The Woodley Apartments, Washington.
Eight Hours Into The Outbreak.
Today was not meant to be like this.
Right now, she should have been just off the Annapolis coastline, enjoying a day of sailing with an incredibly nice guy.
And she had actually been excited to see him again.
Exactly one week before the Outbreak, Eniko had (rather reluctantly) agreed to go on a blind date with 'the nice guy' who was—omgsoperfectforher!—at least according to one particularly meddlesome co-worker. Yet, despite how much that woman's constant clucking had initially irritated Eniko, she eventually decided to take the bait. It'd been two months since she had unceremoniously dumped her last boyfriend, and she was beginning to experience a bit of the itch.
So the young woman decided to give the man the green light and, to her great surprise, had really enjoyed his company. Not only had he turned out to be great fun, but he had such beautiful eyes and the most adorable dimples when he smiled. Needless to say, his request for a second date was happily accepted; and it was the outing that was meant to be happening right now.
But she was never going to see him again.
He was already dead.
Eniko didn't know this, however. All she knew was whatever her panicky neighbours had shouted at her as the frenzy surrounding The Outbreak began. All she knew was that she wished she was at home in San Francisco with her family. She also wished that her roommate, Kim, hadn’t decided to stay at her boyfriend's last night.
So Eniko stood alone, pacing about her third level apartment, obsessively strumming through the last text few messages she was able to receive.
The young woman was hoping that the power would miraculously return so that she could get an response from one of them—or anyone—because, quite frankly, she felt as if she would go crazy if she did not hear from someone soon. Because if her entire apartment building suddenly becoming a ghost town wasn’t sufficiently anxiety-inducing, the random screams for help coming from the streets certainly were.
Eniko dared not step out onto those streets. She HAD to wait for her roommate. She was driving over, and had said she was only a fifteen minutes away...
...four hours ago.
Suddenly realising that she had to pee, Eniko took a break from her pacing and shuffled towards the bathroom, always keeping a white-knuckled clutch on her phone as if it was some sort of lifeline. Then, some seconds later, as shhe washed and vacantly stared into the mirror, the startling sound of glass breaking came from her living room.
Alarmed as all hell, she tip-toed to the door, cracking it open just enough to determine what was going on in her apartment: there was a very dirty looking man, tumbling through her now-shattered window. She eyed him suspiciously as he made way for the kitchen, after lying his pistol gently down onto her dining table. He made an unappealing sort of grunt as he opened her fridge, and subsequently began to gorge himself. He even popped open a can of her beer, guzzling it down in one fell swoop.
Acutely aware of the gun that he had set onto her table, Eniko became paranoid about the intentions of the filthy looking man. Instinctively, she decided to take advantage of his gross display, and ran over to grab his gun while he was distracted with that beer.
"GET OUT OF MY APARTMENT," she ordered with as much gumption as she could, pointing his pistol right at his chest. The intruder soon became startled, dropping the can to the ground.
But to her frustration, the man didn't even defensively raise his arms at her threat of violence. Weren't guns supposed to be intimidating? Why wasn't he afraid? She stared at him with one giant super-emotion that consisted of confusion, anger, and fear.
Meanwhile, he began to slowly step towards her, and she tried to keep her hands from shaking.
"Good afternoon, miss. Is this your apartment? I'd thought all the residents had abandoned it. Hmmm. Quite a fancy place you got here. High gates. Pin codes on every door and every stairwell. To be honest, I couldn't figure out the way in, so I tried climbing. Sorry about your window, though. I’ve apparently broken into the wrong apartment."
The intruder then pointed up towards her ceiling, drawing Eniko's attention to the distressed canine wails coming from the apartment directly above her. This whole time she had been way too rapped up in her own consternation to worry much about much of anything else, and had ignored it entirely.
"Hold on a minute," Eniko said, shaking her head. "This is the third floor. You climbed up here?"
"Scaled it. Wasn't easy, heh heh. The lower levels had coded barriers in the hallways, so I couldn't get to the poor pup that way."
A moment of silence passed between the two as Eniko awkwardly fumbled about with the gun, not exactly certain what she planned on doing next. The homeless man certainly did not seem like he meant any harm, but god damn it, she was stressed out.
Recognising this stress, the intruder slowly began to redirect the tone of conversation.
"Aw, but miss, don't worry. I'm not here to hurt you, or anyone for that matter. I found that gun off a dead body a half hour ago, and I gotta level with ya... that thing's not even loaded. Pull the trigger and see, if ya like. But please, don't be afraid of me."
"Then you better tell me why you're here," she said as her eyes widened at his mention of a dead body.
"I feel sorry for that dog," the homeless man said very simply. "The poor thing sounds like it's in distress. I wanted to make sure it's all right."
"That's Puff," Eniko responded softly, finally deciding to lower the gun. "She's my neighbour's Bichon."
Puff was the little poof that she had seen so many times in passing, always sporting a little rhinestone collar and pink bow on her lambs-wool head. She had seen her owners leaving hours before. Why in god's name had they left their pet behind?
The homeless man looked up at Eniko with the calmest of eyes.
"Well. It's Puff's lucky day that I'm here, then. She'll be safe with Bobert."
Eniko blinked curiously at the man in bemusement.
"Your name is... Bobert?"
"Ha! Hahahaha! No. My name's Robert. Bobert is my German shepherd, and let me tell ya, he's one tough old boy. A true friend. Since this outbreak bullshit, I've been so proud of him. Not only has he looked after me for ten years, but now he's looking after the whole crew. No dog has ever denied me friendship."
Suddenly, Eniko felt oddly comforted, and involuntarily said the first thing that came to her mind.
"Oh. Uh, I have a Shiba Inu. But he's in San Francisco with my parents. His name's Zoom."
"I have a Shiba Inu, too! Spirited things, they are."
Eniko raised her brows in curiosity, almost forgetting about The Outbreak for the slightest of moments.
"Yup. As of this morning, anyway," he began. "I found him wandering around the National Mall, scared to death. Found a confused labradoodle, too... and then a pug, a mastiff, a wolfhound, a collie, a couple mutts. Oh, and two chihuahuas. Now I'll be adding a bichon to that list, I suppose..."
Robert then cleared his phlegmy throat while awkwardly beating his chest, as if he was experiencing some sort of intense heartburn. He almost seemed as if something more was wrong with him.
"...so she'll be safe with us."
Then, suddenly, he directed his gaze towards Eniko.
"But what about you? Why are you here all alone?"
Ko gulped as she glanced nervously down at her phone.
"I'm, uh, waiting for my friends to pick me up."
Robert didn’t respond for a moment. Instead, he reached inside his gunny sack and pulled out some old crinkled up receipt and a pen.
"Who are these friends of yours?" he inquired as he began sketching something crude onto the stained paper.
"Er, my roommate, Kim. She and her boyfriend are on their way in his van. I don't own a car, so... well, it's not safe to be out there on foot. I don't want to leave until they get here."
Robert kept at his absentminded scribbling.
"How long have you been waiting for them?"
Eniko looked down at her feet.
"Um... only a little while," she lied. "But I won't leave without them."
Robert suddenly ceased his writing, and looked up at the young woman with an extreme sense of empathy.
"Listen to me. I'm going to go upstairs and get that little dog, and I'm going to take her to my hideout. You are more than welcome to join us," he said as he extended out the piece of paper that he had in his hand, perceiving that she would not accept his invitation to go with him. "It won't be safe here for much longer. So if you don't want to go with me, then please. PLEASE, if this friend of yours does not return in the next two hours, YOU GO. Leave this place behind. Leave it all behind."
Robert slapped the paper into the young woman's hand.
"I know this city like the back of my hand, so I've written you a map on the back of this receipt. It shows the fastest route to the Anacosta Building from here. I've heard there are forces gathering there, and it'll be safe."
Once more, Robert looked up towards the ceiling, forever mindful of the abandoned pup that was crying for help just above them.
"Ah, such a beautiful apartment, but I must be on my way. That little lady up there needs some help, and if... if you ever need help, you can find me in the DuPont Underground. Not a lot of people know how to find the entrance, but... it's beside the Ellipse, okay? That's where we'll be—the dogs and I—beneath the city. You're always welcome, and Bobert is a fierce guardian."
Accepting the receipt, Eniko responded with, "but if the Anacosta building is so safe, why aren’t you going there? Perhaps the dogs could-”
The scruffy man raised his arm to stop her train of thought, and shook his head sadly.
"I find it hard to believe that they'll accept the dogs. In fact, just today I saw a man shoot a retriever dead on the street, for no other reason than 'it might have barked and brought attention to us.' Besides, the last place I want to go is... well, where people are."
Robert then gestured towards the empty pistol that was still in Eniko's hand. "I'm going to leave that with you. I know it has no ammunition, but perhaps you'll be lucky enough to find some, eventually."
He began to take something off from around his neck. "Actually. Speaking of luck... here ya go. I want you to take this, too. I might be a man of little luck, but this has always been a charm to me."
He then placed a chain with a pendant around her neck.
"I can't take your weapon," Eniko responded awkwardly.
Robert shook his head in objection.
"Please. Take it. I have a daughter somewhere up in Boston, and I'd hate to think that she was alone, like you. I'd like to think that someone would help her, even if it was just an old alcoholic like me."
Eniko pouted a bit. "You could wait here with me? If my roommate doesn’t arrive by morning, why don't we just go to the Anacosta building together?"
"I don’t think so," Robert said, resolutely. "Few cared about me when things were going well. How much less will they care now that things have gone to shit?"
He then made his way towards the door.
"So if I’m going to die, I'd rather go down with the dogs."
Eniko looked down at the empty pistol in her hand, and then at the chain that hung around her neck.
"So if you could tell me the pin codes in the hallway, I'd appreciate it."