Chapter Nine

Forcing my eyes wide, the roar of the engine died back below the siren’s scream. As dust and smoke continued to billow from the sudden outburst, I watched silhouettes rush from the new opening, heads turning wild, this way and that searching something out. The first carried another cradled in their arms. Chloe, I soon realised, in Toby’s hold, Lily at her back. A deep relief lifted my mood.

In the new light I saw I was in a side corridor, the group of three already out of view. Hurrying forward, the gun pushed deep once more, my despair forgotten to the shouts of my name just high enough to register. I appeared in the angle of their vision, saw the relief on Toby’s face, a pained, pale complexion on Chloe’s lain at the floor, Lily knelt in stance we’d only just seen, but reversed. Chloe’s face was still there, albeit grey and drawn. Our friends gathered around shouting words, but we all knew the aim. I watched as they scattered, leaving me transfixed on Lily forcing blood red rags around her hand, a pool beneath already forming.

Out of my daze I split from the scene, helpless to react to the constant pour of blood, instead heading off through the pristine aisles, the tops of the rows lit just enough to help navigation. I was back with an arm full of torches, battery packs bulging from pockets, back at Chloe’s side listening to Lily’s calming voice, catching sight of her hand clamp down, her own fingers red with Chloe’s blood, the breathless stare Lily gave me when our eyes met. I strove off once more, finding Toby by the medicines, squinting in the near dark, his hands feeling across the shelves, his face upturned and I pushed the lit torch into his hand.

Still I headed on, found Andrew attacking a tall metal panel by the front entrance, his hands wielding a chair, swinging one after the other, the alarm still screaming out, a rainbow of weak LEDs dimming with each pulse of the speaker. I lit the panel with a beam of light and Andrew turned, catching his eyes in a fright until he saw my face, saying something I had no chance of catching. I was off again, but only a few steps, grabbing bottles of lemonade from the promotions stacked high guarding the wide entrance and with my hand on his shoulder I pulled Andrew back. He got the idea and took a second bottle.

To the scent of sweet lemons, the alarm died to a crackle to the speakers, but I swear I could hear the resounding for hours after. We hugged and drew deep breaths, our bodies shaking as thoughts came back to the situation and we ran back to the group crowded around Chloe, lanterns surrounding her, blankets under her head and covering her legs, the car now silent, the lights off, just the chill of the night creeping through smashed open fire exit doors. The front of the Freelander had been wide enough to punch through the doors, but not wide enough to get through, the wings caved in, wedged in the exposed steel beams.

“It won’t stop bleeding,” I heard Lily’s voice loud and clear. Andrew and I joined, kneeling, taking our place in the circle. Chloe’s hand was packed hard with bandages, Toby ripping open more packets to replace the bloody rags piling up by her side, his face a match for his wife’s, their shared look of fear I couldn’t watch.

Standing, I took deep breaths and others followed. Nat and Zoe rising to their feet, their torches shining down at the ground. Andrew took steps with me, Matt joining. Our steps were slow, guilt raging in each pace, helplessness pounding in my chest. I couldn’t do anything to stop the bleeding, I couldn’t look on and now I knew we would have that conversation. It was Zoe who raised it first, to mouthfuls of water taken from the aisle we guided ourselves to.

“Well?” was all she said, but the meaning was obvious. I turned, looked back and away towards the halo of light where our three other friends were holding vigil. We were far enough away they wouldn’t hear, but still I kept my voice quiet.

“You saw what we did?” I said, knowing full well that wouldn’t do and Nat was the first to pick it open.

“All we saw was you and Andrew going to town on her head. What the fuck happened?” she said, her voice hurried, but keeping with the low volume. Andrew and I shared a look. He nodded, and I let the words out.

“That woman died. Chloe was comforting her, but she came back and bit into her hand, wouldn’t let go.”

Everyone was silent. They would have seen as much.

“You thought she’d died,” Matt said. “You’re no doctor.”

“She died,” Andrew said. “She would never survive her injuries, half her face was splattered across the road.”

“Mate,” I said, and he lowered his head. “Look, she seemed to be dead, but you’re right, she must have been alive. She must have been defending herself, her brain addled with pain. An animal instinct, yeah,” I said, looking to the floor, not wanting to see their reaction. “I mean there’s no other explanation, is there?” I couldn’t help but look around, watching the sunken faces, watching as no one spoke.

“Don’t say it,” were Zoe’s words.

“Say what?” Nat replied. The silence filled the gap and we heard what sounded like Lily’s gentle voice singing low in the glow of the lanterns.

“Zombies,” Andrew said. Laughter followed from his words, but not from him, I was watching his fixed expression. Nat and Matt’s chuckles soon died back when he saw the rest of us weren’t joining in.

“Fuck off,” Matt and Nat said in almost unison, both turned away and walked off, but stopped in their tracks as a great rattle of metal came from the wide shuttered entrance. Within less than a second I’d put it down to the wind. That was until it came again twice more in quick succession.

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