Major Barnes was highlighting on a map the streets that had been cleared as Sergeant Malloy, Luke and Shaun walked in and sat at a table. Barnes stopped what he was doing and joined them. Malloy handed him the maps of the streets that had been cleared that night.
‘How many people this time, Sergeant?’
‘Two-hundred-seventy-four, sir. It’s going much better now were out of the vehicles. All the streets are littered with bones. The loss of life is horrendous, sir.’
‘We’ll take as many as we can, even if we have to fill up the corridors, it’s all we can do.’
‘It was the right decision not to use the tanks sir. The noise they would have made in the confines of the streets may have set the creatures off.’
‘I agree. We’ll keep them here as protection for the compound. The women have set up a canteen. The food is really quite good. The foraging teams have been back twice so the stocking up of provisions is coming along nicely.’
‘We’ll get something to eat, sir, then we’ll be going back out in an hour. We can do one more run before dawn.’
‘Sergeant Malloy tells me you’re both doing a good job. Well done. If, after all this is over, you both feel like enlisting, the army would be proud to have you.’
‘No thanks Major,’ Luke said. ‘I just want to get back to my old life. I never realised how good it was until now.’
‘Come on lads,’ Malloy said. ‘Let’s try out that canteen.’
The Major returned to his maps and continued highlighting the streets the units had cleared. The area was beginning to widen out from the compound with many coloured stripes. He stood back and looked at the map. Estimating the capacity we can hold, he thought, and the rate people are being brought in, we should be finished in about a week. ‘God help those we can’t take,’ he said, adding another coloured stripe to the map.
On their second foray out, the convoy was travelling through an estate of low rise blocks of flats. The roofs were tightly packed with creatures huddled together, filling every available inch of roof space.
Malloy looked up at the buildings. ‘This could get a bit tricky. The creatures are lining the balconies and we’ll have to walk past them to get to the flats.’
As the convoy came to a halt Malloy got out and walked back to the armoured car. He signalled for the soldiers to get out. ‘Two of you kit up with flame throwers,’ he ordered. ‘I want you in front. If the creatures move, fry the fuckers.’
Luke and Shaun had already begun bringing people out from the ground floor properties. Once the ground floor was cleared they moved up to the first floor. The soldiers led the way along the balcony keeping away from the creatures, flame guns pointing towards the single line perched on the balcony walls.
Luke kicked in the first door and disappeared into the flat. The creatures seemed to be watching them, even those that had been facing outwards had turned around to look.’
Luke came back to the door. ‘Empty,’ he whispered.
They moved along to the next flat. Shaun kicked the door but it held. He put his shoulder against it and forced the door inwards. The door flew open, striking the passage wall. The resulting crash reverberated along the landing like an explosion.
A restlessness swept through the creatures like a wave. Some began screaming and biting those closest to them. Within seconds the air was filled with flying creatures. Malloy grabbed Luke and Shaun and dragged them back to the staircase as the soldiers let rip with the flame throwers, torching the creatures as they retreated along the balcony.
Malloy fired his weapon at a group of creatures flying at them from the balcony at the other side of the staircase. Blood sprayed the walls and floor of the confined space as more of them took flight.
They all ran down the stairs to the convoy and piled into the bus. The creatures flew around attacking each other, half devoured bodies hit the ground like sandbags, bursting and spraying blood and gore like pools of black oil. Some landed with a loud thump on the roof of the bus, leaving large round dents in the thin metal sheeting, rivulets of blood streaked down the windows.
Luke looked back at the people they had brought out of the bottom flats. They were huddled down amongst the seats. He could see they were terrified. A young girl in her early teens was clinging on to an elderly man, her terror-stricken eyes stared up at him. Luke could smell the fear from them.
He reached out his hand to her. ‘It’s okay,’ he said, keeping his voice soft. ‘We’re safe in here.’
She hesitated, then took his hand. Luke gently pulled her to her feet. He helped the old man into a seat. ‘We’ll be okay,’ he told the dozen or so people at the back of the bus. ‘We have a place of safety for all of you.’
People resumed their seats, warily looking through the caged windows at the melee taking place outside. The old man reached up and took Luke’s hand.
‘Thanks son. I know you mean well, but where is safe? Where can we go? These things are everywhere.’
Luke tried his best to reassure them. ‘We have an underground shelter run by the army. There’s food, water, clean beds, and nothing can get in there.’
‘And how long can we live underground?’ said a man who was sheltering two small children. ‘These things aren’t going away.’
Sergeant Malloy joined Luke. ‘Right. Listen to me, all of you. I know you’ve been through a lot, and I know you’re frightened, but trust me, you’re better off with us than on your own. We have shelter for about two-thousand people. It’s being stockpiled with food and supplies as we speak. We can hold out for as long as it takes to get rid of these creatures, and we will get rid of them. The government have their top people on it...’
‘It was probably them that started it all,’ the man interrupted. ‘Always messing about with things best left well alone.’
‘That may well be,’ Malloy said. ‘The important thing now is to save as many people as we can, and the more men we have, the more people we can save.’ He looked out the side window. The noise had abated and the creatures had settled back down to their perches. ‘I need to radio in. Let the Major know what’s going on.’
‘I’ll come with you,’ Luke said. ‘I think we should get these people back to the compound. The sun will be up in an hour. We can come back here tomorrow night.’
‘Yeah, you’re right, son.’
As they got off the bus, Luke looked all around, scanning the roofs and balconies. The creatures had gone back to their roosts but they looked restless, as if they were anxious to resume their onslaught against humanity.
‘We’ll head back to base,’ Malloy told the bus driver.
Shaun called out to Luke. ‘I’ll stay on here. See you back there.’
Luke waved. But he was pre-occupied with the creatures. He looked up at the first floor and saw them all looking down at him. ‘Sarge. I think we should get going. They’re all awake.’
Malloy looked up and saw the creatures staring down at them. ‘Let’s go.’
Their vehicle was about twenty feet in front of the bus. Luke pulled Malloy by the arm. ‘Sarge, something’s not right.’
They cautiously approached the passenger side. Malloy looked in through the side window. The driver was sitting bolt upright and they could see that his door was open. As Luke and Malloy neared the passenger door a creature withdrew its blood drenched head from inside the soldier’s chest. It looked at them and screeched.
Malloy turned to Luke. ‘Run.’
The blood curdling scream from the LandRover had caused the rest of the creatures to take flight. They swooped down from the balconies and rooftops as Luke and Malloy ran for the bus. Luke got there first. The driver had already seen them and had opened the door. As Malloy reached the bus a creature landed on his back. Its mouth opened impossibly wide and it went to take a bite out of his neck. Luke punched it full in the face, knocking it to the ground. He grabbed Malloy and bundled him into the bus.
The driver closed the door and drove off, followed by the armoured personnel carrier. Luke helped Malloy into a seat. His back was bleeding where the creatures talons had pierced through the Kevlar suit as if it were cotton.
‘Lot of bloody good these are,’ he complained.
Private Lock opened a field kit. ‘Take it off Sarge,’ He pulled a knife from his belt and cut through the straps. ‘Let’s see how bad it is.’
Luke and the soldier helped Malloy out of his suit and uniform jacket.
‘It’s not too bad Sarge,’ said Lock, examining the wounds. ‘They only went in about half an inch. You were lucky. If Luke hadn’t hit it like he did I don’t think you’d be here now.’
‘Yeah, thanks son. I owe you big time.’
‘That’s okay Sarge,’ Luke said, rubbing his knuckles.’
‘Show me your hand.’
Luke held out his hand.
Lock examined it. He moved Luke’s fingers. ‘Can you make a fist?’
Luke clenched his hand.
‘Well it’s not broken. You’ve just bruised the knuckles. It’ll be okay in a couple of days. Put a bag of ice on it when we get back.’
Luke laughed. ‘Lucky I had the Kevlar gloves on. Its teeth scraped across my hand. It felt like I punched a brick wall.’
‘It felt like a bloody brick wall had landed on me,’ Malloy said.
Luke walked up the bus and sat with Shaun as Lock applied field dressings to Malloy’s wounds.
Shaun patted Luke on the back. ‘Good punch mate. You saved his arse then.’
Luke smiled, rubbing his knuckles. He lowered his voice to a whisper. ‘I hope so. Remember what happened to that bloke on the bus? He got infected from a creature’s claw. Let’s hope these bloody things are not the same.’
‘Oh fuck, yeah.’
‘Keep your voice down, Shaun.’
‘He’s not a bad bloke and we can’t afford to lose any more people, especially him.’