We made our way through the abandoned streets in a silence that was broken occasionally when Jim gave directions. I stared at the roads through tired, bloodshot eyes. A quick glance in the rear-view mirror showed me that everyone in the back had fallen asleep, everyone except Travis, who was shivering and rocking his way through withdrawal. A tall church steeple cast its long shadow across the road and I briefly looked into the church grounds. Bushes and flower gardens fought for space with old gravestones and a paved pathway ran from the wrought iron double gate up to the closed, heavy wooden doors of the church. The path then split into two, both of which wound their way through the graves and bushes all the way around to the back. I marvelled at the huge, ancient building that was still standing in defiance against the madness of the infected.
A man dashed from behind one of the gravestones and crouched down beside a bush.
“Did you...” I was about to slam the brakes on, hoping that I had just seen another survivor while at the same time, dreading that it was one of the infected.
“Don'’t stop,” Jim said. “It'’s been following us. I noticed it a few streets back.”
“Why didn'’t you say something?”
Jim turned and looked into the back of the van, saw that everyone except Travis was still sleeping and then looked across at me.
“Would only get everyone awake and worried. Let them sleep. When we turn left at the next corner, get some speed up and lose the nasty little fuck.”
“Is that the only one?” I drummed my fingers nervously on the steering wheel.
“I haven'’t seen any more, just that fucker.”
Once we had passed the church, I pushed down on the accelerator, swerving around rotting corpses and cars while checking the mirror more often than I blink. After a few more turns, we were on the road that leads into the Hospital car park.
“Do you think we lost it?”
Jim rubbed the palm of his hand across his grey horseshoe moustache. “Let'’s fucking hope so.”
The Hospital car park was massive and full of vehicles, some were burned out, and others left with their doors wide open, but most remained intact and parked where they had been left. As we weaved our way down the road, the Hospital came into view. Tall panes of glass separated by thin strips of concrete made up the front of the building. It was a sprawling monster of a building with smaller buildings attached to it by thin glass and steel corridors, like veins spreading out from the heart sending much needed life to the other organs.
There was an overturned ambulance by the side of the road, its back doors open to reveal the body of a paramedic laying amidst a confusion of medical equipment. His hand pointed towards us, the index finger outstretched as though warning anyone who had come this far to turn back.
“We'’re here,” Jim raised his voice to rouse our sleeping passengers. “Wakey, wakey, rise and fucking shine.”
Gemma was the first to wake up. She moved up to the front of the van and knelt in the space between the driver and passenger seats.
“Is it safe?” She craned her neck to see what atrocities might lay ahead.
When we had passed the ambulance, I saw movement and heard noises. Mason stood behind my seat with Kate behind Jim, Dodge and Barney jostled with Gemma to get a better view.
“Looks like it'’s been overrun,” Mason said.
I stopped the van. Gemma stood and rested one elbow on the headrest of my seat and the other on Jim'’s side.
“One'’s coming,” she pushed her head forward so that it was level with mine. “Over there, Dad.”
The one in question was a tall, thin man dressed in a dirty grey suit. He looked around Jim'’s age, maybe closer to sixty. His face was gaunt with sucked in cheeks and thick black eyebrows that almost met in the middle. His eyes were dark and sunken; he looked exhausted but not infected. A long, pointed nose that looked like the beak of a vulture jutted unapologetically from his face. The man had jet-black hair that had been styled in a no-nonsense side parting. Blood stained his tan shoes and a tightly knotted red tie flapped across his right shoulder. He was waving a glossy piece of paper at us.
“Is that a photograph?” I leaned forward to get a better look.
He was shouting something but I couldn'’t make out the words.
“What'’s he saying?” Mason asked. “Get the window.”
I pushed the button and the window whirred down. The man had reached us and stood in front of the van, sunken eyes staring at us. He lithely stepped around to my side, thrust a bloodstained photograph through the open window and waved it in my face.
“Have you seen Alice?” He yelled. “My wife, have you seen her?”
He showed everyone the photo in turn and we all shook our heads. The photo depicted a portly woman wearing a white dress with a purple flower print across it. She was sitting on a park bench with a green handbag on her lap. A bloody thumbprint had smudged across her face.
“Sorry,” I said. “We haven'’t seen her.”
The man silently regarded each of us in turn. He pulled the photo to his chest and walked back towards the hospital, muttering to himself.
Jim leaned across to watch the man walk away, “poor fucker'’s lost it.”
“Dad,” Gemma pointed at the Hospital entrance. “There'’s people in there.”
“Oh my God,” Kate said. “She'’s right; they'’re coming out.”
A group of at least twenty men and women rushed out of the oversized plate glass door that was the main entrance and headed straight for us. A small man wearing a blue suit was leading the charge. We were at least thirty feet away from them but they were moving quickly. I could see cricket bats and tyre irons being waved around. The small man that led them looked to be the only one that was unarmed.
“They'’re proper tooled up,” Dodge said.
Jim buzzed his window down.
“Should we leave?” I asked, ready to get out of there as soon as someone gave the word.
“No,” Jim opened his door and stepped out; he rested his elbows on the bottom of the window frame and aimed the pistol into the throng of people. “That'’s close enough!”
The small man and his entourage were only ten feet away from the van. They stopped when they heard Jim.
“Don'’t shoot!” The small man held his hands up above his head. “I'’m Doctor Webb. Are any of you injured?”
The people behind him grumbled loudly to one another.
“I think he wants to help,” Mason turned and headed to the back of the van, quickly followed by Kate.
“We'’ll see,” Jim didn'’t move his gaze away from the mob.
Mason opened the back doors of the van. He and Kate jumped down and walked around until they stood behind Jim.
“Yes,” Mason shouted to Doctor Webb. “We have someone who needs medical help.”
“Have any of you been bitten or scratched by someone with the virus?” Doctor Webb adjusted his small round glasses.
“Just tell them to piss off, Doc!” One of the mob yelled. “Yeah, get lost!” Another agreed.
“No,” Mason ignored the taunts from the crowd. “Gunshot wound in the arm.”
“Okay,” Doctor Webb turned to his mob and said something that made most of them grumble in disagreement. He then turned back to face us. “I'’m going to come and look at him.”
“Slowly,” Jim waved the gun to remind everyone that he was in charge.
Doctor Webb started walking. Gemma, Dodge and Barney all got out of the van.
Gemma turned back to Travis, “you coming?”
“Whatever,” Gemma walked around to stand with Mason and Kate.
Dodge stayed close to the back of the van, never losing sight of his brother.
When Doctor Webb had reached us, he smiled at Mason and Kate but kept glancing at the barrel of the gun.
“Hello,” he said.
“He'’s in the back, Doctor,” Mason moved past Jim, placed his hand on Doctor Webb'’s elbow and guided him to the back of the van. “I'’m Detective Inspector Mason and this,” he waved his free hand towards Kate who was following slightly behind them. “Is D.C. Palmer.”
“A pleasure,” the three of them stood and stared into the back of the van. “What'’s wrong with him?” The Doctor stepped away from Mason and pointed at Travis.
“He'’s fine,” I said, turning to face the Doctor. “Just scared.”
“Scared he won'’t get any more fucking drugs,” Jim muttered through gritted teeth.
“What?” Gemma pulled at Jim'’s shoulder. “What about drugs?”
Doctor Webb climbed into the van and knelt beside Dexy. After a quick examination, he looked at me.
“Drive us to the entrance, mister...?”
Everyone got back in the van and I slowly drove closer to the hospital. Gemma gave Travis the same stare that Holly used to give me when she was angry. The mob parted to let us through, all of them glaring at us with eyes full of distrust.
“The last people that came here were with a man who had been bitten,” Doctor Webb explained. “They didn'’t tell us, and when he turned into a crazy, he killed the people that he came with and seven of us before we managed to stop him. They'’re scared of newcomers now, that'’s all. They don'’t mean anything by it.”
“As soon as Dexy is fixed up, we'’ll be on our way,” I pulled up beside the entrance doors.
“We will?” Kate raised her eyebrows and tilted her head slightly.
“One thing at a time, William,” Jim got out of the van and ran around back to open the doors.
The mob had caught back up to us and two men came forward holding a stretcher. One of the men was more than a little overweight. He had a ruddy complexion and thick rivers of sweat ran down his face. He wore grey sweatpants and a black t-shirt with the slogan '‘Rock Star'’ printed on the chest in gold lettering. He held out a hand.
Jim looked him up and down before shaking his hand, “Jim Croft.”
We got Dexy onto the stretcher and then ran him into the hospital.
The reception area was a huge hall. At the back of the hall, opposite the entrance, was a small coffee shop. Elderly people sat in small groups around the tables, all chattering amongst themselves and pointing at us. Children ran around pretending to be aeroplanes or soldiers.
In one corner there was a group of teenagers dressed in black. They had smug looks on their faces like they were happy that the world had ended. One of them held my gaze, offered a contemptuous grin and then gave me the middle finger. His friends laughed and patted him on the back.
Most of the adults had been in the mob led by Doctor Webb but there were some wandering around the hall. A man who looked to be in his early thirties wore a green hospital gown and was attached to a drip that he wheeled along with him. The tall man who resembled a vulture had found his way back and was sitting with the photograph still clutched to his chest while he stared blankly at a television screen. The television was attached onto the right side wall between two elevators. There were no programmes on the television, the static message '‘please standby'’, stared back at him.
Don and his friend jogged just behind Doctor Webb with the stretcher. Dexy looked close to death, he was pale and his bandages were soaked with dark blood.
“Just through here,” Doctor Webb led us out of the hall and down a wide corridor.
He opened the first door on the left and rushed inside the room. Don and his friend were the next into the room, followed by the rest of us.
“No dogs,” he held the door open and glared disapprovingly at Barney.
“No way, man,” Dodge narrowed his eyes and lifted Barney into his arms. “That'’s my brother. Better believe we’re comin’ in.'”
“He'’s a good dog,” I just wanted the Doctor to fix Dexy and be quick about it, not waste time worrying about Barney. “Please, just help him.”
Dexy had been laid onto a bed in the middle of the room. I pulled up an orange moulded plastic chair and sat at the foot of the bed.
“Don'’t worry,” Don placed his sweaty hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “Doctor Webb will take good care of your friend.”
“He'’ll be up and about before you know it,” Don'’s friend assured me. He was overweight too, but next to Don he looked like a stick figure. He wiped his hands across his baggy, blue chequered button shirt.
“I'’m Gavin. You can call me Gav,” he held out a freshly wiped hand.
“William,” we shook hands and his felt like a dead fish, limp, lifeless, cold and wet.
My eyelids grew heavy as I watched Doctor Webb start to help Dexy, and within seconds, I was asleep.
I was walking down a deserted street; silence draped itself thick and heavy across my shoulders.
The houses were made of cardboard and paper plates were in the windows, with sad, blood stained faces scribbled onto them. My feet squelched with each step that I took, and when I looked down, I saw that I was ankle deep in blood that rushed past me and down the street like it was flowing through an artery.
At the end of the street I saw a figure but didn'’t know who it was.
“Hello?” My voice was swallowed by the silence.
The figure was waving at me with both arms. I waved back.
“Hello?” I started to walk faster and was soon running toward the shadowy figure.
Screams came from the cardboard houses, piercing the silence with the now familiar sounds of terror and death, of anguish and infection. The figure stopped waving and turned its back on me. As I got closer, I saw that it was wearing a hooded top and dark jeans.
“Hello?” Still no response.
Blood spattered up from the road while I ran, tiny droplets of it danced in front of my eyes before being recalled by gravity.
I was just behind the figure now.
“Hello? Who are you?” I stood waiting for an answer but it didn'’t give one.
I reached out and placed my hand on its shoulder.
“Who are you?” I yelled, pulling hard on its shoulder, turning it towards me.
When the figure faced me, a scream took form in my throat but I couldn'’t release it.
The shadowy silhouette was Dexy, but he was all wrong. His eyes were the milky white colour of infection and his skin was ashen grey, like the dead embers of firewood.
“They want me, Bruv,” he raised his right arm to chest height and slowly uncurled his long index finger until it was pointing behind me.
Every fibre of my being told me not to turn, that I would be better off not seeing what he wanted me to see.
“They want me, Bruv,” he repeated, his finger still pointing, insistent that I look.
The street was full of the infected, all standing shoulder to shoulder from one side of the street to the other and going as far back as I could see, they all grinned and licked their lips hungrily.
The paper plates in the windows spun around to reveal crude drawings of the infected.
The scream finally released itself from my throat and I dropped to my knees.
“Alright, Bruv?” Dexy'’s voice echoed through my thoughts. “Bruv?”
I opened an eye and cringed at the light flooding in through the window.
“You okay, Bruv?”
My eyes adjusted to the brightness as reality pushed its way in, the dream became less vivid.
Dexy was lying in the bed with a concerned look casting shadows across his face.
“Yeah, yes I'’m fine,” I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. “Bad dream.”
“Where are we?” Dexy asked.
I was still in the uncomfortable plastic chair. We were the only ones in the room. I stood up and stretched.
“We brought you to the hospital. There'’s a lot of people here.”
“Hard to tell,” I stared out of the window.
There was a small paved area with benches and beyond that was a slip road with a white minibus parked on it.
“They were pretty wary of us,” I looked back at Dexy and allowed myself a smile; it was good to see him awake and lucid. “How are you feeling?”
“My arm hurts, but I think I'’m good, Bruv,” he pushed himself up into a sitting position. “Where'’s everyone else? Where'’s Dodge?”
“Dodge was here, he must have stepped out. I'’ll go see,” I headed for the door and when my hand was on the handle, I turned back. “It'’s good to see you.”
“Calm down, Bruv. You'’ll be trying to kiss me next!”
I left the room.
“Is he awake yet?” Dodge rushed up to me, Barney the spaniel stood beside him and looked up with his tail wagging expectantly.
Jim was asleep on the floor of the corridor and Mason paced up and down with our only gun in his hand. Gemma and Kate were sat eating sandwiches side by side on plastic chairs.
Travis was nowhere to be seen.
“Morning, Dad,” Gemma looked up from her sandwich and smiled. “How'’s Dexy?”
“Is he awake yet?” Dodge tugged on my bloodied and filthy chunky brown sweater.
Dodge pushed his way past me and entered the room with Barney.
“Dexy!” He said excitedly, and then closed the door.
“How does he look?” Kate asked while chewing on a mouthful of food.
I shrugged my shoulders, “he seems okay. Where'’s Travis?”
“Jim told us all about him last night. About the drugs,” Gemma inclined her head towards the still sleeping hulk of a man. “He started crying and ran off before we could even talk it over. He'’s still in the hospital somewhere though,” she paused to take a bite from her sandwich. “Sulking like a big baby,” Gemma and Kate both giggled at the last remark.
It was good to see Gemma smiling and I wasn'’t about to ruin it by asking how she felt about Travis. I smiled and walked across to Mason.
“Good sleep?” He tucked the gun into his belt and stopped pacing. “There'’s someone I want you to meet,” he said, not giving me a chance to reply. He looked down at Jim, “hey!”
Jim opened one eye and made a gruff, '‘what?'’ noise.
“I'’m taking William to see that old man,” he took the gun from his belt and laid it on the floor beside Jim.' “Your turn to keep watch.”
Mason grabbed my elbow and led me back into the huge entrance hall of the Hospital. The old people were still sitting at the coffee shop, drinking from oversized cups and smacking their lips while reading old magazines. People were milling around, smiling and chatting to each other like it was just a normal morning at the Hospital. Long trestle tables had been set up in front of the reception counter and children were sitting at them eating toast, drinking from plastic cups and telling each other jokes.
It felt good to see people acting so normally.
Gav and Don stood at the main entrance, keeping watch over the car park.
Gav turned around and when he spotted me and Mason, he smiled and waved. Don then turned to see who his friend was waving at.
“Morning, William!” He shouted.
I nodded my head, offered a half wave and looked at Mason, “who am I meeting?”
“Him,” Mason pointed across the hall.
The man with the vulture nose sat on a long, black, faux-leather bench in front of the television. The '‘please standby'’ test card continued to stare at him impassively.
“The crazy photo guy?” I stopped walking and rubbed my palm across my broken and bruised face.
Mason smiled, “oh, he'’s not crazy. He’s been watching the news since this all started. He knows exactly what'’s going on.”
“Hello again, Walter,” Mason sat beside him. “This is William.”
“Hi,” I sat down and Walter looked over at me, eyes narrowed and a knowing smile twisted across his thin lips.
“Can you tell William what you told me last night, Walter?” Mason asked. “About what'’s happening.”
“He thinks I'’m crazy,” Thick black hairs poked out of his nostrils and danced with each word.
“No I don'’t. Please, tell me.”
After considering his options, he looked across at me and nodded his head.
“Alright,” he sat back and laced his fingers behind his head. “Was terrorists what done it. Let off bombs in all the underground stations,” he sniffed and cleared his throat with a phlegm rattling cough. “Everyone was calling them zombies, thought the dead was coming back to life like in the movies,” he moved his liver-spotted hands down onto his lap and leaned towards me until his face was inches away from mine. “These crafty little buggers aren'’t slow, they'’re as fast as anyone in here. Not dead either, but there'’s no saving them.”
I was relieved to hear that, I don'’t know what I would have done if I found out that Holly might have had a chance, “what was in the bombs?”
Walter thumped his chest with the side of his fist and coughed, “got a ciggie?”
“No. Sorry,” I wasn'’t. By the sound of his cough, the last thing he needed was a cigarette. “The bombs?”
Walter stared up at the television with a look of disappointment. “Full of gas, they were, scientists said they never seen it before, called it BSR.”
“BSR?” I asked. “What does that stand for?”
“Bath-Salts Rabies.” Walter told me.
“Bath-Salts is a street drug,” Mason said. “A really nasty one, makes people crazy.”
“Mixed it with rabies, they did,” Walter kept on peering up at the television. “Amazing what they can do these days. Army tried clearing out the city centre, pulled in all the local police,” he waved towards Mason. “But it was too late, London was done for,” he tapped his vulture nose with an index finger. “You sure you haven'’t got a ciggie?”
“We don'’t smoke, Walter,” Mason said. “Tell him the rest of it.”
Walter screwed his face up as if he were searching out the memories. He looked me in the eyes and continued. “When they realised London was done for, they stopped all trains, closed the airports and set up roadblocks, stop the crazies from spreading it around.”
I stared wide-eyed at Mason. He smiled and nodded.
“Did it work?” I asked.
I jumped up and punched the air, “yes! So we just need to get out of London.”
“They won'’t let anyone out, son,” Walter hawked half-heartedly and used the back of his hand to wipe his nose. “We'’re all dead to them. No rescue, no help, they'’re just going to let us rot.”
“No,” I flopped back down beside Walter. “They can'’t.”
“They'’ll be doing worse tonight.”
“What happens tonight?” Experience had taught me that I didn'’t really want to know the answer.
“Everything'’s getting turned off.”
“What do you mean?”
“He means everything,” Mason said. “Electricity, phone service, internet. They'’re putting us back into the dark ages.”
“We have to leave. There must be a way, some road they haven'’t blocked, a river, something. There'’s got to be something!”