Mark barely recognized the courtyard leading up to the front doors of his high school. Desks, tables, and other random furniture had been positioned and piled strategically all around providing a basic barricade at the entrance. The only open path was too narrow for the carriage and after a brief discussion Sam and Bob decided to stay with the horses while the rest of them checked out the school. Dad was against it at first but lacking any other options he eventually relented and they all proceeded to the front door. Mark spared a moment to see how well they were doing for time.
Mana Storm (Class X) Approaching
Shelter in place.
It took them a little over two hours to make the two and a half mile trip, but hopefully it would be even faster on the way back. In the meantime, he was encouraged to see that the glass walls had been reinforced and all the accessible windows had been boarded up. Someone had gotten them organized pretty well. The warm feeling quickly passed as the man who organized it all walked up to them.
“Sheriff Douglas, I’m glad you were able to help get things organized here” his dad tried to sound upbeat, but Mark could see his fist was clenched.
“Well Jason, someone had to help bring the community together. We have everything under control here, but thanks for coming to check. The thought is appreciated even if it was reckless. I half expected you to just hunker down in that concrete monstrosity of yours.” Arthur Douglass continued with barely concealed hostility.
Mark groaned internally at the exchange and wished they could just find George. His dad and the sheriff had been at each other’s throats for years now. Every time the sheriff wanted to do anything it almost always required more tax dollars or giving up some freedoms. Mark didn’t think most of the programs were even that bad an idea, but Dad couldn’t stomach the idea of paying more taxes or, god forbid, lose some random freedom to government oversight. Between his vocal activism and funding of campaigns against every new initiative it was hardly surprising that the sheriff eventually came to view his dad as a menace to the community. The fact that he built a fortress in the middle of the county and stockpiled it with weapons probably didn’t help mitigate that perception one bit.
Fortunately his dad noticed Mark’s pleading eyes and quickly got to the meat of why they were there. “We have a trained doctor and a decent number of supplies back at our place. We came to see if anyone needed any medical help beyond what you could do here. We have a carriage and can transport a few people if needed.”
The sheriff’s harsh facade evaporated. “Yeah. We did get one girl with a pretty bad bite injury. We patched it as well as we could but she lost a lot of blood and we’re not sure if the bleeding’s actually stopped.” The sheriff didn’t want to admit that he needed Jason's help but he clearly wasn’t going to let a girl die because of it.
“Good thing we’re here then.” his dad replied curtly.
Mark didn’t want to get in between the sparks flying between the two strong willed men, but he his worry for his friend overrode his desire to run back outside.
“Uh, Sheriff Douglas? Have you seen George around anywhere? We managed to get his mom to safety and I wanted to make sure he was ok.”
The Sheriff point back towards the gym, “He was working with folks in the gym, just finished a patrol collecting stuff around the neighborhood. He should be in there.” he said before turning back to Jason.
Mark and Liz practically ran down the hall as their dad continued the most awkward small talk conversation known to mankind. They both headed for the gym before the scene had a chance to get ugly. The last town hall meeting they went to ended with their dad being escorted from the building, and they wanted to check in with friends before something similar happened again.
As the siblings made it to the gym they saw that the doors were recently reinforced with additional boards. Random furniture and other debris was strewn about haphazardly, as if they just chucked it out of the gym to make more room. Navigating the mess, the pushed on the doors, but found them locked shut.
“Hey! Its Mark and Liz! We just got here, is someone in there?” Mark shouted. Right then the doors opened and George was standing there.
“Dude! You made it” a happy George shouted. “Sorry about the doors, it took awhile to clear everything out, we’re trying to keep the gym safe.” His broad six foot frame pushed debris out of the way with ease and he gave Mark a bro-hug. Although Mark was nearly a foot shorter, he had enough strength to slap his friend’s back with the same amount of force he was getting.
“We got your mom out of your house and into ours. I wanted to make sure you knew.” Mark said.
George let his head tilt back and let out a huge sigh. “Man, I cannot tell you how awesome that is to hear. Knowing Mom’s safe is huge. You f-ing rock dude. Oh, and, hi Liz, good to see you too” George said, suddenly shy.
George never seemed to know how to act around Liz. It wasn’t like he wasn’t used to having a lot of female friends around. Being on the football team with rugged good looks and a rocking bod did that for you, but Liz never seemed to notice or care. She just nodded at him acknowledging the greeting. “Glad you’re safe too. Have you seen Casey and Ellen? I wanted to check in on them.”
“Yeah, they’re towards the back there, helping catalog the stuff we just brought in.” George said waving to the back of the gym where a bunch of tables had been set up. Liz thanked him and started walking over to the indicated direction leaving Mark the chance to catch up with his friend.
“So what’s been going on?” George asked innocently. This seemingly simple question lead to ten minutes of grand hand gestures and epic tales that were only minorly embellished. Quite frankly, the day had been so amazing and unreal that Mark didn’t really have to exaggerate much to sound incredible. At the end of it George looked at Mark slack jawed. “Are you serious?”
Mark pulled out one of the fangs from the alpha golden ape they had just killed and handed it to George. “We got this from the thing that broke my ribs. It was probably six feet tall, but must have been almost that wide too.” George studied the nearly foot long tooth for a moment and then gently handed it back.
“That’s so insane dude. We’ve seen a couple things around, but honestly, we’ve just run away when we could. Even the stuff that spawned in school we just locked up and closed off access to.”
“WHAT” Mark exclaimed way too loudly for the gym. Students and teachers alike turned to see who had made the sudden outburst. George was somewhat used to his friend not having much of an internal filter, and was non-plussed by the noise and just continued.
“Yeah man, we got a bunch of things that look like lemurs from hell and some snake things with giant round heads in a few classrooms. Nobody's been allowed near the rooms. The things haven’t tried to break out but honestly some of us are worried what they’ll do when they get hungry.”
“Well we need to take them out then!”
George held a finger up to his lips and whispered “Dude, totally get it, but you can’t just blurt it out here. Sheriff’s put a lockdown on acting out, it can get you kicked out of school if you don’t follow the rules.”
“Wait, what? He’s actually kicked people out of the school in the middle of this?” Mark gasped in horror. He had started whispering but was still managing to be loud.
“No man, he’s just threatened. People get it though. If you put yourself at risk, you also put everyone else at risk too.” George nodded as if to assure himself that he was being reasonable.
“Well, fortunately, I’m leaving anyway” Mark grinned. “Just point me to where they are and I’ll clear em out for you. Me and Liz should be able to take any of the random spawn stuff easy.”
George thought about it for awhile and then nodded. He grabbed a pen and notepad from his back pocket and started jotting down some notes. “I’ll show you where they are, but I don’t think I can come along. I’ve been helping out around here, and honestly, I don’t know what the students would do if I left. Me and a few other guys from the sports teams have been going around and collecting supplies. We haven’t fought anything yet, but we’re at least prepared to. Everyone else is just too scared to even leave the building. If I’m not around, I’m worried they’d all just break down, you know?”
Mark took a deep breath, he didn’t like where this conversation was going. “George, aren’t you coming back with us? Your mom’s worried sick about you, and quite frankly, so am I. The sheriff seems to be running things fine, and we can make it back if we’re in a group piece of cake!”
George finished scribbling out his note on the monster locations and looked at Mark. “I know man. I know. I want to go with you, but Mom’s probably safer at your place than anywhere else on the planet. And just between you and me, I’m not really feeling very safe with the sheriff in charge. Right now, him and his deputies are the only people allowed to engage monsters.” George shook his head in frustration. “From what you’ve said, going out there and mixing it up with those things gave you some pretty rocking Abilities with the System. No one here has anything close to that. I got the Running and Tackle Skills, but nothing like what you described. Next supply run we make, I’ll see if I can get a few of the guys to take out one of the smaller things with me, and see what we can unlock. I’m betting any Abilities we can get will make a big difference when this Mana Storm thing hits. We’ll need all hands on deck if things go south.”
Mark knew his friend well, and he could tell George had made up his mind. With his mom safe, he probably felt even more obligated to help out everyone in the school. “I get it, man. I get it. We’ll keep your mom safe, but you make sure you make it back too. If you need to evac, grab everyone you can and head to our place and we’ll take you in.” Mark handed him an emergency whistle. “Three long, three short, three long blows and we’ll come running if we can hear you. If you stick to the way we come home from school usually, that will let us find you pretty fast. We should be able to hear that thing a mile away at least.”
George nodded and lifted his head up as a few guys were walking over to them. “George, coach is plotting out another run. Wants to talk it over with the team before we head out. Hey Mark, haven’t seen you around, where you been?”
The student asking the question was Kyle. Blond hair, blue eyes, and just over six feet tall, he was the classic picture of an all american Quarterback. Kyle was genuinely curious about where Mark had been since he figured he would have been in the middle of things if he was around. Past experience had taught Kyle that Mark was pretty good to have in your corner for a fight.
Mark earned his reputation at the start of the year. The upperclassmen had started welcoming freshmen in traditional fashion by placing their heads in the toilets and flushing. Mark indicated he didn’t think the ritual was a good idea, while the upperclassmen had indicated they didn’t give a crap what he thought. Mark, however, had been training in unarmed combat for years while they were used to dealing with freshmen too afraid to move. Everyone was quite impressed with how much damage one hyperactive freshman was able to do. Mark had been so upbeat and excited about the fight he had actually asked if they could do it again the next day. Somewhat horrified, the welcoming committee accepted Mark as an insane person who wasn’t worth messing with and everyone went on their merry way.
The jocks respected him, but didn’t really want anything to do with him, while the freaks and geeks circles viewed him with suspicion since he never seemed to get the raw deal they were stuck with. This suited Mark fine though, he didn’t have much time to hang out with lots of people between training and classes anyway.
“Just got in, been out in the thick of it. You know”
Kyle just nodded, unsurprised to learn the scrappy freshman had been out in the middle of the crazy. “Well, glad you’re safe, comon George, let’s go.” Kyle said dismissively and started walking back to a group of fit looking teenagers. George nodded to Mark as he turned to follow.
“I’ll take care of the ‘trash’, and then catch up with you before I head out then.” Mark said.
George gave a thumbs up. “We’ll be planning this for a bit, but don’t take too long, we’ll have to head out soon if we want to do one more run before the storm hits.”
Mark looked down at the notes and smiled. As he turned he saw Liz walking over having finished catching up with her friends. “Want to see if dad has managed to get thrown out of the school yet?” she asked.
“Sure, but first, I think I need to make it to homeroom. I was on trash duty and need to empty the bins.” Mark said with a sly grin handing Liz the note.
“Mark, you can’t be serious. There is no way... Oh... I see...” Liz trailed off as she finished absorbing the contents of the note.
“Can’t let little things like the end of civilization stop you from doing your chores!” Mark said, upbeat, as they walked out of the gym.