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Still Standing

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Everything had become a buzzing hum of activity around Richie, and he could barely keep up with what was happening. There were men dressed in gas masks and thick uniforms patting him down for weapons, he was dragged away from the others, there was a decontamination shower somewhere to get rid of the blood and grime that had accumulated on him, a soldier gave him a thorough invasive check for bites, he was forced into a set of clean hospital scrubs, there was a blood test, a medical examination, and then he was left alone in a room.

He spent twenty-four hours alone in that room. There wasn’t much in there; just a single table with a chair at either side, a clock above the door, and a mirror on one of the walls. He was positive he was being watched by someone behind it.

In those twenty-four hours he’d paced the room numerous times, counted the cracks in the floor, and even the tiles on the ceiling. At one point he’d just collapsed into one of the chairs at the table, folding his arms under his head as he tried to sleep, but sleep didn’t come. It never did. His brain was constantly alert. Sleep made you vulnerable. Vulnerable got you killed.

It had been four days and ten hours since he’d last slept properly. At five days and thirteen hours, Richie finally passed out against the cold metal table, his brain unable to keep him awake any longer.

Snarling.

Nothing but snarling.

Dead people rising all around them and shambling around.

Dead people clamping their mouths down onto the living and tearing into them…

Dead people -

Richie jerked awake when something suddenly slammed onto the table in front of him. It was a file of some kind with a large biohazard symbol on the cover, his name printed in large letters under it. He looked up from the file to see a woman in a flowing lab coat with a green band around her wrist. He scrambled through his brain to remember the codes they had given him when they were taking his blood.

Red for infected.

Yellow for carrier.

Green for immune.

Green was good. Green was safe. This woman was safe and immune.

“It looks like you’ve been cleared Richard.” The woman spoke, removing a green band from her pocket and tossing it onto the table in front of him.

“Richie.”

“Right, Richie, okay. I’m sorry that we left you in here for so long but we had to check your blood for signs of infection. You’re cleared for the green zone which means you have no signs of infection whatsoever. I don’t know how you did it being out there for so long. What was it like?”

Richie felt his chest constrict and his breath caught in his throat.

Ben had always been unfortunate, mostly because he was bigger than most people his age. It made him the butt of jokes and bullying when they’d been growing up, and now, it made him the prime target for the zombies because he was slower. He couldn’t keep up with the others. He knew that. He was too slow.

“No! You can’t!” Beverly begged, holding Ben’s hands tightly in her own. “We’re gonna survive this. Together. All seven of us.”

“It doesn’t work that way.” Ben panted heavily, looking back over his shoulder. They were too close. Way too close. If they kept standing around, the horde would gain on them and then they would all die. Ben shoved Beverly away towards Eddie. “Just go. Go, and I’ll distract them so you can get away. I won’t have you all die here trying to keep me alive!”

They didn’t like this plan, of course they didn’t. Ben was their friend. He was one of them. But they knew there was no changing his mind, so with one last kiss, Beverly allowed Eddie to pull her away.

An explosion rang out a few streets over where the now overrun evacuation center that had once served as their school was, accompanied by orange flames that licked at the night sky.

And the last thing they heard that night was Ben’s screams as he tried to fight the horde and distract it armed with nothing but a hatchet while they tore into him, coupled with Beverly’s screams as Bill and Eddie pulled her away into the darkness of a nearby alleyway.

“Hell.”

It had been over five days and Stanley Uris had still not slept.

Everything that had happened over the last three months replayed in his head over and over on a loop. There was no other way to describe the world outside the walls of the facility other than a hellish nightmare. Stan brought his feet up onto the chair, drawing his knees to his chest.

He didn’t want to - couldn’t - talk about it. He was exhausted and just wanted nothing more than to sleep. Why were they keeping him away from the others? Why couldn’t he see them?

The doctor in front of him looked up from the file, tucking his hands under his chin. “How did you survive this long?”

“Is it safe?” Beverly asked, exhaustion clear in her voice.

Bill tossed an empty soda can into the house. It clanged against the wooden floor and rolled down the hallway floor but nothing reacted inside. “Safe.”

Beverly nodded, and Eddie helped her into the house. She was working on auto pilot and barely registering that Eddie was the one helping her to move, even when he’d managed to get her over to the sofa where she dropped onto her back and fell asleep almost instantly. The only thing that she knew was that they were there. She felt safe with her friends. She always had.

Bill didn’t sleep that night, pacing the hallway to make sure that the dead didn’t venture into the house while his friends slept in the living room in an exhausted heap on the floor.

At some point, Richie woke, detaching himself from Eddie who had been tucked between himself and Stan, climbing to his feet and stumbling into the hallway as he slowly woke himself up fully.

“Get some sleep Bill.”

“Bill. He kept us alive… safe...”

Richie wrapped his arms around himself, wanting to sink through the floor and vanish. Bill was the reason they made it so far, the reason any of them could make it. He knew what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. He spent countless sleepless and almost sleepless nights watching over them. Bill was their leader, he always had been, and that quality had shined through even more during the outbreak.

“There was no Bill with you when you arrived here. What happened to Bill?”

There was no time to do anything. The door wouldn’t hold for long no matter how much weight Bill and Mike pushed against it. The small cluster of zombies on the other side wasn’t giving up any time soon. They continued to snarl loudly and pound on the door, cracking the wood under their rotting hands.

Bill’s feet slipped, struggling to find purchase on the smooth floor of the warehouse, and he was reaching for Mike, his fingers sinking into his shirt and shoving him away from the door. “G-go!”

There was no time to argue with him or react as the door gave out and the cluster of zombies descended on Bill. As Stan pulled Mike away into the depths of the warehouse, Mike witnessed the zombies tearing into a screaming Bill, hungrily clawing at his flesh and ripping it from his body; the sounds of Bill’s screams echoing through the warehouse.

“Dead.”

Eddie Kaspbrak had entered a sort of autopilot state since arriving at the facility. He answered all of the questions the doctors asked but there was no real reaction or feeling behind it; like something had sucked whatever remained of his emotions right out of him and tossed it to the zombies for them to devour. His eyes were trained on the green band around his wrist that the doctor had fastened there when he hadn’t responded.

It was a constant reminder that he was alive and made it, by some stroke of luck, to Atlanta and the place called The Hive.

“How did you get here?”

“We just kept going.”

“What happened to your arm Eddie?”

“No, no, no, we can’t lose another person. I can’t lose another person. Not you. I’m not letting that happen.” Richie quickly removed his belt, looping it around Eddie’s arm a few inches above the bite that was bleeding profusely just under his elbow. “We need to cut it off and cauterise the wound.”

Mike was the one who had moved at lighting speed, bringing his machete down to Eddie’s arm in four swift hacks while Eddie screamed and bit down into Stan’s shoulder. Stan’s fingers pressed into the back of Eddie’s shirt as he whispered comforting words to try and calm Eddie down, not that any of them worked.

The stove in the kitchen was still working, fortunately, and they were able to seal the wound off to prevent any infections.

None of them noticed that Richie had vanished for a whole six hours that night while they slept, not until he’d come back with a prosthetic from the hospital which he tossed onto the coffee table and startled Stan awake. Stan had scolded him relentlessly for wandering off in the dead of night while Beverly carefully attached the prosthetic to Eddie’s arm.

And it was there in the dark and bloodied depths of the hospital that Richie had discovered that the zombies were blind; relying on sound to hunt out their meal.

“It was a bite. We had to - we couldn’t let him die. We couldn’t lose him.”

Stan had often thought about what would have happened if they hadn’t hacked off Eddie’s arm. He would have died… he would have become one of those zombies. Without Richie and Mike… Eddie wouldn’t be here. But Eddie was here. Eddie was alive. Eddie was safe .

Without Richie and Mike they wouldn’t have made it after Bill died.

But they had made it.

Stan knew he should be happy that they’d made it. He knew that he should be happy they’d beat the zombies and reached the safezone in Atlanta. But what was the point when almost everyone you knew had died along the way?

“Tell me more about the girl you found.”

Stan drew his knees closer to his chest, fingers pressing into his legs. “Is this really important?”

“We need to help locate her family and she’s in no state to talk right now.”

The sudden thump on the car window startled Eddie who jumped back from it and turned sharply, pistol raised. There was a girl in the car probably a few years older than them, her bloody hands pressed to the window. Her face was bloody and dirty, but not the same as the reanimated corpses around them.

It wasn’t the state of something that had just devoured a human.

Stan reached for the handle of the door slowly and opened it, Eddie keeping his pistol trained on her just in case they were wrong. The girl tumbled from the driver’s seat and onto the road, staring up at them with an almost pleading expression; raising her hands into the air defensively in front of her.

“Please... don’t.”

Eddie exhaled in relief, lowering his pistol while Mike helped her to her feet.

“I’m Patricia.”

“Eddie. That’s Mike and Stan, and back there are Richie and Beverly. Why are you out here alone?”

“I’m not - I wasn’t. I am now. We were supposed to go to Atlanta. To the Hive.”

Beverly, who had finally joined them, offered Patricia a smile. “You can come with us. That’s where we’re going. You can’t make it alone out here. No one can.”

You couldn’t make it with people either.

They’d proven that on numerous occasions. Ben had died before they’d even made it out of Derry. So had a lot of people, such as their parents. Eddie’s eyes shifted to the prosthetic. It was pretty much useless. It couldn’t grip or do anything since it wasn’t attached to his nerves. He hated it. But he was still here. If he’d been alone…

He wouldn’t have made it. Maybe Beverly was right after all.

You needed to be with people you trusted to stay alive.

“We never found anything out beyond her first name and that she was coming here. Patricia didn’t really talk much. I guess the death of the people she’d been travelling with affected her too much.”

“She slipped into a delayed shock. It happens with some people when they finally make it here because there’s nothing to distract them anymore. What about Mike, Eddie? What happened to him? You mentioned him in your sleep.”

Eddie inhaled. “No.”

“We can’t help you if you don’t talk to us. These questions are procedure to determine whether we have to assign you and your friends to see a therapist.”

No .”

“He’s my best friend, so I’m going to tell you what I told you when you said you wanted to date him. You have to take care of Eddie if it kills you. If anyone can, it’s you. Both of you. I trust you.”

“Eddie -”

“I said no .”

Mike wouldn’t make it.

He couldn’t make it. The bite was on his shoulder, right in the juncture where it met with his neck. There was no way they could amputate that. Stan was vaguely aware of Eddie’s broken sobs into Richie’s shoulder behind him. Beverly sat next to Mike, holding his hand and sobbing quietly.

“Stan,” Mike’s voice was quiet as he weakly gripped at Beverly’s hand, the fever of the bite already taking over, “he’s my best friend, so I’m going to tell you what I told you when you said you wanted to date him. You have to take care of Eddie if it kills you. If anyone can, it’s you. Both of you. I trust you.”

Stan bit back a sob, nodding. It was all he could do. If he spoke, he would break down, and he knew Richie would do the same. Richie was struggling enough to try and soothe Eddie, muttering things to him that Stan couldn’t catch.

They had always been a strong unit, the three of them, and now, they just needed to let Eddie release his frustration, his anger, and his sadness. Stan looked back at Eddie over his shoulder, watching the way he clung to Richie, his body shaking with each sob.

Eddie had always been able to count on Richie and Stan. Whenever he slipped like this, when he wasn’t strong enough and needed to be like this, they made up the difference.

“Stan, you need to go to him.” Mike said, wincing and pressing a hand down onto his bite. “He’s your boyfriend. He needs you more than I do.”

“He got bit saving Eddie. Saving his best friend. They were like brothers and we… we couldn’t save him. The bite was on his shoulder… there’s no removing a bite there. It can’t be done. It’s not like an arm or a leg.” Richie’s voice had a slight edge to it, almost a growl as he spoke. “Change the subject.”

“I already told you Mr Tozier, we have to ask these questions.” The doctor said, her face sympathetic. “There’s just a few more and then you’ll be taken to your new home, okay? Can you handle a few more?”

Richie swallowed thickly. “Okay.”

“Tell me about Beverly.”

Richie visibly flinched.

“I can’t. I can’t do it anymore.” Beverly sobbed, hugging her arms around herself. “Most of us are dead or might as well be dead and I can’t - I - how long Richie? How long before this short life comes to a brutal end?”

Richie stepped forward, reaching out for her. “Bev… it’s not like that… we’re almost there. Two more days and we’ll be safe. You can do this. We all can.”

“No! You don’t get it Richie! We will never be safe. You don’t get it because you didn’t lose someone you love! I did! But you… Stan and Eddie are still here! You still have what you love. You have the drive to keep you going.”

“You think I don’t love the rest of you? You’re my family. The moment I picked up that broadcast in my car I went back to Derry. I went back for you all because you’re the only people I ever really loved. Them dying… it affects me too.”

Beverly smiled, but the tears still poured. “It’s not the same, Richie, and you know it’s not. I just… I feel so empty. I… I don’t want to. I can’t. Not without Ben. I don’t have that drive anymore. Just… please… let me die on my own terms. I don’t want those things to decide when or how I die. I want to be in control of that myself.”

“I can’t do that.”

“This isn’t your choice Richie!”

Stan’s fingers dug into the pant legs of his scrubs; clutching his legs to himself like a lifeline. He just wanted to be out of this room. He wanted to be with the others. He didn’t want to talk to the doctor anymore.

“Killed herself. She took Richie’s gun… she… she wanted to go on her terms. She was so optimistic at the start. She knew we could make it… but that optimism faded more each day. First when Ben died, then when Bill did, and a little more when Mike did. Can we stop talking about this now?”

“We’re almost done Mr Uris.” The doctor said, looking up from his file. “Why did you keep going? You lost all these people. Your family. Your friends… so why?”

“You just… you just have to survive somehow… and that’s what we did. We just… we kept going. For them. We had to. Are we done yet?”

“One more question. Why did you come here? Surely there were closer evacuation centres?”

“I heard on the broadcasts -”

“- that this was the only real safe place for anyone still alive.” Eddie drew his arms across the table towards himself. “So we knew this was the only place we should go.”

“Alright, we’re done.” The doctor closed his file and lifted it to his chest. “You can go. Someone will meet you to take you to your new home.”

The hallway was lit with bright fluorescent lights, and Richie supposed it made sense since the top floor of the hive above ground was a hospital. He fiddled anxiously with the green band around his wrist, wondering if the others had been cleared like he had. He didn’t want to think about what would happen in a moment if they weren’t.

Eddie was the first to join him in the hallway, dressed in the pale blue scrubs and horrible plastic shoes they’d been provided with. He had a green wristband and a card for an appointment for a doctor who could fit him with a better arm. Eddie was cleared. Eddie was going to be okay. He’d been unsure since Eddie had been bit. They knew barely anything about the infection raging the outside world.

Eddie rushed across the hallway and into Richie, clutching him tightly as though he thought he would vanish if he let him go. Richie wrapped his arms around him, smothering him in a series of relieved affectionate kisses to his head.

Stan was next, and Richie’s eyes zeroed in on the green band, relief visible on his face. He didn’t know what he’d do if either of them hadn’t been cleared. How was he was supposed to live without them?  Because that’s how it worked down here. You were either cleared to live in the hive, used for experiments to find a cure or infected and killed, your body tossed outside the walls into a pit that would be set on fire once a week.

The director of the Hive was a woman with flowing dark hair and a kind face. She took them down to the living quarters which were a bunch of apartments big enough for a family of up to eight people to live in, but those weren’t the ones she stopped at. She took them down a few hallways to some smaller apartments that would fit families of three or four, typing in a code and opening the door.

“This will be your home from now on. There’s a packet on the table that will tell you all you need to know about this place. Welcome to the first step to a world reboot.”

The apartments were nice, clean, and they came with new clothes, food, and everything that should work did. Eddie was the first to change his clothes, wanting to get out of the annoying hospital scrubs as soon as he possibly could. When Richie had finished changing his clothes he found Eddie sitting on the sofa, staring almost blankly at the packet in his lap.

“The code for the door is 5971.” Eddie said, and Richie nodded. “They should be here with us… I hate this.”

“I know Eds. I wish they were here too.”

It had been five days and they were finally able to sleep properly without interruption, piled into the same bed with Eddie tucked in the middle. It was the place he’d felt safest since the outbreak had started. As long as he could feel both of them, he knew they were alive and everything was okay.

He gripped at the front of Richie’s shirt as Stan curled into him, almost tucking himself around Eddie.

It wasn’t okay, but they were alive. They’d made it.

And that was as close as they would get.

The high walls around The Hive offered security. Armed men patrolled them, stopping and looking down when Eddie triggered the flood lights. The sound of metal scraping reached them as a set of gates opened, a group of soldiers emerging with their rifles raised.

“Drop your weapons and step away from them.”

Clattering sounded as guns, knives, and a blooded hatchet fell to the ground.

Eddie jerked as one of the men began to give him a pat down for any concealed weapons, a gloved hand wrapping around his remaining arm. “Alright, you’re good. Welcome to The Hive. Let’s get you all cleaned up so the doctors can speak to you.”

Patricia finally broke down, her legs giving out as sobs wracked her body. Behind them, the sounds of snarls reigned in the darkness as they were steered beyond the walls and the gate closed behind them.

“Four survivors. Ages range from eighteen to twenty three. Three male, one female. I’m bringing them down for decontamination.”