The car squealed and a loud ‘pop!’ping sound Erupted into the air. Mason was desperately triedying to keep control of the vehicle, cursing as he fought with the steering wheel. The tyres screeched and groaned their disapproval.
We were almost at the gate, a. Almost out.
Another shot blasted through the air.
Mason had had now lost any chance of control, the Land Rover veered from side to side like a drunken uncle at his favourite niece’s wedding. I realised that none of us hadwished that I’d fastened myour seatbelt. An old car- safety advert flickered through my mind.
It was a bit late for that advice.
Kate dived down into the foot well and balledcurled up into a balllike a frightened hedgehog. Mason held the steering wheel as thoughif it was a rope sent down thrown out to a drowning man by a rescue helicopter. The Land Rover somersaulted into the air. I had hoped thatThey say that time really did moves slowlystand still in moments like these, but that's just not how it works. it doesn’t, if anything, it moves faster than the mind can comprehend.
I slammed into the roof of the car as the vehicleit turned over, and then Dexy crashedslammed into me, knocking and knocked the wind out of my lungs. I hadn'’t even managedstarted to choke down a breath when the vehicle hit the groundlanded with a painful crunch and rolled into the fence.
Dexy landed on the back seat, his nose pouring with blood. The air bags hissed and released in the front, embracing Mason with their promise of safety. Kate was still crouched into a tiny ball, the air bag on her side filling the empty seat.
I fell awkwardly, and just managedging to wrap my arms across the top of my head before smashing against the window on Dexy's side. If that safety glass hadn'’t have held, the concrete ground that we were skimmingtterin across would have ripped through my arms and skull.
The Land Rover squealed and groaned as it slid through the fence, the tall chain link barrier wrappeding itself around the vehicle until finally, mercifully, our tiny world stopped moving.
A few seconds of silence ticked by, and then the Land Rover rolled one last time, sitting itself back on its wheels.
Kate was the first to move. “Phil?”
I coughed; the biting, metallic taste of blood filleding my mouth. Dexy sat up and rubbed his head, groaning as if hesomeone who had just woken up with the biggest hangover ever experienced.
“What happened, Bruv?”
After crawling back into the seat, I checked out of the window.
Harry King wouldn'’t be too far away , not now that he had us on the ropes. The infected that had been climbing the fence circledthat had tried climbing the fence were now circling around the Land Rover like a pack of hunting dogs closing in on the wounded fox.
One of the infectedm, an overweight elderly woman with tightly curledcurly white hair, was looking directlystared at me through those now familiar, inhuman white eyes. She wore a pink dressing gown covered in blood and filth. A gust of wind tuggedpulled at the gown and opened it up, revealing her naked body. She growled and loped closer to the car.
“King,” I said. “He shot the tyres out,” my head feltthumped like a drummer had taken up residence and was annoying the neighbours.
“Phil,” Kate was now sat in her seat, and leaneding towards Mason and shook, shaking his arm.
She pushed the air bag away from his face.
“Phil,” Her voice becameoming more insistent as she checked for signs of life.
“Is he...” I didn'’t need to finish the sentence, everyone knew what I was asking.
“Dead?” Mason looked back at me and smiled. “Can'’t get rid of me that easily.”
Kate slapped his arm playfully. “Wanker,” Kate slapped his arm playfully.
“We need to go,” I pointed at the infected that were moving in on us.
“Well, we won'’t be driving out of here,” Mason slammed the heel of his palm against the steering wheel.
“Danny!” King yelled. “Chelsea! Michelle!”
I whirled around to see.
He jumped out of the office window, heavy boots crunching against broken glass as he strutted across the car park, shards of moonlight splintered along the barrel of his sniper rifle.
“My boy, my girl, my wife!” He looked through the gun-sight and fired a round.
The bullet obliterated the back window, safety glass rained in on us like an ice storm. The round whizzed past my head and rocketed into the dashboard. Black plastic exploded into a cloud of dust and debris.
“You'’re all going to pay!”
“Damn it!” Mason tried to open his door. The car-park fence had wrapped itself around the Land Rover when we rolled through it, “come on!” He pushed harder, the fence started to give way. One of the infected, an emaciated man with a thick black beard raced toward the opening car door, bloody fingernails scrabbled at the chain link fence.
Dexy took out his gun and looked through the hole that was once our back window. Harry King was no more than ten feet away. Dexy aimed his gun and fired. The shot ricocheted off the concrete, totally missing its target.
King stopped and smiled, “that it, Sunshine?” He looked through his gun-sight.
Mason kicked at his door, “this time.”
He leaned back against Kate, lifted both his legs and smashed his feet into the door with all the strength he could muster. The fence tore away from the car and fell on black beard, pushing him down to the floor.
Mason jumped out of the Land Rover and crouched down.
“Come on then, hurry up,” he poked his head through the door opening, hands gesticulating wildly for us to move.
Kate scooted across to the driver'’s seat and climbed out. Black beard howled and tried to free himself from the weight of the fence. Dexy looked at me.
“You next, Bruv,” he jerked his head towards the open door. “I'’ll cover.”
I dived through the opening between the front seats and spilled out onto the fence.
A shot from the sniper rifle rang out.
Dexy shouted in pain and the bullet hit the windscreen like a freight train, the infected waved their arms above their heads with looks of wonder on their faces as hundreds of tiny safety-glass squares rained down on them.
Kate barged past me and climbed back into the Land Rover.
Within seconds, she was dragging Dexy' by his arms, pulling him to our relative safety. She fell onto her back and Dexy fell on top of her. I looked down at them and saw blood spreading across the right shoulder of Dexy’s hoodie.
Another of the infected came around the car, a thickset bald man, the right lens of his small round glasses was broken and a shard of glass stuck out of his eyeball like an ice-cream wafer. His head kept moving to one side, as though he had an unreachable itch'.
I wrapped Dexy'’s left arm around my shoulder and started to pull him to his feet. He still had a tight grip on his pistol.
“I'’m alright, Bruv.”
He pulled away from me and aimed at one-eye. It uttered a low growl and jumped at us.
Dexy squeezed the trigger. Brain, blood, and bone exploded like a firework display from the back of one-eye’s head. The momentum of its leap carried the now dead body towards us, and it fell heavily beside Kate.
I offered my hand to Kate and she grabbed it, letting me pull her to her feet.
“Thanks,” she put her hand on my shoulder to steady herself.
“Can you all run?” Mason asked.
Nobody answered; we were all tired and hurting. The last thing we looked ready for was a sprint down the street, chased by infected and a maniac sniper-cop.
“Ah, fuck!” King screamed.
I looked back and saw two infected running at him.
The old woman was leading the charge, closely followed by a young boy dressed in a school uniform, one of his blazer arms was missing and I could see a large gash in his arm. The old woman’s pink dressing gown whipped at the air behind her as she sprinted towards her prey.
“This way,” Mason pointed down the street and then started to run.
We all followed close behind. I took a moment to stamp on black beard'’s head while it continued its struggle to get out from under the fence.
The slap-slap-slap of our feet bounced across the buildings on either side of us. Three of the infected group gave chase, snarling and clawing at the air behind us.
Dexy had overtaken us all, steaming ahead but glancing over his shoulder twice every second. His right arm was hanging at his side, limp and lifeless. He held his left hand across the blood soaked shoulder of his hoodie.
Two shots boomed their reports behind us. The infected that were chasing us instantly changed course and headed back towards the gunshots.
“I'’ll find you,” King’s voice was hoarse and grated through the night air. “Bastards!”
We raced around a corner and powered down the next street. I gasped for air with every step. My lungs felt ready to explode and I was lagging behind. Mason looked back and slowed his pace. He grabbed my arm and pulled me along so hard that I stumbled a few times, but miraculously managed to keep up with him. Terror can be a great motivator.
“Come on, William,” he said. “Faster!”
We turned another corner. The street was empty, no infected. At the far end of the street was a park entrance, the double gates were wide open. On either side of the gates ran a tall stone wall.
“There,” Kate headed toward the park. “In there.”
As soon as we had passed through the entrance, we stopped and crouched down in a row against the wall. My legs were burning, my face swollen and bloody, and my lungs pulled in air as if the price was about to go up.
Still alive, William. Still alive.
Mason poked his head out to check the street.
“I think we'’re clear,” he looked at me and laughed quietly. “You really need to work on your cardio, William.”
I tried to smile but was too busy hawking and spitting and gasping, so I just gave the middle finger. Dexy laughed, and then winced with pain. Kate rolled her eyes in that 'unimpressed way that some women have.
“Let me see that,” Kate reached for Dexy'’s shoulder.
“It'’s fine,” he stepped away from her. “Just scratched me.”
Kate thrust her palm firmly across Dexy'’s mouth and lightly punched his injured shoulder.
If her hand hadn'’t been covering his mouth, the resulting screams would have brought every slavering, sadistic infected within fifty miles straight to our location and King close behind.
“Just a scratch?” She pulled his hoodie up and over his head.
“What the...” Dexy couldn'’t find the words.
He held out his arms to make it easier for her to take the hoodie off.
“That was a bit harsh,” I said.
Kate shot me a glance that told me to shut up. Dexy stood there in his tee shirt and we crowded around him to examine the damage.
Moonlight reflected across the blood that poured down his arm in thick rivers. The dark liquid flooded across his hand and dripped in thick gobs from his fingers. The wound was just below his shoulder. The bullet had ripped a thick valley through his arm. It looked like a demonic gardener had been busy digging a ditch in his flesh.
“Still safe, Phil?” Kate asked.
Phil Mason carefully checked the street, “we'’re good.”
Kate pulled a penknife from the back pocket of her trousers and hacked away at Dexy'’s hoodie. Dexy sighed and leaned back against the wall.
“My best hoodie, that is, Bruv,” he told me.
“We'’ll get you another one,” I looked at Kate. “Right?”
She had cut an arm from the hoodie and wrapped it tight around Dexy'’s injured arm.
“How about I save his life first?” She said. “Then, you girls can worry about clothes shopping.”
Dexy took a few sharp intakes of breath while Kate worked on fixing the makeshift bandage.
“I have to wrap it tight, so it'’s going to sting,” Kate told him. “It’s the only way to stop the bleeding.”
When the bandage was in place, she made a sling from the rest of the hoodie, tying the arm and the hood together and putting it over his head. He placed his arm into the sling and looked relieved as it took the weight.
“Take this, Bruv,” he passed his gun to me.
I stared down at it as though I had never seen one before.
“Point this end at the bad people,” he tapped the barrel, “and squeeze the trigger, nice and gentle.”
“Okay,” I said, nodding my head to affirm that I understood.
“We left the guns behind,” Mason peered into the darkness of the park. “This place doesn’t look too inviting.”
“Can anyone else hear that noise?” Dexy asked. “Like a rumbling?”
“Yeah,” Mason said. “What is that?”
I heard it too, although it sounded more like groaning to me. Like a thousand Holly-monsters filled the night air with their discontented noises of sickness and infection.
“Well we can'’t go back,” Kate headed further into the park, the gravelled path crunched and popped beneath her feet.
The rest of us followed, jumping with fright at every unknown noise, every rustle of leaves, every crunch of gravel.
The rumbling groans grew louder and louder until they roared in my ears and filled my head. Kate ducked behind a tall row of bushes and motioned for us to get down. We crouched and shuffled towards her.
On the other side of the bushes was a children'’s play park. It had sandpits and roundabouts, slides and swings, climbing frames and ropes, everything that any kid could possibly want.
“What the fuck...” Dexy'’s voice was so hushed that I barely heard him.
The play park was half the size of a football field, and it was shoulder to shoulder full of infected. All of them stared in the same direction. I pushed further into the bush, moving leaves and branches out of the way, so that I could get a better view.
Standing on top of the biggest slide was a Hoodie infected. I couldn'’t tell for sure if it was the one that had led the ambush on the Police cars, but the hoodie it wore definitely looked the same dark red.
Two other Hoodies stood in front of the slide, arms folded across their chests like nightclub bouncers waiting for trouble.
A solitary street light glowed behind the Hoodie atop the slide, casting a halo around his head and long dark shadows across the crowd. He held his arms up to the sky, fingers outstretched, and growled. Then, he looked across the sea of infected and made other noises; small snarls and phlegm filled utterances that moved with the intonation of language. When he had finished, his infected audience thrust their arms into the air and howled. This sound froze the blood in my veins and made my head hurt, it was like the mucus filled cough of en elderly smoker with a crying baby stuck in its throat.
Whatever he had just said to them, they were in full agreement.
“Oh my God,” I recoiled as the speeding train crashed into realisation station. “It'’s organising them.”
“Let'’s get out of here,” Mason said, “now.”