Sherry had been hiding for a long time in the police station, for what must have been three or four days, and hadn't seen her mother yet. Not once, not even when there had still been a lot of people left. She'd found Mrs. Addison right after she'd gotten there - one of the teachers from school - but Mrs. Addison had died. A zombie had eaten her. And not long after that, Sherry had found a ventilation shaft that ran over most of the whole building, and had decided that hiding was safer than staying with the grownups - because the adults kept dying, and because there was a monster in the station even worse than the zombies or the inside-out men, and she was pretty sure that the monster was looking for her. That was proba- bly stupid, she didn't think that monsters picked out just one person to go for, but then again, she'd never thought that monsters were real, either. So Sherry had stayed hidden, mostly in the knight room; there weren't any dead people there, and the only way to get in - besides the ventilation shaft behind the suits of armor - was to go down a long hall guarded by a giant tiger. The tiger was stuffed, but it was still scary and Sherry thought that maybe the tiger would scare away the monster. Part of her knew that that was dumb, but it made her feel better anyway. Since the zombies had taken over everything in the police station, she'd spent a lot of time sleeping. When she was asleep, she didn't have to think about what might have happened to her parents or worry about what was going to happen to her. The air shaft was pretty warm, and she had plenty to eat from the candy machine downstairs, but she was scared, and even worse than being scared was being lonely, so mostly she'd just slept. She'd been asleep, warm and curled up behind the knights, when she'd been awakened by a tremendous crash somewhere outside. She was sure it was the monster; she'd only caught a glimpse of it once before, of the giant's broad and terrible back, through a steel grate, but she'd heard it screaming and howling through the building many times since then. She knew that it was terrible, terrible and violent and hungry. Sometimes it disappeared for hours at a time, letting her hope that it had given up, but it always came back, and no matter where Sherry was, it always seemed to appear somewhere close by. The loud noise that had ripped her from her dreamless sleep was like the sound a monster would make tearing the walls down, and she'd huddled in her hiding place, ready to dart back into the shaft if the sound came any closer. It didn't. For a long time she didn't move, waiting with her eyes squeezed shut, holding on to her good luck charm - a beautiful gold pendant that her mother had given her only last week, so big that it filled up her whole hand. As it had before, the charm worked; the loud, terrible noise hadn't been repeated. Or maybe the big tiger had kept the monster from finding her. Either way, when she'd heard gentle thumping sounds in the office, she'd felt safe enough to creep out of the case and go out into the hall to listen. The zombies and inside-out men couldn't use doors, and if it was the monster, it would have come for her already, clawing down doors and screaming for blood.

It has to be a person. Maybe Mom...

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Halfway down the hall, where it turned right, she'd heard people talking in the office and felt a burst of hope and loneliness mixed together. She couldn't tell what they were saying, but it was the first time she'd heard anybody who wasn't yelling for maybe two days. And if there were people talking, maybe it was because help had finally come to Raccoon.

The army or the government or the Marines, maybe all of them...

Excited, she hurried down the hall and was next to the big snarling tiger, right by the door, when her excitement faltered. The voices had stopped. Sherry stood very still, suddenly anxious. If people had come to Raccoon to help, wouldn't she have heard the planes and trucks? Wouldn't there be shooting and bombs and men with loudspeakers telling everybody to come out?

Maybe those voices aren't army people at all; maybe those voices are Bad People. Crazy, like that one man...

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Not long after Sherry had gone into hiding, she'd seen a terrible thing through a grating that led into a locker room. A tall man with red hair had been in the room, talking to himself and rocking back and forth in a chair. At first, Sherry had thought about asking him for help, to find her parents, but something about the way he was talking and giggling and gently swaying back and forth made her wary, so she'd watched him for a while from the safe darkness of the air shaft. He'd been holding a big knife. And after a long time, still laughing and mumbling and rocking, he'd stabbed himself in the stomach. Sherry had been more scared by that man than by the zombies, be- cause it didn't make sense. He'd been crazy, and he'd killed himself and she'd crawled away, crying because it just didn't make any sense. She didn't want to meet anyone else like that. And even if the people in the office were okay, they might take her away from her safe place and try to protect her - and that would mean her death, because the monster surely wasn't afraid of adults.

It felt awful to turn away, but there was no other choice. Sherry started back for the armor room...

Creak!

... and froze as the floor shifted underfoot. The sound of the creaking board seemed incredibly loud and she held her breath, clutching her pendant and praying that the door wouldn't come flying open behind her, that some crazy wouldn't charge in and...... and get her.

She didn't hear anything, but felt sure that the pounding of her heart would give her away, it was so loud. After a full ten seconds, she carefully started back down the hall, stepping as lightly as she could, feeling like she was creeping out of a cave filled with sleeping snakes. The hall back to the armor room seemed like it was a mile long, and she had to use all of her willpower not to run once she reached the turn, but if there was one thing she'd learned from the movies and TV, it was that running from danger always meant a horrible death.

When she finally reached the entrance back to the armor room, she felt like she might just collapse from relief. She was safe again, she could snuggle back into the old blanket that Mrs. Addison had found for her and just... The door from the office opened, opened and closed. And a second later, there were footsteps.

Coming for her.

Sherry flew into the armor room, no longer think- ing about anything at all in the bright and trembling crush of panic that swept through her. She sprinted past the three knights, forgetting her safe place be-cause all she knew was that she had to get away, get as far away as possible. There was a dark, tiny chamber past the glass case in the middle of the room and darkness was what she needed, a shadow to disappear into...... and she could hear the running footsteps some- where behind her, pounding over wood as she hurtled into the dark room and into the farthest corner. Sherry crouched down between the dusty brick of the room's fireplace and the padded chair beside it and tried to make herself as small as possible, hugging her knees and hiding her face.

Please please please don't come in, don't see me, I'm not here...

The running footsteps had come into the armor room and were slow now, hesitant, moving around the big glass case in the middle. Sherry thought of her safe place, the mouth of the ventilation shaft that could have taken her away, and struggled to hold back hot tears of self-condemnation. The fireplace room had no escape; she was trapped. Each hollow, thumping step brought the stranger closer to the dark room in which Sherry hid. She scrunched herself tighter, making promises that she would do anything, anything at all if only the stranger would go away... Thump. Thump. Thump. Suddenly, the room flashed into blinding bright- ness, the soft click of the light switch lost beneath Sherry's terrified cry. She pushed away from her corner and ran, screaming and unseeing, hoping to get past the stranger and back to the air shaft...... and a warm hand grabbed her arm, tight, keeping her from going one more step. She screamed again, jerking as hard as she could, but the stranger was strong... "Wait!" It was a lady, the voice almost as frantic as Sherry's hammering heart. "Let me go," Sherry wailed, but the lady was still holding on, even pulling her closer.

"Easy, easy - I'm not a zombie, take it easy, it's okay..."

The woman's voice had turned soothing, the words crooned gently, the hand on Sherry's wrist warm and strong. The sweet, musical voice repeated the gentle words again and again.

"... easy, it's okay, I'm not going to hurt you, you're safe now."

Sherry finally looked at the lady, and saw how pretty she was, how her eyes were soft with concern and sympathy. And just like that, Sherry stopped trying to get away and felt the hot tears trickle down her face, tears that she'd been holding back ever since she'd seen the red-haired man commit suicide. She instinctively hugged the young, pretty stranger and the lady hugged her back, her slender arms tight across Sherry's trembling shoulders. Sherry cried for a couple of minutes, letting the woman stroke her hair and whisper soothing words to her - and at last, she felt like the worst was over. As much as she wanted to crawl into the lady's arms and forget all of her fears, to believe that she was safe, she knew better. And besides, she wasn't a baby anymore; she'd turned twelve last month. With an effort, Sherry stepped away from the woman and wiped her eyes, looking up into her pretty face. The woman wasn't that old, maybe only twenty or so, and was dressed really cool - boots and cutoff pink denim shorts and a matching vest with no sleeves. She wore her shiny brown hair in a ponytail, and when she smiled, she looked like a movie star. The woman crouched down right in front of her, still smiling gently. "My name's Claire. What's yours?"

Sherry felt shy suddenly, embarrassed for running and then trying to get away from such a nice lady. Her parents had often told her that she acted like an emotional baby, that she was "too imaginative" for her own good, and here was proof; Claire wasn't going to hurt her, she could tell. "Sherry Birkin," she said, and smiled at Claire, hoping that Claire wasn't mad at her; she didn't look mad. In fact, she looked pleased with Sherry's answer. "Do you know where your parents are?" Claire asked, in the same sweet tone.

"They work at the Umbrella chemical plant, just outside of town," Sherry said. "Chemical plant... then what are you doing here?" "My mom called, and told me to go to the police

station. She said it was too dangerous to stay at home." Claire nodded. "From the look of things, she was probably right. But it's dangerous here, as well..."

Claire frowned thoughtfully, then smiled again.

"You'd better come with me."

Sherry felt a cold knot tighten in her stomach, and shook her head, wondering how to explain to Claire that it wasn't a good idea, that it was a very bad idea. She wanted more than anything not to be alone anymore, but it just wasn't safe.

If I go with her and the monster finds us...

Claire would be killed. And although Claire was thin, Sherry was pretty sure that she wouldn't be able to fit in the ventilation shaft. "There's something out there," she said finally. "I saw it, it's bigger than the zombies. And it's coming after me."

Claire shook her head, opening her mouth to saysomething, probably to try and talk her into changing her mind, when a terrible, furious sound filled the room, echoing in violent waves from somewhere in the building. Somewhere close.

"Rrraaahh..."

Sherry felt her blood turn to ice. Claire's eyes went wide, her skin paling.

"What was that?"

Sherry backed away, breathless, in her mind al- ready running for the safe place behind the three suits of armor. "That's what I was telling you," she gasped out, and before Claire could stop her, she turned and ran.

"Sherry!"

Sherry ignored the shouted plea, sprinting past the glass exhibit case for the safety of the air shaft. She leapt nimbly over the knight's pedestal and dropped to her hands and knees, ducking her head and scram- bling into the ancient stone hole set into the base of the wall. Her only chance, Claire's only chance, was for Sherry to get as far away from her as possible. Maybe they would find each other again when the monster had gone. As Sherry crawled quickly through the tight and winding darkness, she hoped it wasn't already too late.

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