After climbing the stairs at full tilt we burst out into an open foyer that had two elevator doors at the far end and a cheap-looking plastic imitation veneer reception desk. Off this same area were several office doors. Seeing this floor I was dismayed. If we sought safety in one of these rooms we would really be trapped. We needed to keep on going up, away from our pursuers.
I turned back to the stairwell – my gut told me it was probably no more sensible to use lifts in a zombie apocalypse than it was in case of a fire. Coming at me was a large, obese man who may have eaten all the pies when alive but was now expanding his horizons into foods new and from what I could see in that moment the Paleo diet was his latest fad. In his left hand was the remains of a leg with stringy globs of meat stuck to its blood covered femur. Without a thought of what I was doing I ran towards him, grabbed the top of the door jamb and swung at the meat mountain using my feet as a battering ram. I guess I was lucky and caught him in his upper torso and he was toppled backwards onto his followers, leaving our way upwards temporarily clear.
“Come on!” I urged and we all ran up the stairs, this time I remained with Becky and Pius. Our feet clattered on the marble steps as we raced onwards and upwards. Below us I could hear the rabble rousing itself again in its endless pursuit of living flesh.
If I remembered correctly, these old buildings were five or six storeys tall and if we could create a suitable barrier further up the building we might be safe for a while, at least to gather our thoughts and come up with a plan. At the next floor we dragged the reception desk into the stairwell and jammed it at the top of the stairs, blocking easy ingress. We did this for another couple of floors and then finally came to the top floor.
“What now?” one of the staff members asked. His name badge announced him to be Vlad. I hoped he was an impaler – that would be of use right now.
“Dunno,” I replied, breathing heavily from exertion. “We rest for a moment. Shame we didn’t have time to bring any sarnies from downstairs. I’m famished.”
“Funny you should say that,” the girl I spoke to earlier said, holding out a carrier bag full of sandwich packets. Her name tag said Indre.
“Nice one, Indre,” I replied, smiling.
She opened the bag and offered it to me. I pulled out a pack. Chicken salad. Well, at least it was a healthy option. I piled into it as the others grabbed a pack each and began munching in silence. I looked over at Becky and she seemed reasonably recovered from all of our trials up to now; still a little pale but at least her colour was returning.
From downstairs we could hear moaning and the crashing of furniture as they struggled to get past our hurriedly created barriers. From the increasingly enthusiastic sound of splintering wood echoing up the stairwell I estimated we had no more than about twenty minutes before they joined us.
Glancing up at the ceiling I noticed a hatch. Gut instinct told me that climbing up there would set us free. In a worst case scenario we could hide out until the zombies moved on, assuming that’s what they did of course. I looked around and pulled a table over until it was under the hatch. I climbed up and pushed at the cover. It opened inwards so I pushed it all the way open.
You’re going to think I’m a bit of a sad fucker, but for as long as I can remember I always carried an 8cm long Maglite Solitaire LED torch with me – even before the ZA – you never know when you might need one. At least in the end I was justified so all of you that rolled your eyes at my little habit – bite me, so to speak. I needed my torch that day and so used it to check out the loft area. There was nothing up there of any threat; the entire length of the area was boarded and only contained a few storage boxes and old zinc-coated water cisterns. Thinking of water suddenly I realised just how thirsty I was. Mind back on the matter in hand I saw that the loft area extended the full length of the building. Just as I thought, I preened happily; it ran the length of the offices along the street. That meant we didn’t have to remain trapped in this one; the building below me was a sinking ship and it sounded like it was quickly filling with death dealing zombies. We rats had to get clear, and quickly.
Looking back down at the group, I saw all their expectant faces looking up at me and I smiled. It’s amazing how a little hope buoys you up.
“There’s a way out up here, we can get away from this part of the building,” I announced happily.
Looks of relief converted the worried faces.
“Come on,” I encouraged, climbing easily into the loft space.
I reached down and beckoned to Becky. Leaping onto the table in her enthusiasm she nearly fell over but I caught her hand and held on. Recovering, with my help she hauled herself on up. Pius was arranging the others ahead of him and so between us they all clambered into the safety of the loft. Finally, Pius hauled his big frame onto the table and we heard an ominous crack from under it. Office tables weren’t designed for this kind of abuse and this one was letting us know that the ghost was being given up. Grabbing at his outstretched hand I hauled with all my might and held him aloft of the collapsing table while he struggled to fit through the aperture. Damn, he was heavy and it felt like my shoulder was being dislocated but I held on.
Hearing running feet below I saw Pius’ eyes widen as the zombies grabbed hold of his legs.
“Oh,” was all he was able to say – his increasingly desperate struggles taking all of his breath.
“Help me!” I called to the others and immediately Vlad lent down and helped by grabbing Pius’ coat and hauling for all he was worth. Slowly but surely the big man was hauled to safety and we collapsed panting on the floor.
I peered down through the aperture and saw the zombies’ and their rabid attempts to climb up. Fortunately the table was now in pieces on the floor and couldn’t have been used as a step up. One of them managed to slap the side of the aperture frame but it was becoming clear that they had chased us as far as they were able. I closed the trapdoor and the noise from below ebbed as the creatures lost interest. To make sure the entrance was really secure we piled some of the cardboard boxes, presumably belonging to one of the businesses below, on top of it. It’s amazing how heavy tax files are and how grateful I was for them.
Walking quietly the length of the loft I stopped by one of the cleaner looking cisterns, cupped my hands and drank deeply. I had not realised just how dehydrated I had become. Becky and Pius followed suit, slurping greedily at the slightly warm water. Finally we arrived at an identical loft hatch at the far end of the building. Lifting the cover a little I stopped and we waited in silence listening for any sounds from this particular office block. There was nothing to be heard. Lifting it a little more I peered down and could see that the office and stairwell were empty, at least on this floor.
“You lot wait,” I instructed. “I’m going down to check it out. Be ready to help me back up here if necessary.”
“Sure we will,” Vlad assured me.
Pius was crouching near me at that moment and I glanced at his shoes.
“Jeez, Pius!” I exclaimed quietly. “I didn’t realise they got that close to you.”
He looked down and saw the bite marks on the heel and side. There was something that I later realised was brain matter on the toe. Pius just smiled.
“I kicked him good,” was all he said.
I raised my eyebrows and smiled back. Gently I lowered myself down, dropping quietly the last couple of feet. Perhaps I should state now that, before the end came, I was a martial artist studying Shorinji Kempo. Although not an expert I was fourth kyu so at least I had fitness, some suppleness and quickness about me. Perhaps this explained my willingness, once I realised what the hell was going on, to have ago and push myself a little more than most of the others. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m no hero – heroes don’t usually endure, they shine brightly before being snuffed out – at least in the ZA.
Adopting silent mode I searched the room in which I had landed as well as the adjacent rooms and found no-one. It was clear that this floor had not been occupied since the start of the fun. Maybe their staff members were out on the street below, no longer interested in working for a living.
In the distance I heard a huge explosion that sounded remarkably similar to the 747 we had seen die. I tried to imagine all those aircraft up there, their occupants probably zombified. I shuddered at the terror the uninfected must have felt trapped in those aluminium tubes of death. Bringing myself back to the here and now I finished the search and went back to the hatch and signalled it was clear. I stopped them from coming down while I went down the stairs to investigate further. Better for them to be up there if things got nasty.
The first two floors were clear and I was starting to breathe a little more easily. Reaching the ground floor without incident I made my way cautiously to the glass-doored entrance and peered outside. The throng appeared to have walked on by, leaving a few stragglers wandering aimlessly and a small knot of them crouching over something. It was hard to make out what they were doing but when one of them turned around and seemed to stare straight at me I gasped in shock. Its hands were bright red and it seemed to be munching on a limb. I drew back quickly and rested against the cool, marbled wall letting my heart rate slow a little.
“Get back from there, you stupid bastard!”
I started in shock again and saw three troops hiding behind the reception desk. One of them was pointing his rifle at me.
I skirted the open area and joined them behind the desk.
“What you doin’ here?” the same soldier asked aggressively. “Are you lootin’? We’ve got rules about that.”
“Fuck off,” I replied instinctively. “We’re hiding out, just like you.”
The squaddie gave me a derisive look. Looking at his face I could see his pupils were dilated which I initially put down to the fact that they were skulking in semi-darkness behind a desk.
“You said ‘we’,” he continued.
“Yes, there is a group of us hiding out upstairs,” I offered, not suspecting anything about them other than their justifiable fear of zombies.
“Any women among ya?”
Now alarm bells rang.
“Nope, just a security guard and a couple of other blokes. Why?”
“No reason,” he replied. Looking at him more closely I could see he was a sneaky one, this one, and the other two didn’t come across much better. Shit, what had we walked into? If I didn’t respect the fact that they were squaddies and supposed to be our protectors I would have sworn they were all in the grip of some narcotic, their jittery disposition could be nerves or something else – substance abuse. I hate drugs, always have. I watched a couple of good people go that way after the ZA started, they seemed to think it was the easy way out, although when you consider they were eaten alive because they were too out of it to fight back, I question that wisdom.
“Who are you guys?” I asked, hoping to deflect any further enquiries about my group’s makeup.
“We’re from the Palace, Household troops. We got cut off from the rest of the patrol when that lot showed up,” he said jerking his thumb at the front door.
“Why are you so interested in women? Not that I’m not,” I added quickly hoping to play on their thought process.
“It’s pretty obvious from everything that goin’ on that nothing is normal out there, probably won’t be – ever again.”
“What do you know about all this?” I asked, hoping he would be forthcoming.
“Not a lot. All we know is that civil law has been suspended and the army is now in charge.”
“When did all this happen?” I asked incredulously. It seemed that any notification of this sort had passed by me and that Becky and we’d had to find out the hard way.
“About four this morning. Bastards got me up early. Now we’re stuck ’ere, nuffing to do. It woulda been good if you’d ’ad a bird or two, that’s all.”
As he was speaking he was absent-mindedly fingering his rifle in a way that I’ll bet was not taught on the parade ground.
“So, are your guys coming back for you?” I asked.
“Nah, they’re pretty fucked I reckon. We’re on our lonesome.”
I thought about what I should do, the others would be getting nervous, wondering what had happened to me if I didn’t return shortly. The last thing I wanted was for these guys to see the women in our group. There wasn’t much we could do against three tweaking guys with rifles and fixed bayonets. I’d done very little weapon fighting practice and so I’d probably be about as competent as someone with no training. Anyway, as far as I could tell there was a world of difference between training and the real thing.
“Right, I’ll be getting back to the lads, they’ll be wondering what’s happened to me.”
“What? Are they so pussy they sent you out alone?”
“It’s not that, it’s just that there’s no point in risking more lives than you need to. Anyway, I can move more quietly and quickly on my own.”
The soldier just shrugged.
“Whatever.” He’d already lost interest in my story. “Just stay out of sight. Don’t want you bastards bringing them down on us. I’m warning ya.” The last words were accentuated by lifting his gun up to aim at me again.
“Sure thing. I don’t want them near me either. Good luck.”
Quietly I slipped away from them and returned to the top floor, occasionally stopping to make sure I hadn’t been followed. I thought the Household Division at Buckingham Palace were the elite of the British Army. I guess rotten apples existed everywhere in life.
Arriving, I noticed Becky had already descended from the loft and was waiting anxiously at the top of the stairs.
“What are you doing?” I asked anxiously. “I need you to wait up in the loft.”
“Why? I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” I loved it when she jutted her jaw in defiance.
“Because there ae some doped-up troops downstairs and I don’t like the look of them one bit. They asked me if there were women in our group. I said no. I think they believed me.”
“Oh,” Becky exhaled, suddenly apprehensive.
“So I want all the women back up there and out of sight for now, and we’ll wait for them to leave.”
“Aw, she doesn’t have to hide,” came a voice from behind me.