Jim smashed the crowbar into the forehead of the first one through the door, blood sprayed against the wall in a broad arc, contrasting against the bland magnolia paintwork. The body slumped to the floor, and its legs twitched rhythmically to the melody of death.
The rest of the infected rushed through, biting and scratching. Two, then three hoodies were on the floor desperately fighting the monsters. Another infected had one of Dexy'’s friends pinned against the wall, hungry teeth tearing into soft fleshy throat.
The hallway filled with screams of dread and death, which made the infected even more vicious and excited. As for Jim, he was a long way from screaming. He was having fun, strolling through the madness and smashing heads with the crowbar. He was made for it; I swear that he hummed a tune while caving in heads.
While the ease with which Jim could kill distracted me, one of the infected pounced at me. I lost my footing and fell hard on the cold floor; the bloodthirsty creature was instantly on top of me. I pushed under its chin with the palm of my hand, trying to stop those chomping, yellowed teeth from gaining purchase on any part of my body.
“No! Get off me!” Shouting was a futile gesture, but I did it anyway.
I tried to shift my weight but the infected was too heavy. It was a thickset man with a balding head and a big gut. It pushed down on me, buckling my arm and those snapping teeth got closer and closer to my face. Thick globs of blood-speckled drool hung down from its fat jowls before finally falling free and spattering onto the floor beside my head. Imminent death raged into my face and I closed my eyes.
I had resigned myself to a painful death just before the infected man stopped moving. His body was suddenly rigid and I looked up to see that its clouded, marble-white eyes grew dimmer. Its head lolled and fell to a resting position onto my chest. Dexy was standing above me, his knife dripping with blood. He heaved the fat monster away from me and smiled.
“Come on, Bruv,” he held out his hand. “Get up.”
I took the offered hand and Dexy pulled me to my feet. The leader of the Hoodies had just saved my life, “thanks.”
“You was proper on your way out, Bruv,” he said. “Big time!”
I looked around. The infected were laying in bloody heaps along with Dexy'’s friends. The only ones left standing were Jim, Dexy, Dodge and myself.
“Good to see you'’re still here, Billy-boy,” Jim shouted from the other end of the hall, his clothes pebble dashed with blood. “Maybe one day you'’ll write a book for grown-ups about all this!”
Fuck you, Jim.
“Maybe,” I said.
Dexy surveyed the scene and draped his arm across his brother'’s shoulders. Dodge made the muffled snuffling sound of someone trying hard not to cry.
“Is he okay?” I asked.
“He'’ll be fine,” Dexy said. “He'’s known my boys since he was in nappies.”
“I'’m sorry,” I knew how hollow my sympathy sounded as the words spilled from my mouth, but I really was sorry. Even though these teenagers had treated us badly, they didn'’t deserve to die.
We stood in silence with heads bowed for long moments. I hoped that Gemma hadn’’t fallen victim to the same fate as Dexy’’s gang.
“William,” Jim broke the silence. “We should go.”
I nodded and walked towards him. Dodge reached out and grabbed my hand, his tearful face looking up at me. He had the same features and quick-witted eyes of his brother.
“Can we come with you?” He asked.
I looked at Jim and he silently mouthed the word, “no.”
“We got nobody else, Bruv,” Dexy added.
“Of course you can.”
Dexy had saved my life and Dodge didn'’t look much older than twelve. I wasn'’t prepared to let them to fend for themselves. There was also the old adage of safety in numbers to take into consideration. Jim handed the crowbar to me and shook his head, “more stray fucking dogs, William?”
“They'’re just kids,” I walked past the splintered, blood soaked door.
“As you say, William. As you say.”
We climbed the stairs to the seventh floor in complete silence. Dexy and Dodge kept a few steps behind Jim and myself. Dodge dragged his mallet behind him and it thunked against each step.
When we reached the door, Jim swung it open, gun at the ready. Thankfully, this hallway was empty.
“What number is it?” I asked, looking back at Dexy.
“Halfway down, number seventy-three,” he pronounced the word '‘three'’ as '‘free'’.
We found the correct door and crowded around it.
“Should I knock?” I asked.
“For fucks sake,” Jim smashed the flat of his huge hand against the door three times.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
The door visibly shook against the blows. We waited.
“Hello?” A timid male voice spoke from the other side of the door. “Who'’s that?”
“It'’s Gemma'’s dad,” I answered. “Is she in there with you?”
“It'’s Gemma'’s dad, you fucking little pikey!” Jim shouted. “Let us in, right now!”
“She ain'’t here, mate.”
“Let us come in and see for ourselves,” Jim said.
“She ain’t here, mate. So how about you fuck off?”
Jim'’s complexion went from normal to bright red and if he had been a cartoon character, steam would have blasted out of his ears. He stepped back, lifted his right foot up and slammed it into the door, just below the handle. Splinters of wood erupted into the still air of the hallway and the door burst inwards.
We heard a loud yelp and watched Travis hobble around from behind the door, holding his hand over a freshly bloodied nose, “what the...” Before Travis could finish the sentence Jim had rushed up, wrapped his thick fingers around the young man'’s throat and violently pushed him up against the wall.
“Now then, hard man,” Jim spoke through clenched teeth. “My friend here thinks that you can help him find his daughter.”
“That'’s stone cold, Bruv,” Dexy said, clearly impressed by Jim'’s antics.
Travis was tall like Dexy. He wore black, baggy jeans, a grey sweatshirt and he had a red beanie pulled tightly over his head. He had dark rings around his bloodshot eyes and pale, pockmarked skin.
“I haven'’t seen her,” the blood from his nose splashed down onto Jim’’s hand. “I swear.”
“Just tell him where she is, Trav,” Dexy said. “He'’s not messing, Bruv.”
“Honest!” Travis insisted. “Last I saw her; she was going to the shop to see a friend.”
“What friend?” Jim tightened his grip around Travis'’s throat.
“B...Becky...” Travis started gasping for air.
“He told you, Bruv,” Dexy said to Jim. “No point killing him.”
Jim let out a long, whistling sigh and released Travis from the grip of death.
“Fuck!” Jim slammed the heel of his hand against the wall, just beside Travis'’s head.
“Where'’s the shop?” I used my calm, patient voice, hoping to move the situation into a less confrontational place.
“Not far, it'’s the one next to the park,” Travis said. “Becky'’s Dad owns it,” he looked at me apologetically, eyebrows raised. “I'’m sorry, Mister Daniels,” he really did seem to be, too. “She left just before all this started and hasn'’t been answering her phone.”
“That'’s okay, Travis,” I tried to comfort him, placing my hand on his shoulder. “We'’ll find her.”
Jim kicked one of the scruffy armchairs that sat in the room, and it fell unceremoniously onto its side. “It'’s not okay, William. It'’s not! That'’s your little girl! She could be any-fucking-where!”
“I know, but...” As usual, Jim cut off my words.
“But what? But we'’ll find her?” He asked. “What if we find her and she'’s dead? Then what?” I couldn'’t work out if he was angry, upset or both. “You still going to comfort the little pikey then? Tell him how it'’s all going to be okay?” He turned his back to us and faced the window, looking grimly at the streets below.
“I can come show you the shop,” Travis offered, obviously uncomfortable with Jim'’s outburst. “I just need to grab a towel.”
He walked through to a small kitchen area, opened a drawer and rifled through it. He pulled out two small white bottles, the kind that aspirin comes in, and stuffed them into his pocket. Finally, he snatched a small, grubby yellow towel from the cluttered counter. He held the towel firmly over his bloodied nose, and walked past us, into the hallway.
“Come on, then,” he said, beckoning us to follow. “Can'’t stay here now my door'’s kicked in, can we?”
We trudged our way back down the stairs. When we walked past the carnage of level six, Travis took a quick look inside the hallway, said, “oh shit,” and scurried past like a startled mouse.
As we walked down to level four, Travis rushed down and opened the door. “My mate lives down here,” he poked his head into the hallway. “Oi! Danny,” he yelled at the top of his voice, followed by an even louder, “Dannnnyyyyyy!”
Dexy jumped the remaining steps and pulled Travis away from the door, “are you fucking mental, Bruv?”
“What he'’s trying to say,” Jim added his wisdom to the moment. “Is shut the fuck up, you stupid fucking pikey.”
Travis opened his mouth to speak but the familiar growling that I had come to fear interrupted him. It came from behind the door that Travis had just shouted around.
“Leg it!” Dexy said.
We started running.
I looked back when we got to the third floor and immediately wished that I hadn'’t. The infected burst through the doorway and were already close, rushing down at us like a pack of wolves. Travis also looked back, his eyes wide with fear. He stumbled, his hand reached out to steady his toppling body, but it was too late, he tumbled down the steps and came to a halt with a wince inducing thud against the second floor hallway door. The rest of us ran past him, and when I saw that he was struggling to stand up, I stopped to help.
Just like Holly would have.
“Come on!” I reached down, grabbed his arm and tried to drag him back onto his feet.
The infected rounded the stairway and headed down towards us, their momentum growing with the excitement of being so close to catching their prey.
“Go with him!” Dexy shouted at Dodge, pointing to Jim who was already halfway down the next set of stairs. “Now, Blood!”
I was relieved and grateful when Dexy ran back to help me with Travis.
“My ankle'’s knackered, mate,” Travis squealed as Dexy and I hoisted him to his feet.
“Move!” With Dexy supporting one side of Travis, and me the other, we rushed down the stairs, dragging my daughter'’s lame boyfriend with us.
The infected were so close that I almost felt their breath on the back of my neck.
“William,” Dexy said. I gave him a questioning look, “sorry I called Gemma a skank, Bruv.”
I nodded, unsure if this was really the time or place for such things, but still appreciative of the sentiment. The strangest things can be said when death is snapping at your heels.
We passed the first floor door and saw Jim and Dodge heading for the flat that we had broken into. Jim held the door open and waved his hand at us with urgency, “go, go, fucking go!”
We were go, go, fucking going as fast as we could. Travis began to regain the use of his foot again, letting us all move a little faster. A hand reached out and tried to grab my shoulder, but it couldn'’t get a strong enough purchase and slipped away again. As we reached the final step, I was confident that we would make it.
The three of us raced past the pile of bodies at the main entrance and Jim stepped aside as we rushed past him, into the flat. As Jim was closing the door, a hand pushed its way in. Jim slammed the door against the hand but it didn'’t shrink away, it remained, clawing and grabbing at the air, hoping to catch one of us with its deadly grip.
“Incoming!” Jim opened the door, pulled the infected owner of the hand into the flat and then slammed the door shut before any more of them could get through. The infected was, or had been, a woman. She stood there quietly for a moment, unsure of her bearings, but her cloudy, lifeless stare had locked onto Dexy. She leapt onto him, teeth bared and growling like a thunderhead. The weight of the infected woman sent them both crashing to the floor. Dexy flailed his arms around, and pushed at her chest, desperately trying to stop her from biting him.
I lurched forward and swung the crowbar like a golf club. It ripped into the infected woman'’s head and the force of the blow sent her flying off Dexy and onto her back. Dexy scrambled to his feet and Jim directed everyone toward the window that we had smashed to get inside the building.
As they climbed through the window, I looked down at the infected woman, her face plastered in blood and gore, her mouth still champed at the air and although I wanted to pity her, I hated her. I hated them all. I hated that my sweet, brave Holly was one of them. I hated the cruelty of the world.
I lifted the crowbar above my head with both hands and brought it down into her face. Her eyes bulged out from the force of the blow and her left cheek ripped away, her teeth were clearly visible and formed a cruel grin. I lifted the crowbar again, and again, and again, screaming my anguish to the world while her face spattered in thick globs across the floor and walls.
I ignored the rest of the infected on the other side of the door, ignored the fact that they would soon be inside. I felt powerful. Elation coursed through my veins with each crushing blow that I landed until I wasn’’t screaming anymore, I was laughing.
A hand touched my shoulder and I whirled around, ready to smash the crowbar into the next assailant.
It was Jim.
“She'’s done, William,” he said, patting me on the shoulder. “She'’s done.”
I dropped the crowbar onto the floor beside the infected woman and wiped my bloody hand across my brow. Tears streamed down my face but for the first time since this had all started, I wasn'’t full of fear. I was scared, but I wasn'’t consumed by it, it wasn'’t my master.
The door flew open with a crash and the infected rushed at us.
“Fuck,” Jim rushed at the smashed window and jumped through as if he was diving into a pool. I followed suit and landed softly on the grass outside. We got to our feet and headed for the road, where Dexy, Dodge and Travis were waiting.
“SUV,” I pointed toward the Ford.
The infected spilled through the window and gave chase. The howls and snapping of teeth urged me to move faster and not look back.
“Back seat, you three!” Jim told our new companions.
Dodge dropped his mallet and turned back for it, but Dexy grabbed his arm, “leave it!”
We all got into the SUV and slammed the doors shut, I clicked the lock button on the car-key and felt a lot safer when I heard the '‘clunk'’ of locking doors. The infected had surrounded the vehicle by the time I'’d started the ignition, all banging against the bodywork and windows, trying to work out how to get at us.
“Floor it!” Jim said.
I floored it, watching the infected get further and further away in the rear view mirror.
Barney jumped into Dodge'’s lap and licked his face.
“Sick dog, init?” Dodge scratched Barney’’s muzzle. “Is he yours?”
“Did you say it was sick?” Jim craned his head around to face Dodge. “What’’s wrong with it?”
Dexy laughed. “Sick, cool, nice,” he explained.
Jim harrumphed and turned back to face the road, “kid needs to speak fucking English.”
Holly growled and shuffled.
The three boys turned and peered over the back seat. Then they looked at each other before looking at me.
“William?” Dexy said.
“Yes?” My stomach did backflips. I knew what he was going to ask.
“Who the fuck is that, Bruv?”