The red metal-grille steps of the fire escape were more rust than paint, each one groaned and creaked as we made our way down. The general consensus was that moving as quickly as possible would work better than taking each step slowly and deliberately. I would have opted for nice and careful over dangerously reckless, on the same note, I didn'’t want to be the one right at the back when the infected managed to smash their way through that door.
Fast and furious it is, then.
Our footsteps rattled and clanged against the metal on our way down and I was certain that the infected would hear, even my breathing and pulse sounded loud, as if someone had pressed a foghorn to my ears and let rip.
Jim was first on the ground, closely followed by Barney, who had wagged his tail and panted happily all the way down, his tongue lolled merrily from the side of his mouth. It felt good to have grass beneath my feet, it actually made me believe that we were safe.
“Which way to the bus?” Jim looked to me for an answer.
I took a few moments to get my bearings and then pointed vaguely in the direction I thought the minibus was.
“Down there, I think,” I said.
“Oh, he thinks,” King'’s upper lip twisted into a snarl that stretched his scar and made it pulsate. “Well, thank God that our lives are in your hands, Sunshine.”
“It was outside the room where they fixed Dexy'’s arm,” I turned my back on King but felt his cruel gaze burning into my head.
Jim nodded and placed the bag of guns on the ground.
“Time to gear up,” he opened the bag to reveal a treasure trove of rifles, shotguns and pistols. He then crouched down and passed a pistol to each of us, except Kate, who still held her shotgun. “Right then. Everyone keep in tight behind me and move quickly and quietly.”
Barney wandered over to the bag and stuck his head inside, sniffing carefully at the weapons inside. Jim swatted him roughly and Barney scrambled away from the bag with his tail still wagging while he stared at the mountain of a man with a playful glint in his eyes.
“Dodge, keep your fucking dog under control, will you?” Jim said.
“He was just looking,” Dodge pushed past Dexy and scooped Barney up in his arms.
“Kate and King, I want you two to watch our six,” Jim was still staring at Barney who was now licking Dodge'’s face.
“Got it,” King popped the clip of his pistol, checked the ammo and then slammed it back into place.
“Don'’t knock the fucking sight on that one,” Jim narrowed his eyes and grinned maliciously. “Sunshine.”
''We walked along the back of the hospital with Jim in the lead, Dexy and Dodge behind him, then me and Gemma. Kate and King walked backwards, weapons at the ready.
The inevitable explosion of splintering wood echoed across the hospital grounds and we all stopped to look up. The hoodie infected ran to the edge of the roof and stared down at us. He jumped onto the fire escape and chattered nonsensically at the rest of the army that rushed to the edge of the roof. The other four hoodies that we had seen in the car park crowded around the leader and repeated the noises that he had made.
They raced down the fire escape and the rest of the infected followed. A long line of bloodthirsty crazies biting and scratching at the air with deadly anticipation.
“We better get a wiggle on!” King shouted over his shoulder.
Jim picked up the pace and we followed, moving at a rate that wasn'’t quite a jog but faster than a power walk.
The hoodies reached the ground quickly and stood glaring at us while they waited for the rest of their army to get down the fire escape. Each infected that jumped off the last step stood behind the five hoodies.
Dexy looked back and stopped dead, causing me to crash into him and Kate and King subsequently bumped into me.
“What the hell?” Kate turned and glared at me angrily. Then she saw Dexy. “Dexy? You alright?”
“I said stay right behind me,” Jim whirled around angrily. “What'’s the fucking problem?”
“I thought they were just chatting shit,” Dexy spoke in barely a whisper. “I swear down, I didn'’t believe them.”
“Believe who?” Kate asked. “What'’s going on, Dexy?”
The crowd beneath the fire escape was getting bigger with every second, and a familiar chill flooded into my belly.
Hello fear, my old friend, Glad you could make it.
“It doesn'’t fucking matter,” Jim spat the words through a snarl and grabbed Dexy'’s shoulder, pulling roughly to turn him around. “If you don'’t want to get eaten, move your arses.”
A sharp metallic pop burst into the air followed by a deafening crunch and scrape of metal on brick, and the fire escape pulled away from the wall, groaning and chuntering as it went. The five hoodies looked up and chattered angrily with each other while the fire escape full of infected fell towards them. They dived out of the way, but the army that crowded behind them were so focused on us that they didn'’t even see it coming.
The huge tangle of steel and monsters hammered down to the ground, crushing part of the mob beneath its weight, blood and frenzied howls surged up into the twilight sky. None of the monsters that had been unaffected came to help their fallen brethren; instead, they climbed over the fire escape, those white, unforgiving eyes constantly on us.
“About time we got lucky,” Gemma put both hands on Dexy'’s back and pushed him. “Move, you muppet.”
We started walking again and were soon back to our original pace.
“They'’re getting frisky,” King said.
I glanced over my shoulder to see the main hoodie raise both his arms, he then then dropped them to his sides and start racing towards us at an inhuman speed. The rest of the hoodies and their army followed him, a dark mass of monstrous cruelty sprinted across the grass with plans to either kill us, or fill their ranks with us.
Jim looked back and barked one single word. “Run!”
As fast as we could, feet slapping against the grass, all of us looking back anxiously to see how close the infected were and then finding that extra particle of energy to give our legs more speed. Barney had his front legs over Dodge'’s shoulder and growled at our homicidal pursuers, his white fangs bared and ready.
I spotted an opening in the walls ahead of us and was filled with elation when I realised that it was the small paved area where I'’d seen the minibus.
“There,” the adrenalin coursing its way through me made me feel as though I would explode at any moment. “It'’s in there!”
We ducked into the small area and sure enough, the minibus was sitting there in all its splendour. It was more of a mini van than bus, with only three double seats on each side, but right at that moment, it was the finest minibus that I had ever laid eyes on.
Kate shoved her shotgun into Gemma'’s arms and ran to the big sliding door on the left side of the bus. She pulled the key out of her pocket and unlocked the door. It screeched in protest at the rusted runners that it was forced along when she pushed it open. Everyone piled inside and Kate scooted into the driver’s seat. She looked back and then slammed the key into the ignition. The engine roared into life and the gearbox groaned and grated while she fought with the stick. The bus lurched forward when the battle with the gears was won, and we drove out of the small paved area. I rushed into the double front passenger seat and Gemma sat next to me, between Kate and myself. I looked through the side window and saw that the infected were within arm’s reach of us.
“Get the door,” Jim yelled when the main hoodie slammed into my door with a maniacal grin on his face and murder in his eyes. I caught a glimpse within the shadows of the hood, it was covered in burns and thick scars criss-crossed its face like a tic-tac-toe board, but its eyes were just like the rest, marble white and full of murder.
The sliding door sang out its lamentation as King and Dexy heaved it across and locked it. More infected threw themselves at the side of the bus while others hammered their fists against the windows.
Kate stamped on the accelerator and we soon left the infected behind.
“Nice one,” Dodge jumped up and banged his hands against the roof in jubilation.
“Go round and stop at the gate where we came in,” Jim stared out of the back window while issuing his orders.
The infected hadn'’t given up yet. They chased after us relentlessly. The heaving mob sprinted across the hospital grounds with arms flailing in the air and deep phlegm-filled growls bursting from their throats.
“Okay,” she looked stern and pensive, totally absorbed with escaping the hospital of horror.
Jim rifled through his pockets and produced Gavin'’s keys. He worked one of them off the hoops and handed it to King.
“What'’s this?” King took the key and stared at it blankly.
“Gate key,” Jim told him. “You'’ll be jumping out and unlocking the gate.”
“Now, just hold on a minute, Sunshine,” King tried passing the key back but Jim turned away and continued his vigil at the back window.
Kate slammed down on the brakes and the bus shuddered to a halt. She turned to face King.
“Give me the key and get out,” she pursed her lips and stared at him through narrowed eyes.
“If you don'’t want to help,” Kate'’s face flushed red with anger. “You can just piss off and make some new friends,” she nodded her head towards the back window, through which we could see the infected giving chase.
“Alright, alright, don'’t get your knickers in a twist,” King sat back in his chair and pouted. “I'’ll do it.”
“Good boy,” Kate released the brake and started driving to the gate, she swerved to avoid bodies of the infected that Jim and King had shot from the roof.
The monstrous clamour of the infected horde grew louder and as soon as I looked back, I wished that I hadn'’t. Blood-soaked and wild, they kept on coming, moving as one, athletic beyond human capabilities, never tiring, even the ones that had been overweight or unhealthy before the infection had found new energy. They were driven by the sole purpose of slaughter and that dark determination was fixed on each inhuman face.
“They'’re not giving up,” Jim turned from the back window to face us. “We'’ll have to get that gate open very fucking quickly.”
“You mean I will. Not we,” King'’s face twisted with ugly derision.
“As you say, Mister King,” Jim winked and smiled at the psychotic sergeant. “As you say.”
Kate brought the minibus to a sudden stop and the momentum carried us all forward slightly. Jim bolted out of his seat and prepared to pull the sliding door. King took a deep breath and stood.
“Ready?” Jim stared at King.
“Born ready, Sunshine,” King said in a humourless monotone.
“Go, go, go!” Jim pulled the door open effortlessly, despite the grumblings of its stiff, rusted runners.
Sergeant King rushed through the opening with the key in one hand and a pistol in the other. As he passed my side window, he pointed to the headlights which Kate dutifully switched on, casting the night shadows from the gate. While King fumbled with the key, we watched the horde get closer.
“William,” Kate said my name in a low, hushed tone.
I looked across and she gazed into my eyes, the flicker of a grin caressed her lips. Then she glanced over at King who had finally unlocked the gate and was about to pull it open. She looked back at me and raised her eyebrows.
I saw the unspoken question swimming across her eyes, I saw it etched into her face, felt it radiating from her. I knew exactly what she was asking.
“Yes or no?”
“What you going on about?” Gemma looked at Kate and then me. “Yes or no, what?”
I smiled wryly and watched King pull the gate open wide enough for us to drive through. I shot a glance to my side door mirror. The infected were about twenty feet away and moving even faster now that we had stopped to offer them a window of opportunity. King started jogging back to the minibus.
“Yes,” I stared ahead and gritted my teeth.
Kate nodded and pushed down on the accelerator, thrusting the minibus towards the open gate.
“Whoa, whoa,” King sidestepped to avoid being hit as we speeded past him. “Wait!”
He raced towards us and dived for the still open door. Unfortunately for us, the minibus couldn'’t manage zero to sixty in three seconds and King managed to get a grip on the door, his feet still running to keep up.
“Don'’t do this,” His voice was full of desperation and fear. “Don'’t you fucking dare!”
He tried to swing his feet up into the minibus but missed and instead of running alongside us, he was now being dragged along, holding on to the door with one hand, the other gripping his pistol which he started to raise at me.
“Looks like you'’re catching the next bus,” Jim kicked at King'’s fingers. “Sunshine.”
He kicked again but King wouldn'’t relinquish his grip so Jim stepped half in and half out of the doorway and held onto the roof. King managed to squeeze off a shot but it fired harmlessly outside of the minibus. Jim raised his foot and then powered it down into King'’s face. I smiled when King let go of the door and tumbled across the road.
“I don'’t fucking-well like surprises,” Jim pulled the door and slammed it into place.
I was watching King through the side mirror. He scrambled to his feet and aimed his gun at the minibus.
“Get down!” I ducked down and pulled Gemma with me just as the shot echoed across the night.
The back window shattered inwards, spraying glass across the floor. Jim dived to the open window and pulled the gun from his belt. He aimed at King but didn'’t fire.
I peeked over my seat to see what was going on. The infected were almost within kissing distance of King, although kissing was the last thing on their minds. He took a couple more pot-shots at us and then turned to face the horde. For a fleeting moment I thought he was going to go down fighting but he set off running. He sprinted around the hospital fence and the infected turned to pursue him, even though the hoodies chittered and howled and pointed at us. When the blood lust is at fever pitch, even the most obedient crazies stop listening.
“Good riddance,” Kate said.
“I don'’t know,” Jim said with a mischievous smile. “I was starting to like him. How about you, Dexy?”
We had escaped. Not only that, the real icing on the cake was getting my revenge on King, something that I’d yearned for since he threw that first punch at me. Things were finally going our way; we were getting closer to the fabled light at the end of the tunnel.
I actually felt hopeful.
I should have known better.
“Oh, God,” Gemma said.
Dexy was kneeling beside the seat that Dodge had been sitting on. He held his hands across his face. They were covered in blood. Barney whimpered from behind the seat. Jim moved closer to see what had happened and then he looked at me through dark and pain filled eyes.
“What did you do?” Dexy fired a glance full of anger at me and then stared into the rear view mirror, seeking out Kate'’s eyes. “The fuck did you do?”
I still wasn'’t sure what had happened. Or maybe I was, I just didn’t want to admit it to myself.
“What'?” Kate looked at Dexy through the mirror.
Dexy leaned across the seat and pulled Dodge into his arms. Barney padded across and licked Dodge'’s hand, whimpering dolefully with each stroke of his tongue.
“I'’m so fucking sorry,” Jim slumped down beside Dexy and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“The fuck did you do?” Dexy pulled away from Jim'’s hand and rested his forehead on that of his brother.
Kate stopped the minibus and Gemma climbed over the front seat to kneel beside Dexy, tears streamed down her face.
“Is he...” Kate didn'’t want to say it.
None of us wanted to say it.
“Check his pulse,” Gemma gently took Dodge'’s hand in hers and put her fingers across his wrist.
“He'’s got a massive hole in the back of his head,” Dexy grabbed his brother'’s hand away from Gemma. “He'’s dead and it'’s their fault!” He looked at me and Kate through bloodshot eyes, his face stained with tear tracks.
Dodge looked so young in his brother'’s arms, his face unblemished and peaceful. Sometimes we forgot how young he was, he seemed so capable but in reality, he was just a little boy.
“No,” I scrambled over my seat and crawled across to Dexy on my hands and knees. “No. King did this, not us.”
I wasn'’t sure that I believed what I was saying. Guilt pushed down on my shoulders and jabbed it's knee into my head.
Dexy gave me a murderous look and before I knew what was happening he had dived past Gemma, pushed me onto my back and was sat on my chest with his fingers curled around each of my ears.
“You should have told us what was going on, Bruv,” he pulled my head up and smashed it back down onto the minibus floor.
“Dexy, no... Please,” dark spots danced across my vision.
“We could have got ready,” he released one of my ears and raised his fist high into the air. “You stupid wanker!”
Just as he was about to slam his fist into my face, Jim grabbed his arm and dragged him away from me.
“Enough,” he wrapped his arms around Dexy and held him tight. “That'’s enough.”
“I'’ll kill you,” Dexy struggled to get free of Jim'’s grip but couldn'’t manage it. He kicked his feet at me and cried out with rage.
Barney ignored us and laid beside Dodge with his head on the boy’s chest.
“We'’re sorry, Dexy,” Jim tightened his arms, pulling Dexy even more firmly into the bear hug.
“Kill you,” Dexy stopped struggling and sobbed, his body heaved with each broken breath. He looked up at Jim. “My brother', Jim, my fucking blud.”
“I know, son,” Jim rested his chin on the top of Dexy'’s head, his eyes full of melancholy. A single tear trailed across his cheek and disappeared into his moustache. “I know.”
“I'’m so sorry,” I pulled myself into a sitting position, put my head in my hands and allowed my own tears to fall. “So sorry.”
“Drive, Kate,” Jim said.
No more words were spoken. We drove into the night and silently mourned the loss of a young boy.