After the Apocalypse
Chapter 74: Labyrinth

by Mark Bollman--> and Steve Donohue

For the next several minutes, Joe and Dave moved as quickly and quietly through the sewer tunnels as they could. Both knew they had to put some distance between themselves and their pursuers and it wasn't going to be easy, particularly if the other men could use radios to coordinate their pursuit with friends above ground. They hadn't seen any radios, but it was a clear danger. Ahead of them all they could see was inky blackness - the heavy snow had even blocked the sunlight from reaching them through manhole covers.

A few minutes later, they heard the clatter of other footprints behind them. Joe, in the lead, quickened his pace and Dave followed suit. They could hear the voices of the other men behind them fading slightly and they knew they were gaining ground, but it might not be enough. On top of the danger of a similar group chasing them above ground, they had no idea when or if the tunnel they were in might come to a deadend. As they continued to move forward Dave kept casting nervous glances over his shoulder and finally saw what he had feared. The other men had flashlights out and were beginning to make up some ground.

"They've got lights," said Dave, "they're making up time."

Joe looked back and could see them coming. They were still pretty far away, but their lead wouldn't last, and they couldn't afford to hit a deadend or slow down long enough to attempt to climb out, even if they could find a manhole. Joe fumbled in his own jacket pocket and pulled out a flashlight. He hadn't wanted to use it, but he didn't see much choice. He hoped the red lens he'd put it on it would make it less obvious. Even so, if the other group spotted it, they'd be sitting ducks in the tunnel.

He shone the light ahead, moving it from side to side in quickly, hoping to spot a side tunnel or somewhere else they could hide. He was so intent on finding another exit, he didn't notice the pipe in front of him until he stumbled, making a splash as he hit the water but managing to hold onto the light.

"I heard them," cried one of the men chasing them, "they're not very far ahead!"

On hearing this Dave and Joe both crouched low and pressed themselves against one side of the tunnel. Sure enough, several shots rang out and both breathed a sigh of relief as they whizzed by inches above their heads.

"Stop! Stop!" shouted another of the men. "We need them alive so we can question them."

The pair were glad of the news and, not bothering to see if it was a ruse, began running down the narrow tunnel as quickly as they could. Joe cast a glance over his shoulder and saw that he was gaining slightly on Dave, who was also looking back.

"Go! Go!" whispered Dave urgently, "I'll catch up!"

Not sure what Dave was up to in the dim light, Joe took his friends advice, although he did slow his pace slightly. Finally, he noticed another tunnel nearly as wide as the one they were in and running perpendicular. He paused for just a moment and then headed left, following the flow of the water. During the last few seconds of running, he'd realized they were actually in a runoff sewer, not a waste sewer. He wasn't entirely sure, but he figured they were likely to wind up somewhere near the Flint River if he followed the water.

Dave followed him and, a few seconds later, they heard a scream from behind them, followed by the sound of first one and then several men hitting the water. After one splash, they heard a shot, followed by another scream. Joe risked a look back and saw Dave smile and then begin to laugh, the staccato rhythm of his laugh echoing strangely in the tunnel. Joe looked at him questioningly, then noticed the empty quart of oil Dave carried and realized what must have happened and began chuckling to himself. He kept running and, as they came to another perpendicular tunnel, he thought he could see a dim light to his right.

Not pausing, he turned the corner and redoubled his speed. Dave followed, both of them now able to nearly stand in this slightly larger tunnel. A minute later they could see the light clearly, it appeared the end of the sewer was in sight. Joe pressed forward then, spotting another side tunnel, he suddenly turned right and headed upstream. Dave followed, although he wasn't too sure why Joe had turned. A few seconds later, Joe stopped and crouched low. They were in another intersection. Their tunnel was joined by another tunnel which, if they still had their bearings, lead northwest. A long minute ticked by as the two tried to catch their breath. Joe suddenly became aware of his soaking jacket and shivered slightly in the cold.

"Why'd we stop here?" asked Dave.

"Because they're going to assume we left and they'll waste their time looking for us there."

"Okay, I guess," said Dave, "but what are we waiting for?"

"I want to see them, get an idea on number and equipment, plus I want to make sure they fall for the bait."

Before Dave could reply, four men passed their tunnel at speed, heading for the light. They couldn't see them, but they could hear their footsteps slow to cautious progress. At the same time, Dave and Joe began their own cautious journey up their new tunnel. Joe left his light on now, searching for a manhole cover. They went less than a hundred feet before they found one. Joe climbed the narrow rungs and pushed hard on the cover. It was heavy, even heavier with the snow, and he had to step up another step to lift it with his legs, but was able to move it.

He cautiously poked his head up and could scarcely believe his luck. The cover was under a parked truck, there was room enough for them to get out and they would be at least partially concealed. He climbed the rest of the way out, rolling towards the back of the truck. Dave followed quickly then replaced the cover and brushed snow back onto it. Joe looked at him questioningly.

"If they see light from above they'll know we were here"

"True," said Joe, "but I'd have thought the truck did a pretty good job of blocking it out."

"Oh yeah," said Dave, suddenly seeming to notice their surroundings.

They waited a few more minutes under the truck, then crawled out slowly. They didn't see anyone, but Joe definitely needed to get shelter quickly. His wet coat was beginning to freeze and his chattering teeth would be a dead giveaway if anyone got within fifty yards of them. Looking around, they spotted a mostly ruined house nearby and ran towards it, thinking to head in. As they got near, Dave pointed out some fresh tracks in the snow; following them, they found what could only be a storm cellar.

"What do you think?" said Dave.

"I don't know," said Joe, "they could be friends of those guys we just saw."

Dave could barely understand him through chattering teeth and that made up his mind. He moved to the door and knocked on it. Several tense moments passed, then they heard the sound of a deadbolt clicking. The door didn't open, but a voice from below said "It's open."

"Ca-Ca-Ca-Careful," said Joe, as Dave reached for the door. Nodding, Dave lifted the door and found himself staring down the barrel of a large shotgun.

"Easy now," he said, "my friend here is wet and cold and we need shelter."

"Who the hell are you," said the decidedly feminine voice on the other end of the shotgun.

"We're Boy Scouts" said Dave.

"You don't look like Scouts."

"Look, we're leaders" said Dave slightly exasperated, "and my friend is dying. Can you help us or not?"

"Let 'em in Jenny," came another, decidedly older, feminine voice. "I don't imagine anyone would come up with ‘We're boy scouts’ as a cover story."

The girl relented and Dave stepped aside to let Joe go first, then followed himself, pausing to shut and bolt the door before he went down the steep steps to the storm cellar.

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