We backed away slowly, and quietly made our way around the park. Trudging through the mud and grass, rather than risk the noisy gravel pathways.
Eventually, we came to an exit, which we all hurried through, happy to leave the crowd of infected behind us, and relieved that they hadn'’t discovered us.
Nobody spoke as we walked through the dark streets. Dexy grunted in pain occasionally.
I'’m no doctor, but even I could see that he was in a bad way, though he would never admit it. Mason'’s face was sternly set, eyes staring forward, looking at nothing. He glanced over his shoulder every thirty seconds or so, muttered something under his breath and then continued with the serious business of walking. Kate walked with her head down, watching each step as though it would be her last.
Dexy leaned on me for support.
During the quiet, my thoughts jumped around like a flea circus.
Why were the infected listening to that Hoodie? What made him so special?
Was this virus worldwide? Was it just in the UK? Was it just in London?
Why hadn’t we seen rescue helicopters or military presence?
Had Dexy lost too much blood?
Could we really trust Kate and Mason?
I wanted to scream, to drown out the bedlam in my mind with a primeval war cry.
Thankfully, Mason broke the silence.
“How far to your group?” He asked, absently checking his wristwatch.
“It'’s a shop, not far from where I live,” Dexy sounded weak, his eyes were half closed. “Singh'’s.”
“Is that the one near Hawthorne Park?” Mason waved his arm around like a man giving directions to a lost motorist.
“Yes,” I said. “That'’s it.”
“How are the Singh’s?” Mason stopped and looked up into the night sky.
Dexy looked at Mason and then at the ground, “dead.”
We all stopped and stood in the middle of the road.
“And you'’re all staying in their shop?” Mason narrowed his eyes.
“They were alive when we got there,” I knew which way Mason'’s thoughts headed and wanted to dispel any suspicion. “Then they turned into...”
“Monsters,” Kate whispered.
“Yes,” I shrugged my shoulders. “It was them or us.”
“Let'’s check some of these cars,” Kate eyed the cars parked on the roadside. “Maybe someone left their key.”
“Good idea,” I headed toward the car nearest to me, thankful for the change of subject.
“No,” Mason moved forward and placed his hand on my shoulder. “It'’s not.”
“Why not?” Kate asked.
“We can'’t risk setting any alarms off,” Mason told us. “It'’d be like sounding the dinner bell.”
“Obviously,” Kate rolled her eyes and sighed. “Glad you'’re here to be smart for the rest of us.”
Mason smiled at her, “I didn'’t make Detective Inspector on looks alone.”
Kate laughed; it was a soft, warm sound that filled the air with hope.
We resigned ourselves to the lack of transport and walked.
There were bodies of men, women and children strewn across cars, in gardens and by the roadside. There was a small pile of bodies at the end of one street, as though someone had taken it upon themselves to tidy up, to take a big sweeping brush and whisk the death to one side.
‘Not in my bloomin'’ street,’ I imagined the self-appointed caretaker saying while he tutted and sighed at the bodies. ‘They might live like this down on Ash-bloody-grove, but we'’re civilised up here on Orchard road!’
Some of the dead that we stepped over, or skirted around were almost unrecognisable as once being living, breathing people. They had been people who worried about being late for work, or having not finished their homework for school or whether the neighbour'’s husband was really having an affair. All that was gone. Memories, feelings and families, ripped from existence by this evil virus.
Blood and flesh was spattered across the walls as if a deranged graffiti artist had been hard at work. Some of the houses we passed were burned out, empty shells covered in soot and filth. The orange glow of burning embers inside the buildings was strangely beautiful in the night. Thick plumes of black smoke billowed through the air and separated to swirl around us in small eddies. The pungent smell of smoke, mixed with the stench of rotting death clawed its way into my lungs and squeezed, forcing me to cough and heave.
Cars sat wrecked beside fallen lampposts or concertinaed into garden walls; the lucky drivers and passengers slumped lifelessly in their seats or lay on the car bonnet wrapped in a blanket of windscreen glass. The unlucky lay a few feet away from their vehicles, at the end of thick blood trails, limbs torn from their bodies by the blood-crazed savages.
There was nothing left alive. The infected had swarmed through every street like a plague of locusts, devouring and destroying everything in their path.
Carnage. It was absolute carnage.
Streets that were once full of life and the living were now home to decay and ashes.
I should have wanted to cry, to raise my fists furiously and scream at the heavens or kick the shit out of the nearest wall, but I didn’t, I was starting to get used to it. Dead bodies in gutters became as common as bottles of milk sitting on a doorstep in the early morning. My brain had started conditioning itself to avoid the paralysis of weighty emotions like horror, guilt, outrage and disgust that I, as a twenty-first century, civilised man, should have been feeling.
I was becoming a more primal being, and the only thing that really mattered was staying alive.
We turned a corner and my eyes widened. A smile stretched across my face and I almost did a joyful jig.
“What?” Mason looked left and right before settling his gaze upon the Ford Explorer. “Oh.”
It was empty and the doors were wide open. I ran to the driver'’s side and saw a body by the back door. Its legs stretched out and its head looked like a pumpkin that had lost an argument with a tractor. Hair and teeth stuck to the door like a ghoulish homage to modern art.
Looks like Jim was busy.
“So,” Mason said. “You got the key?”
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuckety-fuck.
Sorry. It had to be said.
I slammed my palm down on the roof and kicked the dead infected for good measure.
“Your Chief Inspector,” the dead body slowly slid down and came to rest at an awkward angle beside the wheel. “She has it.”
“Car,” Dexy said the word so quietly that none of us really registered it. “Car,” he said it louder the second time round, more insistent.
He raised his arm and pointed up the road.
The headlights of a car swathed through the dark, heading straight for us.
Mason peered grimly into the distance, “hide.”
Kate didn'’t wait for an explanation. She grabbed Dexy and dragged him into the nearest garden to hide behind a tall wooden fence. Mason ran into the next garden down and concealed himself in the hedges. I stayed where I was, almost hypnotised by the lights moving ever closer to me like angels descending from heaven.
“William!” Mason said. “Get over here!”
I remembered that I'’d left my diary in the Ford. With Dexy'’s gun still clutched tightly in my hand, I climbed into the back seat of the car.
“What are you doing?” Kate asked.
I pushed my arm through the dog guard and fumbled around, trying to feel the spine of my diary, my journal, the only thing that kept me sane. I glanced back and saw the headlights getting closer and closer, their light already spilled into the car and washed over me. I pushed my arm further down and my fingers brushed against Holly’s corpse.
“Shit!” I recoiled at the cold touch of her skin.
“William, get out of there!” Kate poked her head around the side of the fence.
I swallowed my fear and shoved my hand back down. After a few moments of blindly patting around, I finally touched the strap of the bag. One last push and I wrapped my fingers around the strap and pulled it from its hiding place.
After pulling the bag over my shoulder, I scurried backwards out of the Ford and crouched against the open door. It was too late to run into a garden, the car was almost upon us. I flopped down onto my belly and crawled under the vehicle. The car that we had hidden from stopped right beside me.
It was a Police car.