The Race – Chapter 5

Vince led them through cluttered, musty storage buildings with no lights—only the sun slanting through holes in the walls and roofs allowed them to avoid the rusted metal equipment piled on both sides of the narrow path. Zeek followed with the assault rifle. Behind him, Don tried to soothe Trisha while he wiped the blood off her chin with a rag and gloved hand.

They went down a set of metal stairs into a concrete room. The temperature dropped ten degrees. Heavy tables with chipped surfaces held a row of laptops, each screen divided into six different camera feeds. The far wall was broken by a wide industrial elevator with a steel accordion gate, closed and locked. Another assault rifle leaned against the wall next to the elevator. Three extra magazines were stacked with it.

“Welcome to Master Control,” Vince said. He pulled bottles of water out of a sloshing cooler and offered them to Dave. “Here, pass these around.”

“What did you give Lara?”

“I’ll get to that. Trust me, you want this water.”

Dave wouldn’t touch it.

Vince shrugged and dropped them into the ice, kicked the lid shut. “So Donny here gave—Lara? That’s right?—he gave Lara a drug we’re developing.”

“You drugged her?” Angie said. “And who is we?”

“Listen, you guys gotta give me some space to work here. I guarantee all of your questions will be answered, but if you keep interrupting me it’s gonna mess up my flow and we’ll be here all day. You feel me?”

Lara was pale with blotches of purple around her lips. She huddled inside Rob’s arm, her wide, glazed eyes flicking around the room.

Angie said, “What did you give her?”

“The same thing we gave Trisha,” Vince said. “But here’s the interesting part—Trisha was a junkie when we found her. She was alone. Nobody gave a shit about her. Now I’m guessing Lara here isn’t a fan of heroin. No? And you guys all love her, right?”

He pointed at Rob.

“You’re the boyfriend?”

“And I’m her sister,” Angie said.

“Oh, tremendous. Don, you hear that? We got blood relations. This is gonna be fascinating.”

Don tried to shine a penlight into Lara’s eyes. Rob slapped the light away and kicked Don in the knee.

“Hey,” Zeek said.

Vince held up his hands. “It’s fine, we’re fine. Everybody’s a little on edge right now.”

“Just let us out of here,” Angie said. It sounded like begging, and that terrified her. “We need to get her to a hospital.”

“Where is this?”

Everyone turned to Dave, who stared at the laptop screens. Some of the camera feeds were black and white, some were color. To Dave it looked like a bunch of baby monitors, like they’d used when Hannah was a baby. The color feeds had light sources available and the black and white were infrared—night vision.

“The tunnels,” Vince said. “Old mine shafts.”

“Where?” Dave said.

Vince tilted his head toward the elevator, then pointed at the floor. Something flashed into one of the color screens. It was a gaunt man sprinting away from the camera. Just before he left the screen he glanced over his shoulder with manic, rolling eyes. His face was black with blood. Then he was gone.

Vince broke the silence. “We’re running some experiments. We want to get an idea of how this is going to roll out when we start distribution, and you lucky folks are now part of what you might call a focus group.”

“No we are not,” Angie said.

“Well, Lara is. I guess you could leave her here if you don’t want to take part. Lara, how you feeling honey? Honesty please.”

Lara vomited onto the floor.

“Don, write that down.” Vince clapped his hands. “All right friends, this is what happens next. You get a free trip in the super fun elevator down into the tunnels, and Lara here is going to beg you to eat her. I know what you’re thinking Robbie, but this ain’t the fun way.”

“No,” Angie said.

Vince ignored her. “Now we have several variables here that we haven’t had a chance to work with. One, you’re related. Two, you know what you have and you know we’re watching you—everyone else was drugged or unconscious when they went down. Single-blind studies, if you want to label them. Three, I’m pretty sure none of you are addicts, at least not the kind we’re used to dealing with. I gotta tell you, I’m really excited to see how this plays out. How about you Donny?”

“It’ll be interesting,” Don said.

“Damn right. If the Munchies is powerful enough to get a bunch of straights to go cannibal, we’re in business. But if it gets a girl to eat her sister, a boyfriend to eat his girlfriend? Start shopping for islands now, baby.”

He walked to the elevator and pulled a key from his pocket. Unlocked and collapsed the steel accordion gate with a crash, then hefted the assault rifle. He swept it left to right from Dave to Lara, shaking the rifle and making an eh-eh-eh machine gun sound.

“Just kidding. All right, everybody in.”

“No,” Dave said.

“I’m afraid so.”

“We aren’t going down there,” Rob said.

“You are.”

Angie took a step backward. She couldn’t look at Lara without sobbing. Her poor sister. But the thought of Hannah alone in her hospital room, finding out her parents were missing, never knowing what happened to them. She would think they abandoned her. It was too much. Dave had gotten them into this, not her. She had to get away. She took another step and backed into Zeek.

“Pardon me,” he said, and shoved her forward with the rifle.

Vince pointed at the gaping elevator. “Get in.”

“No,” Rob said. He was holding Lara upright, clutching her pale, sweaty body to his chest.

“Am I gonna have to shoot one of you?”

“That will skew the experiment,” Don said. “Why don’t we mention the, ah, the thing?”

“What thing?” Vince said. Don peered at him until Vince grinned. He pointed at Don. “Fucking genius right here, folks. Okay, yeah. We’ll run a tandem experiment. What’s more motivating? The Munchies or the cure?”

“Cure?” Rob said.

“Donny made an antidote. Mostly in case he or I got a taste and liked it too much, you know? But I’ll make you a deal. You get out of the tunnels, you get the antidote.”

Rob said, “She’ll be okay?”

“Lara? Hell yeah my man, all of you. Clears it right up, the Munchies, the hunger, all of it. We got a deal?” Vince waited. “It’s either that or Zeek shoots all of you and we send your asses down anyway. Up to you.”

Rob carried Lara into the elevator. Dave followed, his jaw muscles working. Angie stepped in last and pushed Lara’s damp hair out of her face. Dave put a hand on Angie’s shoulder. She turned away and let it fall.

Vince closed the gate and slapped the button to send the elevator down. It hummed into life and dropped out of sight.

“There’s a way out of the tunnels?” Zeek said.

Vince watched the top of the elevator disappear into blackness. “Hell if I know.”

And then you said: