There were two wheelchair access ramps between levels in the main building. One ran alongside the main staircase near the front entrance, the other was on the exterior of the building on the oval side. It was here the group found themselves outside for the first time in a long time. The afternoon was murky, grim even, as heavy clouds moved low and fast across the sky. A storm was brewing.
Weather aside, things were looking up. The path from the ramp to a nearby shelter shed looked clear of grunts and, once they’d passed, it was only a short walk to the maintenance shed near the cricket nets at the side of the oval.
As usual, Elizabeth had been on point. She was the first to step outside. The dank corridors of the school were long past getting claustrophobic. She drew a deep breath of outside air, but nearly gagged at the assault on her nostrils. It was putrid – rotting flesh, rotting food, rotting everything. She lifted her jumper over her mouth to filter out what she could.
As she worked her way down the ramp, she could hear the others making the same unpleasant discovery.
“Eww, Sonny, gross,” said Vihaan as he waved his hand in front of his nose.
“Wasn’t me,” said Sonny, like a seasoned campaigner in denial.
Ms Simmons gave Vihaan a clip over the back of the head. “Keep it down, you two.”
Vihaan hunched again, but continued trying to waft away the mystery stink.
Elizabeth hit the bottom of the ramp, then followed the outer wall of the building to the corner. She hated this bit – always having to be out front. She paused, took a few deep breaths – not pleasant – then peered around the edge. Good news – there were no grunts anywhere, all the way back to the staff car park. It looked like they wouldn’t get any surprises from behind as they moved towards the shelter shed. She used a few hands signals to give the all clear and issue directions. Everyone nodded approval, then turned their attention to Sonny. His confused expression changed a number of times as he tried to decode the signals. He noticed all eyes on him and, in a panic, just nodded, the most unconvincing of acknowledgments.Elizabeth rolled her eyes, then led the group on to the next target.
They shuffled in single file formation across the courtyard to the shelter shed. Again, Elizabeth took point and peered inside first – all clear again. It was too quiet today – she shared a look with the others that conveyed her concerns, and also urged them to follow her on.
At the far end of the shed, Elizabeth paused before peering around the corner again. This time they weren’t so lucky. Several zombies were gnawing on a corpse – possibly one of the older students from another group. They were so engrossed in their dinner they didn’t notice her. She pulled her head back and collected herself with another series of deep breaths before taking another look – five grunts, a good 15m away.
A new plan was needed. She would have to redirect the team between the library and resource centre, instead of moving behind the library. The new route wouldn’t take much longer, but it would take them out on the fringes of the oval rather than behind the buildings where she felt safer. It also meant crossing the 10m of space between the shelter shed and library in complete view of the dining grunts.
Vihaan nudged Elizabeth’s shoulder. She looked back to find him wordlessly asking ‘What’s the plan?” with a demanding expression on his face. She began a series of hand signals, indicating the number and location of the zombies, what they were doing, the change in planned direction past the library and the need for complete silence. Again everyone nodded their approval… then turned to Sonny.
If his expression had been glazed before, this time it could be described as anywhere between bewildered and stupefied – probably closer to stupefied. There was a long, long pause as everyone watched the cogs in his mind slowly tick over. He stood there, staring into the distance, mouth agape, with only the odd blink indicating life.
Elizabeth repeated the signals.
Sonny’s look of bewilderment continued – he was at risk of rigor mortis.
Elizabeth muttered something under her breath, inaudible but definitely not pleasant. She checked on the status of the five feasting grunts – still tonsils deep in dinner. She returned her attention to Sonny yet again and repeated the signals once more.
Several seconds later he responded with a wave.
“What?” Elizabeth whispered to Sonny before she signalled Zhang to keep watch over the zombies.
“What do you mean what?” said Sonny.
“What’s with the wave?”
“I was going to ask you the same thing.”
“But you waved at me,” said Elizabeth trying her best to stay calm.
“Only after you waved at me.”
By this point Elizabeth looked nearly as confused as Sonny. “What are you talking about?”
“You waved at me, and then said you were hungry and we should go to the library.”
“I wasn’t wav—”
“Which makes absolutely no sense, because everyone knows you can’t eat in the library. They have signs, you know.”
“Five!” rage-whispered Elizabeth. “It wasn’t a wave – I meant five zombies, down there.”
“Ahh,” said Sonny.
“…and they’re eating,” added Zhang, along with the eating signal.
“Ahh,” said Sonny.
“So, we’re going to change direction,” said Ms Simmons.
“Ahh,” said Sonny.
“Heading towards the—,” started Vihaan.
“…library,” came the voice simulator from Abby’s choices app.
“Ahh,” said Sonny. “Got it.”
“So can we please just move,” said Elizabeth, “quietly and slowly towards the library.”
Everyone collected themselves and moved in line behind Elizabeth as she checked the status of the zombies. Nothing had changed; they moved out. Slowly, silently they headed towards the library, eyes fixed on the zombie threat to the right. Dinner was definitely a student; you could make out the blue and white of the jacket – the one footballers liked to wear.
It really brought the situation home, seeing an older, fitter, stronger student end up as an all-you-can-eat buffet at hotel zombie. Vihaan had his slingshot at the ready. Elizabeth angled the group out to the left as she neared the path between library and resource centre – she didn’t want any surprises as they ventured down. All was clear. She looked back to the grunts – all good.
Suddenly, there was a roar – distant and wheezy – to their left. A zombie on the other side of the quadrangle had cottoned on to their presence. Before long a couple more appeared out of the shadows and started growling and heading their way. They were too far away to be a direct threat but Elizabeth picked up her pace knowing they could still prove a threat if–
“They’re on to us too,” said Vihaan, looking at the original five grunts.
“OK, speed it up,” said Elizabeth, “nearly there.”
One by one the feeding grunts released their grip on meal No. 1 to start the pursuit of meal No. 2 – a six-course mega buffet of under-sized human. Bits of flesh, sinew and other non-identifiable body parts stretched like mozzarella across the quadrangle from zombie to corpse as the entire schoolyard landscape started to resemble a gross version of elastics. The frustrated zombies growled and groaned, louder than before
Elizabeth and her crew increased pace into a jog. If they could get past the library and around the corner, there was a chance they could lose the grunts before things started to spiral out of control.
The noise started to build as zombies near and far wheezed for human. Suddenly they started appearing in the library windows, attracted by all the noise. Somewhere, glass broke and the noise level increased. In the rising panic, Zhang let out a squeal, which always seemed to elicit a similar cry from Sonny.
Another window smashed, this time right in front of them. Glass shattered on the ground and zombie arms reached out through the window frame.
“Nearly there,” screamed Elizabeth. “Ruuuuuuuuun!”
They picked up speed as a window broke on the resource centre side of the lane and more grunt hands reached out for them. There was banging from behind the walls – both buildings must’ve been packed full of zombies.
Then the fire-exit door at the end of the lane exploded outwards and a dozen or so desperate grunts fell through the opening, blocking most of the width of the lane. Elizabeth pumped the brakes. She yelled “Stop” and turned back to see the others skidding to a halt just as the mozzarella zombies blocked the other end of the lane.
They were trapped.