Looking out of the window in the stairwell we could see that the zombie herd had moved away, probably inflicting misery and terror wherever they went.
“Now’s our time to leave,” Pius suggested.
“Where are you going?” Vlad asked.
“He has to get to his family in Woolwich,” Becky piped up. “We’re going with him.”
“Can you even do that? Wouldn’t it be safer to stay indoors until all this is over?” Indre asked, her voice quavering with fright at the thought.
“Over?” I replied. “I think it’s already over, the world we knew that is. Anyway, you saw how quickly they got into this building. If there hadn’t been a loft walkway we would have been trapped with them and, well, who knows what if that happens.”
“At least we can outrun them,” Becky agreed. “We have already done that – more than once.”
Indre whimpered self-pityingly.
“Come on, girl,” Matt, the fourth staff member interjected, putting an arm around her shoulders. “I’ll keep you safe.”
Indre’s withering look as she freed herself from his clutches said everything about their relationship.
“You two had better keep it together once we’re out there,” I told them. “I won’t have your personal problems getting one of us killed. We may be able to outrun them but it won’t be a walk in the park, not by any means.”
“I will not be a problem,” Indre said through gritted teeth.
“Don’t worry about me, mate. I’ll step up,” Matt retorted arrogantly. Strange, I thought, I hadn’t seen much evidence of that up to now.
“You better do so. We won’t wait and I won’t risk one of our lives for your lives so we have to stick together. If any of you want to come with Pius, Becky and me then you are welcome but the only decisions that count, at least until we get to his family, are ours.”
Pius raised himself to full height as if affirming my little speech.
“Let us go before we meet anyone else,” Pius suggested.
“Righto,” I agreed. “You ready, Becks?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be.”
With a look of steely determination she began to descend the stairs, Pius leading the way, gun at the ready. The rest of us followed and I wondered how seven of us would make it in one piece across the ravaged city.
Pius collected a couple of clips of ammunition as we passed Sneaky Bastard in the stairwell. The squaddie’s neck was broken, the head resting unnaturally close to his shoulders. His face writhed as it spotted us coming nearer. The teeth clacked in some sort of deathly anticipation and his legs flailed uselessly on the smooth floor. Without hesitating Pius crushed the man’s skull with the rifle’s butt and began searching the corpse’s pockets, recovering a couple of ammo clips and his stash which the big man threw away. There was something very unnerving about Pius’ emotionless state at that point and it deflected me from a more pressing matter – the soldier hadn’t been bitten, leaving the reason for his zombie state unanswered. I gave it no more thought at the time.
Coming to the Victorian glass and wrought iron frontage on the ground floor we crouched down and gingerly made our way towards the door. Lying on the ground next to the door was a rifle, bayonet still fixed; one of the drugged up squaddies must have dropped it in his frightened flight. He must have really been out of it to leave that behind. Pius shared one of the ammo clips he had recovered with me as I picked up the weapon. I guess I was going to learn how to use it in the field, so to speak.
I signalled for everyone to stay back and wait as I slowly opened the front door. Fortunately it was on a spring and had slammed shut after the troopers left or we may have had to work our way through unwelcome guests. Looking down the road in each direction I could see that most of the zombies had cleared off, leaving a few stragglers behind wandering around aimlessly.
The road seemed slick with something I couldn’t recognise – the smell it gave off made up for any visual clues as to what it was. The Zombie Apocalypse taught me that an unfortunate yet normal reaction to death in a human was to release all sphincters, hence why death was rarely the dignified event films mostly portray. Because they were standing up their bowels behaved like a bucket with a hole in the bottom, so to speak, spreading faecal matter in their wake. Thousands of them walking down the road was neither a pretty sight nor something to be easily forgotten, especially in the early days. And I thought what the drone had done was appalling enough! I pulled my head back and shut the door while trying to get my breath back. The others groaned and Indre retched as the odour caught them full in the face.
“Oh, Jesus,” Becky groaned, her face going pale once more. “We can’t go out in that!”
“We have no choice, babe,” I replied, trying desperately not to vomit. Before the ZA the worst thing I’d had to do was pick up my old dog’s poop using a plastic bag. “You know, I think I’ve just had a good idea. We’ll never get to Woolwich if we have to get across the town. What if we could get to the river and grab a boat? They couldn’t get to us if we travel down the middle of the river, surely? What do ya reckon?”
“You can’t steal a boat,” Matt said indignantly.
I looked at him in disbelief before I remembered he probably hadn’t stepped outside since all this began.
“Let’s just say that it’s quite possible ownership is no longer an issue,” I countered. “Anyway, I wouldn’t want to keep it, so technically it isn’t theft.”
“You can walk around town if you like,” Indre said to Matt, her lip curled in disdain. “I’d feel safer on the water, especially if these things are everywhere.”
“Alright then,” I interrupted. “If no-one has an objection we’ll head down toward Westminster Bridge – if the plane’s fire hasn’t blocked that route of course. There’s a pier next to the bridge so I’m sure there must be something there we could use.”
“What plane?” Joshua interrupted. “We heard a noise…”
“That was it,” Becky explained. “Right next to the Houses of Parliament. Half a mile further off course and this place would have been under it.”
“Oh, crap,” Joshua muttered as the explanation sunk in.
All conversations over and with no objections we made our way down the road towards Parliament. As before, we kept close to buildings and ducked from hiding pace to hiding place. The temptation to simply run the route as fast as we could was strong, but all of us were frightened of the risk of running into a crowd of them. I firmly believed we could outrun them but all one of us needed to do was turn an ankle and we’d be in trouble. I used to have a blue t-shirt with the words ‘I like you but if zombies attack I’m tripping you’ printed on it in brilliant white. I remember I used to laugh at it thinking it was amusing. Oh well, times change and now I couldn’t imagine leaving a single person behind, without a fight at least. For me, in these desperate days jokes don’t really seem to be particularly relevant. I think part of everyone’s humanity died when zombies started living.
We came to Parliament Square Green with little or no trouble; a couple of stray zombies met the sharp end of my and Pius’ bayonets but other than that we were in the clear. We stopped by the corner of the Middlesex Guildhall building and crouched down as low as we could against the iron railings. I felt disheartened as I looked across the expanse – it looked way bigger than I remembered. While there were plenty of obstacles we could use for cover on the journey, everything from slender trees to good old Churchill’s statue plinth, I could see quite a number of zombies milling around, waiting for a meaty meal to come wandering across their attention. At the far side a crowd of them were gathered around a lump of something on the ground, their attention riveted on it. I tore my gaze away and quickly calculated our chances of getting through. I saw no other options: it was across Parliament Square or bust, as they say.
“Okay, now listen,” I whispered to my fellow survivors. “We are going to have to run for it. It isn’t far to the river but it’s far enough with those things on our tail. Pius and I will clear our way forward using bayonets unless we become cornered. Whatever you do, try not to make any more noise than you have to.”
“Duh,” Matt muttered under his breath.
“Just for that, you can be our rear guard,” I spat, glaring at the idiot. “You’d better take this seriously or you won’t get across the square.”
“Oh, I will,” he countered.
“You might just be a brave young man but if you do get anyone killed,” Pius said, speaking quietly enough that everyone had to listen carefully. “I will be having words with you about it.”
The look on his face made Matt swallow involuntarily and I smiled inside. I didn’t care whether the git respected my command over him or not; with Pius glowering at him he certainly got the picture.
“We can’t go in a straight line, we will be out in the open too long,” I said. “We can follow the line of the trees to the left. As it happens the zombies seem mostly to be out in the open, at least from what I can see from here. No-one stops or hesitates. If you get left behind we probably won’t be able to go back and help you. So we have to help each other all the time. I would like it if you each chose a partner for this.”
The look Indre gave Matt stopped him from making the obvious comment.
“I will partner with you,” Pius told Matt. “We can protect from behind.”
Initially I thought that only one bayonet up front might prove problematic but if it came to needing a second weapon then we were probably done for anyway.
Becky and I were obvious partners, and the others paired up somewhat sheepishly.
“Ready?” I asked and received nods from each person. “Okay, let’s do this.”
My heart was pumping so loudly that I was sure everyone else would hear it but I guess they were too busy with their own to hear mine. I grabbed Becky’s hand and we ran for the first trees.
Copyright © 2016 David Kingsley Roberts