Six youths stood in the hallway beyond the door, all wearing the standard hoodie uniform, jogging pants, brand name trainers on their feet, and not forgetting the ever popular hooded jacket with the hood firmly up. Two of them wore a baseball cap under their hood, casting dark shadows onto their faces.
The hallway had three huge windows facing the street, one of which had been smashed. The light breeze of fresh air gave a small amount of relief to the stench that permeated every brick of the building. Shadows shrouded the far end of that hallway, and I almost thought that I’’d seen movement in those shadows, but dismissed it. Paranoia and terror can play some crazy tricks on the mind.
The youths stared at us. They carried a variety of weapons, mostly carving knives, but one held a large flat head screwdriver and the smallest of the youths leaned against a door with his fingers wrapped around the handle of a two handed mallet, the business end trailed on the floor behind him. He was so small and skinny that I wasn'’t sure how he was going to manage swinging that mallet. I also didn'’t want to provoke an attempt.
I didn'’t want to provoke any of them. What I wanted was to back out of the hallway as quickly as possible.
“Jim,” I said quietly, “Maybe we should just...”
“Come on in, lads,” a voice from the shadows interrupted.
A seventh youth stepped out of the darkness at the end of the hallway. I inwardly admonished myself for dismissing the movement I had seen and resolved to start trusting my senses.
He was as lean as a tiger and moved just as gracefully. He looked to be just out of his teenage years with smooth, brown skin and dark, clever eyes. The gleam of light on metal revealed a pistol in his hand. It was the first time I had ever seen a gun in real life.
“I see you found my crowbar, Bruv,” he said, pointing his gun in my direction. “How about you leave it on the floor there?”
A wave of laughter rippled through the hooded gang.
“I threw it at one of those things from over there,” he nodded his head toward the broken window. “Hit it on the back, but it just walked off like nothing had happened. I never seen nothing like this, Bruv. Mental shit.”
“Mental,” his friends repeated.
“Now just hold on,” Jim moved toward the tall hoodie.
The youth quickly turned his gun toward Jim. He held the gun side on, rap star gangster style, “where you going, Granddad?” He asked. “I will shoot your wrinkly face right off, you hear me, Bruv?”
More laughter. These kids were like sheep and the tall one was their shepherd. Jim nodded to verify that his hearing was fine and stepped back to his original position beside me. I placed the crowbar onto the floor and gently pushed it forward with my foot. The last thing I wanted to do was annoy a hoodie with a gun.
“We don'’t want any trouble,” I told him.
“Glad to hear it,” he looked at me and grinned. “Now, empty your pockets.”
“What?” I was stunned.
“You heard me,” he said, brandishing the gun at me. “Empty all your shit out and piss off.”
“Fuck off, you petty little crook.”
“Say what, big man?” The youth rushed down the hallway and shoved the barrel of the pistol under Jim'’s chin. “Do you know who you'’re playing with here, Bruv?” He pushed the gun harder to accentuate the gravity of the situation.
“Not a fucking clue,” Jim narrowed his eyes and glared at the hoodie. “Bruv.”
“You trying to be a funny man?”
“Look, we'’re just trying to find my daughter,” I said.
“Your daughter?” He asked, moving closer to me but keeping his pistol trained on Jim. “Who is she?”
“Her name'’s Gemma,” I told him, relieved that Jim’s face being shot off was postponed.' “Gemma Daniels.”
He laughed in my face. The others predictably joined in on cue, all of them laughing at the name of my daughter. Rage burned impotently in my stomach. He had a gun, so being angry wouldn’’t help me.
“Gemma Daniels?” He asked, still chuckling. “She is one dirty skank, Bruv.”
“Proper skank.” Another of the hoodies agreed.
While all eyes were on me, Jim whirled into action. He grabbed the youth'’s arm and twisted until he released the gun into Jim'’s waiting hand.
The words rang out and the gang came running towards us, weapons at the ready. Jim aimed the pistol and squeezed the trigger. One of the youths dropped heavily and I crouched down, putting my hands over my ears to try to muffle the ringing caused by the firearms deafening report. It felt as though my eardrums had burst into a hundred different pieces, each piece ringing a final death knell. I looked up to see that the rest of the gang had stopped their advance, unwilling to risk more casualties. Jim was shouting but I couldn'’t hear what he was saying. Then, his massive hand was under my arm and lifting me to my feet.
He spoke to me but the constant tone drilling through my head drowned the words out.
“William!” I heard Jim bellowing at me. I heard him! My ear drums hadn'’t exploded. “Get your crowbar!”
I looked down at the tall youth who was now on his knees and nursing the arm that Jim had twisted. Jim kicked him in the stomach, making him fall back onto the floor.
“Alright, Bruv, alright,” the hoodie lifted his arm in submission. “We were just messing.”
“Well?” Jim yelled, ignoring the surrender. He kicked the youth a second time. “Who the fuck are you?”
The hoodie leader lay gasping for air, and the smaller youth dropped his huge mallet and came running up to his freshly assaulted friend. Jim aimed the gun at the small hoodie, but decided against pulling the trigger.
“Leave him alone!” The smaller youth cried out. “That'’s my brother!”
While he helped his brother to stand up, I slowly retrieved my crowbar. Everyone froze when we heard the growling infected racing up the stairs to find the source of all the noise.
Every single one of us stared at the hallway door with dread.
“Crowbar,” Jim said, holding out his hand. “Now.”
I passed the crowbar to him and he jammed it into the door handle and pushed it down so that it fixed tight between the handle and the wall, effectively making sure that the infected couldn'’t pull the door open.
“Everyone be as quiet as a fucking mouse,” he looked around to make sure that the gang of hoodies were on the same page.
The tall youth had managed to get to his feet with help from his brother.
“Shit, Bruv. Shit. Shit. Shit. Look what you did,” he shot an accusatory glance at Jim.
“Me?” Jim was genuinely shocked to get the blame. “You little shit. If you hadn'’t tried to rob us, I wouldn'’t have shot your friend,” Jim used the gun to point at the dead gang member who was now laying in an ever increasing pool of dark, thick blood.
“What'’s your name, son?” Jim asked.
The teenager eyed him with suspicion and thought for a moment before deciding to answer. “Dexy,” he put his hand on the head of the smallest youth, “and this here is my little brother, Dodge.”
“Fantastic. I'’m Jim and my friend here is William,” Jim pushed his weight against the door when the first infected threw itself against it. “Get your weight up against this fucking door, there'’s a good lad.”
Dexy did as asked without a second thought. We all recognised the stakes. None of the machismo and alpha male bravado displayed by Jim and Dexy mattered in that moment. Survival was the only important thing.
“Is there another way out of here?” Jim grunted as more infected threw themselves against the door.
“No,” Dodge answered.
“Well, that complicates things,” Jim closed his eyes in frustration.
“Why'’s that, Bruv?” Dexy inquired, pushing against the door in perfect teamwork with the man who had handed him a beat down only moments before.
“Me and my friend over there,” Jim said. “We need to find his little girl, and we think she'’s in her boyfriend’s flat.”
“You mean Travis?” Dexy asked.
“Yes,” I answered. “Where'’s his flat?”
“Next floor up, Bruv,” Dexy winced as the door popped against his shoulder.
The crowbar was getting looser with each attack on the door. The infected were getting louder and throwing themselves harder as their blood lust grew.
“I'’m going to let the fuckers in”
“What?” Dexy asked.
“Jim, no,” I knew that there was no real value in arguing. Jim was going to do what Jim wanted to do.
“We can take them,” Jim said. “I don'’t think there'’s that many out there. Five at most.”
“There’’s gotta be another way,” Dexy looked around wildly, trying to find options. “The ceiling, let'’s smash our way through the ceiling.”
“Solid concrete,” Jim was right. We would never get through in time, if we got through at all. “Okay then, on the count of three, let'’s give them a good dose of fuckery, lads,” he smiled.
“Nah, Bruv, don'’t do it,” Dexy looked to be no stranger to violence, but even he didn'’t want to invite those things in.
Jim pulled at the crowbar, loosening it a little. Everyone held their weapons up, even little Dodge looked ready to take heads off with his mallet. Me? Well my weapon was stuck in the door so I slowly backed up behind everyone else.
“One,” the countdown started. Jim tugged at the crowbar again.
“Aww shit, Bruv,” Dexy said. “You'’re fucking mental, you are.” He stepped away from the door, stood with his friends and pulled a knife from the inside of his hooded jacket.
“Two,” the door cracked as another infected threw its weight against it.
“Three,” Jim yanked the crowbar free and pulled the door wide open.
The infected snapped at the air excitedly and ran at us.
There were more than five.