I know it’s stupid, but I still try the door of the apartment to see how the situation in the stairwell is developing.
Only the emergency lighting is on, casting the corridor outside in even deeper shadows than the apartment I’m still standing in. At least on Mario’s floor, it’s working. Below, all I can make out is darkness.
I thought I could hear them through the locked door. Turns out, not having that buffer makes things a hundred times worse. If I didn’t know what is going on downstairs, I would have been stupid enough to go risk a look. Judging by the three open doors I see in the hallway—including people-sized lumps on the floor in front of them—that’s not a smart move.
I catch some movement from the corner of my eye that makes me back inside and slam the door immediately, my heart thumping hard in my throat.
That must have alerted them to my presence! No way they can ignore that.
But maybe that’s a good thing I can use? If they lurk around in front of the door, the fire escape should be a safe route, right?
Before I can finish that thought, something slams against the other side of the door, making me scramble for my backpack and the window.
I’ve never been fond of heights, but for once, that’s not my main concern as I try to see down the fire escape right to street level. It looks deserted but the window to Kelly’s apartment is open, leaving a gaping, dark maw into the building.
I try to move slowly but deliberately as not to make the entire fire escape groan and moan with every step, but that only works so well. The first floor is the worst, bringing me right by said window. I try to see inside, but the sliver of den that I catch is deserted now. I do my best to duck and move past without being visible from the inside—easier said than done in flip flops and a fluffy bathrobe!
The seconds tick by at snail speed as I inch my way forward and down another flight of stairs.
Below, all the windows are closed.
I probably take less than five minutes of creeping along the building until I’m all the way down but it feels like a small eternity. All that’s left now is to extend the very last ladder to touch the ground so I’m at street level. It’s locked so nobody can simply climb up from below, but like everything about this building, it only takes a hard shake and several inches of ladder rattle down—waking the dead all over the country, I’m sure.
Ha, my mind can be so funny at times.
I tell myself to count down from thirty to see if anything comes running but barely make it to “twenty-one” before I grab the rails of the ladder and start climbing down the rungs.
Whatever happened—a gas leak, or maybe something in the water—that made the people in my building go insane, that’s hopefully a localized issue. Maybe it extends to the entire block. Maybe even this part of town. Maybe the city shut down electricity to purposefully lock people inside?
I tell myself this makes a lot of sense in conjunction with Mason’s call.
He must have meant, simply leave the danger zone.
My feet touch the ground and I immediately move over to the side of the building to look into the small alley that connects to the larger road that I can see from my apartment. It looks deserted and quiet—as it should, this time of night.
A flicker of elation bursts forth in my chest, making me almost lightheaded.
That is, until sirens all over the city—near and far—start to wail, turning quiet into pandemonium.