The Middle School

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As Charles Grober Middle School crept slowly into view beyond the abandoned pizza shop and adjacent fenced-in tennis courts, Rowan started to second guess his decision to seek harbor there. Perhaps he'd let fond childhood memories of his own middle school taint his objectivity. The building before him now sprawled tall and wide across grounds that dwarfed, three times over, the size of the school he'd attended as a kid. That had been a single, one-story building; Charles Grober looked more like a community college gone to pot.

It was going to be pure hell to properly secure. Maybe impossible.

"God, it's huge," Pete Sands murmured, his eyes scanning every direction for People and/or cadavers, his gaze only occasionally settling on the school as if the place itself were an afterthought.

"There's a fence," Bob Rehearsal observed sardonically.

Indeed, as far as Rowan could surmise, a tall chain-link fence dutifully surrounded the entire campus, but you didn't have to look very hard to find sections that teetered on the brink of collapsing inward. As his gaze settled on such places, Rowan envisioned a mob of cadavers lurching mindlessly into the fence with the dumb persistence of mosquitos twapping against storm lamps or bright kitchen windows, their sunken, milky eyes undaunted by the unyielding obstacle before them. With but a tad more effort, Rowan noted, they could have easily folded multiple sections of fence and gained easy access to the structure behind.

The party proceeded in a hangdog manner past the tennis court fence and came into full view of the school, and Rowan led them directly to a section of the main perimeter fence, where a small triangle of chain-link had been partially detached and bent inwards as if someone had tried to squeeze through-by the look of it, someone had tried to cut through the fence with wire-cutters, and then either lost interest or became otherwise indisposed.

Rowan sidestepped this flap and hooked his fingers into the links of an untampered stretch of chain-link. Letting the fence support the considerable weight of his space suit, he racked his brain for a dignified way in which to admit to the others that he was probably wrong to lead them here. This property was simply too large and unwieldy.

"What'll it be, boss?" Rehearsal said urgently, though not without empathy.

"Little bigger than in the picture, isn't it?" said Rowan with a forced snicker, his doleful gaze unmoving. He gave the matter another few moments of consideration, then withdrew a hand from the fence and pulled the crumpled map from one of his suit's pocket flaps. With just the one hand he shook the map open, almost as if it were a large handkerchief, and then he began his search for a possible alternative.

Citro gave a cynical huff.

Rowan shot a look at her out of the corner of his helmet's window. Rolling with Citro's earlier suggestion of taking refuge in the nearby department store wouldn't have been much of an improvement over the present situation, though Rowan didn't bother to say anything. Infighting and finger-pointing would do nothing to help an already volatile situation. Cadavers had already emerged from the woods at their back-hard to tell how many, as their sauntering bodies were partially hidden by sun flare. Judging by their present pace, they would reach the astronauts in but a few minutes.

Rowan may have been wrong to lead his team to this school, but he'd be damned if he was going to admit that now. The school, however, did have its virtues. Rowan pressed his lips together into a tight line and drew a long breath of sanitized air through his nose. Citro's attitude had rekindled much of his confidence re: the middle school as a legitimate safe haven. Thanks Citro. He let the map flap shut. Turning back to the school he did another one of his patented machismo grimaces, and with a slight shrug of the shoulders he said, "Bound to be a hell of a task wherever we go." Then, to clarify: "Securin'."

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