Elizabeth wiped the sweat and muck from her forehead, took a couple of deep breaths and slowly leaned her head around the corner. The corridor was clear on the left; the right was a different story. She could make out four zombies in the darkness, possibly more, but no huge threat.
She turned back to her crew and used hand gestures to both communicate the threat and indicate they should turn left ahead.
“What?” said Sonny, with a glazed look in his eyes.
“Shh,” rage-whispered Elizabeth before she repeated the hand signals – four fingers aloft, then pointing right, a closed fist for no enemies, then pointing left.
“Three what?” came the reply.
Zhang Jing rolled her eyes. “Wow. Really?”
Elizabeth huddled everyone together and whispered her instructions. “I can make out four zombies to the right. They look like standard grunts to me. It’s pretty dark down there so we should be able to sneak to the left without being spotted.”
“It’s not ideal,” said Ms Simmons, “but if we take the middle stairwell we should be able to cut back to the science room on level two.”
There was a distant growl that gurgled and groaned at just the right tone to send fear into everyone’s heart.
“So are we doing this, or not?” said Vihaan as he tapped his cricket bat with menace.
Elizabeth looked at the five people in front of her.
Sonny Winterbottom – tall for his age, heavy set, pale skinned and still more than a little confused by the hand signal conversation. He carried a bag full of heavy rocks, one in his hand at the ready.
Zhang Jing – petite and polite, optimistically armed with her violin bow.
Ms Simmons – science teacher, attired in a mangle of black and purple with a solitary tuft of grey hair rebelling from the colour palette. She had a wand, but Elizabeth doubted it was anything but a prop.
Vihaan Pawar – all skin, bone and buck teeth. He surveyed the battlefield, frowned, then returned his cricket bat to his backpack and pulled out his slingshot. A convincing move to the untrained eye but Elizabeth had seen him operate both and knew the zombies were in no more danger now than when he had the bat.
Finally, Abby Carter – her wheelchair-bound best friend. Smart and funny, unable to talk and walk but great to laugh and listen. Elizabeth’s rock. She noticed Abby’s apprehension, winked at her and mouthed her reassurance. “We’ll be fine.”
Elizabeth tried – and failed – to think of another combination less likely to survive the zombie horde. She took a deep breath and imagined she was surrounded by a crack fighting force. “Let’s do this – let’s kick some serious a—”
She was interrupted by the crash of lockers behind them, followed by a wheezy, slurping noise. Two zombies approaching fast… well fast for zombies… which is medium at best. But it did block any chance of retreat – not good news.
Zhang screamed. Sonny screamed louder – and at a higher pitch. Elizabeth’s first instinct was to tell them to shut-up, but it was way too late for that. “Move it – left!”
They entered the corridor and turned left. At least that was the plan. But in his panic Sonny, who was pushing Abby, turned right. He took a few paces forward before looking up and seeing the zombies moving down the hall. Four had now become seven, alerted by the screams and the smell of living flesh. He skidded himself and Abby to a halt, which drew them a few metres closer to danger. The nearest zombies realised dinner was close and lunged forward – a move they seemed to save for such moments.
The closest grunt got to within a few metres. Sonny screamed even louder as he began moving Abby’s wheelchair into a painfully slow three-point turn. He screamed, turned forward, screamed, turned back and screamed some more.
Sonny caught the putrid odour of the undead and felt a hand brush his back just as he found forward momentum back towards the crew. His scream paused momentarily as it dawned on him what the touch was – zombie flesh – then returned at louder levels and a higher pitch.
Zhang looked back down the side corridor they’d come from to see the two zombies there nearing as well. “Hurry up.”
Vihaan let his slingshot rip at the nearest zombie of the seven – no 10 – lumbering after Sonny and Abby. The projectile successfully impacted right between the eyes of a target. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the intended one. “Whoops, sorry, Sonny!”
On a bright note it did at least stop his screaming, replaced by the slightly less annoying and totally zombie-attracting, “Ouch, ow, ow, ow.”
The pain and scare combined to propel Sonny into new feats of strength as he powered the wheelchair into top speed, this time in the right direction.
“He’s headed right for us,” said Zhang.
“Move it!” screamed an out of control Sonny.
“He’s not slowing down either,” added Elizabeth as they all jumped out the way.
In one graceful motion Vihaan dived clear of the full-speed wheelchair, army rolled back to a crouching position, then aimed and fired his slingshot into the head of one of the oncoming zombies. At least that’s what he meant to do. Instead, he over-rotated and went barrelling shoulder first into a set of lockers. He fought through the pain to unleash his weapon, which ricocheted off a locker door before ploughing back into his other shoulder. He was too ashamed to give any hint of pain.
“Get up!” yelled Elizabeth as she chased after Sonny and Abby.
Vihaan obeyed and joined the retreating pack. Ahead of them Sonny screamed (again) and screeched to a halt. Zombies. Dozens and dozens of rotting flesh zombies.The group gathered together in the middle of the corridor as a horde of grunts cut off their exit in front and two smaller groups joined the crush to block access from where they’d come. They were trapped.