When Anna opened the door to the school's auditorium, she had been hoping to find her dad; but knew very well to expect finding a massive horde of zombies.
Pushing the door open slowly, making as little noise as she could; Anna walked into the auditorium. The normal, neat rows of chairs had long since been demolished by the shambling zombies that mulled about the room- and Anna held her breath as she stepped as silently as she could across the scuffed linoleum floors.
The Christmas decorations on the stage at the front of the hall miraculously looked as if the zombies had avoided them altogether- save for a few bloodstained paper snowflakes and a very sorry-looking plastic Christmas tree that seemed to have fallen off the stage.
Anna looked towards the stage, eyes searching frantically until they fell on the face of her father; Tony Shepherd.
Just as Anna spoke, she was blinded by a spotlight on stage left that suddenly clicked on. She squinted her eyes, waiting for her eyes to adjust as a second, nearly just-as-familiar voice spoke up.
"How on earth are you still alive?"
Blinking, Anna strained to see the shadowed outline of Arthur Savage- albeit significantly more disheveled than she'd ever imagined he could look. The spotlight he was standing next to did a decent enough job of obscuring him from her sight- but she could make out his tall, looming posture and his messy, unkempt hair from a mile away.
Just as she was about to walk further into the hall, Anna felt a hand on the back of her jacket. Spinning around, she thrust the pointed end of her candy cane towards whoever- or whatever had grabbed her. Instead of sinking her weapon into the body of a re-animated corpse, she felt it hit against something solid. Looking in disbelief at the umbrella that had blocked her swing- Anna came face-to-face with none other than… Arthur Savage.
But Arthur Savage had been onstage moments earlier. It would have been impossible for him to get to the back of the hall without her seeing him.
"Quite the leading lady, aren't we?" Anna heard Arthur Savage's voice from the stage at the far end of the hall- and as she stared at the Other Savage standing in front of her, she began to put the pieces together.
"Why don't you give us all a show?"
Anna tightened her grip on her candy cane, head whipping around to clock any potential threats from the zombies enclosed in the hall with her.
"Ms. Shepherd, I'm going to have to ask you to come with me."
Other Savage spoke in a low voice; tinged with something that Anna might've mistaken for concern if she didn't know any better.
"Not a chance." She spit back, taking another swing at her former teacher that he immediately blocked with a bloodstained baseball bat that he'd carried into the auditorium.
"You tried to kill us!" Anna screamed, momentarily forgetting that they were in a hall filled with zombies as she swung at him again.
"We almost died!"
Arthur stepped back, ducking away from Anna's swing.
"And I am deeply sorry for the events that you and your friends have gone through, but you must know-"
Anna swung again, this time gasping as the candy cane connected with the side of Arthur Savage's head; nearly knocking him prone.
"I need to get my dad-" She turned to walk further into the auditorium, not realizing how strange it was that the zombies in the room hadn't made any moves to attack her.
Anna stopped, squinting against the spotlight as she saw a familiar figure standing behind it. Turning back to where she'd thwacked the Head Teacher of the school, her heart hammered in her chest as Arthur Savage met her gaze. She looked back, and saw the silhouette of a man that couldn't be anyone else. One more glance back at the Savage standing behind her and she swallowed hard.
"What the fuck?"
Anna had never imagined Savage managing to look anything other than disapproving, but as she watched Savage slowly place his bat on the floor and raise his hands up in a surrender-like motion she could have sworn she saw a trace of something almost-human cross his face. Could Savage actually feel emotions like the rest of them?
"You tried to kill us." She pointed the sharpened end of her candy cane directly at his chest.
"You locked us in a room and tried to feed us to zombies. What kind of fucking teacher pulls that shit?!"
A tinge of his usual smugness peppered his voice.
"Ms. Shephard, I can assure you, that wasn't me."
"Bullshit!" Anna spat out. She knew what she'd seen- it would be pretty hard to forget your teacher locking you in a room full of bloodthirsty zombies.
She briefly thought back to the rumors everyone used to spread about Savage- particularly, the one that he had an evil twin who he ate in the womb. In a non-life-threatening situation, that would've made her laugh- but she felt pretty incapable of laughing at the moment. The thought of there being two Savages made her less relieved than she hoped it would; but the thought of the Savage standing in front of her being the "good" one (as good as Savage could be, which she didn't think was very good at all) was reassuring enough to get her to stop trying to kill him with a plastic lawn ornament.
She held the candy cane at her side, resting the point against the floor.
"You're not going to kill me?"
Savage shook his head.
"I was asked to find you and the others and ensure your safety so that this whole ordeal can come to an end."
"What do you mean, "come to an end?""
Anna's brows furrowed, and she tightened her grip on her candy cane.
"If your job was to keep us safe, you did a real shit job of that. John's dead, okay? And I don't know where Steph and Nick and Chris are- I don't even know if Lisa's alive! So I guess, if you're going to kill us you might as well go ahead- because we've been fighting for our lives for the past two fucking days and I've HAD ENOUGH."
Savage stood there, completely at a loss for words as Anna threw her candy cane down at the ground. Turning back to the stage where her dad had once been, she saw nothing but the eerily foreboding silhouette of what she assumed was Savage's evil twin. John was gone. Her dad was gone. Everyone she cared about was likely a zombie by now, so what was the point of keeping fighting?
"Miss Shepherd…" Arthur Savage was completely out of his element, and he winced at the thought of what all the parents would say once they found out what kind of events their children had been put through. He'd certainly lose his job; but for once in his life, he put his status and employment aside and chose to address the crying childwho was currently standing in front of him.
Fidgeting uncomfortably, Arthur Savage dropped his own weapon as well.
"I, ah… I can't begin to imagine what you all have been through, but I can assure you that if you come with me I can take you to your father."
Anna shook her head, words having all but evaded her. Convinced that she was about to die, knowing that anyone she cared about was likely dead by now gave her little reason to fight.
Savage sighed, knowing what the project supervisors had instructed him to do- find the students, and get them to the checkpoint. Unfortunately, he had found Anna Shepherd first; the most stubborn and headstrong of all the students at the school. How do you tell someone that the last two days of their life were a computer-generated simulation?
"Ah… You're…in a coma…" The words left his mouth before he could really think them through- and Anna looked up at him; audacity written across her features.
"No I'm not."
More sure of the lie, Arthur Savage kept pressing. Teens watched hospital dramas all the time- and besides, who would believe that a computer-generated simulation could feel this real?
"Yes, you are. Ms. Shepherd, I think it would be wise to examine why it is you haven't gotten turned at all in the past two days. Why you're having this conversation with me, and why no zombies have found their way over to attack us."
In reality, Arthur knew that all the project coders and tech supervisors were all working to ensure that the remaining students made it out of the simulation "alive"- but he hoped he could use that to his advantage.
Anna breathed in sharply, looking around the room and watching as the zombies lumbered just out of the path of her and Savage. She thought back to the trip through the Christmas Tree Emporium, and the Cafeteria, and the science classroom. Realistically speaking, it was so unlikely that she would've survived each encounter without getting bit that she was beginning to believe Savage.
But why Savage? Why, out of ANY scenario it could have picked did her brain decide to simulate a zombie apocalypse? Why did John have to die? And why was she all alone? The loneliness and heaviness that she'd been fighting for so long finally crashed over her, leaving a bewildered and exhausted Anna in its wake. Even if it wasn't true, if Savage was lying; she was so tired of fighting.
"Wow. My brain must really hate me, then."
And just like that, Anna Shepherd woke up.