Andrew volunteered with no delay, stepping to my side, his face hung with a heavy brow, shoulders rising. Matt took a moment, his eyes searching towards where Nat had just travelled before he stepped forward, hands still stuffed in his pockets. Not waiting for Zoe to make a bad decision, I turned to her, my hands clenching her shoulders, taking her by surprise, her head reacting as I leant in.
“I need your help too,” I said and watched as her eyes went wide. “I need you to get the others away from the door. Get them as far back in the store as you can. Find a place comfortable if Chloe is up to it.” I watched as Zoe blinked a nod, not waiting for her to process, to react, to come back with some headstrong plan.
The coppery odour of Chloe’s blood was apparent long before we rounded the aisle to see her head lain on Lily’s lap, Toby still pushing down bandages to her hand, the scarlet pile to his side bigger than that of the stock to his side. Nat hung around where the car wedged, the collar of her long coat drawn up tight around her neck, white breath reflecting torchlight. With only a glance in Chloe’s direction, I couldn’t hold my gaze any longer, her face devoid of movement, her life still draining out through the bandage.
All but a single lantern at Chloe’s side fell to dark, the warehouse near returning to its original forbidding state. The steel of the car was ice cold as I leant around the thin wall and past the metal skin, peering into the night lit more than I’d appreciated with the half moon light. The coast was clear and lifting myself around the car, climbing up the bumper I regretted how easy it was to get past the barrier. With Andrew climbing at my back, I chanced a rearward look, taking a hard swallow as I saw how deep, so complete, the Freelander had embedded itself into the opening.
The fire door wasn’t visible from the front of the building, along from the tall delivery entrance, obscured by the toilet block from all but the most inquisitive of inspections. We crept in a line along the prefabricated brick wall, halting as we reached the corner. I turned once again, looked back and saw our entrance punctuated with the Freelander and swallowed a hard breath knowing if we didn’t survive this encounter, it wouldn’t be long before the others were done for.
Andrew urged me on, pushing at my back, nodding to my pocket. He was right, I had the gun, I should go first, I was the only one who had a hope in hell of stopping whatever was trying to get into our safe place. The gun felt heavy in my hand and I regretted not taking a few moments to familiarise myself with its workings. Yes, I’d seen so many in films, in those shit TV programmes Nat thought were muddling my brain, but never had I held one in my hand, never hand my fingers searched in the near pitch black for a safety catch or a cocking slide. I did what I’d seen so many times before and I slid the top of the gun. As I did something fell to my feet with a metallic click and I could just catch the brass of the bullet glinting in the moonlight. The gun had been primed by its previous owner, already cocked, or whatever the phase was. I should have realised, I’d taken it from someone who’d died trying to defend themselves.
I couldn’t see or feel a switch or a catch to the side, but to Andrew’s onward urges I took my chances the gun was ready to defend. Peering around the first corner with the gun pointing to the ground, my first view was of my fast white breath pluming into the air announcing both our presence and my frantic state. My second view was the wide open space of half of the car park and the road entrance from where we’d arrived. Forging on, I tried to forget there was only a short distance before I would round the corner and see the shutters, see whatever was waiting for us to come, waiting for whatever welcome they would give.
I reached the corner sooner than I’d wanted. Andrew’s urges had stopped and I turned to see both still there, their faces a mirror of my concern. This was my last chance to turn back, last chance to hand the gun over and run back to the warm, safe place with the others. But I wasn’t that man, I’d come out for a reason. For many reasons. I’d come to find for certain I wasn’t in a comic book, wasn’t in a world of horror fiction, come to prove Nat right. Oh how I wanted her to be right. The next couple of steps would tell and I took them, slow, very slow, stepping so my feet would make no sound at all.