does become close with, even if she doesn't share much about herself with them. She can be terribly hard on herself and other people if she hasn't taken the time to fully understand their contributions. She prefers to spend her nights reading alone, but every now and then tags along with co-workers to go let some steam off.

Image

 Quirks/Oddities
Loves junk food, hates the zoo, hates the color purple (even though she wears it from time to time)

 Skills/Proficiencies
Information gathering, firearm handling, social interaction, writing, public speaking, hunting

Equipment:

 A notebook and plenty of pens/pencils
 A compact mirror, Kleenex
 A rucksack from a prior assignment in combat zones
 A silver ring with a large garnet stone
 A Mossberg shotgun
 A cheap butcher knife
 Loves her Frye riding boots

Image

History:

 Grew up in Cary, North Carolina, in an old Southern family as the third-youngest of seven children; spent her childhood hunting with her brothers, attending an all-girls' school, and taking trips to the beach
Studied Journalism at UNC Chapel Hill; started out wanting to study editorial journalism, but was pulled over to broadcast once the department head saw her; graduated in 2007
 Started as a TV reporter at 22; successfully went from New Bern, North Carolina, to Raleigh, to Atlanta, in just six short years
 Awarded two Emmys and a number of awards for political, combat zone reporting
In late 2013, moves to Los Angeles to work at WEND-TV; starts to miss home

WORTH NOTING

Image
Harper is an occasional user of Xanax in order to control recently-surfacing but infrequent panic attacks due to homesickness and a general feeling of anxiety. She hasn't told a single person about her panic attacks--not even her family.

So begins...

Harper Hopkins's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC)

0.00 INK

Harper Hopkins

Harper didn't have a life. At least, she didn't feel like she did. She didn't really like socializing at work; too many snakes, not enough grass. All right, a few people were pretty cool; she got along with all the other reporters who'd shown up in Los Angeles at about the same time that she had, and the videographers had all been superb with her on shoots. When she couldn't swing editing her own news packages, the editors she'd work with were pretty great. She even got along with her assignment editor and her producer. All right, maybe there were more good people at WEND-TV than she'd really accounted for...

... except for the evening anchors, two older, Botox'ed clams who had been on the desk for way too long. George Geranos and Maxine Millner. Good God. Sour personalities. The entire sports department seemed to be made up of fine citizens from Douchebag City, from Chuck Cherry on the evening desk (even a douchebag name, for Christ's sake!) to the nameless intern chick who insisted on wearing low-cut dresses every day. Mostly those folks kept to themselves, like an inbred stable. Good riddance.

But the weirdest people were the folks competing to be on the desk, the reporters who had "been around for so long" and thought that Harper was a usurper encroaching on their birthright. The News Director, Steve Hilpin, saw fit to stick the Emmy-winning newcomer with plush assignments; after getting shot at in Iraq, taking a U.S. Senator to task for lying about having an illegitimate child, exposing a child sex ring in Atlanta, and a number of other intense stories she'd covered, he felt she'd earned the right to not have to prove herself in a top-market newsroom. Of course, that put her in an awkward position with other reporters who were prone to feelings of entitlement and jealousy.

She sipped her coffee while standing at her desk, looking at the most recent copy of the evening show's rundown. She always arrived at work close to 1, since she was working the nightside these days. Her stories would appear on the evening newscasts, both at 6 and at 11 pre-empting the late-night shows. It was a coveted schedule to have: show up at work by 1, lunch and dinner breaks as you could fit them in, and out by midnight, with the option to have a drink before hitting the hay and starting the cycle all over again.

Nathan, the videographer assigned to her for that day, sauntered over to the desk and held up two small bags of In-N-Out with one hand and a cup in the other. "Miss Hopkins, I owe you lunch today," he said with a goofy grin. "And we're going to need it. Today's a doozy."

Harper let out a little excited squeak as she opened her bag. Cheeseburgers were awesome. "Thanks for bringing lunch, remind me that I'm supposed to marry you someday," she quipped happily. She reached into the bag and took a satisfied bite out of her sandwich. "Good Lord, you know me so well." She took a sip of her soda and smiled. "Yeah, we've got quite a day ahead of us. I can't wait. I've been dying to do this story."

Several months prior, Harper had pitched the idea of talking to a leading anti-vaccination advocate, who also happened to be a porn-star-turned-B-movie-actress, about the veracity of her claims that vaccines caused her son to become autistic. After some digging, her producer found a doctor at UCLA Medical Center who could refute that claim. They still had yet to get the advocate herself to agree to an interview that wasn't constrained by a restrictive contract. What better way to force her to talk than by forcing her to defend herself?

A risky move, but considering recent outbreaks of infectious diseases that were supposed to be long-eradicated, the issue was becoming a growing concern in the public eye.

Harper flicked a lint roller over her sweater and plucked her bag and notepad from her desk. She crinkled up her food wrapper, tossed it in the wastebin, and looked to her videographer. "Ready when you are!"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC)

0.00 INK

Just as Harper and Nathan were heading out the door, Charlie, the nightside assignment editor, flagged them down. "Whoa there, pardners, quick word before you head out!" he said, rushing from his desk and dramatically waving his arms. "Just got off the phone with Calvin Hawke's agent."

Nathan seemed unimpressed. "Okay, and?" he said dully.

Charlie rolled his eyes. "Okay, and you better be at his office in the next half-hour to interview Calvin Hawke."

Nathan laughed. "Any reason why we need to interview him?"

Harper loved the fact that Nathan was often willing to ask the meaner questions that she didn't want to ask for the sake of keeping the peace. He was so much more excited about handling conflict than she was, and she wasn't about to get in his way.

"Because his new flick is raking in record-breaking dollars for someone like him," Charlie sharply responded. "I texted you guys the address, the latest box office amounts, a background refresher on him, and other shit you just might like to read. Head on out now. You've got an hour with him, then you can go to the hospital. And, you're welcome, I re-booked your appointment. Doc's scheduler said that that worked a lot better, since he ended up getting busy today."

Harper nodded. "Thanks, Charlie, we're on it." She and Nathan continued out the door and hopped into one of the company vehicles. "Have you ever seen a Calvin Hawke movie?" she asked Nathan as she buckled up. "I haven't watched a movie in years."

Nathan laughed. "Yeah, Calvin Hawke is the shit," he said back.

"So why were you such an asshole to Charlie about it?" Harper asked, confused.

Nathan laughed again. "Because I don't want to let on that I'm ever excited about meeting anyone and looking like the lamest kid in the room!" he explained. "We'll be there in ten minutes, not thirty. I'm pretty jazzed, man."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC)

0.00 INK

.: CALVIN HAWKE :.


"Remind me why I'm doing this again?" Calvin asked as Ross fiddled with his collar. He had been quite persistent on Calvin wearing something a little nicer than his typical wardrobe for his meeting. The news network WEND-TV had called to set-up a pre-interview for a story on Calvin and his budding career. It would be great publicity and would likely inspire other magazines and news networks to approach him.

Ross grabbed Calvin and shook him by the cheeks, playfully. "Because the fish are starting to bite, and this is part of what we have to do to make sure they stay hungry." Calvin swatted Ross' hands away and moved towards the window where he saw a news van turn onto the street from a ways down. He reached into his pocket to silence his phone, and though he'd never admit it, he was also checking to see if there were any other unexpected calls from ex-girlfriends he hadn't talked to in months. But there were no calls. And no bars either, oddly enough.

"I just spent two months doing press junkets. Do I really need to do another interview for this movie?"

Ross laughed to himself, as if Calvin was the most naive person on the planet. "Calvin. Baby. You don't get it, do you?" He grabbed a magazine from a pile on his desk and threw it down on the coffee table beside Calvin. Underneath the title lettering was a photo of Calvin atop the hood of an old Camaro. The caption read: "Hollywood's Golden Boy". "They don't just want some story about what you ate at the craft services table on set... they want your story."

Calvin let that sink in a moment as he continued gazing out the window. The van had pulled to a stop in front of Ross' office. A man unloaded some equipment from the back, while I woman led her way up the steps towards the front door. It wasn't long before Ross' intercom buzzed.

His secretary chimed in from the other side, "There's a Ms. Hopkins here for your 4 o'clock."

Ross sent a thumbs up Calvin's way and keyed the door. "Send her in."

The door opened and a thin woman entered, followed by a stockier gentleman carrying a large cargo box. The woman headed directly for Calvin and held out her hand, making firm eye contact. "Harper Hopkins. WEND-TV."

Calvin shook her hand. "Calvin Hawke."

"Of course," she replied as she broke off to help her colleague unpack. "This should only take an hour or so," she began, "we're just going to chat for a bit so I can collect some talking points for the real interview."

Ross sidled in from behind his desk. "And will you be needing me for this, or--"

Harper gave the man a scan from head-to-toe. "I think Calvin will be able to help us with everything."

The agent cleared his throat and grabbed his cell phone off the table. "Right. Well, let me know when you're finished. I'll be next door." He gathered his things and left the room hastily. Nathan, in the meantime, had just finished attaching Calvin's mic.

"Alright," he began, "you're good to go, dude. Err-- Mr. Hawke."

Calvin smiled. "Dude's fine."

Harper had taken the liberty of attaching her own mic and had taken her set with a pen and a pad. Calvin sat in the lounge chair across from her and fiddled with his mic a bit so it wasn't poking into his chest. She looked over to Nathan and signaled for him to start recording.

"So. Calvin Hawke. Tell me... why should I be doing a piece on you?"

The question was insanely blunt, but extremely valid. And Calvin had no good answer.

"Uhhhhh... I don't really know how to answer that."

He wasn't sure if she was a really good interviewer or if she was just toying with him. Either way, he felt like he was floundering. She followed-up quickly. "You've been interviewed dozens of times already about your new film. Do you even have anything left to say?" Her queries lingered quite loudly in the deadly silent room. Nathan looked back and forth between the two, awkwardly.

Calvin adjusted in his seat and leaned forward. "You want a story? I'll give you a story."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC)

0.00 INK

Harper Hopkins


"... and, you wouldn't believe it, but now every time I see a mouse on TV, I think of that ONE guy," Calvin finished, cracking up with the silly memory he'd gone into details about. He was now obviously feeling far more comfortable in front of the rolling camera than when the interview had started out.

Harper doubled over in laughter. This was one of the most fun interviews she'd conducted in weeks. "Great, now that's exactly what I'm going to think of, too," she said, jotting down the approximate timecode at which he'd wrapped up, for the purpose of easier work in the editing bay back at the station. "I'm going to tell you I've never seen any of your movies. Is that bad?"

Calvin shrugged his shoulders and raised his palms, contorting his face into a comically quizzical expression. "Ahhh, I don't know, you seem to be surviving somehow," he shot back. "I don't know how, but here you are. Loser."

Harper laughed again. "All right, all right, so why don't you tell me which should be the FIRST movie starring the great, acclaimed Calvin Hawke that I should watch?" she asked, playfully hunching her head down between her shoulders, dramatically sticking her head out as though expecting the answer of a lifetime.

Calvin jokingly chewed the side of his lip and tilted his head. "Gosh, there are just so many good ones, you know?" His words spilled out in a sticky-thoughtful manner. He set his face ahead to look back at Harper. "How about you just start with the one that just came out that you just asked me all these questions about? Start at the end, work backwards! You won't be disappointed."

Harper's stomach hurt from all that laughter. "Goooooood God," she howled. "Ehh, man, sucks that we have to get back." She looked back at Nathan. "What do you think? Are we good?"

Nathan had been working to hold back his amusement. "This is gold," he replied, shutting off the red "Record" button and clicking the "off" switch. He then reached down to another device that had been rolling, positioned not far from Calvin's feet: a small cassette recorder that looked like it had seen better days.

Harper blinked for a moment as she looked at it. "Dude, were you skipping class and trying to figure out what the professor said later?" she quipped quickly.

Nathan shook his head and laughed. "No, no, no," he rolled happily, "and, I hope you don't mind, man, but I carry this in my pocket for interviews I get super-psyched about. These days everything is digital. Ever had a camera or an SD card or an external hard drive crash on you? Man, it's a motherfucker." He caught himself and turned red. "Uhh, sorry... totally let that slip... okay, I'll say, it's a big huge expensive problem to fix that you just feel like you can have a nervous breakdown over. Man, it sucks. I wanted an audio backup of this interview in case anything went bad. This was just so cool, man."

Calvin shrugged as he unclipped his lapel mic and handed it back to Nathan. "No sweat, it's all right," he said. "Analog, man. That can't get screwed up. I'm glad you were excited."

Harper stood and pulled off her own mic as Nathan packed up. "Well, Mr. Hawke, I gotta tell you, I'm a lot more informed than I was when I got in the door," she said. It really had been a good interview. It was very rare to find people who were good in front of the camera who also had interesting things to say. Bummer that she was unlikely to run into him anytime soon, since, after all, funny people are hard to come by. "Thanks for a good interview. That was a lot of fun."

Calvin held out a hand to Harper and shook her hand. "Miss Hopkins, don't tear me up too badly," he joked. He then extended a hand to Nathan. "Dude, a real pleasure."

Nathan smiled and slid his sunglasses up the bridge of his nose and on his eyes. "Man, been an honor," he replied. He pulled out his cell phone and smiled again. "Uh... would it be all right if we snapped a photo? My brother won't believe me if I tell him."

Harper took a peek out of the window as Calvin cheerfully agreed to a picture. As the two goofed off she peered downward onto the street. There were a couple of cars on sidewalks with flashing lights that stayed remarkably still, as though they'd been abandoned. The driver doors were open. There seemed to be more people on the street than usual, hustling quickly and nervously; this wasn't the part of town where pedestrians liked to stroll close to 5 p.m., as most people were getting into their cars at this time. Los Angeles wasn't really a walker's city, anyway... that was a tag for New York to wear.

"I'll walk you guys out," Calvin offered, breaking Harper's concentration.

She blinked and looked toward the two men. "Oh, yes, that would be great," she sputtered. "I was just looking outside. It's, uh, pretty hairy out there. Calvin, is this normal for this time of day?"

Before he could respond, a shriek broke out, muffled by the shut door. "HOLY SHIT!" was the also-muffled shout that accompanied it.

Calvin opened the door and raced out, Nathan and Harper not far behind. Ross' secretary stood there in shock, blood spurtling down the front of her shirt and dripping onto the ground. She held her arms in in the air, her hands shaking like leaves in the wind. Her face was ashy, her mouth hung open in disbelief. "I thought it was the mailman! H-h-h-he was supposed to pick up a package this afternoon, and-and-and Ross and-and-and-"

Calvin waved his hands. "Stop, stop, lie down, we're going to call 9-1-1, don't say a word!" he instructed quickly. "Nathan, the bathroom's over there, go grab a towel so we can stop the bleeding! Harper, get out your phone and call 9-1-1! Right now!" He helped the secretary down, so that the blood wouldn't gush as quickly from her throat due to gravity's natural pull toward the ground.

Nathan took off, opening the glass-paneled door that led down a hallway, where the office's two bathrooms were located.

"N... n-n-n.... Nooo!" the secretary insisted between wet, uneven breaths as Calvin brought her down to the ground. "D-d-don'-"

"No, don't talk, don't talk right now, we need to help you!" Calvin's voice was smooth but tense. "Stay down, just stay right here and we'll get help."

Harper was dumbfounded as she watched, and even more dumbfounded when she heard that repetitive, infuriating "out of service" message crop into her ear. "I can't get through," she said creakily, trying her best to keep calm despite the poor woman bleedin on the ground. "I'll try again, I'll try again right now."

She eyed the wound from the place she stood, confused. Was she stabbed? That had to be the explanation. There was no gunshot that she'd heard. If the woman had been stabbed, then that sure was one deep dig; usually these kinds of stab wounds didn't bleed so profusely unless there were many of them in the same place. How could someone have perpetrated such an attack, and so quickly? Who would be so bold? No doubt there were enough security cameras here to cause a reasonable amount of concern for anyone who was considering such a crime.

But then she noticed the jagged flesh around the area that the blood kept pumping from, turning a startling green and black at the ends. That sure didn't look like a stab wound to her.

Calvin must have noticed it, too. He looked back to Harper with large, saucer-like eyes. The only sound in the room was the woman's labored, squishy breathing. They likely had the same questions on their minds.

"WHOA!"

Nathan was running at breakneck speed down the hallway he'd disappeared down, clutching a couple of sage green hand towels. A nanosecond's glance at the hallway showed two dark figures tearing after him, not fast, but something scared Nathan to this point. Harper dropped her phone and raced to the door, instinctively slamming it behind Nathan after he barreled through and bracing her body against it, locking her wrists to secure the handle.

She let out a scream when she turned her head to look through the glass.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Edmund Remington Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC)

0.00 INK

Edmund Remington


"Wonderful, Therese. I'm very proud of you."

Edmund elegantly clapped for all of his students as they completed the routine they were currently working on. Therese, obviously the most experienced of all her classmates, had managed to impress everyone with her graceful moves and gestures. It had been a few hours since class started and Edmund had managed to teach them the rest of the routine before the end of class.

After the students changed back to their everyday wear, they gathered their belongings and prepared to leave. Edmund gave them all a warm goodbye and adjusted his glasses before taking a look at the bags of clothes he purchased earlier that day. Now that he was alone, changing into the outfits and using the mirror to his advantage would be perfect. Grabbing a random bag, Edmund headed to the changing rooms and put on the clothes. He then turned all of the studio's lights on and adored himself in the large mirror placed in front of the dancing space.

"Handsome, as always."

Therese appeared out of nowhere, a small grin on her face. She was basically mocking her teacher's vanity with no shame or humility at all. Edmund let out a soft laugh.

"This black sweater fits perfect over my shirt. Black and white: the perfect combination," jokingly spinning around to show Therese all of the outfit, Edmund looked up and down at his own reflection, "I know I'm fashionable. No need to remind me, Therese."

"Of course, I never have to remind you. You remind yourself all the time."

Therese slowly glided towards Edmund, her hands behind her back. She was acting very unusual; the majority of the time, Therese was bubbly and talkative. However, at that moment, she seemed shy and secretive.

"Is everything all right, Therese? Why didn't you leave with the others? Class is over."

Now feeling a bit awkward as Therese continued to make her way closer to him, Edmund crossed his arms and began to step back. The lights began to flicker, making the situation have a creepy feeling.

"Edmund, I've always adored you very much," whispered Therese, now almost face-to-face with Edmund. She brought her arms in front of her and in her hands was a rose with a note, "ever since you began teaching me, I admit, I began to obsess over you.

Edmund swallowed, sweat beginning to form at his forehead. This girl was almost ten years younger than him and was now pronouncing her long-time love for him; things could not get worse. Grabbing the rose and taking another step back, Edmund nodded at Therese and motioned to the door. "Look, I'm flattered, but you're just too young for me. I think you should leave."

The room was silent. Therese looked down at the shiny floor with a look of major disappointment; the man she had loved for so long rejected her. Edmund looked above as the lights began to flicker. One completely went out. "I completely forgot to pay the light bill," muttered Edmund, trying to fill in the awkward silence between him and Therese. The light that went out was joined by another and soon enough, all the lights just died all together.

"You're right, I should leave," uttered Therese, still looking at the ground.

Click!

Edmund's attention was turned to the front door. It was too dark to notice, but there was now someone else in the room. The person left the door open and were making their way towards the two.

"Sorry, I left my bag here. Did you guys notice how crazy it is outside? Everyone's panicking over something."

It was just one of Edmund's students. He turned on his phone's flash to aid him find his bag in the darkness. Therese sighed and began her way out of the studio. Edmund sighed with relief, glad that the situation was over. He looked over to the student who left his bag and was about to say something when a shriek rang out by the open front door.

Edmund and his student immediately looked at the door. On the ground was Therese, her eyes wide open in horror and her body shaking. There was a pool of blood forming around her head and there seemed to be a bloody bite mark on her neck.

"Holy fuck!" cried out Edmund's student, and he immediately dashed to the hallway that led to the emergency exit. Edmund just stood there in shock, his hands shaking. Mumbling Therese's name, Edmund raced to her. As soon as he reached her, he spotted a horrifying, human-like figure feeding away on Therese's lower body.

"Oh my God."

Whatever was eating away at Therese looked up and took notice of Edmund. It stared at him and was about to pounce when a noise out in the streets stole it's attention. Whoever or whatever made the sound was probably delicious to the human-like creature as it hurdled towards it, completely forgetting about Therese or Edmund.

"Ed-Edmund. P-Ple-Please, help," her body was shaking and some of the blood began to turn into disgusting shades of green and black. Edmund desperately wanted to assist her but knew that there was probably nothing he could do; Therese was a goner for sure and he was lucky that the thing that was eating her was distracted by something. There were screams outside and Edmund didn't take the chance to see who was the creature's next victim; he quickly sped his way out of the emergency exit in the back and looked for a place he could take shelter in.

A few minutes away from the dance studio was the news station and there was an awfully large amount of people running around near it. Not wanting to stay in the same spot too long in fear of the creature finding him again, Edmund had no care in the world and just dashed as fast as he could towards the news station; in his mind, being around a large group of people when there's flesh-eating things running around was way better than being alone. After a few minutes of running in the open, he finally reached a point where he joined in with the crowd of bustling people. Edmund checked his pockets and realized that he left his phone back in his old pants at the studio.

"My luck," he mumbled. Turning his head towards the news station, which he found himself in front of, Edmund felt the need to barge in. He could definitely learn more about the chaos going on in there, with all the large amounts of televisions and radios in there. Plus, his uncle, Charlie, was the assignment editor there and he would most surely know lots about the situation with the human-eaters.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC)

0.00 INK

.: CALVIN HAWKE :.


Nathan jumped through the doorway, spilling the towels all over the floor. Harper slammed the door shut behind him and braced herself for the inevitable impact of Nathan's pursuers. She screamed as the first walker threw its body against the door. The creature began pawing and thrashing on the other side as Calvin began trying to drag the secretary back into Ross' office where they could try to barricade themselves.

“Nathan! Give me a hand,” Calvin shouted to the cameraman. He was on his hands and knees trying to scrounge up the fallen towels, but abandoned his task when he saw what Calvin was up to. He came over and grabbed the girl's arms. Calvin already had her legs. “On three,” he said, looking Nathan in the eyes. “One... two... th--”

“AAAAAAAAH!” Nathan yelled out, as he fell forwards onto the girl. The secretary had grabbed onto his forearms and was pulling him in towards her. He managed to pin her head against the ground with his knee, and the girl suddenly started violently clawing and twisting on the floor. Harper stared at the poor girl's clammy face. Her eyes had become cloudy, like an animal at the end of its life. Blood poured from inside her mouth as she gnashed her teeth ferociously. It was like she had lost all sense of her old self and become a rabid husk of a human being. “Get her off of me!” Nathan shouted, struggling with the girl. Harper saw that Calvin was occupied with her legs and began to run over.

“No,” Calvin began, “hold the door! We can't let them-- SHIT! Harper, look out!” She was able to see it in his eyes before she heard it. The sound of thousands of shards of glass shattering apart behind her as the second walker hurled itself through the window next to the door. It was Calvin's agent, Ross. Or what was left of him, at least. The side of his face had been mostly torn away, and his suit was streaked with blood. Calvin reached out for Harper, grabbing her hand and pulling her out of Ross' claws.

“I'm losing my grip!” Nathan shouted out from beside them. The girl hadn't seemed to lose any energy as she thrashed about, and to be honest, for a girl her size she was giving Nathan quite a run for his money. There seemed to be a limited number of options at this particular point.

“Back into the office, GO!” Calvin ordered. Harper scrambled to her feet, kicking Ross away from her as she went. Calvin ran over to the secretary's desk and grabbed her office chair, as Nathan tried to untangle himself from the enraged girl. Ross clamored to his feet, fixated on Nathan. As he began to lumber over, Calvin grabbed the back of the chair and ran it against him like a lion-tamer, piercing the agent's torso with the two top legs. He yelled at the top of his lungs as he ran Ross back against the door. His body dropped to the floor, impaled by the chair, but otherwise undeterred. Calvin looked into the eyes of the man who had once made his career, and didn't know who he was looking at anymore. Ross' eyes were grey and cloudy, like his secretary's, but there was no hint of recognition in them... no life. He was suddenly snapped back to reality by Nathan.

“CALVIN! Come on!” He shouted from the doorway to the office. Calvin spun around and ran by as Nathan delivered a hard kick to the secretary's chest, sending her reeling backwards. He slammed the door behind Calvin and the two of them cleared Ross' desk and began dragging it over to block the door. Harper was at the window, peering through the blinds.

“What the hell is happening out there? What is this?” She asked, sullenly. A car was on fire in front of the building, and the red and orange light reflected across her eyes. The sun had mostly set now, and the street lights were waking up all along the sidewalks. Occasional silhouettes were scuttling around. Likely more of these walkers or others trying to find sanctuary. The two men had fixed the desk against the door, and were sitting on the floor catching their breath.

“I have no idea...” Calvin said between breaths, “but I think we're safe in here for now.”

Harper looked back at the two of them and crossed her arms. “We can't stay here for long. Disasters of this scale always warrant looting. Trust me, I'm a reporter. I've seen it. Now that the Sun's down there's going to be more to worry about than monsters going bump in the night.”

Calvin shook his head. “You really think there's going to be looting going on with something like this going on outside? You saw those things out there...”

“I don't know what I saw,” Harper said, indignantly.

The silence hung over the room like a dark cloud with nothing but the distant wails of sirens and desperate clawing of the secretary's nails on the outside of the wooden oak door.

And suddenly the day didn't seem so bright anymore...

[ Cue Soundtrack In Seperate Window: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWxQVLQmp3I ]

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC)

0.00 INK

Harper Hopkins

(NOTE: Edits made, ~11am PST 3/26, because writing after two glasses of wine is not a great idea!)

The metal desk was heavy; heavy enough to keep the clawing, corpulent-looking secretary from burrowing her way through if she did happen to even scratch through the massive oak door.

At least they had that going for them.

Harper pursed her lip, and turned to peer again out the window. They had to be four or five stories up off of the ground, so they were a fairly safe distance up from the street and possible looters, or worse. On the downside, there was no way to climb or drop down safely.

Slow-moving figures dotted her line of sight occasionally. A few people darted quickly through the streets. Office windows across the street were lit on a fashion similar to theirs, even with similar faces that could be made out from their distance away. They weren't the only ones watching the events slowly unfolding below.

"Look," she said as she opened the window and gestured Calvin and Nathan to check out the window, "we can't get down from here, and it's getting darker. It's either we go back through the door, work our way through and get to our van, or we stay up here until we can see on the street."

Nathan looked over his shoulder at the door, the sound of the woman's guttural throat gurgles making him shudder, and looked back to Harper. "You can't be serious."

Harper furrowed her brow and pointed out the window. "Nathan, there's just no way," she fired back, trying to restrain herself from panicking. "Remember that long elevator ride? I don't remember us bringing parachutes, so the only option for us that doesn't involve breaking legs is out that door, right there." She pointed toward the growling noises.

Nathan shook his head. Calvin stared out the window, eyes bulging at the sight of the unseemly quiet mayhem down below. One of those slower-moving figures dragged itself below a lit streetlight. The newly-illuminated figure looked a lot like the secretary--limp neck, lips bared back to reveal gnashy teeth. Overall, almost unhuman. It toddled out of the circular field of light and wandered back off into the dark. "She's right," he said, "and if we don't make a break for it now, we'll have to stay up here probably for a long while."

Nathan looked around Ross' office, desperate to find some way to manage the threat outside of the door and make it to safety. It wasn't guaranteed safety, but it might be better than what they'd have up here. Clearly, they'd need backup methods of reasoning with the three people out there... if they could even reason at all.

Finally, his eyes landed on a set of golf clubs. He briefly reflected on their inherent pretentiousness, and then dashed over and reached for three of them. "I have no clue what any of these do," he reported almost sheepishly. "If this idea sucks, then be my guest and find another one. I really think we should stay up here and wait for the sun to come back out."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC)

0.00 INK

.: CALVIN HAWKE :.


Nathan grabbed a 5-iron from the set and tossed it to Calvin. Harper too. They all looked at one another, awkwardly.

“It's not the worst idea...” Nathan said, sheepishly.

“There were two of them out there before,” Harper began, gesturing with her club. “Who knows how many there are now. Are we really going to fight our way through five stories of those things?”

Calvin shook his head. “There's still power. The elevators should still work.”

He set his club down on Ross' desk and shook the mouse on its pad to wake the computer out of its screensaver. A cheesy picture of Ross in front of a huge private jet disappeared in an instant, revealing a screen gridded with security camera feeds. The top ones showed the entrance to the building, lobby, and elevator room. Below were feeds of various intersecting corridors, each one melting into the next.

Nathan touched the screen with one finger. “Look...”

It was a live feed of Ross' lobby. His huge disfigured frame slammed against the door, while the secretary helped. Splinters of the wooden chair stuck out at odd angles from his torso. They still showed no signs of tiring. Four other walkers lingered about in the background, pacing aimlessly.

Harper slowly backed away from the monitor. “Six...”

Calvin sighed. “Six.”

Nathan looked at the two of them. “Guys, c'mon. We can do this. They're slower than we are.”

Calvin pointed back at the screen. “The 23 year old girl out there practically had you pinned to the ground, Nathan. We know what these things are capable of. Ross, alone, has like a hundred pounds on me.”

Nathan tossed his club on the floor, angrily. “So what, then? We just hide here? Wait for the cavalry to ride in and save us?”

"We have no idea what's going on out there! This could be the start of something bad, man. I mean, maybe we're being attacked? This could be some kind of pre-invasion. Chemical warfare. In which case, we need to get the hell out of Dodge. The real disaster may not even be here yet."

Nathan's face whitened a bit as he stared at Calvin. If this was, in fact, a large-scale disaster, it was unlikely that any help was going to come soon. Calvin realized he couldn't possibly fathom the scope of what was happening. He turned back to the window again, feeling the gravity of the whole situation weight in on him.

And then something caught his eye...

A Jeep appeared as if from thin air at one of the far intersections down the street. It's jet black frame flew effortlessly by abandoned cars and debris on the road. A couple blocks closer and Calvin could see that a number of walkers were hanging onto the vehicle from all sides. The driver wheeled the car back and forth trying to shake them off, all while trying to maintain control of the vehicle.

Harper watched him, intently. “What the hell is he doing?”

The driver slammed the side of his car against a passing Subaru, clipping two of the walkers in passing, but his rear tire caught on the front of the other vehicle, fishtailing him into a deadly spin. He yanked the wheel in the other direction as he tried to compensate, but totally lost control as soon as his tires hit the sidewalk. The steps acted like a ramp, propelling him straight into the second floor of the building. All three of them fell over as if rocked by some kind of earthquake. Picture frames and hanging fixtures shattered all around them as they fell to the ground.

Nathan ran back over to the computer. Several of the security feeds showed nothing but smoke and debris now. A couple were nothing but a black screen. “Jesus Christ... The building's on fucking fire!” Calvin struggled to his feet and held out his hand to help Harper up. She limped over to the monitor to see the damage. Calvin watched her eyes widen in horror. “We gotta get out of here. Give me a hand with this desk,” Nathan shouted at Calvin.

“I think I've got a better idea,” Calvin replied, gazing back out the window. He immediately began to tear down the green curtains lining the edges of the windows, and dragged them over to Ross' desk where he began clearing a space. Below him, he reached into one of the desk drawers for a pair of scissors. Inside he also found a half-empty flask, some Ibuprofen, and a small revolver. “Harper, start tying these curtains into a long rope. Use the scissors to strip them if you have to.” He tossed her the pair of scissors and checked the revolver for ammo. Three bullets. He holstered it in his waistband. “That'll come in handy...”

“What about me?” Nathan asked.

Calvin looked behind him and gestured at the window. “I need you to knock out both those panes of glass."

Nathan grinned, mischievously. “On it.” He picked up his golf club and started smashing out the corners of the tall windows, clearing any and all shards from the frame. Harper had already begun tying some of the strips of curtain together, and Calvin grabbed the end and carried it with him to the window.

“Mind filling us in on... um... whatever this is?” Harper asked. It was only a fair question after all.

Calvin looped the curtain around the post between the two windows and started tying it into a thick knot. He leaned his head outside the window and looked far down below. “I'm gonna drop down to the next level and see if we can't go in through the window there. Might be our best bet to get to the stairs or an elevator unseen,” he replied, cinching the knot tightly. “And since it's my idea, I figured I'd be the one to go sight-seeing.”

Harper closed another knot and brought her end over to Calvin. “Whatever happens, you've already given me a great story,” she said, handing him the curtain.

Calvin smiled and started tying the two ends together. “Just pick a good picture for the cover.”

Harper raised her eyebrow. "I think the coming of the apocalypse might take cover over you, Golden Boy."

Nathan grabbed the last loose end and started to make a harness around Calvin. “You know, you don't have to do this...”

“Yeah, but we already tied the curtains together...” Calvin said, adjusting the curtain around his waist so that it would give him all the vertical support he would need to be lowered down. It kind've reminded him of the harnesses he worse when he used to go rock climbing up in Oregon. “Alright, let's do this before I change my mind.” Nathan and Harper kneeled down at the edge of the window. Calvin lowered himself down onto his chest and pushed his legs out first, careful not to catch any stray pieces of g lass. Once he was fully out the window, he pressed his shoes against the side of the building and held onto the curtain with bow hands so that it was nice and taut. “OK... slow now... slow...” he said as they began lowering the curtain. The next floor started to come into view after the first few steps. Whoever's office it was, the lights were off, and the reflections from outside made it hard to see through. Beads of sweat poured down Nathan's head as he held on tightly to the curtain. Calvin signalled back up to him. “A little further...”

Nathan leaned in. “What did you say?”

“A little bit furth--”

SQUEEEEEEEP!!

Calvin's foot slipped off the glass, causing him to slam against the window. Nathan braced his shoulder against the post and re-adjusted his grip as all of Calvin's weight bore down on him from below. From the other side of the glass, something began to stir. But the glass was still too tinted to make out anything. Calvin cycled his feet against the glass before finally finding traction again. His whole body was vibrating from his heart pounding in his chest. He looked up at Nathan. “My bad...”

He could faintly hear Harper laughing from somewhere up above. Once he had found his footing again, Calvin prepared to push off from the window. He bent his knees, took a deep breath, and launched backwards. He kept his feet forward and braced his knees for the impact, colliding with the glass with no more grace than a bird. “Ow, shit!” He exclaimed loudly. Now he knew where all the money went in the building. Shitty chairs. Slow computers. Damn good windows. Calvin reached behind him and fumbled for the revolver. He spun a bullet into place and cocked the hammer back. Shielding his face with one hand, he silently counted to three before kicking off from the window once more and firing one round through the glass. The bullet pierced a clean hole, leaving a brilliant cobweb of splinters across the window pane. Calvin curled into a ball like a little wrecking ball and bowled through, sending thousands of little shards everywhere. He slowly swung to a stop, catching his breath. “I guess I can scratch that off my bucket list...” he said.

Harper rolled her eyes at Nathan before starting to funnel more slack for him to lower to Calvin. The cameraman laughed to himself. “Whatever you say, Miley Cyrus. Tie us in down there and we'll grab everything else and come down.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC)

0.00 INK

Harper Hopkins

Nathan and Harper looked at one another as they pulled the end of the long length of the tied-together curtain. "All right," Harper said, staring Nathan straight in the eyes and helping pull the end into the room, and held it up for him to take. "You've got to go first. Help Calvin out, and I'll follow down right after."

Before Nathan could argue back, a loud crunch splashed out from the other side of the room. They snapped their eyes over just in time to see a gray-skinned version of the secretary pop through shoulder-first, caught in a spiderweb of the wooden door's splinters.

The door wasn't as strong as it looked, after all.

Harper turned, panicking just slightly, to Nathan and shoved the tail end of the curtain into his hands. She took the other end, scrambled to one side of the office, and looped the length around a strange, cemented-in sculpture of Buddha (what kind of person had this office, and why on earth did he choose to spend money on this?) about ten feet behind her. She stepped forward purposefully after she fastened it for safety. "If the curtain slips, Buddha here will be your last resort," she said as she took a hold of part of the curtain. "I'll rub his belly for good luck, okay?"

Nathan opened his mouth. "I'm way too heavy for you to--" His eyes caught a glimpse of the secretary, snapping her jaw and snarling as she kept lunging forward to make more progress through the door. He turned back to Harper. "Okay, okay, okay," he said quickly, as he sprinted toward the open window pane, "but you're not getting away with this next time. Next time, I'm going to tell you to go first."

She waved him on. "Hurry!" she snapped. "Get down, now, I'll hang onto you."

Nathan shook his head as he quickly tied the end around his waist, tucked the golf clubs under his arm, and then started to climb down. Harper dug her feet into the ground and tightened her grip on the curtain. Within seconds, the curtain jerked her forward as Nathan hit the length of the curtain. Harper sucked in her breath and locked her knees, immediately regretting offering Nathan an opportunity to go down first. She might not have thought this through, as Nathan was definitely way bigger than she was. As he had attempted to astutely point out. However, there she was, partly aided by the fact that the curtain caught itself roughly over the windowpane, helping slow the descent of the fabric.

Within seconds, Nathan found himself on the same level as Calvin, and tossed the end of the green curtain outside of the window for an easy ascent back up to Harper. "Harper, let's go!" he shouted upward as he did so, peering upward to check on her progress.

Harper's arms felt like jelly. She let her body fly on autopilot as she perched at the window, winding her arms to pull the length upward. The sections of the fabric that had rubbed against the windowpane had taken a serious beating; the ends and the middle were lightly cut and fraying off in long strands. Harper grimaced as she inspected part of the damage. There clearly wasn't much life left in this thing.

A loud metallic bang crashed from the end of the room. Still clutching the curtain, Harper spun around. Her mouth dropped open when she saw a second body come through the wooden door--Ross, the agent, pieces of the chair still sticking sorely out from parts of his chest and face. The desk rumbled and budged just an inch or two in protest of the immense power of their attempt to get through the door.

Harper looked at the Buddha statue, and cringed. *Dear God, Buddha, Vishnu, whatever your name is, please just let this curtain stay around this thing until I'm done,* she mentally pleaded in vain. She was feeling a little desperate.

She stuck one leg over the windowpane, and heard the desk bang again. It had now jumped almost an entire foot away from the door, giving the secretary enough room to consider sliding through the new gap of space and ambling toward the window. Harper let a long section of the curtain go down before her. She'd have to let herself down slowly. She let the length down, tugging it against Buddha when she reached the end. She gripped the slightly-frayed section she'd landed on, and started to step her way outside the window to rappel against the building's outer surface similar to how Nathan and Calvin had done.

Slowly. Slowly. One, two. Holding herself onto the curtain with one hand gripping, the other hand carefully lowering to grasp a new spot. Holding that hand onto the curtain and moving the other one down until it found a new spot to grab. Repeat. Repeat. Slowly. Harper mentally talked herself through the process of lowering down into the window below.

Harper heard a loud crash shot straight out of the window when she was ten feet away from her destination, Nathan standing at the gaping entrance ready to help. The door had given in, and the desk flew forward. She felt a brief bounce on the curtain as the desk was hurled to one corner of the room, colliding itself with the taut green fabric anchored to the statue. Harper froze in place and widened her eyes, briefly trying to work out what to do. Three sets of pallid, splintered, red-spattered hands forced themselves over the windowpane, and three heads took turns peeking down over the edge. Harper couldn't believe it. Their faces were sullen and contused, their eyes were blank and lifeless. At least, that's what she could glean from the brief time she spent staring up in shock.

"Harper, come on! You've got to get down now!" Nathan insisted. He reached out cautiously to work to grip the end of the curtain. "I'll stabilize you. But you've got to get down!" he repeated.

She snapped out of her fascination with the figures above and focused on one-two'ing her way down to safety. Seconds later, Nathan helped pull her onto the stable floor and grabbed her hand as the three rushed through the door to the hallway connected to this office. The fire alarms were screaming, and the elevator lights flashed red. No way they could use them.

"Over here!" Calvin called out, spotting the heavy doors leading to the stairwell. Those figures on the camera had been moving so sluggishly that it seemed unlikely that they would be able to enter through the huge metal doors.

The stairwell was, as he'd predicted, empty, with flashing white lights and a muffled, buzzing version of the shrieking fire alarm. Calvin led the way down and onto the ground level. "So, uh, Ross gave me a ride today, so, uhh," Calvin said as he peered through the small window of the door, "a little help? I remember seeing you guys take a van here."

Nathan reached into his pocket and pulled out a jangly set of keys. "We'll give you a ride," he said as he handed a golf club to Harper. "But first, we've got to get through this hallway."

Harper looked through. She could see the van through the glass-faced lobby. She remembered being so excited that the two-hour spot was open right in front of the building--good parking wasn't easy to find. She shifted her eyes toward the inside of the lobby. Two slow men were hovering toward the elevators. Nobody was outside, at least that she could see. "See them?"

She moved aside so that Calvin and Nathan could peek through. Nathan turned to him. "Okay, so... you're fast," he said, "I'll give you the keys. Open up the back door. I'm following you guys."

Harper shook her head. Nathan shook his head back. "No, no, you're going second," he said quickly, "not first, and not last. You follow behind Calvin, and I won't be far behind you."

One-by-one, the three quietly moved from the door to the lobby entrance. Calvin dashed ahead, thrusting the keys into the lock, pulling the doors open, and jumping in. He waited for Harper, perching at the edge of the van floor. Harper fleeted her way through the lobby, holding her golf club ahead of her, also eluding the two lurching men. She made her way out to the van door, and accepted Calvin's hand, pulling her up and inside.

Nathan's entrance into the lobby yielded different results; the two caught noticed of him, and started to stumble toward him. He whipped his golf club in front of him, hoping to scare them off. Nope. They just kept coming, with no fear whatsoever of the slashing stick. Nathan whipped it ahead again as he stepped backwards, this time connecting with one of the figure's left shoulder. A clean chunk careened through the air. No scream of pain, no wincing--the figure kept coming forward. Unexpected.

Nathan dropped his club and made a run for it. He threw himself in the back of the van and jumped inside, pulling the huge doors shut behind him. Calvin slapped the keys into his hand. Nathan rushed up to the front seat, started the ignition, and tore off.

Calvin stuck around in the back while Harper buckled herself in in the front passenger seat. He watched nervously as Nathan shifted gears and the vehicle spun into a higher speed, weaving around cars that lay still in the street. Traffic began to pick up once they hit the freeway as they ventured further into the city—but it was nothing like the outbound lanes.

Harper tried her cell phone again. "This is absurd," she said with flat frustration. "I can't get a signal. I have no clue what's going on."

Nathan reached out a hand and slapped the radio function on the dashboard. Harper tuned the dial until she found a station that wasn't overcome by static.

"... if you're hearing this, we advise you to stay in your homes and lock the doors. Let no one inside, not even if they say they know you..."

Harper looked to Calvin, who looked back with the same puzzled expression that she had. Nathan's eyes got bigger, but he kept his head turned forward to keep an eye on the street.

After ten minutes' worth of dire, scary radio, they arrived at WEND. It was by lucky chance that Ross' office had not been far away.

"Nathan, did you record with the dash cam?" Harper asked as Nathan put the van in "park."

"You bet," he answered squarely, "I'll snag the SD card and bring it in."

Harper turned back to Calvin. "This is where I work. I think we should be safe here."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC)

0.00 INK

.: CALVIN HAWKE :.


Harper took the lead as the trio sprinted to the front door of the station. By the time they reached the door, she already had her keycard in her hand, ready to swipe. Her hand stopped mid-way to the scanner as she peered through the porthole windows in the door and saw stacks upon stacks of equipment and metal cases piled high in some sort of desperate makeshift barricade, blocking them from entering. Whoever had set it up was likely still inside. And safe.

"Huh..." Harper muttered out loud. Clearly, she wasn't expecting to find herself on this side of the fortification. It only figured that they weren't the first ones to try and head through the front of the building. Nathan arrived at the door last, panting heavily. Harper turned to him. "They plugged the entrance," she said, gesturing for him to take a look. Calvin kept his eyes alert, scanning the darkness around them for any signs of movement. They had passed through a gated parking lot to reach the station, and he silently prayed that they had slipped in unnoticed. On the drive over, they had seen everything from lifeless bodies in the street to rampaging looters, demolishing storefronts and taking anything their arms could carry. Looting flat-screen TVs seemed to be an odd priority as the world was burning down around them, but who was he to judge... he had four different 3D TVs in his loft.

"What about the service door?" Nathan asked, bringing Calvin's attention back to the matter at hand. Harper's eyes lit up at the suggestion, and she bolted towards the back of the building. There were fewer lights on this side of the building for some reason, so they proceeded cautiously. The road began to slope down into a loading dock next to the service door, the last two viable options for getting into the building. Nathan lifted the chained rope for Harper and Calvin to pass under before ducking through himself. Again, Harper ran to the door and, card in hand, swiped again. A small LED light flashed briefly from red to green, and Harper pulled the handle of the door, swinging it open. "Thank God..." Nathan exclaimed, passing through first. He flashed a beaming grin and turned back to the two of them. "If that hadn't worked I'd have totally driven the van straight through the--"

"LOOK OUT!!" Calvin screamed, pointing past Nathan's head. A figure had emerged from behind the lockers and was charging up behind him, fast. Luckily, Harper had already been fumbling around for the light switch and hit it just in time to... well... shed some new light on the situation. The fluorescent bulbs flickered to life above them, revealing a disheveled man in a tattered suit poised with a bat in his hands. A flash of recognition and relief danced across his eyes as he saw who the intruders were.

Harper gave a sigh of relief. "Damnit, Chuck. You scared the hell out of us..."

The newscaster lowered the bat. "Harper?" He buckled over, hands on his knees. "Holy shit. I thought you were-- you guys scared the shit out of me. Christ... We thought you guys were gone." He took a few deep breaths to try to gain his composure.

Nathan clapped his hand on the man's shoulder. "Good to see you too, Chucky."

Chuck jerked a thumb towards the stairs behind him. "Steve's gonna want to see you, Harper."

She nodded and turned to Nathan. "Grab the van and get it in the garage. It might be our only means of getting out of her if we need to, so stock it up with whatever you can. You got that SD card?" He rummaged around his pockets, roaming for the card, and eventually tossed it to Harper who gave the two of them one last glance before heading up the stairs.

Chuck picked up his bat and offered it to Calvin by the handle. "I think you might need this..."

Calvin accepted the weapon and looked at Nathan, who signaled that he was good to go. As Chuck retreated up the stairs, the two of them ducked back out the service door and headed for the van. The constant wail of sirens and calamity around the city seemed closer now, oddly. Calvin was no stranger to the occasional blaring siren, having lived in Los Angeles for the last eight years, but this was something different. Something worse. The ferocious roar of helicopter rotors soared over the parking lot as a military chinook flew close overhead, followed by another. Calvin could faintly make out the shapes of the soldiers hanging from it's frame and wondered whether they had any better idea of what was happening. Somehow he doubted it. The two men continued to keep low as they hustled to the van. Other cars sat vacantly in the parking lot offering poor visibility of their surroundings, and they approached cautiously as they neared their vehicle.

"I think we're good," Nathan whispered as he looked around. Calvin stayed close behind him as they ducked behind a nearby Ford Focus before their final approach towards the van.

And then they saw them...

Several dark silhouettes slowly shambling through the parking lot from the way they came in. Calvin's heart leapt to his throat as he grabbed Nathan's shirt and threw him to the ground behind an adjacent car. "Shit," Calvin cursed quietly, "we've got company."

Nathan hugged the rear side of the car and peaked over to see what Calvin was talking about when suddenly somebody's hulking frame slammed against the car window from inside. Nathan jumped back, losing his footing and falling backwards into another parked car. The keys that were in his hand skittered across the ground, sliding to a stop behind the wheel of a nearby Harley. Instantly, Nathan's collision triggered the car's alarm, triggering a chain reaction across the parking lot. Painfully loud beeps, boops, and faux sirens echoed back and forth between the sea of cars, alerting every walker within a mile radius... if not further. From inside the Ford, the walker smeared its bloodied face back and forth across the window, gnashing its teeth at the two of them like a caged animal. "Shit, shit, shit..." Nathan repeated as he scrambled across the pavement. Calvin swung his head around, confirming what he feared to be true... dozens and dozens of walkers converging on their position. And fast.

"Get down!" Calvin ordered, pulling Nathan back down to the ground. The two of them sat motionlessly with their backs to the car, each pulsing siren like another nail in the coffin.

"What do we do?" Nathan bemoaned. They were running out of time and they both knew it. Calvin wasn't religious... but he had never prayed so hard for anything in his life. "Nathan..." The cameraman looked at him, panic-stricken. "The keys..."

"H-How...?"

Calvin tightened his grip around the weapon in his hand. "Like a bat out of hell..."

The two of them took off around the car in opposite directions, Nathan heading for the keys, Calvin for the van. Several walkers took notice of Calvin immediately as he approached them, bat in hand. The first opened its mouth in a grotesque snarl as Calvin swung hard at the side of its head. He connected forcefully, nearly knocking the bat out of his grasp, but the walker reeled sideways as it went down for the count. The sound of the blunt impact seemed to incite the surrounding walkers even more as they bee-lined for Calvin. From behind him, he heard the scrape of keys on pavement as Nathan scooped them up from under the motorcycle. Calvin threw a second swing, but was intercepted by the walkers flailing arms, affording him a mere glancing blow off of its body. It let out a bone-chilling scream as it staggered to the side, barely maintaining its balance.

"Behind you!" Nathan shouted out from somewhere amongst the cars. Calvin pivoted in place just in time to see three more walkers funnel in towards the van. They were bunched together so tightly that Calvin couldn't get a good swing in at any of them without hitting the other. One of them reached out for him with two groping arms and Calvin sent the hilt of the bat squarely into the beast's nose, sending him back into the crowd. He swung the weapon a few more times, batting the flailing arms away from him. Nathan had successfully navigated his way to the van and, being the only one without a weapon, started scaling the ladder on the back. The walkers had begun tightly circling them, affording little chance of escape, and Calvin followed Nathan's lead and vaulted onto the front hood of the news van. Nathan had reached the roof and offered Calvin his hand, pulling him up the rest of the way where they both remained barely out of range of the walker's reaching limbs. "What do we do, dude?! There's too many of them!" And he was right. Calvin searched frantically for any opening, anything at all...

And then the idea seemed to come to both of them at the same time as they looked at each other, then down at their feet. They were standing on top of a sun-roof. In a last ditch effort, Calvin flipped the bat around and jammed it through the pane of glass, shattering it. Nathan lowered himself through into the drivers seat, followed by Calvin, as the walkers began pawing ferociously at the outside of the van, filling every window frame with their bloody and maimed visages. Nathan jammed the keys into the ignition and their chariot roared to life. Calvin wiped some of the blood off his face with his sleeve, and looked at Nathan.

"Punch it, Chewie..."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Edmund Remington Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

0.00 INK

Harper Hopkins


Steve was waiting for Harper as she rushed to his office, ascending the stairs with Chuck.

He was tall and thin, with salt-and-pepper hair and an air of tension about him wherever he went. Everything had to be done quickly, whether it was ordering coffee, tying his tie, or even a visit to the doctor. At the moment his hair, usually neatly coiffed, was ruffled. He'd removed his suit jacket and rolled up his oxford blue sleeves up around his pointy elbows. He'd long ripped off his tie. His face was lined with concern and fraught with nerves, and his hands were shoved into his pockets.

Harper caught the look on his face the moment she whirled into the newsroom and spotted him standing up straight as a rail in his office door frame. She'd come to appreciate his mannerisms over the months she'd spent at WEND, but this was a look she'd never seen before.

"Hopkins!" he called out from his side of the newsroom, shouting out over the sound of phones ringing. The landlines hadn't gone out yet. "Did McDonald bring b-roll? Evans is looking for it."

She flicked the SD card from their dashcam at the aforementioned editor, who rushed it down to the edit bay to cycle it into the video rotation. Through the large plexiglass window looking into the studio she could see George and Maxine at the desk, shuffling through papers and glancing up at the camera while speaking. They obviously weren't relying on the teleprompter, but instead relying on expedient handing-off of new scripts and snippets of information ferreted from the newsroom. The corner of the studio with the greenscreen reserved for weather was dark. Weather was not the most sought-after topic on tonight's broadcast.

"What's the plan?" she zapped out as she hurried in, dropping her bag on her desk.

"First off, let me just say I'm glad you're here," Steve started. "We had Reeves out there, but we lost the signal with the live truck about an hour ago."

Harper's face drained of its color. "You don't mean--"

"No, I don't know what happened," he interrupted impatiently, "but whatever it is, it isn't good. If he and Ann got out safe, then they're on their way. But we need you up on the roof."

"The sun's down!" Harper interjected furiously, pointing out the window at the dark violet sky. "You've got to be kidding me!"

Steve raised his hands and waved them. "We've got no live truck," he emphasized again, calmer than usual. "You're the only reporter here."

Harper opened her mouth to say something, but stopped. She looked over her shoulder at the newsroom. George and Maxine had been working at the station for at least two decades, but no longer had reporting duties. Producers and editors shuffled their way from desk to desk, answering phones, taking down notes, and typing updates and printing them for submission to the anchors on the desk.

There were zero reporters in this newsroom. Except for her.

Her mouth hung halfway open in shock as she turned back to Steve. Her lower lip quivered uncharacteristically. She wanted to throw up.

"Harper," Steve said slowly. She'd never seen him handle a serious crisis, or heard him call her by her first name, but now she realized that this usually-buzzing character was hired as News Director of a top-market station for a reason: he was cool under duress. He moved his forearms in front of him and gently held the sides of her arms, and looked her right in the eyes. "I hired you for a reason. I hired you because I know you'll do what it takes. Get your IFB, grab a mic, and head out on the roof. Schantz is already up on the roof with a camera ready to go."

She stared back, and pulled herself together. She swallowed reflexively and nodded, glancing briefly at the family photos on Steve's office walls. He was keeping it together despite having several reasons to be scared, himself. "You got it, Steve," she responded weakly, and quickly ran to her desk to pull out her earpiece. She fished her compact out of her bag to check her makeup, quickly blotted her face with a bit of foundation and blush, smeared gloss on her lips, and took off for the elevator after snatching her bag from the desk.

The ride up felt like an eternity, the first several seconds that she had in hours where she'd stood still. She wondered if this was happening all over the city. She wondered if this was only happening in L.A., or if it was happening in more places. What about her parents? What about her friends? Her brothers? Her sister? Her grandparents? Were they worried about her like she was worrying about them? She started to think again about Steve's family pictures again.

The elevator door opened the instant that her stomach squeezed into a ball. She looked around for a brief second, found that she was alone, and vomited into the trash can beside the elevator door. She stared at the white wall blankly for a moment to refocus herself, then spat the remnants out of her mouth, yanked a Kleenex from her bag and dragged it across her mouth, then set straight out for the double-doors leading out onto the roof.

She burst through and caught Schantz's eye as she hurriedly paced toward her. Tara Schantz was another photographer, who had always expressed preference for doing rooftop shoots, and had been working at WEND for about four years. "Harp, it's you!" she exclaimed. "Steve just told me to come up here and wait for whoever he could send up. I'm really glad to see you."

Harper tossed her the other end of her IFB, and Schantz tossed her a mic. Schantz plugged the connector into a box by her feet while Harper clipped the lavaliere mic on her shirt collar. She paused for a moment to look over the ledge of the building, up several stories from the ground. Street lights lit the ground sparsely, aided by the glows emanating from buildings. Car alarms blared down from the newsroom parking lot as a vehicle screeched around. On another side of the building, a crowd of people just like the secretary, Ross, and others they'd seen on the road swarmed a red Corvette. In other spots, people who still seemed to possess life about them ran toward buildings, zipping about, some carrying children or helping others limping along. Her heart sank as she thought about what the UCLA Medical Center must have been like at the moment, and what those with the children must be thinking.

"Ready?" Schantz broke in, aiming the camera lens coolly at her face and focusing. She flicked on the camera's light. It seemed as though either she wasn't bothered by the whole thing, or that it hadn't sunk in yet... or she just wasn't going to let any concern cross her face. "They're going to toss to you soon."

Harper's IFB flickered on. Maxine's voice filled her ear.

"Welcome back. You'll notice that the station currently isn't airing advertisements but instead we're airing public service announcements from the United States Department of Homeland Security, urging you to stay in your homes and remain safe. We at WEND-TV are urging you to do the same thing."

George's voice. "One of our reporters made it back to the station and we've got her live on the roof of WEND-TV... Joining us now is Harper Hopkins. Harper, are you up there?"

Harper's eyes shot up to the camera's eye. The way Steve had made it sound, they simply needed someone to tell them what was going on down below. She understood why he sent her up above now. Her brain flexed quickly into the uncomfortable position of being the person in front of the camera being interviewed. "George, Maxine, I'm here," she responded in a conversational manner.

"Harper, describe the day you've had and how you got back."

"Well, the day started out with WEND-TV photographer Nathan McDonald and I heading out to interview Hollywood's Calvin Hawke. While we were there, we encountered a couple of, uh..." her brain scrambled for the right words.

"Walkers," George's voice broke in, "we hear that they're being referred to as walkers."

Without skipping a beat, Harper coolly pressed forward. "Thanks, George. We encountered a few walkers at our interview location and had to leave. We managed to climb out of the building after a Jeep crashed into the side of it and started a fire. We got into our WEND-TV news van and left. We actually brought Mr. Hawke with us. That's the short version of the story."

"Harper," Maxine started, "you came into contact with these walkers. What do you recommend to our viewers that they should do in case they encounter one?"

Harper blinked and felt her stomach jump again. This was heavy, to be making life-or-death recommendations to whoever may be watching. "Well, the best thing to do is to avoid them entirely. If you're in a safe place, stay there and do not risk coming across one at all. That's the first thing. But if you can't stay where you are because you're in a dangerous place, grab something to defend yourself with. A long object like a bat or a golf club might be the best thing. If you have a firearm, even better. You have to keep them away from you. They're very strong. Keep your eyes open and move quickly to where you have to go to be safe. But I really don't recommend moving anywhere unless you absolutely have to."

"WEND-TV's Harper Hopkins, joining us on the station's rooftop," Maxine summarized for those who may have recently tuned in, "Harper, can you describe what's going on around you?"

Schantz plucked the camera off of its heavy tripod, and Harper moved along to step toward and gesture at the street. Schantz pointed the camera downward as Harper spoke off-camera. "Obviously there are walkers out on the streets, and people who are working to scramble to a safe place," she narrated. "You can see cars through the streets. Walkers are coming after the cars. What you're seeing now really ought to show you why you need to stay indoors and out of harm's way-"

"Harper, can we rely on you to stay up on the roof and provide us with updates from time to time?" Maxine interrupted quickly. "We've got a few new breaking news updates."

The camera turned back to Harper. "Sure thing," she responded politely, "back to you, Maxine and George."

# # #

Down in the studio, Steve himself handed a paper to George, only his hand and shoulder visible on viewers' televisions. George popped his eyes on and off the sheet and the camera as he read through the updates.

"We're getting reports that traffic is at a standstill on all outbound lanes. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the State of California, and the Los Angeles Police Department highly recommend that you stay in your homes. All medical centers and hospitals are asking media outlets to spread the word that no more emergency patients are being accepted at this time and all ambulances are occupied."

He continued to sputter off news updates from the sheets, inwardly panicking at having to read these unbelievably grim sentences.

# # #

Nathan shoved his foot down on the gas pedal, burning black marks onto the pavement as the van hurled forward, sending the small crowd of walkers throwing themselves on the hood of the van reeling backwards. Nathan grinned at the satisfying crunching noises from below his feet and kept the van on a hard trek forward. He flipped down the driver's seat visor and jammed his thumb on the garage door opener, whirling the van toward the opening door.

Calvin's eyes were flashing giddily as the vehicle pulled into the safe bay. Nathan quickly thumped the button again in order to hasten the door's closing. The thick, heavy metal doors careened down steadily as walkers stumbled toward them, closing just in time to keep them out.

After the door thudded shut, Nathan leaned back in his seat, looking up at the broken sunroof and laughed hysterically. "HOLY SHIT!" he shouted, "dude, I canNOT believe we just pulled that shit off!"

Calvin let himself laugh for a moment. "You're... you're not kidding," he said, his head spinning. "I wasn't really sure what was going to happen for a bit there."

Nathan opened his door, exited, and beckoned for Calvin to follow. He inspected the outside of the van... messy bloody prints were everywhere. The smell was horrendous. Nathan stopped in his tracks when he noticed a series of long scratches, peeling the paint off in messy chips. A fingernail was embedded into the end of the trail. He let out a sigh of relief for being on the inside, and not on the outside again with them.

The stairwell ended up being safe after keying in. They hustled up the stairs and entered the newsroom. Nathan nodded to the other staff in there, about eight that he could spot.

"Nathan." Charlie waved his hand at the pair, standing beside a tall, handsome man with glasses who looked extremely uncomfortable.

Nathan stared at the stranger briefly. "Who's Mr. Cool, over here?" he asked quickly.

"Nathan, this is my nephew, Edmund." Nathan reached out to shake Edmund's hand. "He came here because it's safe."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC)

0.00 INK

.: Calvin Hawke :.


The sound of running water was the only thing Calvin could hear as he ran his hands over his face. It had felt like forever since he had had a bit of peace and quiet. Bloody streaks swirled around the porcelain sink and down the drain. Calvin tore a few paper towels from the dispenser and patted his face dry, staring for a moment at his tired eyes in the mirror. The automated faucet stopped itself, and a gentle silence hung over the bathroom as he just stared. The eyes looking back at him weren't the ones he remembered, nor the ones he needed right now -- but sleep was still far away. He wondered where Sarah was and whether she was having better luck. Hopefully she had friends to help her get away because Calvin knew there was nothing he could do to help her now. If there was time, he would come back for her... but it just wasn't safe to stay in the city any longer.

Calvin stepped out into the hallway, brushing his hands dry on his shirt. Nathan leaned against the wall with a couple bottles of water. He tossed one to Calvin and twisted his own open, taking a long nice pull from it. "Thanks," Calvin said, opening his. Nathan chugged the last of his water and executed a hook shot into the trash can at the end of the hall. The empty plastic bottle ricocheted off the rim into the waste bin with a clunk.

"What a crazy day," Nathan lamented, wiping his face clean. "I wish I knew this was going to happen. I wouldn't have bothered doing my taxes this year."

Calvin choked on his water a bit, laughing. "I'm sure there's worse regrets than being a good taxpayer," he mused. Nathan shrugged and started down the hallway. Calvin followed as the two of them entered the tiled floor break room. Motion-sensored fluorescent lights flickered to life above them. On top of the fridge in the corner, a small TV showed Harper on the roof mid-report. The camera slowly surveyed the cityscape, trails of billowing smoke reaching up to the sky in what looked to be a city in flames.

"There's a career-maker," Nathan said as he tossed Calvin a bag of chips from the snacks shelf.

"Probably more of a career-ender really..." Calvin replied, pulling the bag open. He put on a voice: "I'm Harper Hopkins, signing off from the end of the world."

Nathan swung his leg over a chair nearby, saddling it as he dug into a jar of peanut butter with his finger. He licked his thumb clean and jerked it at the television. "You think she's gonna be OK?"

Calvin crunched down on a chip. "Who, Harper?"

"She was kind've quiet on the drive back."

"We all were," Calvin said, thinking. "She's probably just trying to make sense of this like anybody else. She may actually be doing better than we are. Harper's had experience with this kind of thing, after all, working out in the field like she has."

Nathan looked back at the TV at her. "I guess you're right..."

Calvin saw the look in his eyes as he watched the reporter do her thing. Whatever it was, there was something there -- something in that look.

"What about you," he started, "are you alright?"

Before Nathan could answer, his eyes widened at something on the screen. Calvin turned to look just in time to see Harper's camera operator swing around to focus on a truck careening through the parking lot towards the station. The two of them took off sprinting towards the garage to receive the incoming survivors. As they burst through the main floor, Nathan grabbed Chuck and one of the nearby assistants to help. The four of them tore down the stairwell and into the garage. Nathan immediately hit the button for the door as the rest of them scrambled to find weapons nearby. Chuck grabbed hold of his old bat, while Calvin acquired a crowbar from a shelf nearby. The automatic door began winding up into the roof as the sounds of chaos spilled in from outside. Screeching tires preceded the truck as it suddenly came spinning into view from around the corner. A couple of walkers clung desperately to its frame as it came barreling towards the garage. An older man was behind the wheel, gripping it for dear life as he fought control. A couple of men stood in the bed of the truck attempting to knock off the clinging monsters. Calvin retreated a few steps out onto the loading dock as he waved his arms to flag down the incoming survivors.

"On your left, Calvin!" Nathan shouted out from somewhere behind him. Calvin turned to see a handful of walkers stumble down onto the main portion of the ramp beside him. He felt the others at his back as he approached the first of them. He jabbed the straight end of the crowbar through the forehead of the closest walker, its body crumpling into a heap before him. Nathan came flying into sight next to him, driving a screwdriver into the temple of his assailant as the others swung their weapons wildly at the remaining walkers, warding them back away from the door. The truck cruised between the railings, laying on its horn loudly. Calvin hugged the railing as the truck skidded to a stop behind the news van. Once they were clear of the door Nathan hit the button again, sliding it closed. A rogue walker fell loose from the truck and tumbled to the ground in front of them. One of the men in the back of the truck hopped down beside the creature and plunged what appeared to be a fire poker into the back of its head. The man twisted the weapon free from the back of the walker's head and wiped it clean on his pant leg.

The other guy, a black man in a beret, jumped down from the bed of the truck and clapped a hand on Calvin's shoulder. "Thanks for the assist, man." Calvin nodded as he passed, eyeing the rest of the group as they exited the truck. The cab door opened up and a small girl stepped down. She was quickly pushed out of the way by the older man who had been driving. He reached into the front seat and began pulling out a fifth member of their group. Another young girl, this one maybe 18 or 19, fought back tears as they moved her carefully. She put her arms around the black guy and the man with the fire poker as they lifted her from the truck, and it became apparent to that she was severely injured and still bleeding.

"God damnit, get her upstairs!" the old man shouted at the two of them. Nathan gestured for them to follow him as he ran ahead. Calvin followed behind as the group of survivors burst into the newsroom loudly. Someone shouted out an order to clear some space as they set the girl down gently onto one of the desk. The girl screamed bloody murder as they struggled to keep her in place.

"Jack," the old man shouted at the guy with the fire poker, "get us some towels -- something to stop the bleeding!"

"C'mon--" Nathan said, motioning at the messy-haired man to follow him. The two raced off down the hallway as Calvin took the man's place lending his hands to help the flailing girl. In the corner of the office, the little girl watched silently as she hugged her little stuffed panda to her face.

"What happened?" Calvin asked.

The old man shot a look his way. ”She was attacked by one of those damned things." He explained, applying more pressure to the girl's neck. "Would've torn her right out of the car if we didn't get out of there like we did..."

"It's the little one's babysitter. We found them in a grocery store." The black man went on to explain. "I'm Wayne, by the way... this here is James. The kid is Lily." Calvin nodded to them. "And this here is Amber, I think." He finished, looking down at the injured girl.

"Not for long she isn't... where are those damned towels?" James growled.

He dabbed at the bleeding wound with the collar of her shirt, revealing more of it to Calvin. He could distinctly make out deep bite marks around her collar bone. It had already turned a nasty greenish-purple and begun swelling. "One of those things did this?" Calvin wondered aloud. Whatever these creatures were, they were not to be underestimated. He had seen the damage they could do, not to mention the damage they could take. If they were to do anything else, they were going to need to arm themselves or they wouldn't last long. Calvin looked into the eyes of the poor girl on the table and saw her eyes fluttering, desperately clinging to consciousness -- he feared there would be more blood shed before the day was over.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Chuck Cherry (NPC)

0.00 INK

Harper Hopkins


Nathan dashed down to the stairs to the photographers' floor, where a large set of lockers and even showers hung off via a hallway from the main room. Jack wasted no time behind him, cycling his legs down the concrete staircase.

He'd only just landed in L.A., and this was the kind of greeting he'd gotten upon his long-awaited return. It had been a surprisingly uneventful arrival; calm flight, calm disembarkment, calm afternoon and night... but not a calm late morning, when his plans were interrupted by a lousy, ghoul-faced tourist in sandals who thought it would be a great idea to bust his door down. One broken lamp and a short car ride later, he found himself clutching his pistol, hiding behind a dumpster not far from the Los Altos Apartments on Wilshire Boulevard.

Nathan skittered to the lockers and snagged a hold of the stash of spare towls. "Here, man, thanks," he said as he tossed two rolled towels to him, then plucked the first aid kit from a higher shelf. "Let's head back up."

Jack said nothing as he continued to keep pace with the tall blond-headed jock with the vest. Now wasn't the time to ask or answer any questions.

Nathan burst through the door to the newsroom and came upon the scene--Steve Hilpin and the old man arguing, while the girl continued to bleed on the desk. The news director looked as though he was having far better luck at containing his frustration, while the old man's face was burgundy as he pointed to the desks. The little girl gripped her panda for dear life and the producers and editors buzzing in the newsroom stood nervously, unsure of what to do.

"Sir, we can appreciate your position, but, once again, we need those desks to do work," Steve insisted firmly.

"Goddammit!" James fumed. Calvin was still perched next to the girl, gripping her white-knuckled hands as she dug her nails into her own palm to brace against the pain. "What 'job' are you doing, staying on the airwaves so your coporate shill ratings will go through the roof??" he demanded.

"People are depending on us to give them information on how to survive," Steve responded immediately. "There is no handbook on how people can work through this."

"Hey!" Calvin interjected, "we're wasting time!" He, Jack, and Nathan were working together furiously to press and hold the towels straight onto the girl's gaping neck wound. James abandoned the argument and joined in, providing a fourth pair of hands in holding her shoulders down as she started to shake vigorously, her body in shock due to the blood loss she'd sustained by that point.

# # #

"Clear," Schantz piped after the newscast's director buzzed into her ear to let her know the broadcast was wrapped. "George and Maxine want to talk to you."

Harper nodded as the two started to pepper her ear. "Next time pick it up a little, Harper," Maxine's voice edged up, making a poor attempt at covering her needless criticism with sappy sweetness. "You look like you haven't slept in days."

Harper rolled her eyes. "Wow, Maxine, you try having the afternoon we had," she shot back flatly. She pulled off her blood-flecked jacket, the warm night air and her nerves starting to become uncomfortable. She smoothed out her gray summer cotton slacks and re-clipped her mic to her lavender-purple tank top.

Maxine huffed. "You have no idea," she said, "one of them came at us when we were downstairs in the lobby coming in to work. Chuck smashed it in the head with a baseball bat. You have no idea, Harper, how awful that was!"

Harper rolled her eyes. "We'll talk, Maxine," she said dismissively, finding the idea of being lectured by the nearly-geriatric plastic surgery addict about who had the worse experience with walkers quite repulsive.

"Hey, Harper," George broke in. "We're sitting on the desk and... whoa, a bunch of people just came in... they've got this gir--WHOA. She's bleeding!?" George's voice was usually smooth and contained, but now it sounded startled and scared. "They've put this girl on the desk. Harper, she's bleeding. Two people running away--Steve and this old man are starting to get real mad at each other... Whoa, Maxine, are you all right?"

"I'm fine," she insisted, clearing her throat a little. "My eye's itchy, that's all."

"Actually," the newscast director broke in, "Maxine, you look sweaty. Are you hot under the lights?"

"No, no," Maxine snipped in. "I'm feeling fine. Just fine. In fact, I'm actually a little cold." She cleared her throat again.

"We've been sitting here for five hours and you haven't gotten up once," George stated. "But in the last few minutes your eye's gotten really red."

"What?!" she exclaimed. A moment of silence over the earpiece as she clicked open her mirror compact. "Jesus! I've got to cover this up!" A rustle of activity as she forked her way through her portable makeup bag that she kept pegged behind her chair in case of on-air makeup emergencies.

"On again in 30," the director spoke calmly, "can you do this, Maxine?"

"Of course I can," she retorted back. She cleared her throat.

"Schantz, Harper, standby. George and Maxine, stand by."

# # #

Nathan breathed a sigh of relief as the bleeding seemed to stop beneath the pile of soppy towels. He kept his blood-soaked hands on his corner of the towel to continue to apply pressure, not daring to lift his hands.

The staff who had been staring wide-eyed at the scene while phones continued to ring off the hook were on the receiving end of a very harsh stare from Steve. They immediately set about going back to their work. Calvin stood up, catching the glimpse of the petrified little girl standing all by herself. He smiled tepidly, a sudden thud of guilt pounding his head about her having to see all this unfold right in front of her. He looked down at his bloody hands. Not exactly the most reassuring-looking person in the room.

James rose and turned back to look at Steve. The news director glared and shook his head. "Hey, sweetheart, I've got coloring books in my office," he said to the girl, beckoning for her to enter his glass-paned office. He walked over slowly to her and started to help her along. Calvin watched as Steve quickly set her at his desk and pulled out a box of coloring books. Clearly, he must have been a parent.

Calvin looked through the window to the studio and noticed that the older, platinum-white-haired woman at the desk was raising a fist in front of her while coughing frequently. Her left eye was looking red and swollen; several minutes before, he hadn't taken notice of that detail when he'd first entered the room. "Is that the green room over there?" Calvin asked out loud to the staff. A few nodded toward the direction of a black door beside the studio. "All right. I'm getting that lady some eyedrops. She looks like she could use them."

Nathan and Jack remained with the prone girl breathing raspily on the desk. In front of them a television monitor played the broadcast, rolling back and forth between the two anchors on the desk and Harper up on the roof. Both men watched, catching bits and pieces of the low audio. "Oh, who's that?" Jack asked casually, his eyes lighting up a little too enthusiastically for Nathan's liking. "She's on the roof?"

Nathan looked sidelong at him, a brief pang of irritation coming out in his facial expression. "No one you need to know," he retorted quietly.

Jack raised an eyebrow. He'd not known this guy for twenty minutes and already found a trigger. "Geez, sorry, didn't realize she was already taken," he responded, knowing how he sounded every ounce like he'd intended to provoke the defensive younger man.

"It's not like that," Nathan blasted back sharply. "Seriously, don't even tal-"

"Uhh, guys," Calvin broke in. He hadn't even entered through the door to the green room when he saw the older lady pass out on the desk, hitting her nose head-on. He watched as George cast his eye quickly to her, and Harper came on the monitor suddenly to cover the brief interruption caused by the commotion.

"Shit," Nathan muttered as he saw Maxine's head thunk down. In all the year's he'd worked at WEND, he'd never seen Maxine sick, weak, or with a stitch out of place. Instead, he knew her as being a ragingly disconnected old bat who took vacations when sweeps weren't in effect. Now she was a ragingly disconnected old bat burying her face in a hard, shellac'ed surface.

Nathan watched George jump visibly after Harper signed on, who worked hard to disguise her nerves as she no doubt heard the commotion in her earpiece. He mouthed something to Maxine, who didn't respond. George reached over to shake her, and she fell heavily off of the desk. George's hands clasped to his mouth in shock as he let out a yell. The newcast director's voice blared out over the newsroom's PA system. "Steve, everyone, we've got an emergency," the voice smoothly but tensely called out. "Maxine's not breathing."

Next to him, Jack jumped just slightly. "Hey, guys, she's not doing so good," he nervously barked. "She's not breathing..."

Nathan snapped his eyes downward and watched as the girl's jaw slacked open. He lifted his hands up and watched for a moment. This was the second dead girl in one day. He stared for just a second.

It was then that he remembered what had happened to the secretary. Without even thinking, he swept his arms out and pulled Jack back as teeth clicked up viciously toward them. Jack reflexively whipped his fire poker out from a spot on the desk in front of him and slashed it down on her torso. Nathan jumped back and watched helplessly as she leapt from her spot, having turned her attention on a producer just feet away who felt like he'd been on hold for hours.

It was then that Maxine also sprang into life, almost in a reanimated fashion. George sprang from his seat, forgetting that he was leashed to his desk via the IFB in his ear and the lapel mic clipped onto his suit jacket. He tugged back sharply, and lost his footing and fell off of the raised platform the desk was mounted on. Through the window, one could see him grasp at his ankle after he hit the ground, his other hand trying to yank his earpiece out of his ear. Maxine darted over the desk rapidly.

The director's voice came over the PA system again. "Guys, Maxine's attacking George."

"Jesus Christ!" Wayne shouted in bewilderment as he backed away from the commotion.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Chuck Cherry (NPC)

0.00 INK

.: Calvin Hawke :.


It was like somebody had flipped a switch and all hell had broken loose. Calvin watched as several WEND employees abandoned their cameras and desks, frantically running for the exits, as if outside was going to give them any reprieve. A scream rang out behind him as the once-dying babysitter lunged over a nearby worker. Jack's fire poker dangled from her chest like some sort of weird fashion accessory as she chomped down on her victim's shoulder. Calvin had a brief remembrance of watching preying mantis hunt and trap food in the grass behind his house when he was younger. Though much more graceful and infinitely less terrifying, the approach and execution were nearly identical.

To Calvin's left, Harper's head director, Steve, took refuge behind his large oak desk with the little girl, trying to get out of sight. Jack had dropped the rest of the towels and scrambled to find his footing as he ran back into Nathan. Another scream... this one from in front of Calvin. He turned just in time to see a cloud of papers float through the air as the lead anchorman was set upon by his co-anchor. Calvin turned and locked eyes with Nathan, the only guy in the room he knew he could rely on -- and no words were spoken. They knew what they needed to do.

Nathan took off first, heading for the stairs to the rooftop accessway. He bolted right past Chuck, who clutched his wooden bat for dear life, unsure of how to help. Jack gestured at Nathan as he ran off. "Where the hell is he going? We've got to get out of here!" he shouted.

"Back to the truck, GO!" Wayne called out, grabbing Jack by the sleeve. The two of them raced down the staircase towards the garage, without hesitation.

Calvin went for the office, nearly pulling the glass door from its frame. "Steve, we've gotta go!" he shouted, "grab the girl." The two peeked out from behind the desk.

"I'm not abandoning this office," he said, gripping his chair.

Calvin narrowed his eyes. "Do you really want to die here? It's not the time to be honorable, it's time to survive."

The office director gulped, and looked at the little girl. He looked past Calvin at the chaos unfolding all around the newsroom. With all the glass windows it felt like he was inside some kind of fishbowl. He turned to the girl. "C'mon, stay close to me."

They retreated out from under the desk and lined up beside the door behind Calvin. He peered through the blinds out at the newsroom floor, measuring what they were up against. Calvin suddenly recognized the feeling of cold steel against his lower back and remembered the pistol had taken from Ross' office. He pulled it from his waistband and checked it to confirm what he already knew: there were two bullets left. Calvin handed his crowbar to Steve, who took it reluctantly. "Aim for the head," he advised, "and do whatever you have to to keep that girl alive."

The man nodded his understanding, and Calvin pulled the glass door open by the handle. The cacophony from outside the office spilled in, as Calvin's heart began to beat faster. Nobody was going to call cut if he missed his mark here. There were no do-overs or re-takes. He couldn't afford to screw up now. There were too many people counting on him.

As they stepped out of the office, Calvin shielded the other two with his back, aiming the revolver at the babysitter and her first victim. She had taken a nice piece of the WEND employee's face off during the assault, but enough of it remained to turn and see Calvin. It's hulking frame rounded on Calvin, oblivious to anything around it as it stumbled towards him. The girl noticed too, growling with anticipation as she shambled behind.

Nathan still hadn't returned from the roof with Harper. He knew it would be a deathtrap to follow after them, but they were running out of time. The two newscasters and a couple of their camera crew had already broken through the partition to the studio, dragging their bloodied bodies across tables of equipment and soundboards.

Steve hugged the girl close to him as he rushed towards the stairwell to join the others. Calvin backed towards the door, stretching his neck to see if there were any other survivors on the floor, but all he could make out were the droning walking corpses of his undead pursuers. He stood defiantly in the doorway, unwilling to closer the door... knowing full well he'd be closing out any hope of Nathan and Harper getting back safely.

The first walker was within arms reach now as it groped the air trying to get ahold of Calvin. He leveled the revolver at its head and placed his finger over the trigger. Two bullets wasn't a lot, though, and it seemed like a waste. Cursing to himself, he holstered the gun and drew out the pair of scissors he had swiped earlier. Calvin launched himself at the babysitter, driving the blade through her temple and kicking her to the floor. He composed himself barely in time to receive the next assailant, but the walker tripped over the babysitter's corpse and latched itself onto Calvin's pants. The two of them stumbled backwards to the floor with a crash. The walker snarled and snapped its teeth, ferociously, clawing at Calvin with its sharp nails. He kicked and kicked at it trying desperately to separate himself from the walker's clutches, and eventually gained some traction on the ground. Calvin scuttled towards the stairwell using the doorknob handle to pull himself up. He felt the tug of something at his leg and looked down to see that he was partially entangled in the walker's headset.

A thought suddenly crossed Calvin's mind as he grabbed hold of the mic and earpiece and rolled through the doorway. Steve slammed the door shut behind him, blocking any other walkers from entering the stairwell. The little girl watched precociously from a few steps further down. The old man helped Calvin to his feet, and brushed him off. "Close one..."

"You're tellin' me..." Calvin said between breaths. He lifted the headset to his ear and called out, hoping to god that the lifeline to his only friends would somehow come through. "Harper? It's Calvin? Do you read me?"

Silence. And then-- her voice.

"Calvin?"

"Harper! Are you guys alright?"

He could hear the wind blaring against her mic. "We're stuck on the roof," she began, "Maxine and some of the others are blocking the stairwell and we don't have any weapons up here."

Calvin closed his eyes, silently cursing to himself. Steve took the girl by her shoulders and started to lead her down to the garage. As the pair stepped through the door, Calvin could make-out loud voices coming from inside. "There's even more of them down in the newsroom. Steve and I and some of the others made it to the garage..."

Her voice cracked slightly as she said, "We're separated?"

"Looks like it," he said as he ran his hand through his hair. It seemed to be one thing after another. Every person, every minute, a new obstacle. "Sit tight. I'll think of something."

Calvin plugged the earpiece into his ear and jogged the rest of the way down the stairs. He had a feeling he was about to step into a whole different shit show.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

0.00 INK

Harper Hopkins



Nathan burst out of the stairwell door, rushing as he burst out onto the rooftop and met Harper and Schantz mid-shoot. Harper did her best to not look terrified as she regurgitated statements that had been thrown out by George and Maxine earlier.

He looked over to the small metal "hangar" housing the news department's traffic chopper, operated in conjunction with a radio station's traffic service. The station's pilot for the day had stayed out of the way of the broadcast, preferring to keep in touch on the emergency radio and look over the edge of the roof on occasion.

Harper kept talking. Schantz kept filming. Nathan headed over to the pilot to ask what was going on up there; the pilot informed him that all aircraft were encouraged to stay out of the air and stay safe on the ground if there was no immediate emergency situation. The station's location in West Hollywood was headlong through massive looting and carnage, but not nearly as bad as downtown L.A. or the residential neighborhoods.

At some point, Harper stopped talking. Schantz looked up from her camera. Their newscast director had abandoned the booth and was screaming within earshot of his microphone.

There was no broadcast.

Schantz smushed the "record" button off and stood back from the camera. "Hey, anybody there?" she asked into the channel, hoping desperately that someone had taken the a portable headset that connected to the frequency.

Harper frowned, then glanced at Nathan talking to the pilot. He'd come back to check on them, after whatever had happened downstairs. That was awfully considerate of him.

"Nathan!" she called out, gesturing him over to her as she picked up the cords coming from her earpiece and mic. "What happened down there?"

He left the pilot to monitor his radio and rushed to her, standing in front of both her and Schantz. "Okay, here's the deal," he said, raising his hands in front of him. "Maxine's dead." The two women's jaws dropped. "And that's the good news. The bad news is, these other people came in the newsroom and brought some dying girl with them. We tried to help her, but she started to go crazy, bit a few people... Maxine did the same thing. Except she was in the studio. She totally ate George's face."

"What do we do?!" Schantz asked anxiously. "We can't stay here. We've got to go."

"Come on, you guys have to follow me back down," he said to them quickly.

A loud bang came from the area of the elevator and stairwell. Through the windows of the metal door they could see Maxine's bloody face and smashed nose, ahead of a few other similar faces. On their side, smooth doorknobs made opening the door harder than a handle or push-lever would have. Wrenching hands punched the metal by the glass.

Safe, for now.

"Nathan, there's no way I'm following you that way," Harper said after a brief moment of surprise.

The channel fizzled to life when Calvin buzzed them via the other portable headset. After the quick exchange, the four communed close to the helicopter.

"Okay," Harper said, calmly looking at the pilot, "we're going to need to leave the roof. You're going to take us."

The pilot nodded. "Yep, I can," he said immediately, "but this is a small chopper. Can't hold much more weight."

"That's all right," Harper answered quickly, "we don't have much up here to carry down. This is the only way out. We need to go to a safe place."

"What about a military base?" Schantz blurted out. "They've got walls. And guns. Lots of guns."

Nathan nodded to Harper. "We went to Seal Beach a few weeks back, remember?" he asked. "It's just south of here. We can fly down that way."

"They'll want to know who we are," the pilot stated calmly, "but I bet lots of people are heading that way."

Harper nodded. "Yes, but they won't have a helicopter. And I see no other way of getting down."

Nathan had to agree with her. There were no ugly green curtains to get them out of a jam this time.

The door banged. Schantz drew in a sharp breath. "Oh shit, oh shit!" she said quickly. She pulled off her headset and handed it to Nathan. "I'm helping the pilot. You, figure it out with the others." She took off with the pilot to help with flight prep, something she'd done what had felt like a million times before.

Nathan jammed the headset on and clicked to talk to Calvin. "Yo, Calvin, mind grabbing some gear out of lock number 56? I've got my favorite tripod and metal bat in there," he called out. Harper made a few numbers with her hands. "Oh, and Harper's is number 40. Just bash the locks, don't worry about combos. Open all the lockers and take what's there if you want. I'll take the flak if this whole thing's a joke."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Chuck Cherry (NPC)

0.00 INK

.: Calvin Hawke :.


If this was some kind of joke, Calvin didn't want to be around for the punchline.

He stepped out of the coolness of the stairwell into the garage. Jack, Wayne, James, and Chuck were heavily engaged in some argument. Steve had taken Lily to the corner and sat her down on a spare tire, trying to distract her. Calvin stepped into the huddle of men to interject.

"What the hell is the problem down here?" he asked in frustration.

Chuck backed up against the control panel to the door, wielding his bat as he tried to fend off the others. Jack circled the newscaster like a prowling cat. The mustached man, thankful of Calvin's return, tried to appeal to him in his moment of need. "They were trying to open the door and let in every one of those drooling freaks from outside!" Chuck shouted. "They'll compromise the entire station."

Jack thrust a finger at the bumbling man. "Compromise? Did you see what just happened up there? You already lost the station."

Calvin threw himself between the two of them, pushing them back from one another. Getting under Jack's arms, he was able to get him pinned against the side of the truck. They were now face-to-face, eyes locked. "I don't think we lost anything. I think a some cowboys came riding in and dropped a damn bomb on our lap... that's what I think happened." Jack wrestled himself from Calvin's grasp, glaring at him as he walked away.

"Where are the others?" Chuck asked, quietly.

Calvin shook his head. "I don't know who's left, but some of them are trapped on the roof. I just talked to Harper," he said, tapping his earpiece. He hoped they had figured something out, because he had no idea how he was going to get through to them with the newsroom in the state it was. "Look, we're safe in here, OK? There's no point in rushing off before we've had a chance to talk things out."

Wayne scratched his head, "Alright. What do you have in mind?"

Calvin looked around at the others, face-by-face. "I was thinking about this earlier. We need to get to high ground. Somewhere entrenched... secluded. If there's any chance of us getting rescued, it's going to be from somewhere accessible. We have got to get out of this city before we go down with it."

James, who had been sitting in the truck the whole time, chimed in from behind the wheel. "What are we waiting for then?"

Calvin bit his lip, a bit unsure of how to proceed. He suddenly remembered what Harper had said to him. "There should be some lockers in that storage room over there. Wayne, why don't you take Jack and see what you can find in there," he began, pointing to one side of the room. "Chuck, search the news van for anything useful... see if you can find us some radios." The man nodded and crossed over to the vehicle, sliding the side door open to reveal its cluttered interior. Streaks of bloody handprints still covered most of the panelling from their close call with the walkers earlier.

Calvin ducked his head into the open passenger seat window of the truck. James had lit up a cigarette at some point. He held it in his lips with no hands, puffing away. "James... you uh, keep doing what you're doing."

The man grunted, a plume of smoke billowing out from beneath his stubbled lip. "Mmhmm."

"Steve, can I get your hand over here?" The ex-news director stood up and came over to Calvin. "How's she doing?"

The two of them looked over their shoulders at the little girl on the tire. She had found a loose rock somewhere and was scraping out little chalk drawing on the concrete floor. "Honestly, I don't know," Steve replied. "I haven't heard her say a single word this whole time."

Calvin couldn't blame the kid. "Listen, can you help me rummage through the garage. We're looking for anything that'll help: weapons, tools, food, clothing. Pack it into the truck if you find something." Steve nodded his head and put an arm on Calvin's shoulder.

"I'm glad somebody down here's taking charge."

Calvin shrugged. "I'm nobody's leader..."

"Why not?" Steve asked, lowering his voice. "Seems to me you're just the kind of guy they need right now. A face they recognize. A face they can trust."

The thought was interrupted by Chuck, who sat on the edge of the van grunting as he struggled with some tangled cords of various gadgets and recording equipment. Steve wandered away, beginning to scrounge through different drawers and cabinets for any supplies.

"Why aren't we packing the van?" James asked, sternly.

"We can't take both of these. If they happen to make it back down--" Calvin stopped a second, weighing the chances of that ever happening. "I just don't want to leave them without some way out of here."

Between them all they only had a bat, a crowbar, a knife, some scissors, a gun with two bullets, and a rifle with however much ammunition. They weren't necessarily equipped to throw down, but they could manage. At least they were in greater numbers now. Both a blessing and a curse, really.

Calvin joined in and began scouring the garage for stuff just when his mic chirped from the other side. He put his hand up, adjusting it in his ear for better sound. "Harper? Hello?"

"Calvin..." Her voice sounded a bit thinner now that they were further apart.

"Hey... are you alright?"

"We're fine, listen Calvin... we've got a way off the roof and we've got a plan. Just sit tight, and we'll--"

KSHSHSHSHSSHSHHHhhhhhh

"Harper? Hello? ... Shit."

The feed cut out with a sharp hiss as something loud drowned Harper out on her end. For whatever it was worth, they had found a way to get off that roof. But it sounded like Calvin and the others would be on their own for awhile. That changed things only slightly. Calvin grabbed a small toolbag off of one of the shelves and started packing anything that caught his eye, a wrench, a handsaw, duct tape, wire cutters...

Suddenly, something echoed out in the stairwell. Wayne had just unloaded arms full of gear into the bed of the truck and heard it too. "Did you--"

THUD!

Another one. This one was closer. Wayne and Calvin approached the door, leaning their ears close. The sounds were unmistakeable, as splintering wood signaled the walkers descent down the stairs. Wayne jumped back from the door.

"Shit, you guys, we gotta hustle!"

Everyone in the garage kicked it into overdrive as James keyed the truck's ignition and revved the engine. Jack came jogging out of the storage room with another metal bat and some backpacks jammed full of stuff. He swung them up into the back of the truck and hopped in himself. Lily got into the middle seat next to James and began buckling herself in.

Calvin turned to Chuck and the van. "Guess you're with me. Hit the door and let's go." The newscaster dropped the wires he was working on and threw the equipment back into the van. He ran to the control panel near the garage door and looked back at the others to make sure they were ready. Jack tapped his bat against the side of the truck.

"If you're done pressing my buttons, maybe you can press that one," he offered up, dryly. Chuck tossed him one of the walkies he found in the van and punched the controls as the door rose to reveal the blackened lot outside. James kicked the truck into reverse, tearing back out of the driveway and spinning it around to point the nose the other direction. Calvin started the van and followed, giving one glance at the news station through his side mirror. Every part of him hated leaving Nathan and Harper like this... but they had to do it to survive. On top of the roof he could see the rotors of the news chopper start to spin. He could see Harper and the others climb into it as the gentle hum of the blades grew louder and louder.

Calvin just hoped it wasn't the last time he would ever see them.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

0.00 INK

Harper Hopkins


Schantz jammed the tripod in the door's handles as Nathan pinned the door shut. While Harper shut off her IFB channel, the small helicopter started to prep for takeoff, its rotor blades starting to whir centrifugally to life.

Harper ran over to grab her large purse and her jacket that she'd removed earlier. "Harp, those people are STRONG," Schantz called over the noise. "I don't know how long that thing is going to last."

They got their answer when they heard the sharp whine of fast-bending metal. The top-of-the-line, titanium-reinforced tripod was no match for the walkers in the hall as they succeeded in busting the doors off of their secured runnings. A few more good pushes and that thing would crumple out onto the ground.

Schantz ducked under the spinning blades and hurled herself into the seat next to the pilot, motioning for the two to join. Nathan and Harper started to sprint ahead, just as the tripod predictably sprang apart. Maxine and two editors started to break toward them, snarling like vicious primeval predators. Nathan looked over his shoulder as he pushed Harper ahead, shocked that the wild-eyed, messy-haired, thrashing bony walker rushing toward them was so much unlike the old Maxine, slow and dramatic and sour-faced, without a single hair out of place.

Nathan skittered under the helicopter's blades and climbed in. Harper threw her bag ahead into Nathan's hands and made her way inside. A lot easier than they thought it would be. Nathan pulled the small hatch shut seconds before the trio smashed into the side of the chopper, their bodies smashing against the hull. The small craft lifted off of the ground and took off southward to Seal Beach. Harper was glued to the window, observing the fast-moving rush of bodies, face and arms as they got smaller and smaller. "Buckle up!" the pilot attempted to shout over the engulfing noise.

Too late. Harper fell face-first into the wall as the craft banked a hard left to circle off in the correct direction. Nathan, who had already secured himself in the bench seating behind the pilot and Schantz, instinctively pulled her away and close in, wrapping both arms around her waist. She kicked her feet onto the wall to stabilize herself. Nathan pulled her in a little more. She reached a hand up to her face and grimaced as she felt a trickle of blood. "FUCK!" she burst out, the first moment she had shown any sign of real panic in hours. Nathan kept her pulled in as the craft leveled once again, gripping tightly to keep her head up and away from the door or the ceiling. It briefly made him think of the night he met her, after the station welcome party when a group decided to go out on the town. The two danced for what had seemed like hours to Nathan. Very enjoyable hours.

Harper breathed heavily, briefly staring ahead, adrenaline rushing. If she had a reply, Nathan didn't hear it over the noise. He loosened his grip so that she could set herself into her own crash webbing, seated close to him on the bench.

The pilot shouted above the noise once more, knowing full well that not everyone in the craft had a headset to hear him better with. "JUST AHEAD, IT'S SWARMED!"

Harper's jaw dropped as she saw Seal Beach from overhead. The Naval Station stood out sharply, fires blazing off of the customary cookie-cutter buildings littered across the installation. Just off the shoreline a few frigates sat atop the orange water, some spewing flames of their own. One, however, featured people dotting along its surface, broken away about one hundred yards away from the others.

The pilot took a hard dive toward the frigate. Nathan swiped his arm behind Harper and covered her head. Schantz gripped the edge of her seat and turned behind to the two. She mouthed something, but the pilot inexplicably lost control of the craft and suddenly the water was above their heads.

SMASH.

Shutting his eyes, he unbuckled Harper's restraints and set himself free next. The doors had blown their way open. Harper's bag flew off of her, becoming disattached from her shoulder, as she sped kicking for the surface, grabbing Nathan's hand and pulling him up with her.

The four popped their heads above the surface of the water, drifting in a messy spiral thanks to the still-spinning blades as the helicopted submerged further and further beneath the surface of the water. They'd barely missed the frigate.

"HEY!" Nathan managed up to the crew looking over the edge of the floating safe haven, his boundless energy powering the volume of his shout, "A little help?!"

Harper blew the salty water out of her nose and worked her way to Nathan to float beside him. Schantz approached as well, her wet hair matting flat on her head as she struggled to keep above the choppy water. The pilot had started to swim on his way over, but let out a yelp as he was dragged beneath water. He splashed back up. "HELP!" he called out.

"Just swim!" Schantz responded to him. "Just swim over!"

Harper yelped suddenly when she felt a cold, squishy hand grip her heel. "They're in the water!" she screamed, kicking her white flat off along with the walker's hand.

The pilot disappeared back below the water, then popped back up, a raw, salt-rotted face ripping his collarbone to chewed ribbons.

Harper screamed again, feeling some kind of relief when she saw Schantz lift up into the air. She looked over and saw Nathan struggling similarly, kicking his legs down and smushing a face below the surface. "Come here!" he shouted to her as he took a hold of a lowered harness.

Without thinking she flailed her way toward him, the cold blast of Pacific water switching fast into frigid ocean breeze as she sailed into the air. Nathan held her again tight around the waist, very close, and she flung her arms around his neck to stay stable. The next thing she knew, Nathan hurled her over the metal rail aboard the surface of the frigate. She coughed and rolled over on her side, curling into a ball as she caught her breath. Nathan followed suit, flat on his stomach beside her.

Schantz was already up, a blanket draped around her shoulders and holding a bottle of water, standing in front of a small group of assorted sailors and a few others. She stared at them wordlessly, too tired to think.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

0.00 INK

Stevie watched Thomas head off after saying goodbye to her, her exhausted eyes still doubting what she'd seen that day. She noticed that he'd changed clothes, then reflected on the fact that he, along with some of the others, was wearing a diving suit during the day while all hell was breaking loose around them.

It was almost absurd.

She smiled a little to herself, finally finding something to laugh a little about. It certainly wasn't in the spirit of making fun of him or the others; after all, she was wearing an orange coat and yellow boots. They did exactly what they set out to do, which was get to safety. Had it not been for them, she wouldn't be there.

She heard a voice call out from just off to the left. A tall, tan blond man was sitting with two women, one stoic-faced and one with a bruised cheekbone who looked on the verge of shock. "That your husband?" he asked. "Do you know what's going on?"

Stevie shook her head. "Nope, just met him today," she said simply. "He doesn't even know my name."

The man paused. "So, what just happened?" he asked, now obviously intrigued.

she shrugged and opened up her bag, pulling out strips of fruit leather, then offered them to him. "He shot my boyfriend," she said simply.

The man paused again. "Would you mind re-stating that so that that doesn't sound crazy?" he said slowly as he accepted the gift. The stoic woman immediately reached for one, pulling the wrapper off and chewing restrainedly on it.

Stevie paused. "Well, maybe it wasn't him," she mused out loud, then settled back against the metal wall, her feet stretched out before her. "This morning my boyfriend and I were getting ready to drive back to Seattle. We went to Santa Monica to go have breakfast before we were supposed to go visit friends in Venice Beach. While we were waiting for a place to free up a table, we went wandering out on the beach. Some of those things walked up behind him and snatched him up."

The stoic woman continued to chew on her fruit strip. "You mean you didn't help him?" she asked bluntly.

Stevie's stomach twisted. "I didn't know what they were," she said glumly. "I thought they were just a couple of assholes joking around. You know how people can be."

The woman nodded. "Sorry," she said stiffly. "Well... what happened next?"

Stevie opened a piece of fruit leather for herself. "After that, I hid up in one of those lifeguard shacks," she continued. "Then a group of them found the shack. He actually found me." She nodded her head in the direction Thomas had gone off in. "They said they'd take me with them. Right after we started to take off, I saw him." She paused as she felt her chest start to tighten. It was the first time she'd put any thought into walking herself through the day. She stopped and looked down at her hands. "It wasn't him. He was gone. He was one of those things."

The woman with the bruised face blinked as she heard the story. "That's awful," she said sympathetically, moving a hand up to her face quickly, briefly wincing in pain. "So they brought you here." Stevie nodded. "Well, we're all lucky. I'm really glad that these people were here. And back there with you."

Stevie looked at her for a moment. The pretty, slight, dark-haired woman looked very familiar. "Hey, I know you," Stevie said briefly, reaching into her bag and pulling out a pack of Kleenex and a small bottle of witch hazel, something she used every day in applying makeup. She soaked a few of the tissues and handed it to the woman, gesturing for her to put the makeshift compress on her face to bring the swelling down. "You're not friends with Mark Sanchez in Seattle, are you?"

The woman half-smiled under the compress. "Yeah, he was my photog in Atlanta," she said kindly. "You know him?"

Stevie nodded. "Yeah, he and I went to college together, then we were roommates in Seattle with a few other people," she said. "You're Harper. You've done a lot of cool stuff. I'm Stevie."

The woman smiled. "Oh, yes! He's talked about you!" she responded. "They were all so bummed when you left. I came up to visit a weekend that you were gone. I was sad that I missed you. You're the one who did the radio shows and had all that stuff in Rolling Stone?"

Stevie nodded, and the woman introduced her two co-workers, Tara Schantz and Nathan McDonald. Schantz seemed a little removed at first, but was starting to slowly stop pretending that she wasn't interested in the conversation taking place. Nathan seemed a bit obnoxious, but not particularly harmful. Harper was gracious and doing her best to be polite, even if she was a little on-edge. What were the chances of meeting someone she knew through an old roommate?

# # #

Hours later, Stevie lay on the floor, reflecting once again on her day. She had a habit of playing everything a million times over and over in her brain, wondering about potential outcomes and what may have led up to certain things happening. It was a bit of an annoying habit to have on most days.

She had been subjected to a quick check from one of the medics on board, and was pleased to get a clean bill of health and sent back out on her way. It was fast, too fast for her to possibly feel any sense of embarrassment. She was even more pleased that the group next to her that had flopped their way on the boat after the helicopter crash had reached out to her. It didn't hurt that Thomas had come to see her, either. He'd given her the most information that anyone had given her the entire day.

Harper, Nathan, and Schantz had related the story of their day, which seemed almost more incredulous than hers, going from interviewing the actor, Calvin Hawke, to hopping into a traffic chopper and crashing into the water.

After sharing fruit leather in her bag and enjoying more bottled water handed out by some of the sailors on board, the four lined up against the hangar wall to try to catch some sleep. Nathan slept like a rock just a few feet away from the women. Schantz had finally fallen asleep. Harper lay awake, staring at the ceiling.

Stevie looked at her from her spot and waved her hand just slightly. "You all right?" she whispered, picking up fast on the woman's anxiety that was becoming harder and harder to contain as the hours waned on.

Harper turned over and looked at Stevie. "I'm fine," she insisted politely. "Just hard to sleep."

"No, you're not fine," Stevie responded. Harper didn't say anything. "Do you need something?"

Harper propped herself up on her elbows and turned the little compress over. She'd been re-soaking the patch of tissue with water every now and again. It felt good on her face. "I, uh... I'm just missing my medication."

Stevie nodded. "How can I help?"

Harper looked at her bag. "Is it too much to ask if you've got a Valium, or some Xanax?"

Stevie paused, and then started to dig through her bag. Dean had asked her to carry his medication for him during the trip, as he suffered the occasional panic attack and didn't exactly carry a bag with him. Stevie had panic attacks, as well, but far more infrequently than what she'd had when she was younger. She fished out the orange prescription bottle and feathered her fingertips through the fifteen or so small tablets, finally getting a hold of one. She offered it to Harper. "I'm happy to help," she said quietly.

Harper smiled and accepted it, swallowing it down with a sip of water. "Thank you," she responded graciously. "I-"

"It looks like you've had a rough day," Stevie said, re-capping the bottle and putting it back into the bag. "I guess it might not be long before I'll want one of those, too," she added dryly.

"Please don't tell anyone," Harper said quietly. "I work with these two... I work with Nathan almost every day. They don't know."

Stevie nodded in understanding. "Don't worry, I won't say anything," she said.

Harper nodded back. "Let's not let the four of us get separated," she suggested, lowering herself down from her elbows to lay back down on the cold metal floor. "Come with us. We lost our group, but let's look for them. Join us."

"That sounds great," Stevie said, partially enthusiastic and partially wondering when Thomas was going to come back. She looked at Harper, and noticed that she was missing a shoe and that her clothes, like Nathan's and Schantz', smelled like the salty ocean. She looked into her bag again and pulled out a couple of hotel samples she'd tossed in without thinking before she and Dean had checked out. "Here, have these."

Harper accepted them. "Thank you," she said gratefully. "Maybe we can laugh about this someday, right?"

Stevie smiled. "See you in a few hours." She settled back and closed her eyes.

# # #

Harper drifted awake a few hours later, still feeling the quiet and still haze of the medication. Stevie was still fast asleep, curled up on the ground covered in her coat, hugging her bag against her stomach. Her folded glasses were parked not far from her head. Nathan was sitting up, drinking a bottle of water, and Schantz was holding a sleeping baby.

Harper sat up and ran a hand through her ocean-stiff hair and took a look at Schantz staring down at the calm child, then look up to meet her stare. "Her mom asked me if I could hang onto her," she whispered over. "She's just over in the bathroom, I guess."

Nathan nodded. "Lady was tired," he added. "She's been gone maybe 10 minutes. Schantz has the magic touch."

Schantz rolled her eyes. "I hate babies," she managed half-heartedly, lying poorly.

Nathan shrugged his shoulders. "This baby doesn't hate you, that's for sure," he said. "You got your technique down and everything." Harper rolled his eyes at him. "What? My brother's wife had a baby and there's a whole way of doing this stuff. It's complicated, man."

Harper laughed slightly and tried not to think of her own family, her own nieces and nephews, one of which must have been the baby's age. She took a deep breath and re-centered herself. "You guys sleep okay?"

Schantz nodded, continuing to rock the baby, who snoozed away happily. "I don't know about you guys, but I was pretty tired," Nathan chirped with a grin, scooting closer to Harper. "It's about 6. Someone said they're opening the doors soon. Don't know much more than that."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

0.00 INK

Nathan reached over and tapped the ground near Stevie's face. She opened her eyes and looked up at the brightening lights and blinked slowly, shutting her eyes again in protest. "Hey, glasses," he called out, tapping the ground again. She opened her eyes and turned toward the three, looking annoyedly at Nathan. "They're opening the doors soon. You better wake up. I don't think anyone plans on carrying you out."

"Not unless you're her," Harper quipped, pointing with her thumb over to the olive-skinned baby Schantz was holding.

Stevie's face brightened up when she saw the baby, and put her glasses on and smoothed her hair down. "Who's that?" she asked quietly.

Schantz shrugged. "Her mom went to the bathroom. I kind of have to do the same thing."

Stevie sat up and opened her bag, pulling out a few granola bars and setting them in front of the others. "Want me to take her?"

Nathan looked at her bag and laughed. "Who are you, Mary Poppins?" he asked as he took two bars and handed one to Harper. "You've got all kinds of stuff in there."

Stevie leaned over to Schantz to scoop the baby into her arms smoothly, and started bobbing the child gently, the area beneath her eyes dark with fatigue. Schantz stood up, took a bar, and opened it as she headed off toward where a few others were gathered. "Yeah, yeah, yeah," Stevie rolled back, "my parents and my boyfriend used to make fun of me for this. I love bags. And I love being prepared."

Nathan took a bite of his bar and looked down at the cognac-leather bag, worn but sturdy, with a brass lock and a buckle on the thick shoulder strap. A crochet lace detail was strung across the front of it, a small part of it covered in dried blood. "What do you mean by that? Are you like, paranoid?"

Stevie rolled her eyes and laughed, obviously picking up on the fact that he was needling her. "I hope not. No, I tend to put things in there that I think I might need later, and they just kind of... stay in there."

Nathan remained intrigued. "Like what?"

"Go ahead and see," Stevie said, tilting her head toward her bag.

Harper watched the exchange. She liked Stevie. She could tell she was sweet. She obviously trusted Harper pretty quickly if she was willing to give her a Xanax upon request. And her enthusiasm toward the baby she was showing currently was very endearing, as was the fact that she was willing to share with the others so readily. She knew Nathan must have smelled blood in the water for some reason. He loved testing people's boundaries after meeting them, especially people he considered to be "goody-two-shoe"'ish.

Nathan took the bag with a grin, undid the latch, and opened it up. He pulled out two swaths of folded fabric, both black. "Spare changes of clothes," Stevie pointed out. Next came a pack of gum and a tin of mints. Then came more fruit strips, more granola bars, and a bottle of Vitamin water. A small bag filled with makeup and face cleanser, six different tubes of nail polish, a compact mirror, a hairbrush, the small bottle of witch hazel, and three packs of Kleenex, amongst a few other small things. A small travel-sized bottle of sunscreen. A map of the United States. A few prescription bottles. Small first aid kit, small sewing kit. Two sets of knitting needles, a few crochet hooks, a few balls of yarn. Receipts. Earbuds with a multi-plugin splitter. A phone charger. Mace. 9mm shells. Nathan looked at her squarely. "I don't have my gun on me right now."

"Where is it now?" he asked curiously.

"One of the guys who got me here must have it," she answered.

He continued to dig through her bag. He laughed out loud when he saw a small plastic bag filled with marijuana. "Oh, you just got so much more interesting!" he said, lowering the back on the floor and covering it up with her folded shirt. She smiled. He then got toward the bottom of the bag and pulled out a small bag, unzipped it, and dropped it on the ground like it was a snake as his face turned red. "Okay, okay, now I know why I'm never allowed to go through anyone's purse!"

Of course. Harper and Stevie burst out laughing. The baby startled and let out a few surprised cries. Stevie's face fell and she wobbled herself up on her feet, swaying side to side and cooing at the baby, who promptly fell back into her nap.

Nathan boggled at her as he started to re-pack her bag after emptying it of most of its contents. "Shit, dude, you are like the tiniest person on this boat next to that baby," he teased, bugging his eyes out and pointing a finger at her.

Stevie rolled her eyes. Short jokes were so creative. Not. "Be nice or I'm not sharing my weed with you," she threatened jokingly, keeping her voice low but audible so that the baby wouldn't wake up.

Nathan laughed. "Where did you get all that from, anyway, Miss Second Amendment Bohemian?" he asked as Schantz came back and let out a whistle upon seeing the bag.

"My boyfriend has a medical marijuana card," Stevie said, "and he wanted to bring a pretty good supply back up to Seattle with us."

Schantz let out a small laugh. "Looks like he was stocking up for the end of the world, huh?"

Silence.

Stevie bit her lip and nodded. "Yeah, I guess you could say that." The baby sighed contentedly. Stevie continued to bob the baby, stepping a few paces away.

Harper looked up at Schantz. "Bad timing," she said calmly, "I think you upset her."

Schantz watched Stevie as she worked with the sleeping baby. "Ahh, I didn't mean to do that," she said. The expression on her face showed that she was well aware that she'd put her foot in her mouth.

Nathan leaned in to talk to just the other two. "Dude. I wouldn't worry about it."

Harper looked at him and furrowed her eyebrows. "Nathan. Everyone needs time. She's upset."

Nathan smirked. "Like I said, I wouldn't worry about it," he repeated. "She's got a gun, and enough weed and birth control in there to completely forget about anything that happened yesterday. This chick is insane."

Schantz shook her head. "Dude, not cool," she said sharply.

Nathan used his foot to push the bag back to the spot Stevie had slept in. "Right, because she's going to have such a hard time fin-"

Schantz glowered at him. "What the fuck, dude? Knock it off."

Nathan rolled his eyes and stood up. He watched another petite, very tired-looking woman approach Stevie and began to chatter kindly in Spanish. Stevie looked back at Schantz. Schantz nodded at Stevie. "That's her mom," Schantz called out. Stevie smiled a thank-you and continued to talk to the woman, handing the sleepy baby back over while doing so. Harper and Schantz stared darkly at Nathan, who frowned as he looked down at his shoes. He knew he'd screwed up.

Stevie walked over, smiled at the three, and quietly grabbed her bag to make off toward the small group gathered near the facilities. Schantz rose and started to follow her, looking directly at Nathan. "Well, I'm going to go apologize. Because I'm not an asshole."

Nathan watched her walk off, feeling just a little bit worse. He looked over at Harper, who shrugged at him. "It wasn't very nice," she said simply. "It doesn't seem like you at all." He stayed quiet. "She's coming with us. Who knows if the group she came with can even take her." He sighed. "We've only got each other. And maybe we'll meet up with the others."

Nathan frowned and rubbed his face stressedly. "You're right, I was an ass," he said quickly. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything."

Harper half-smiled and stood also, feeling just a little woozy. Nathan offered her a hand to help stand her up. "It's okay," she said, "just apologize to Schantz. She didn't like that very much, either."

Nathan nodded and held her hand in his for a moment, then let it go reluctantly. Schantz jogged back and he offered a sheepish apology, which she gingerly accepted.

Within a few minutes, Stevie came back, and the three thanked her for the granola bars. She smiled at them. Clearly, she wasn't about to hold a mistaken statement against anyone. The four sat together quietly, awaiting any instructions.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

0.00 INK

It was a nice welcome party on the part of WEND-TV's staff. Harper had been off the plane for just two days from Atlanta when two other reporters, Erica Thompson and Kyle Reeves, called her as she was moving into her apartment, informing her that they'd like to welcome her to the station, that they had both not been there very long and they were excited to have another newcomer enter the newsroom.

Harper graciously accepted their offer and showed up to the newsroom on a Saturday night, freed-up while the broadcast was pre-empted by a late college football game. Erica was a bubbly blonde pipsqueak from an old Irish neighborhood in Boston who had worked hard to change her accent to something a little more diluted, and Kyle was a friendly, dark-haired fellow from Utah. They'd gone to a lot of trouble to strew a banner that read "Welcome, Harper!" from one end of the newsroom to the other. They even brought in a marbled cake, which featured a design of a map of the U.S., the states of Georgia and California both highlighted in yellow, and small white paper airplane with a drawn trail heading in loop-de-loops from the east coast to the west coast. Harper thought it was cute. They'd even thought to provide cups of lemonade and sweet tea. She loved sweet tea.

It was a nice, informal bash. A lot of folks, about 25, had shown up, even if they weren't scheduled to be on shift. Harper smiled as she worked to keep up with the names and new faces. Obviously, it was going to take some time. She noticed that a lot of the older reporters had limp handshakes and mostly kept to themselves, as did the sports department. Chuck Cherry smelled like whiskey and held her hand a little too long. George Geranos and Maxine Millner were off that night. Steve Hilpin, who she had met when she flew out for an interview the month prior, apparently was taking his kids to go to a concert. Finally, the game ended around 9 p.m. and it was time to pack up.

A group of about ten lingered around while others who'd had plans said friendly goodbyes and took off. Kyle and Erica, once satisfied with the state of the newsroom after they'd cleared the decorations, suggested to the group that they go out for beers. At first Harper resisted, saying that she had to finish moving in to her new place, but Erica grabbed Harper by the wrist and giddily insisted that they head out to the Blue Palms Brewhouse on Hollywood Boulevard.

About thirty minutes later, eleven of the WEND staff, including Harper, walked into the busy establishment and took up a large table. About two hours' worth of carousing and general merrymaking yielded eleven tipsy-to-drunk adults between the ages of 25 and 35. Harper had especially hit it off with the tall blond photographer, Nathan, who had a loud, contagious laugh, a big personality, and an obscenely wide-ranging knowledge of sports and movie trivia. Definitely the life of the party. And he was the one who suggested that they move on just a block or two away to The Frolic Room.

The night became far more frenzied at the new location. The legendary old bar was packed wall-to-wall with partygoers and music blasted. Harper finally stopped worrying about unpacking her apartment long enough to hit the dance floor and freely chat with the group at their table, occasionally breaking off to dance with either a friendly-looking stranger or a member of the group.

Finally, Nathan made his way over to her and took her wrists and started to goofily twirl and spin her around, her long, dark hair fanning out behind her. Her drinks over the course of the evening hit harder as the minutes went by. For the next hour, Nathan was reluctant to relinquish her company.

Finally, the lights flickered on and off just before 2 a.m. It was time for the bar to collect tabs and kick everyone out. Harper shuffled out to the front of the building to meet the group, having already paid for her drinks. Nathan followed just a few feet behind, and met her outside the door and on the street. The warm night air was clearer and cooler than the air inside the bar.

"Looks like we're the only ones who paid up so far," she said with a dull slur, grinning wildly and leaning against the building's exterior as she searched for cab fare in her pocketbook.

Nathan stood beside her and nodded, grinning back. A group of people started to laugh not far away. Nathan cast a suspicious glance at a group of smokers nearby. His friendly face drew down into a dark frown. "God, I hate that shit," he muttered, partly to himself and partly to Harper. "People who smoke cigarettes blow."

"Wanna say that louder?" shot back one of the smokers who had just happened to catch what he said.

The corners of Nathan's mouth tricked up ever-so-slightly. "Yeah, I hate that shit," he shot back at a louder volume. "You're poisoning the air, you're poisoning yourselves, and you just look really fucking lame." The other man took two steps toward Nathan. Both had definitely had too much to drink. Nathan stepped forward and raised his arms intimidatingly. "Really, dude? Really?"

"I can do whatever I want," the other guy said, deliberately puffing on his cigarette and blowing a large cloud of smoke out in Nathan's direction.

Harper instinctively hurled herself forward at Nathan, just as two others were doing to the other man, as the two started to quickly move toward each other. The commotion was over as quickly as it started when other bar patrons started to filter out the door. This was embarrassing.

Nathan glared at the group, who decided to migrate further down the sidewalk. "Jerks," he muttered quietly.

Harper stared at him, puzzled. "What was that?" she asked, still a little stunned that such a nice guy would do something weird like that.

"People can be such dicks," he answered moodily.

It seemed to make perfect sense to him, but made none to Harper. "But you don't have to do that," she said exasperatedly. "They weren't doing anything."

He paused. "They're smoking ciagrettes," he said flatly, "really close to us. I didn't want them to bother you."

Harper blinked. "Well, thank you," she said, "but you don't have to do that. It's all right. I can take care of myself."

Nathan shrugged. "Well, I like to take care of my friends," he said, once again sounding so self-assured, and cracking a half-grin at her.

Harper half-smiled as the rest of the group exited, each person slowly going their own way in different cabs home.


# # #

Harper watched Nathan as he excused himself to get up and go stretch his legs. The first time she'd met a lot of her co-workers was a good time. She suddenly felt a pang of guilt for being so tough on the newsroom; she felt homesick for North Carolina in the worst way, but maybe the group of people she'd spent the last several months of her life with really weren't as bad as she thought they were.

Except Chuck. Chuck sucked.

And despite Nathan's occasional obnoxious setbacks, she still had a soft spot for him. She had probably spent more time with Nathan than any other person after she arrived in Los Angeles due to the fact that they worked together most days, and she kept a low-profile social life outside of work.

She looked over her shoulder at Schantz and Stevie; the small girl with the glasses had offered the very serious Schantz a hairbrush and a small rubber band, which, surprisingly, Schantz took and offered a smile as a thank-you. As she quickly brushed her hair, Stevie looked to be very satisfied, even if she also looked dog-tired. If she was worried about anything, then she wasn't doing a very good job of showing it.

A trio of sailors approached assertively. One held a clipboard, another was a medic, and the third held a rifle, safely pointed up toward the ceiling. Harper smiled and nodded to them. "Hi," she greeted them. "How's it going?"

The one holding the clipboard nodded distantly at her. "Hello, ma'am," he said in a somewhat robotic fashion, "we're currently conducting checks throughout the area to account for the number of refugees aboard. We'd like to ask you ladies a couple of questions."

Harper nodded and lifted a finger up quickly. "Could you give us two seconds?" she asked, "we actually have another person traveling with us." Schantz handed the hairbrush backed to Stevie and wordlessly jogged off to go find Nathan. "But we're happy to answer questions while we wait."

The medic looked at the two women and spread his palms outward, offering a friendly gesture. "Ladies, I know that you've already been checked to determine that you're in good health, but can you verbally confirm that you're okay? No bites or injuries sustained directly from an infected individual?" Both of them nodded. "Are either of you pregnant or suffering from a chronic condition?" Both of them shook their heads. "Head injuries?" Both of them shook their heads. "Between the ages of 18 and 45?" Both nodded.

"Great," said the sailor with the clipboard, "then you both are in good condition and will be the fifth group lifted out of here. First we're taking out the people in poor health to get them to the infirmary at the refugee center FEMA has set up north of here. Then we're following with the elderly, young children and their parents. Then we'll get the healthy people out. At this point we're still determining how long travel time will be. As long as your friends are also in good shape, we'll make a note to keep the four of you together. Just keep an ear out, we'll call out your last names on the P.A. system. Do you understand?" The two women nodded. "Right. Then stick around. Pay attention."

Schantz returned with Nathan, and the two were subjected to the same round of questioning. The three men left, leaving the four to stare at each other once more. "Well, we're not being separated," Harper said definitively. "Darden, you should stay with us."

Stevie smiled a little. She didn't mind at all when people referred to her by her last name. Besides, the very tomboyish nickname her mother had given her as a child didn't always stick well with people. "Thanks," she responded.

Nathan stuck his thumb toward the main door of the hangar. "While I was gone I noticed Captain America came back," he said pointedly at Stevie. Harper watched as she glanced toward the direction Nathan was pointed in. "You sure you'll be able to leave him behind?"

Stevie bristled a little. "I don't think any of us really have a choice in what happens next," she said darkly. Harper made a mental note to talk to Nathan again; this girl obviously picked up quickly on when people weren't teasing her in a necessarily friendly manner. "And he's not American." Apparently she loved scrapping back, too.

Nathan started to say something, but Schantz stopped him. "She said she's coming with us," she said quickly to Nathan, then turned to Stevie. "You all right? You don't look so good."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

0.00 INK

Harper poked her head outside of the door and looked both ways, spotting Stevie sitting up against the wall of the edge of the huge craft. She stepped up to Stevie and studied her; she looked awful.

Her face was pale and there was a dazed look in her eyes when she looked back up at Harper.

"Hey," Harper said softly, kneeling down to sit down in front of her, "you all right?"

Stevie looked around, and nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine," she said, "don't worry about me. Just let me know when they call us to go."

Harper shook her head. "They did call us. There's been an abrupt change of plans. Something weird happened. We're all being loaded onto the same helicopter out." She eyed Stevie again. "Are you sure you're all right?"

Stevie sprang to her feet almost involuntarily and vomited over the ledge. Harper followed her up and looked around, then patted Stevie's back in an attempt to help in some way.

"Now it's my turn to tell you you don't look fine at all."

Stevie spat over the edge and turned back to Harper, standing up straight. Her back slumped just a little in obvious exhaustion. "Look," she said, "if we're going off somewhere, the last place I want to get stuck is one of those little mobile units that they throw sick people into."

Harper shook her head. "I know, so what do we do? What's wrong, exactly?"

Stevie sighed and smoothed her dress downward in an attempt to look like she wasn't panicked to random passerby. "Ever since I was little, I get sick if I overwork myself," she said, leaning in toward Harper's ear and speaking quietly. "It's a kidney condition. It took me out of school a few times when I was little. I had surgery to fix the worst of it, but it can come back if I'm not taking care of myself." She took a breath. "I haven't slept more than maybe ten hours in the past five days. It's more than just yesterday that's catching up to me."

Harper's eyes went big. "You'll need antibiotics or this is going to get a whole lot worse," she said.

Stevie nodded. "If it's really bad, yes, I will," she said, "but sometimes I can sleep it off."

"When are you going to be able to do that?" Harper asked. "I mean, I don't doubt you, but-"

"Ladies," a voice called out sharply. They both turned to see a pair of Marines motioning to them. "We've got to get going. Hustle along."

Harper nodded, understanding the urgency. "Thank you," she said calmly with a half-smile, and patted Stevie's arm and gently pulled her along. "We'll go right now."

They wordlessly made their way back into the hangar, where Schantz and Nathan beckoned them to follow them through the door to the other side. There was a line forming behind a massive CH-53, a ramp set down to collect passengers. The four were quickly and efficiently ushered aboard, and before they knew it, the six rotor blades whooshed heavily to life and they lifted off of the frigate.

# # #

There weren't any windows substantial enough to feature the cityscape unfolding ahead of the massive aircraft as it pushed ahead, mile by mile, toward Pomona.

The sun overhead sizzled the air to over 90 degrees, even though it was barely mid-morning, far higher than normal for the time of year. The city's sky was eerily silent except for the occasional military aircraft lifting through the air.

The typical hum of commercial airliners was far quieter than usual.

Patches of black smoke billowed above parts of the city, adding to the cloudy smog hanging like a curtain draping up toward the atmosphere.

Finally, the huge craft began to descend on the FEMA camp's helibase, touching down very carefully in the clearing amongst the trees. The ramp was set down and passengers were called out, sent to line up divided amongst a few stations. They must have been getting checked in.

Stevie worked to appear like she wasn't feeling as listless as she was as she provided her Washington driver's license and passport to identify herself. Her bag was searched, but not well enough; Nathan had tucked her contraband into her spare clothes, which they didn't bother checking out. She reflected on the fact that maybe he'd done something nice for her. She found the question asking about a good contact phone number, and phone number for a person to contact in case any harm befell her to fall a little on the darker side of humorous.

Harper, devoid of anything but the clothes on her back and one white leather flat shoe, let out a sigh of relief when Nathan happened to have her press credentials from a recent secured shoot. Sometimes Nathan would carry her credentials and ID when they were on a shoot that occupied her time; he found it a lot easier to just dig into his wallet to pull out two ID's and get it over with. This wasn't an official ID of any kind, but the overly-detailed laminated card had a headshot of Harper, her full name, her affiliation, and, oddly but conveniently, her birthday.

The four followed instructions to head to a large, white softcover tent along with about ten other people. The inside featured about one hundred people gathered, low cots rowed along the walls of the tent, and forming aisle ways in the interior. It was hot, and smelled like there were too many people. Their guide informed them that a diesel generator was giving power to the tent, and that there were outlets stationed frequently throughout. He said that the HVAC system was working, but that the different tents around the encampment took turns with it so that way fuel could be conserved. The food service station was supposed to resume service in about two hours, and the water purification system was still being worked on--meaning, no laundry, showers, or water until then.

The four split from the main group and set themselves on a cluster of cots along the tent wall, feeling somewhat better about their chance for cooler air.

Nathan flopped down on his cot face-first and let out a long, loud sigh. "Just like home!"

Schantz stretched out on her stomach on hers. "I asked if there's anything I can do to help, and they said they'd let me know," she reported. "I think that's government-talk for, 'No, you can't.'"

Harper laughed. "I feel like the weirdo here without an ID," she said, looking down at her feet and pulling off her single shoe. "This is pathetic," she said, holding it up near her face and pointing to it. "One shoe. And we're in the woods."

"The shoe's not the one that's pathetic," Nathan piped up from his spot on his cot. Harper glared at him playfully and smacked him with the shoe. He jumped up and tackled her. Schantz rolled her eyes and pulled a FEMA emergency manual from under the cot and started to read.

Stevie set her bag down underneath her cot and sat on its edge after instinctively pulling out her cell phone and charger. She plugged it into the nearby provided outlet and her phone began to slowly power itself up. Hoping that maybe something had changed, she checked the phone and wireless once again. Nothing for now. She shoved her coat on the surface of the cot and laid down, flipping mindlessly through her phone as though trying to find something to occupy her mind with.

She opened up her photos and came upon recent photos of herself, Dean, and life back in Seattle. It seemed so far removed from sitting in a crowded tent with a bunch of strangers in California after what was decidedly the weirdest day of her life. Even though it hadn't been 24 hours, she felt like she was taking a look at someone else's life, someone else who wasn't there anymore. The voyeuristic quality of it made her stomach twist even more. It certainly did feel creepy to see someone else's moments from another life. Even Dean, who certainly meant so much to her, didn't even look familiar... not at all like the last time she saw him.

She switched her phone off and stared up at the white ceiling, willing herself to not vomit again.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

0.00 INK

Just a few hours later, Stevie was sleeping soundly on her cot, curled up, sweating profusely but shivering slightly. Harper had set her coat on top of her in order to avoid the occasional wandering FEMA staffer from spotting her face. Chatter in the tent pointed to the fact that the medical unit was not a good place to be--they were getting crowded and someone was keeping a tally of bodybags seen getting dragged from the area.

Nathan looked at Harper, who still kept a very calm and cool demeanor despite her deep concern. He had borrowed Stevie's phone and was playing a game. Schantz was also resting. "Why's she shivering?" he asked, keeping his voice down.

Harper shrugged. "I didn't notice," she said quickly.

Nathan looked at her for a long moment, then set the phone down. "I know when you're lying," he said, "we've been working together for months and you can't get it past me. You know what's up. I saw you guys talking on the boat."

Harper shook her head. "Girl stuff," she said simply.

Nathan took a sip of bottled water and laughed. "I've got sisters and I've never seen anything like this," he said, "and I've seen everything."

Harper pursed her lip, looking down at the ground. She brought her eyes back up to Nathan, and sighed. "She's feeling sick," she said.

Nathan held his hands out and smiled. "Now how hard was that?"

"We can't let them find out," Harper said hushedly, "she doesn't want to end up in one of these hospitals here."

Nathan jutted his chin up and looked over the room. "Smart." He nodded.

Stevie stirred just slightly. Harper looked over at her with a smile, and then noticed two responders walking close to their cots. They eyed Stevie suspiciously as she pulled herself up, resting on her elbows, her face unnaturally pale, and then quickly shoved her head on the other side of the cot, vomiting for what must have been the sixth time that day. Harper's eyes widened as they approached. Unbelievably bad timing.

# # #

"Ma'am, you're going to have to come with us."

That was the last thing that Stevie heard before she passed out, revived slightly when two pairs of arms picked her up and pulled her away. A flashlight shone brightly into her eye and drilled a terrible sensation behind her eyebrows. Spots dazed across her vision.

"But she's fine," she heard a familiar voice volunteer for her from far away.

"Well, then why's she fainting?" came the frustrated retort. "People get sick after they get bit."

Dark again.

# # #

Harper stared blankly at the two camp workers outside of the tent Stevie had been pulled into. "They what?" She panted heavily after having torn after them, pursuing them as they took the tiny girl with glasses away as fast as they could.

One rolled his eyes. "Look, there's a lot of stuff that you guys just don't know. We hear that if people survive coming into contact with a walker that they get sick."

Nathan stepped forward and narrowed his eyes. "We never saw that. And we ran into plenty of walkers yesterday."

The worker shrugged. "I just know what I'm told. If someone is bitten and they don't immediately die, they get sick. And die within a day."

"But she didn't get bit," Nathan fired back, "she's just tired."

"I'm going to have to ask you to calm down," the man responded, holding his hands up.

Nathan's face turned red. "Calm down? That WAS calm," he fumed. "You want to see me not-calm? I'll show you not-calm!"

Harper threw a hand out in front of his chest to silence him. She turned to the worker and sighed. "Look, I don't want us to have to split up," she said smoothly, locking her eyes with the other person intensely. "Please."

The other worker nodded nonchalantly. "We'll keep you up with what happens to her. Wait here."

# # #

Blinding white flash.

"Miss... Darden? Can you tell me what's going on?"

Stevie gratefully took the bottle of water being offered to her and poured it down her throat, parched. "I... I've got a history of kidney infections," she said quietly, her energy drained.

Her vision came back in focus, revealing a pair of mascara'd eyes with a white breath mask below, a cap covering above. "Well," came the female voice behind the fabric, pulling herself back and straightening the stethoscope from around her neck, clipboard in her other hand. Several minutes had passed from the time that Stevie had fainted. "You're showing all the signs of that. I couldn't find any bites on you and your eyes don't look inflamed or irritated. And you're not showing most of the symptoms that other people are if they've come into contact with the walkers. In fact, how are you feeling?"

Stevie looked through the opening of the tent and spotted Harper, talking to a few other people about ten feet away from the entrance. She looked back at the doctor and opened her mouth slowly. "Well, I'm very tired," she managed groggily, her eyelids desperately wanting to close shut again. "My lower back hurts pretty badly. And I kind of just feel... awful."

"Feel hot?" the doctor asked.

"Yes," Stevie answered. "But I just need to rest. I'll be fine when I leave."

"Leave?" the doctor remarked incredulously, "with a fever? You're not going anywhere except in quarantine with an IV drip."

Stevie's face fell. "No, no, I can't do that," she fretted quietly. The mere thought of it made her feel even worse.

"You stay out there, you'll catch something else and then you'll just end up back in here," the doctor said authoratatively, gesturing toward the opening in the back of the tent. "We're taking you to the medical unit."

Stevie held her panic back, and cooperated with the two masked workers who approached her. "Can you at least let my friend out there know?" she asked, pointing quickly to Harper outside of the tent. She spotted Nathan out there, too.

The doctor nodded and handed her a mask. "Yes. We'll make sure she knows."

Stevie nodded and left with the two out of the other side of the tent, stringing her mask about her ears and adjusting it to a relatively comfortable spot. She stepped slowly, working to not fall down again. She was dazed during the walk. Her stomach felt like it would never sit still, like she was in an elevator that kept changing floors. It wasn't a long jaunt to a series of small mobile units, and entered one that contained a series of six raised mobile beds separated by bleach-white cotton curtains. It smelled sterilized, further irritating her stomach. Small metal cabinets topped with miniature versions of hospital monitors sat to one side of each bed, none of which were actually switched on. Four of the beds were covered from the front by part of their curtains, with slight sounds of people breathing in their sleep or sniffing.

Another female doctor with a mask accompanied by a nurse escorted her to a bed, checking the clipboard that was handed off to them by the departing two. They stuck her by a bed and gestured to a folded-up green gown on the edge. "Go ahead and change out of everything you're wearing and put that on, please. You can put whatever you have on you in the bag provided. We'll be right back."

They jerked the curtain shut and left Stevie by herself. She felt weighted down by gravity and fatigue as she pulled off her jumper and red shirt, kicked off her boots and ripped stockings, and stripped down and tied the absolutely hideous green-and-purple patterned gown around her neck and back. It was hot inside the mobile. She stuck the plastic bag beneath the head of the bed and perched on the end, her legs dangling far above the ground. She shut her eyes and fought back another headache, shivering with internal chills despite the suffocating heat.

The two returned and pulled her back to lay down and covered her with a thin white cotton blanket. One hooked two bags to a tall metal bar and attached a tube to each, while the other pulled a needle out of a plastic bag. Stevie hated needles. She looked away as a cold cotton swab rubbed the top of her left hand, and a stinging jab pierced through the spot. A quick tape-down and a plug of a tube sent a brief chill into her hand and forearm.

"Here's an antibiotic and some fluids," one person said behind a mask. "Just get some rest." A second jab, this time in her right arm. "A very mild sedative. To help you relax."

"I didn't say you could do that!" Stevie called out, pulling her arm away. Too late.

"To help you sleep."

"But that's illegal!" It was starting to take hold; anything in her stomach had long been emptied and didn't cushion well against the effects. She laid back and listened to the labored breathing of the unknown person next to her. She raised a hand weakly and gestured it toward the curtain. "What's wrong with him?" she posited curiously.

"Some folks get sick when they get bit," one responded, "and they pass away. We watch pretty closely." Behind them, Stevie saw one of the other aides open the curtain directly opposite from hers, a bodybag laying on its bed.

She felt herself panic again. "Why am I in here with people who have been bit? That's not what I'm sick with!"

"Because we don't have much room." They slid the fabric through the runners curtly, obstructing her view as the sedative kicked in deeper.

And then it clicked. She was being prevented from asking any more questions.

The fluorescent light overhead flickered slightly as she looked around. She laid back and rested her left hand on her stomach, and drifted off to sleep.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

0.00 INK

Harper Hopkins



Harper sat down on her cot and stared ahead at the white wall, her mind racing.

She didn't trust the volunteer who had told her that they'd keep them in the loop about Stevie. It was something they probably told everybody just to keep calm in the area. They were probably tired, overworked, and constantly being screamed at by anyone who could get near them. She recalled a colleague in Atlanta who had covered the events that unfolded after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita along the Gulf Coast, how disorganized everything had been, how angry the people were... It had been years since it happened, but it still stood to say that even the best-laid plans didn't always work out.

Nathan sat down next to her and glanced at Schantz, who looked at them curiously from her cot. She'd stowed Stevie's bag near her feet in order to prevent any curious eyes and prying hands from spotting easy property to take. "Let me guess," Schantz said calmly.

Nathan nodded. "Yeah, you figured right," he responded. He looked over at Harper, who was obviously concerned about losing a member of their group. They hadn't been together long, but as they all had agreed upon earlier, sticking together was the very best course of action that anyone could choose to take.

"Well, there's good news." Schantz handed Stevie's cell phone to the two. "Looks like a cell tower is working."

The two peered into the screen. Schantz had directed a web browser to IAmStillAlive.com, and had happily discovered that her family in rural Kansas had thought to list their names. Schantz had done the same for herself. "My family's got an arsenal in their farmhouse. I knew how to shoot pretty good by the time I was 9," she said proudly.

Harper was thrilled to find her family's names under the "North Carolina" tab, centered around her hometown of Cary. Nathan was also very fortunate; his family just north in the Central Valley had also listed their names. It must have helped that none of their families lived in areas that were very heavily populated. Harper took a moment to check out "Darden"; she remembered Mark once mentioning that Stevie visited her family in Washington, D.C. pretty frequently. No indication one way or the other.

Chatter in the tent about the water purification system having failed... how New York was bombed, how Los Angeles was crawling with the dead... jittery people, anxious children.

The air thumped heavily with the sound of aircraft above... both planes and helicopters. The intermittent gunshots riveting outside a short distance away, further scaring the growing number of people in the tent.

Harper was angry. Why weren't they being told anything?

The three stuck in the same place, too scared to stay but even more scared to leave.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

0.00 INK

Harper Hopkins


"It's working!" Schantz' idea to hotwire the damn thing actually worked.

Harper and Nathan hopped into the older-model SUV and slammed the doors behind them. Schantz slammed her foot on the gas pedal and they motored ahead, leaving the three walkers in their rearview mirror as they took off along the grass beside the highway.

Smoke from nearby car fires plumed up into the air like black clouds, hanging over the sky like a low ceiling against the nearly-set sun. Some people still occupied their cars, huddled inside like scared rabbits. It wouldn't be long before the sun would set and cast cool darkness over southern California, plunging the camp and others into a new category of danger.

Harper looked out of the backseat window while Nathan and Schantz discussed whether they ought to head east toward the Ontatio airport or south toward Hollywood. Schantz reasoned that the airport would be farther out from the city and possibly feature some kind of safe haven behind a fence; Nathan reasoned that if bombs would drop that a dent must have been put into the walker population in the metro area, and they'd have to find Calvin.

# # #

"Did you hear that?!" Schantz suddenly exclaimed, jumping up from her place and staring at the wall of the tent.

"Hear what?" Nathan asked.

"That rumble!"

"No. Someone just dropped something huge. Hopefully it's a big box of food. They still haven't opened food service and we've been here for how many hours, now?"

Harper ignored him as she looked in the direction that Schantz had, and immediately dashed for the entrance. A large group gathered, staring westward at the sky; a few heavy jets slowly inched along the sky. "They're flying over the city!" someone cried out.

"Are they planning on bombing it?!"

A hush broke out over the group gathered before dispersing minutes later. It wouldn't be long before an all-out panic would break out and cause complete pandemonium. Harper looked at the other two; it was clear that they were thinking the same thing.

It wouldn't be long before the sun would begin to set. They had to get out, bombs or not.

"We have to go get Stevie," Schantz said, tearing into the bag and pulling out a small red wallet. She opened it and pulled out her driver's license. "Here, this is how we find her. Where'd they take her?"

Nathan gestured off in one direction. "They've fenced off the hospital area, whatever it is," he said, "someone said there've been walkers coming through there. Saying people die after the fever."

"We've got to get there right now!" Harper said steadily, trying to hide the frustration in her voice.

The three took off, running a ways to the fence surrounding the large medical unit, surrounded by several smaller units. A helicopter similar to the one that brought them to the camp was grounded beyond the fence. Maybe it was the same one. No idea.

Nathan pointed. "Hey, what do you know," he commented, nodding toward the tall stranger who had come to say goodbye to Stevie the night before. "The Canadian." He stood in the vicinity of the huge craft with a few other uniformed men.

"Hey!" Schantz called out to the man promptly. Nothing. "Hey! Canada!" He turned his head slightly, then turned back. Schantz called out again, gripping her fingers through the chain links and shaking furiously. He fully turned toward them this time, staring stoic-faced. "Are you going to come over here or what?!"

Harper balked a little at Schantz, then looked forward. "Do you know where Stephanie is?!" she called out loudly.

The man stood still, then looked around him and cautiously walked up to the fence after saying something to the others near him. "Pardon?" he asked in a dry but polite fashion after leaning toward the three.

Harper nodded. "We're looking for our friend Stevie," she said, "her real name is Stephanie. Darden."

"Ma'am, I honestly don't know," he responded, eyeing the three coolly. "The only names I know here are mine and my team's."

"You know her," Harper said. He stared back. "Short. Glasses. Blue dress!" she rattled off, trying to think of what Stevie had looked like when she was on the frigate. "You said goodbye to her!" Schantz held up her driver's license.

His expression remained calm while he paused and studied the card. But it was clear that he understood now. "Start over again," he instructed carefully. "Tell me what's going on."

"She's sick," Harper said hurriedly, "not with the flu, she just gets sick sometimes, and it happened to hit. They stuck her in quarantine. We don't know anything else. But we've got to get her out of here."

He shook his head. "I've got no idea where she is," he said.

"She's in quarantine!" Schantz insisted.

"She just said that," he answered, gesturing slightly toward Harper.

"Well, can we look for her?" Schantz fired back.

"I'm sorry, but I can't let you in here."

There was a long, tense pause as the three looked at him, anxious and frustrated. His face hadn't changed a single bit since he approached the fence.

"I'll keep an eye out for her," he finally said, breaking the silence. He looked over his shoulder and then turned back to the trio, looking directly at Harper and hushing his voice. "But I'm going to tell you something. Things aren't looking good. Get a vehicle and get out."

Harper shook her head. "We can't leave her," she said emphatically. "I know you're in a tough position, but-"

"Ma'am, just head to a safe place."

The three looked back over their shoulders. The tension in the air was palatable.

Nathan nodded. "Okay, we'll do that." Harper darted her head over sharply, surprised that he acquiesced to anything at all.

Schantz held up Stevie's phone and wallet, and tried to angle them through the fence. "At least give her these," she said, far calmer than before. The man took the items and pocketed them.

"Thank you," Harper said quietly, unsure if it really had been any help at all at this point. "Maybe we'll run into you somewhere."

He nodded a good-bye and they scurried toward the edge of the camp.


# # #

"There's an airport not far from here," Harper said calmly. "I think that's where we should go. If it's a place we can get to by tonight."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

0.00 INK

Harper Hopkins


"Shit! Turn around, turn around, turn around!" Nathan barked at Schantz. She promptly stomped on the brake pedal and curled the SUV over the median and promptly back onto the other side of the freeway--the nearly-empty inbound side. "Wait, wait, where the hell are you going?!"

"Got any better ideas?!" she yelled back at him, sticking her foot angrily on the gas and speeding ahead, heading west on 10.

30... 50... 70... 90 mph...

Harper gripped her seatbelt and looked over her shoulder--the herd of walkers blocking the highway from Inland Empire had taken note of the vehicle and started to inch along in the slowest hot pursuit possible. She looked ahead at Nathan, red-faced and pointing ahead. "Harper said we're going to the airport!"

"'Harper this'! 'Harper that'!" Schantz screamed back mockingly. "Pretty fucking sure Harper is smart enough to see that we can't get through those fuckers back there!"

"You're the one who suggested the airport in the first place!"

"And you're the one who suggested we go back into the city and find what's-his-name. You're getting what you wanted!"

Schantz sped fast, darting amongst the cars at breakneck speed as though she were driving a Ferrari and not a clunky, older SUV. Both she and Nathan had red faces as they continued to argue. Harper tuned out, trying hard to remain calm and keep from screaming, herself. It sure was tempting to reach into Stevie's bag and pull out one of those Xanax tabs...

Onward they drove, past walkers and people alike wandering the road. Harper thought that she could see the white tents of the FEMA camps in the background, orange with fire and blackened with smoke--or was she imagining it? The place was likely being overrun by walkers by now. At least, maybe it would be in the coming hours. That herd was certainly heading toward the city, but it had been even closer to the camp.

"Did you see that?!" Schantz called out suddenly. Harper looked ahead through the window--a bright flare was flying up into the sky, sparkling brightly, almost like fireworks. "Someone set that off. We can go there."

"We don't know what's out there!" Nathan insisted, at this point wanting to argue almost everything that Schantz was saying. "We don't know who those people could be!"

"Okay, Nathan, let me spell it out r-e-a-l s-l-o-w for you," Schantz bit back, taking one hand off of the steering wheel to slowly circle a pointed finger in the air, "we're fucked if we're out there alone, and we could be fucked if we go there, but either way, we are LESS fucked if we go there."

Harper stayed quiet, not wanting to further antagonize the situation while the car was moving at such a pace.

"GodDAMMIT!" Nathan yelled, holding his head in his hands and stomping his foot on the floor angrily.

"It's over the Hollywood sign!" Schantz called out. "I'm taking 101 to Beachwood, people. That's the fastest way to get there!"

"I swear to God, Schantz, if we get killed, you better die first!" Nathan retorted.

Schantz rolled her eyes. "Yes, you look SO impressive right now, yelling at me, in front of your big fancy crush!"

Nathan shut his mouth instantly and turned white. Harper felt her own face flushing and sunk down in her seat, suddenly feeling very self-conscious.

"Now just let me drive. You okay back there, Harper?"

Harper nodded carefully. "Yep, right as rain," she said back quickly, again not wanting to add to the tension. "You know where you're going..."