The lights went out without warning.
Shane froze, staring upward through the darkness at the now invisible bank of fluorescents hanging from the ceiling.
So much for hopes of a simple flicker -- they weren't coming back on. And if they weren't working, then the fence--
The door banged open behind him, a brilliant beam of light slicing through the darkness.
"Shane?! Shane, where the hell are you?"
He started moving toward the door, the wild gyrations of the flashlight allowing him to pick out and avoid the major furniture. The light suddenly found him, blindingly, and he barked his shin sharply on a table-leg.
"Shit! Get that out of my eyes!"
Becky sounded rattled, but the light went immediately to his feet rather than his face.
"The power's out!"
Shane knew that to function at least one of them was going to have to stay calm. He heard Becky's voice, her rapid breathing, and knew he was elected.
"I know," he said.
"But that means the fence--"
"I know," he interrupted, heading her off before her panic could gain momentum. He marched for the door taking her arm as he passed, spurring her to walk with him. "There must be a break in the cable somewhere. All we have to do is switch over to the back-up. That's why we have a back-up, just in case of something like this. Right?"
"But if the fence is down--"
Becky started to bluster at him, annoyed, but he heard her take a breath. Then another. When she continued she seemed to have gotten a grip in herself.
"Right. Okay, so we have to switch to the back-up. Which means going outside. Right. No problem. Right?"
He thought about it.
They hurried toward the back door of the building, pausing at the wall-mounted emergency kit by the exit where Shane retrieved a flashlight of his own.
"Just stay quiet, try not to attract attention," he said, one hand on the doorknob. "You head straight to the powerhouse to flip the switch over to the back-up circuit, I'll check the cable."
He looked her in the eye, her expression of fear made monstrous, lit from beneath by their lights. Her breathing was rapid again, rasping in and out. Shane hardened both his expression and voice, trying to exude no-nonsense.
"We'll be quick, quiet, and safe. Got it?"
She gulped and nodded.
He took a breath, thrust the door open, and they rushed through into the outer blackness.
They ran together toward a small shack standing by the fence rather than the building. Becky went straight for the shack as Shane broke left, flashlight beam aimed at the ground and tracing a pair of cables that ran through the dust from the back of the shack to the ceramic fence connectors. They both appeared unbroken, as did the three thin wires of the souped up cattle fence for as far as his light could reach. He glanced over his shoulder toward the building, still dark, and the shack, the same.
"Come on, come on," he hissed. He flashed his light along what he could see of the fence again, focusing on the trees beyond it, looming out of the night.
Becky's voice came to him thready and weak, barely enough to make out.
"Flip the switch!"
He'd told her to be quiet, but it was his voice that was rising, panic pushing him to a strange whispering cry, simultaneously muted and too loud.
"Just flip the frigging switch!"
She hesitated, then: "I don't think it'll do any good..."
He spun about, flashlight coming up to find her standing before the door to the power shack, her back to him, flashlight aimed at her feet, forgotten, staring off toward the lights of the town.
Or where they should have been.
The words pushed out of him like he?d been gut-punched. Ever since they had run out of gas for the generator, everything had run on the lines they?d run up from town. That?s why the backup. But something had happened, something big. The whole town was blacked out.
And with no power to the town, we have no power to the compound, he thought. And with no power to the fence--
There was a sudden twang behind him, once, twice, three times, as if a giant were snapping the strings of the world's biggest guitar. Becky heard it, screamed, while Shane spun back about to shine his light on them as they broke through the fence in a mass, a cold, rotting stampede lumbering silently through the gloom.
Attracted by the lights in the darkness, the commotion in the night, the zombies had come from the trees to investigate and seen the two of them standing outside, available. Without the juice the fence didn't paralyze their muscles when they came in contact, allowing more and more of them to press forward, mindlessly walking at the thin barrier until there were enough of them to snap right through the wire.
"Becky! Get back in the--"
It was too late, the Walkers were already between them and the door back into the building, picking up speed as they neared the warm, living flesh.
"The shed! Becky, in the shed!"
He lunged inside, shoving her through before him. Becky sprawled, flashlight spinning off across the dirt floor of the shack, as Shane slammed the door, wedging his own light through the door handle, barring it.
"What happened to the town?" Becky sobbed.
"Don't know,"Shane said, "but I mean to find out. Just be quiet -- can't see us, can't hear us, they'll forget all about us soon."
I hope, he thought, though he couldn't help recalling the twang of the snapping fence as more and more dead and pushing weight piled up against the outside of the shack, and the old, corrugated steel flexed...