Becky looked at me and I could see abject fear on her face – I knew she agreed with my decision because I struggled to keep up with her on our devil-chased retreat. My girl was never normally one to do as she was told – or maybe it was just with me, I don’t know. Whatever it was I loved that trait in her; I have always loved and admired women with spirit – it’s a weakness in me. In moments we collapsed gratefully against the yellow security hut. Pius was already standing outside; he, too, had heard the noise. Using the MI6 building’s solid wall for cover, we peered around the corner and waited to see whatever it was. I confess that at this point I needed a privy more urgently than I wanted Piri Piri – in fact my hunger had mysteriously vanished. Strange how quickly your body reacts to external stimuli.
The sound began to differentiate itself and now we could hear footsteps, hundreds of them. A siren sounded in the distance, its blitz quality giving me goose bumps. I heard heavy metal clunks coming from the security agency’s gates as their deadbolts slammed into place. A humming began to emanate from the fencing above us and I realised in an instant that the metal bars had been electrified. I sincerely wished we were inside those gates – at that very moment I had never in my life felt so vulnerable.
“Holy crap,” I muttered, tapping Pius on the shoulder and indicating the fencing. He nodded pragmatically, clearly understanding what had just happened.
“I think we may have to get out of here,” he muttered under his breath.
“I think you might be right,” I replied and Becky nodded her head in vehement agreement, clinging tight onto my arm.
The footfalls were becoming clearer by the moment, each step differentiated from the next – a little like rain on a conservatory roof. It was accompanied by a low moaning of a thousand voices. I hopped from one foot to another in pent up fear. The pain I had previously felt in my ankle was completely nullified by the effects of adrenalin that was once more flooding my body.
We ducked back as a grey-suited man hurtled past us from the direction of the bridge, a phone held in a death grip in his right hand and his face a mask of terror and blood. He appeared to have a gash across his forehead, while his left sleeve had been ripped off revealing a gored arm. I called to him but in his blind panic he heard nothing but the rushing of his own blood through his brain. In a flash he was gone, his expensive-sounding leather-bound footsteps receding into the distance.
At last I could see what had terrorised him so completely – and I began to know the same fear that I had seen in his face. It’s a funny thing but when you watch zombie or other horror films they might give you a frisson of fear; you may even curl your toes in anticipation of an event. But when you are out on the streets with absolutely no chance of safety, that is the moment you feel a fear like nothing you have ever experience in your life. I imagine a soldier feels it in his first and probably every fight thereafter, as does a policeman when faced with a baying, angry crowd. Most of us civvies are buffered from it every day of our lives – if we are lucky. So when I mention fear in this context, stop for a moment and think about bowel liquidising terror. Think of your worst physical fear and keep on multiplying it. You still won’t get where I was at that moment.
Hundreds of people appeared from the direction of the bridge, pouring over the intersection like a swarm of ants, all consuming and terrifying. Mere hundreds became thousands as the whole area to our right filled with Them and began oozing in our direction. When I considered where they had just come from I realised how close Becky and I must have come to running slap bang into this horde. I shivered involuntarily. They weren’t exactly running along, neither were they walking, but their loping gait was still brisk and I suddenly realised that we were in great danger staying where we were.
As if to prove the point a woman broke from their ranks, clearly not one of them. Like a person rising from the breaking waves on a beach she launched herself from among them and in our direction. I could tell she had not seen us but she was doing her best to escape the horde. One of her legs was hanging at an odd angle, her black, shiny high-heel shoe looking strange in the moment. Her other foot was bare, her tights torn and legs covered in blood. The poor woman did her best but was soon overpowered and it was then that we first saw what these deranged creatures wanted from her – what they were capable of. Three or four of them caught her trailing leg and she screamed in excruciating pain as the break in the bone was wrenched. Collapsing to the ground, another was on her in a flash and had dug its hand into her stomach, literally tearing her flesh asunder. Her intestines spilled onto the pavement and bloodlust increased the moaning of the crowd. That was the last we saw of that poor woman, but it did teach us not to loiter in their presence.
The crowd completely obstructed our escape to the west by now and each zombie could be seen clearly now – they hadn’t seen us yet and those not gormandising on the unfortunate woman were milling around awaiting some sensory input; most appeared to have blood liberally splattering them, others had open gash wounds, some even with limbs hanging off but seemingly oblivious to the fact.
It was their faces that were the most unnerving to me – they seemed to display every emotion from deadpan through to a fierce, unrelenting fury. All of them had colourless, nacreous eyes, but it wasn’t this fact that disturbed me quite as much as how emotionless the windows to their souls were. I remember meeting a bat-shit crazy psychopath once and his eyes were just like these, his soulless look saying I could kill you just because I can and it wouldn’t mean a damn thing.
“Fucking zombies!” Becky said.
“Couldn’t have said it better myself, sweetheart,” I agreed. “let’s get the fuck away from here.”
“I agree, my friend,” Pius agreed. “I think it will not matter now if my shift is not over.”
I think Pius, no matter how short a time he may have been in the UK, had certainly picked up British understatement and was using it for dramatic effect right now.
“I think it is now,” I concurred. “Something tells me your family wouldn’t be very impressed if this lot catches up with you.”
“I must get to my family,” Pius said, his self-assured demeanour slipping a little.
“Where are they?” I asked. We were already making our way eastwards, away from the danger.
“Woolwich,” he replied, panting as he ran with us.
“Okay, that’s lucky ’cos the only direction we can go right now is towards Waterloo. If there are any trains running you will be able to get one home. You alright with that, Becky?”
“Yeah, of course,” she replied. “Just stop fucking talking and move faster,” she urged, her pace slowly drawing her ahead of us.
Suitably admonished Pius and I rushed to catch up with her. Together we ran along the Albert Embankment, staying as close to the buildings and fences as we could to reduce our visual exposure to the deadly crowd behind us.
Stealing a glance over my shoulder I saw that many had seen us in spite of our efforts and were now in dedicated pursuit. Luckily their speed could not match ours and we managed to stay clear of them. I remember thinking that it almost felt too easy, which it was of course. Others joined the chase from the buildings and narrow side streets we passed, our footsteps and movement seeming to attract them. In no time at all it felt as if the whole of London was on our tail. As for those chasing us, in spite of their condition, they seemed truly determined and did not want to give up the chase, their constant speed of pursuit almost superhuman. Exhaustion, as with death, seemed to be no barrier to them.
Not so with me; exhaustion and a queasy stomach began to overwhelm me and I slowed my pace and started to lag behind the other two. Becky noticed and stopped to let me catch up. Pius stopped his gaze fixed behind us.
“We are okay for a minute,” he surmised, looking concernedly at me. “Are you alright?”
“I don’t feel so well. I think I might have swallowed some water after all.” My ankle was throbbing like crazy at this point, the benefits of adrenaline all but gone.
He looked behind us again and a steely determination came over him.
“We must keep moving,” Pius urged. “They are still coming.” Putting my right arm over his shoulder and his left arm around my waist he moved off, pretty much carrying me for a while, Becky next to me holding onto my free hand. I was grateful for his strength and realised that he might have been in the process of saving me a second time. The man seemed to have no limit to his energy.
Ahead of us out of a side street came a man running for his life. He was elderly, in his seventies in my estimation and wore casual clothing and trainers – lucky for him. He was slim and fortunately appeared to be reasonably fit, which was just as well because he was being pursued by at least a dozen or so zombies.
Letting go of Pius as I forgot my woes, we ran hell for leather as we caught up with him. He ran alongside me. I glanced sideways and noticed he had what appeared to be a bite mark on his left arm – I wasn’t sure at the time, running for your life is a little distracting. He was trying to talk.
“Help” – pause – “me” he panted. His face was pale in spite of the effort he was putting into staying alive.
“Just keep running, man!” I wheezed back.
“I can’t…” he replied, slowing visibly.
I stopped with him; I estimated that we had only a few seconds before those chasing him caught us up. I looked into his face, about to plead with him to keep moving. His eyes changed in that moment – almost instantly they went from a pale green to dirty white. His whole demeanour also altered from resignation to steely determination. He rose to his full height and groaned at me, drool escaping from his mouth and running down his shirt. I recoiled at the sight. Raising his hands to grab at me I ducked from his reach and ran after Becky and Pius who had stopped a few yards further on.
“Get going!” I cried, catching them up. Together we hurtled away from the crowd of zombies now led by the old man. My mind was in turmoil, what I had seen had to be impossible, surely. Perhaps it explained what had happened to those people with injuries. As for the rest, I had no idea where this malady could have come from, if that’s what it was. I suddenly remembered advice from the telly that had warned the population to keep away if in public several people came down with something simultaneously – in our modern world where terrorism was everywhere it was advice aimed at protecting in case of gas or biological attack.
Copyright © 2016 David Kingsley Roberts
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organisations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.