Trudging up the road we began to see people rushing out onto the street. Some were flailing at themselves desperately trying to put out the fire that had engulfed them having been caught up in the conflagration. Others seemed oblivious to the consuming flames and when I ran over to one to offer assistance he turned on me, arms outstretched. I sidestepped him easily enough but I did get a close look at his face. I remember it only added to my confusion and fear. He seemed to have no eyes, almost as if the eyeballs had turned around revealing the white sclera and no iris. In spite of this he tried again to get to me, moving unerringly in my direction no matter what avoiding tactics I employed. Pius finished the game by hammering his fist into the side of the man’s head. The head cracked open spilling brain and blood, leaving Pius’ fist blood soaked.
“Oh, Jesus!” I exclaimed. Pius, too, was surprised at the result of his punch.
“I did not hit him that hard!” he almost pleaded, looking around guiltily while trying to wipe off the evidence of his crime.
“It’s alright,” I acceded calmly. I think I was filling up with horror to the point where I was barely reacting even to something so horrible. “For what it’s worth I don’t think he was all there.”
I grabbed Becky’s hand once more – thankfully she did not seem to be aware of the altercation – and we moved on, staying close to walls, looking for doorways we could use to hide if necessary.
There were a lot of people on the road now, most appeared to be in the same state as the man Pius had pole-axed. Some seemed aware of us while others were completely oblivious; all seemed to have the strange affliction with their eyes. I know Becky had used the z-word but at the time I was dubious, after all up to that point they were the stuff of legend only as far as I was concerned. Quite honestly at that time I was beginning to wonder if we had walked into a mass poisoning; perhaps some gas had leaked and affected this area during the night.
Becky was starting to become more aware as we made our covert way down the road towards Victoria Street; suddenly she reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone, her fingers flying across the surface as she searched desperately for something. I was wondering if she was losing it when she looked up suddenly and smiled. A tinny voice emitted from the phone announcing an emergency was under way. I laughed at the blindingly obvious statement.
“Which scientist did they employ to discover this fact?” I whispered to her. She grinned.
The announcement continued, telling everyone that was listening to stay indoors and await help. Looking at the station she had picked up I saw it was the BBC which meant it was probably a country-wide transmission. I stopped smiling and a shiver ran down my spine at the final realisation that we were probably not alone in our struggle.
We came out of Artillery Row onto Victoria Street and froze. As far as the eye could see were thousands upon thousands of zombies. That’s right, I’m using the z-word now – what I was seeing finally awoke me to the reality. Looking around quickly we threw ourselves into a Prêt à Manger on the corner. Crouching low one of the staff had opened the glass door for us to get in. He signaled for us to get onto the floor and crawl behind the serving counter. We did as we were told.
Behind the counter there were three members of staff already there. They looked pathetic and frightened to death. Looking at the guy who had let us in I wondered where he’d gotten the courage to do so. Staying hidden was the right thing to do so while I was grateful for his bravado I was also concerned for this foolhardy move. Some of the zombies outside the window had seen movement behind the shop’s glass and had wandered over. More joined them and now more than a dozen pairs of nacreous eyes peered in looking for us. Their hands drumming on the large panes set up a significant throbbing beat which continued to attract yet more.
“What is this? What can we do?” one of the staff members asked, looking beseechingly at us, the newcomers. She had a soft Eastern European voice, her Slavic cheekbones hinting at the same region.
Pius shook his head.
“Pray,” he whispered. I did a double-take at my new friend. His face was dead-pan and I suspected he was having problems with what he had done using only his fist; if he was a devout Christian I imagine he was struggling deep down with his conscience.
“Come on Pius, mate,” I coaxed. “Think of your family. We’ll get out of this. You’ll get back to them.”
“What are their names? How many kids have you got?” I thought if I made him think of each one in turn that he’d come back to us. We really needed his muscle; what we really didn’t need was one of our growing number losing faith in survival. I’d seen the films, those slow to react would get themselves and others killed and at that moment I was all about getting through the day. It was my turn to pay back at least one of the times he’d rescued me. I put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed to get his attention.
He looked at me and I saw the glazed look fade, replaced by a steely determination.
“I will be alright,” he muttered and smiled a little. “My wife’s name is Florence, and my two daughters are called Olutoyin and Teju.”
I sighed inside with relief – his voice had the same strong timbre I had heard previously and knew he was back.
“They are lovely names. How old are your daughters?” I asked.
“Olutoyin is eight and Toyu is six.”
“They are good ages,” Becky chipped in. “We are going to get out of this, you know. I want to meet your family. Today for preference.”
At that moment there was a resounding crack and I couldn’t help myself but take a peek. One of the large windows had crazed with the punishment it was receiving from the outside. It was only the plastic lamination that held it in place.
I turned to the staff members.
“We need to get the fuck out of here,” I urged. “Is there a back exit, or can we go upstairs?” I asked urgently. I looked at the name tag of the one who had let us in. “Joshua? Is there another way out?”
“Yes,” he replied. “But last time I looked they were out the back as well. There is an office upstairs.” He pointed to a doorway just to one side of the serving counter. It was in the open and we would be seen if we made for it. Damn.
“We have to get away from this area,” I shouted. By now the cacophony from the windows and groaning of the zombies was overwhelming and shouting was the only way we could communicate.
“”Let’s go!” Becky shouted and made for the doorway. Peering back she beckoned us to come. We did, driven by the sound of a window collapsing completely and an uplifting moan from the horde at their success. It felt like one of those dreams when you can’t get your feet up onto the bed quickly enough to avoid the monster.
I was the last of our new group to race out of the public area and up the stairs, with hell trailing close behind us. There wasn’t even a door I could close behind us. At the time I believed this was the end. We were trapped in the building.
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.