“They were wrong,” I said softly.
Jim looked over at me as we slowly made our way to the building.
“Who were?” He asked. “What are you going on about?”
I pointed towards the bodies that clogged up the double doorway. It looked as though a tidal wave of people had crashed through, crushing each other in the panic. Rather than a route of escape, the exit had become a literal death trap.
“The news, they said that the dead were coming back to life.”
“So?” Jim pulled his knife from his belt. A sliver of light bounced from the blade as he turned the hilt in his hand.
“Don’t you see?” I knew that Jim wasn’t an idiot, but I was close to calling him one.
“All I see, William, is a fucking great block of flats that we have to move through six, possibly seven floors of, to find a flat that your daughter may, or may not be in,” he paused and pointed on the ground. “How about you pick that up, and stop talking bollocks?”
I looked down to where he was pointing and dutifully picked up the crowbar that was laying on the grass. I hefted it in my right hand, letting my arm get used to the weight. The two-forked end of the crowbar was thick with dark, congealed blood. I had no idea how a crowbar came to be lying right there but I was glad that it did, the weight of it was strangely comforting, and helped me to feel a little more secure of our situation.
“If anything comes at us, you smack it right on the head with that thing,” Jim took a step closer to me and jabbed me in the chest with his middle finger. “Got it?”
Inside I was screaming and smashing the crowbar down on Jim’s head. Outwardly, I meekly answered. “Got it.”
“Good,” Jim looked at the doorway again. “We’re not getting in through there.”
No shit, Jim, no shit.
“I’ve got an idea,” he took long strides across the grass and glanced back at me. “Come on, then.”
I followed him around the side of the building and up to the window of a ground floor flat. He cupped his hands over his eyes and peered inside, trying to see if there was any movement behind the net curtains.
“"Looks clear,"” he finally decided. “Smash it with the crowbar.”
“What about the noise?” I asked. It was a fair question. The last thing we wanted was to announce our presence. “Won'’t it...”
“Do you have any other ideas?”
“No,” I said with my trademark stare at the floor.
“Then stop wasting time and...” Before Jim could complete his sentence, I swung the crowbar a little harder than was necessary and we both cringed at the sound of breaking glass erupting into the late afternoon.
Jim used the hilt of his knife to knock out the shards of glass that remained in the window frame. Then he lifted himself up on the windowsill, pulled the net curtain down and jumped into the room, the shattered glass on the sickly brown carpet crunched angrily beneath his black boots.
I waited outside. I didn'’t want to go in there. My stomach churned and the ant colony ordered me not to go any further. Saliva flooded into my mouth and before I could stop it, I was coughing and vomiting against the wall.
Jim poked his head through the freshly made opening and chuckled at the sight of me.
“Come on, you big girls blouse,” he said. “Let'’s get your daughter.”
I nodded my head and finished painting the wall with the contents of my stomach. When I was done, I clumsily made my way into the flat. I was about to speak but Jim gave me an urgent look and placed his index finger across his lips. We could see the front door from the sitting room. A scraping noise came from the other side, closely followed by a mechanical whirr and then a click. As soon as the noise finished, it restarted.
“What is that?” I asked in a whisper.
Jim shrugged his massive shoulders and moved slowly toward the front door. He crouched down and opened the letterbox, carefully surveying the situation in the building hallway. Satisfied with what he had seen, he stood and slowly opened the door, knife at the ready. I moved closer to him, holding the crowbar high above my head, ready to bring it down onto whatever was making that noise.
Jim took a quick look one way, and then the other, before pulling the door open fully and stepping into the hallway, “clear.”
I followed him out and quickly saw where the noise came from. At the end of the hallway, the elevator door was sticking on three, possibly four bodies. They were so mutilated that it was difficult to tell how many there were. Each time the elevator tried to close its door; the bodies forced it back open to repeat the cycle infinitely. I lowered the crowbar and closed my eyes in an attempt to block out the visions of horror that now filled our world. It was no use though; the images looked a hundred times worse in my imagination.
“For fucks sake. Looks like we'’re taking the stairs,” Jim said.
We walked past the elevator and made our way up the stairs beside it. Another body lay at awkward angles at the top of the first flight; this one was a woman, her long blonde hair matted with black, dried blood and her face smashed to a pulp. The acrid stench of death sent forth odorous tendrils to assault my nose. I reached into my jeans and pulled out my white linen handkerchief, placing it across my nose and mouth. Jim looked back at me, shook his head.
“Just wait a week, William,” he said with a knowing smirk. “Then you'’ll know what a real stink is.”
Not wanting to look any weaker, I put the handkerchief back into my pocket. We reached a thick wooden door with a white sign that had a red number one painted onto it.
“Should we go check for other people?” I asked.
“Fuck that,” Jim answered as I had expected him to, blunt and selfish. “Keep going.”
We kept going. We kept going up until we reached door number four. The high-pitched scream that came from the hallway beyond the door made us both stop dead in our tracks. Jim stood with his left shoulder against the door and his fingers wrapped around the handle. The sound of bare feet slapping against linoleum got closer and closer.
“Help me,” a woman'’s voice pleaded between heavy breaths from behind the door. “Someone, please.”
Then we heard the growling, feral and full of hate. Whoever she was, she had some infected in hot pursuit. The door suddenly jerked open a few inches when the woman pulled at it with all the strength she could muster. Jim pulled back and the door slammed into place, stopping any chance of her escaping.
“No!” She yanked at the handle again, knowing someone was there, knowing that we could help her.
“Jim?” I stepped toward him and pulled at his arm. “Jim? Let her out.”
He used his brutish strength to push me away. I landed heavily on my backside, dropped the crowbar and one of the steps leading up to the next floor jammed into the small of my back while the crowbar clanged its way down the stairs, “back the fuck off, Billy-boy.”
I got to my feet slowly, and my blood froze at the sound of them tearing that poor woman apart, the woman that Jim had just murdered.
“Go get that,” he motioned his head towards the crowbar. “Now!”
I did as I was told, nursing the sharp pain in the small of my back with my left hand as I went. By the time I reached Jim with my crowbar in hand, the screams had stopped, and the only sounds coming from the hallway were the sickening slurps and chomps of the infected as they ate their prize.
Jim pointed up the stairs and I went slowly and quietly. I wanted to shout at him, wanted to confront the atrocity that I had just witnessed him commit, but I knew that if I said one word, then those things would hear me and they’’d be on us just like they had been on her. Jim carefully released his grip on the door handle and stepped back. We held our breath, waiting to see if the infected were going to burst in on us and attack. The door rocked back and forth as they moved behind it but they didn'’t come through, they were too busy with the fresh kill to worry about us.
Jim and I quickly but silently reached door number five. I stopped for a quick breather. It’s not that I’m out of shape, but I’m not exactly in peak condition and I do have a bit of a belly. Holly calls it my “marriage belt”.
Inky black spots danced across my vision before I realised that Jim had his thick fingers wrapped around my throat and my back against the wall. His face was red with rage and he leaned in until I could feel his breath in my ear.
“If you try to manhandle me again,” he said. “I will open you up from here,” he placed the tip of his knife against my crotch and moved it slowly up to my throat. “To here,” he pulled his head back and glared at me, eyes burning with fury. “Got it?”
I nodded my head and as much as I wanted to say yes, his fingers restricted all but a pathetic choking noise emitting from me.
He waited a few moments to make sure I really did get it before finally releasing his grip. Once I was free, I fell to my knees and choked thick gasps of air into my lungs.
“If I had let her out, Billy-boy,” he said, “We'’d be dead.”
I struggled to my feet and picked up the crowbar (again). I’’ll admit that he did make sense in a twisted sort of way, but I wouldn'’t have been able to do what he had done. Is that why I stay with him? Because it’’s easier to let him be the one that makes these terrible choices? Can I live with that?
We walked up yet another flight of stairs and I tried to put all these questions out of my mind. All I needed to think about was finding Gemma, who was on the sixth or possibly seventh floor.
When we reached the sixth door, Jim looked at me and grinned.
“Well then,” he pushed the door open. “Let'’s see what'’s behind door number six.”