“Christ all-fucking-mighty,” Jim placed his huge hands on top of his bald head and let them slide down his face. “The army did this?” He pointed at the mountain of corpses and gave me a questioning look.
“That'’s what Doctor Webb told me,” I covered my nose and mouth with the sleeve of my shirt. The heat of the sun baked into the rot and surrounded us with an unbearable stench.
We once had a dead rat under our floorboards, and as it decomposed the whole downstairs of the house was thick with a festering, pungent stink. It got so bad that we had to stay with Holly'’s parents while we called for an exterminator to remove the rodent corpse. I'’ll never forget that horrible smell, but it was like minty fresh mouthwash compared to the evil that attacked my senses from the pile of charred bodies at the Hospital.
“Not all of them were infected,” I said.
“Nobody leaves the city alive,” Jim looked up at the clear blue sky. “Nobody tells tales.”
Gemma leaned with her back against the wall and stared down at the blood soaked grass. Dexy used his good arm to shield his eyes from the Sun while he soaked in the scene of horror.
“That'’s messed up,” he said quietly.
“The razor wire,” I didn'’t want to be here for any longer than necessary.
“What?” Jim looked confused.
“We can use the razor wire,” I said.
“Right,” Jim said. “Good call, William. Good call. We'’ll check the fence first and then get this cut to size.”
Nobody wanted to do this job and nobody wanted to tell someone else to do it.
“I'’ll cut it.”
“Really?” Jim raised his eyebrows and for a moment I thought I saw admiration in his gaze.
“Someone has to,” I said. “Might as well be me.”
“Thank-you,” Jim turned his back on the death and walked towards the fence. “This perimeter won'’t check itself, let'’s go.”
We walked in silence and I reflected on the hell that had exploded around us in little more than a week. A lot had happened and I couldn'’t shake the feeling that things were going to get much worse before they got better. We were survivors, even me, as unlikely as that sounds. Whatever happened, I was confident that we would get through it, I just wasn'’t sure what the cost would be. My stomach kept tying itself into knots and the dark cloud of dread hung over me. It was getting harder and harder to quiet the ant colony in my mind, something bad was coming and they knew it.
The fence that we had checked so far seemed secure; there were no missing or bent rails.
“Let'’s hope it'’s like this all the way around,” I tried to dismiss the feelings of dark portent and distracted myself with the task at hand.
“As you say, William,” Jim stopped and turned to face us. He looked worried.
“What'’s wrong, Bruv?” Dexy asked.
“Things might get fucking messy in there. They'’re already divided,” he pointed at the hospital. “I want to know that whatever happens, we'’re going to stick together.”
“Why wouldn'’t we?” Gemma squinted the sunlight from her eyes.
“Yeah,” Dexy said. “You and William are safe as fuck. That'’s truth, Bruv.”
“William?” Jim looked at me. It felt good to know that even he was haunted by thoughts of an approaching storm, but had no idea how, or where it would start.
“I'’ve been with you from day one, Jim,” I looked him right in the eyes. It was what he needed to hear and things had changed since the first days when I toyed with the idea of ditching him, every call he'’d made so far had kept us alive.
Jim nodded and half smiled. “Good,” he turned his attention to Gemma. “Your boyfriend, what'’s going on there?”
“We'’re done,” Gemma'’s answer came swift and cold. “He'’s not who I thought he was.”
“Are you okay?” I moved closer and put my hand on her arm.
She looked up at me, swept an errant strand of hair from her eyes and smiled. “I'’m fine, Dad.”
“He said he'’s going to clean up,” I glanced across at Jim who was slowly shaking his head. “I think he will.”
“I fucking don'’t,” Jim said. “Time will prove me right. We need to watch him, I don'’t want him causing problems.”
We all agreed to that.
“We going to have this chat with Mason and Kate?” Dexy asked.
“No,” sunlight danced across a sheen of sweat that had formed on Jim'’s forehead. “Just keep it between us.”
“And Dodge,” Dexy added.
“And Dodge,” Jim agreed. “But make sure he keeps it to himself.”
Dexy raised his eyebrows and grinned. “’'Course, Bruv. He' won'’t say nothing.”
“Kate'’s alright though,” Gemma tugged at the hem of her cardigan, her fingernails pulling a loose strand. “I like her.”
“We talk to her, she talks to Mason and fuck knows who he talks to,” Jim used the sleeve of his charity burgundy coloured shirt to wipe the sweat from his forehead. “Let'’s keep it small. We stay together and if people want to join us, they can. But our priority is each other,” he stroked his moustache and eyed each of us in turn. “Okay?”
“Yeah, Bruv, no worries.”
Our inner sanctum was born; our secret survivors club. I had assumed that Jim thought very little of me, it'’s not like he ever tried to hide it; but this told me that he must have, on some level, respected me.
Jim stretched his arms out and turned his face toward the heat of the sun, “what a beautiful fucking day. I should be sitting in my garden right now drinking a cold beer, not pissing around with fences and piles of dead fucking bodies.”
“I hear that, Bruv,” Dexy said in a solemn tone.
“You haven'’t even got a garden, Dexy,” Gemma cupped her hand over her eyes to shield them from the sunlight and smiled.
“When this is all over, I'’ll be kicking it with Jim in his garden.”
We hadn'’t even thought about this being all over, it felt too optimistic and talking about it would have just been tempting fate to step in and take a huge shit all over our hopes.
“Something to look forward to, Jim,” Gemma had worked the stray thread in her cardigan loose and started to wind it around her index finger.
“You'’ll all be welcome at my house,” Jim said gruffly before getting back to fence checking.
We trudged our way around the grounds and were surprised that we hadn'’t found one single fault with the fence. Maybe I wouldn'’t have to cut that razor wire after all.
“Looks good,” Jim stopped at the gate that we drove through the day before, it had been closed and locked by Gavin and Mason. “We'’ll use the razor wire on these exits, put it in front of the other, what was it? Four gates?”
“This one makes five,” my shoulders sank, turned out that I would be cutting wire.
“Leave this one clear in case we need to get out of here fast,” Jim said. “When we'’re finished with this, we should go out and get some supplies.”
“I think the hospital is okay for food,” I wasn'’t really sure about that, but I didn'’t want to go back out there.
“Those aren'’t the kind of supplies that I mean, William,” Jim looked at Dexy and motioned across to all the vehicles in the car park. “Can you find us a decent vehicle, one that won'’t let us down? I don’t trust the van we got from Travis.”
Before Dexy could reply, I went and opened my big mouth. “I saw a mini bus from Dexy'’s room window. It looked in good shape.”
Jim nodded his head appreciatively. “Sounds good. Maybe someone in there has the keys.”
“I'’m on it, Bruv,” Dexy headed back to the hospital. “You coming?” He asked, looking over his shoulder at Gemma. She caught up with him and they walked back together.
“Loves young dream,” Jim placed his hand on my shoulder while we watched Dexy and Gemma smiling and laughing together. “She soon got over the pikey, eh?”
“You don'’t think... No, they'’re just friendly, that'’s all.”
“As you say, William. Just friendly.”
We both whirled around as a shout blasted through the sunny day.
“Help!” Don and two other men were running towards us. “Jim! Help!”
They cleared the car park and when they had reached us, the three of them leaned forward and gasped for air.
“Well?” Jim asked. “What’s going on?”
“The... monsters...” Don sputtered out his words between huge gulps of air, his face was red and drenched in sweat. “At... gate...”
One of the other men continued for him. “They’re attacking the gate,” he pointed to the right side of the hospital. “We can'’t close it.”
“They’re still attacking?” Jim was already speed walking.
“Yes,” the man said.
“Come on, William!” Jim pulled his knife from his trouser belt and sprinted across the car park. I held the claw hammer in my right hand, wire cutters in my left and ran after him.
Towards the danger. Holly would have been proud.
There were about a dozen infected on the other side of the gate when we got there. Jim and I pushed our way through a crowd of people that had formed a semi-circle and were stood gawking rather than helping.
Gavin had his back against the gate but was gradually slipping as the infected tried to force their way in. Mason grabbed one of them by the arm, pulled it forward and slammed the length of the screwdriver into it's right eye. A huge gout of blood sprayed into the air, sending the rest of the infected into a frenzy. They pushed and snarled and one of them wrapped it'’s long, bony fingers around Gavin'’s forearm.
“Get off!” He cried out in desperation.
Mason struggled to release his screwdriver from the skull of the now dead infected that slowly slid it's way to the ground.
Jim ran towards them but he was too late. The infected that held Gavin'’s arm pulled it through the railings and ripped into it with yellow teeth. Gavin screamed and pulled his arm free; he staggered away from the gate, blood flowed from his arm and spattered onto the tarmac. I heard Mason cursing when he realised that Gavin wasn'’t holding them back anymore. That’s when they flooded in.
The crowd of people quickly scattered. I heard Kate'’s voice in the distance but didn'’t look around. The infected that had bitten Gavin threw itself at him and the two of them fell to the ground with a loud slap. Gavin struggled to get free but the monster'’s teeth were already tearing into his throat and its hands scratched viciously at his sides until they were drenched in blood.
Mason finally managed to yank his screwdriver free when an infected grabbed his arm. Just before teeth sank into flesh, Jim pulled Mason back so hard that the Detective Inspector struggled to keep his balance and balled past me and landed face first on the road.
Jim hacked and slashed at the infected, blood spraying high into the air and coming back down like a rainstorm of red wine. Bodies fell with the keening cries of death on their lips as Jim whipped through them like a locust at an all-you-can-eat crop party.
One of the infected readied itself to dive at Jim. Without thinking, I raced towards it, claw hammer held high. As I got closer it turned its attention to me, those evil white eyes stared right at me and a guttural, animal growl rattled around it'’s throat. The face of the monster was speckled with blood and grime, it'’s gnarled and broken teeth snapped at the air.
Fear was replaced by rage and a desire to impress the leader of our new secret survivor club. I brought the claw of the hammer down onto the head of that infected with so much force that its skull imploded and it's left eye burst from the socket. The dislocated eye bounced up and down, its optic nerve acting like a macabre yo-yo string. The hammer had made such a massive hole that it didn'’t even get stuck.
“Get the keys, William!” Kate pushed me out of the way and stood beside Jim, screwdriver in hand.
“Come to learn about fighting, sweetheart?” Jim rammed the blade of his knife into the throat of an infected and grinned at Kate when the spurt of blood showered across her face.
She turned and kicked one of the monsters in the chest while thrusting the screwdriver up under the chin of another. “Oh piss off, old man.”
I scrambled over to Gavin. The infected was still attacking him, even though he was long dead. I got to my feet and hefted the hammer, a rush of power coursed through me and I smashed the weapon into the side of the monster'’s head. It stopped attacking Gavin'’s dead body, looked up at me and shook it'’s head as though trying to dislodge something that had just crawled into its ear. I gritted my teeth and brought the hammer down again, smashing into its face this time, completely obliterating the nose. It tried to stand, but stumbled and fell at my feet, arms reaching out to grab me. I lifted up my leg and slammed my foot down onto its head.
Just like I had done to Holly.
Bone gave way to heel and a dark crimson pool oozed around the head of the infected. Its body shuddered and the monster died.
Gavin gripped the keys in his hand. I dropped to my knees and set about freeing the bunch of keys, pulling at each dead finger until it released its hold.
“That'’s all of them,” Kate said. “Where are those keys, William?”
“Right...” I loosened the last finger and tugged the keys free. “...Here,” I held them above my head like a young Arthur holding aloft a newly freed Excalibur.
Jim walked over and snatched them from my grip. “Good work.”
Once the gate was closed and locked, the people that had ran away came back to see the aftermath. Others came out of the hospital like sick voyeurs trying to get a look at the carnage of a car crash. I sat on the road and waved at them.
“Thanks for the help,” I said.
“Look,” Jim said, pointing at the road beyond the gate. “You see him?”
Kate peered up the road. “Yeah, I see him.”
I looked back to see what they were talking about. Standing at the end of the road was the Hoodie infected. I couldn'’t see his face but I knew it was him.
“That'’s the one from the park,” I told them.
He stood there motionless, watching us. Leader of the plague rats. The virus king.
“Come on then!” Jim yelled, huge hands rattling the gate. “Let'’s fucking have it!”
The Hoodie infected turned and walked away, disappearing around a corner.
“He'’s testing us,” Kate said. “Seeing what we can handle.”
Jim laughed and faced us, his face and clothes slick with blood and slops of flesh.
“Oh, he hasn'’t seen fuck all yet,” he turned back to the gate. “You hear me?” He pushed his face through the railings. “You haven'’t seen fuck all!” Spittle sprayed from his mouth like venom from a snake.
“How did they find us?” Mason limped towards the gate.
“Maybe...” I was about to speak up and tell them about the infected that had followed us at least part of the way here, but Jim shot me a glance that told me to shut my stupid mouth. So that’s what I did.
“Maybe what?” Mason eyed me curiously. Blood seeped into the cuff of his blue shirt and streamed down his hand until small droplets formed on his fingertips and dripped onto the tarmac.
“Maybe they'’re fucking psychic, or saw the lights last night or what the fuck does it matter?” Jim headed to the hospital, pausing to stand in front of Mason. “What'’s this?” He grabbed Mason'’s wrist and pulled the shirt cuff up to reveal two deep, bloody gouges in the flesh. Jim looked back at me and Kate. “He'’s been scratched.”
Kate ran over and pushed Jim out of the way, held Mason'’s wrist and examined the wound. I got to my feet and moved closer for a better look.
“How does it feel?” Kate touched one of the gouges with her index finger and blood pumped out.
“Shit,” Mason pulled his arm away from her and yelped with pain. “It hurts.”
“He'’s going to turn!” Sean stepped from the crowd and stood front-and-centre with a murderous glint in his eyes. “We'’ve all seen what happens next.”
Dexy, Gemma and Dodge shoved their way through and stood with us. Travis was conspicuously absent. Don pushed through and walked over to Gavin'’s body. He dropped to his knees and sobbed.
“I told you… I told you not to do anything risky,” he leaned across and kissed Gavin'’s lifeless lips. “Now what will I do?” He looked to me for answers that I didn'’t have. “He was my everything!”
“He needs dealing with!” Sean' raged on.
The people that had helped us to fortify the hospital moved away from Sean and his crowd. That still left him with two thirds of the hospital survivors on his side.
“How about I deal with you?” Mason held the long screwdriver in front of him with both hands. “I feel fine,” he looked at us. “I feel fine.”
“Sean'’s right,” someone else weighed in, a squat man with the face of a bulldog and muscles to match. “Same thing happened to my Missus, just a scratch and ten minutes later she attacked me.”
“Bunch of fucking pussies,” Dodge pointed at the hospital survivors and yelled through gritted teeth. “Hiding away and then giving us shit when something goes wrong? You should have helped.”
Dexy put his hands on Dodge’s shoulders and pulled him back. “Cool it, blud.”
“He’s not fucking wrong.” Jim stared at Sean. “If you’d all helped, we could have been done before the fucking monsters noticed.”
“You can’t guarantee how it would have gone if we all followed your orders, there’d probably be more of us lying dead or worse, like him,” Sean looked at Mason. “He’s infected, and a little boy calling us names won’t change that.”
“Little boy?” Dodge tried to run at Sean but Dexy pulled him back before he took a second step. “I’ll mash you up!”
“Stop it, Dodge. We can’t fight them all,” Dexy hissed.
“He’s a wasteman, pure clown.” Dodge said, trying to wriggle from his brother’s grasp.
“True-dat,” Dexy fought to keep Dodge under control and after a few moments, his young brother stopped struggling.
“What are we going to do?” I asked, trying to ignore the disgruntled mutterings of the hospital survivors.
Jim looked at Kate and sighed. “Your call, sweetheart.”
“What?” Mason pointed the screwdriver at Jim. “Why is it her call?” His voice grew louder with each word. “It'’s my fucking call!”
Jim swatted Mason'’s arm and the screwdriver to fall to the ground.
“What if they'’re right?” Jim leaned down and whispered into Mason'’s ear. “What if they'’re fucking right?”
“Look, just wait,” Mason held his arms up. “Wait and see. Please.”
“We can handle it,” Kate said. “We'’re going to take him inside and watch him.”
Jim nodded his head. “If he shows signs of catching the virus, we'’ll deal with it.”
“I won'’t,” Mason said. “I won'’t catch it.”
“We'’ve got families here,” Sean pointed at the people behind him. “Children,” a murmur of agreement rippled through the mob.
“I said,” Jim stepped forward and pushed Mason behind him. “We'’ll fucking deal with it.”
“We dealt with that,” Kate pointed at the bodies by the gate.
“I don'’t think we'’re going to win this one,” I said quietly. “I'’m so sorry, Mason.”
Mason looked at me, his eyes wide with shock. Jim breathed in deeply and let out a long, exasperated sigh. I put my hand on Kate'’s shoulder and gently pulled her back. Gemma walked over to Don and knelt beside him, putting her arm around his shoulders.
“He’s not coming inside that hospital,” Sean pointed an accusing finger at Mason. “If you'’re going to deal with it, deal with it now!”
Doctor Webb stood a few metres behind everyone. He stared at the ground, trying to act more neutral than Switzerland. Jim grabbed the gun that was tucked into the back of his trousers.
Sean took a few cautious steps back when he saw the weapon. “Now, look, we'’re just trying to protect our families, here.”
Jim grabbed Mason'’s good wrist and pulled him around. “I know you don'’t want to turn into one of those crazy fucks,” he shoved the gun into Mason'’s hand and looked him in the eye. “Easy way,” he inclined his head in Sean'’s direction. “Hard way.”
Kate lurched forward, wrapped her arms around Mason and hugged him for all she was worth.
“I'’m sorry,” she released him from the hug and stepped back, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Mason looked up at the sky and then at us. He smiled, thrust the barrel of the gun into his mouth and screamed as he tried to pull the trigger. He took the gun from his mouth and handed it to Jim. “I can’t. I can’t do it.”
“It’s okay,” Jim said. “Do me a favour, see Kate over there?”
“Yes,” Mason looked over at Kate.
“I want you to give her the biggest fucking smile of your life.”
“Okay,” he said.
Kate smiled at him through the tears and Mason smiled back. Jim pressed the gun to the back of Mason’s head and pulled the trigger without hesitation. Kate cried out when the life bled from Mason’s eyes and his 'body crumpled to the ground.
Jim 'stormed across to Sean and leaned forward until 'their faces were a breath apart. “Pray that I 'never have to fucking deal with you,” he said through gritted teeth before heading towards the hospital, Sean'’s angry mob parted for him as he went.
The rest of us stood there and looked at Mason’s corpse in shocked silence.
Dexy stood beside me. “I found the minibus keys.”
“Where?” I asked.
“He'’s got '‘em, Bruv,” he thumbed over his shoulder. “Sean. It'’s his minibus.”