“Noooo,” I screamed, the word coming slow as adrenaline pushed my senses to the limit for what I knew could be the last time. I saw his eyes intent on mine, watched them change, saw them widen, a light blinking on behind. The crowbar still swung, but veered off to the side and I felt the pressure on my chest as it crashed down on the slumped shiny smooth head of the man already dead. In his eyes I saw the confusion, saw the battle, saw Cassie rise high, my screwdriver in her hand, watched as he noticed her, but not until it was too late, the tip of the driver plunging past his eyes, buckling his legs. His arms fell moments after, the crowbar clattering to the floor alongside his body.
I tried scrabbling up, tried pushing the dead weight from my chest. It had only been moments, but that smell was already catching in my lungs. Flesh putrefying. Cassie was standing, her mouth agape, breath panting hard, blood rolling down the side of her face. She turned, saw my struggle and helping me pull the body by the arm, I saw the moment she caught the fetid smell. Her nose turned up, features hardened. The body was off and I knelt to the bed, wiping my face of blood on the once pristine covers. Turning as I climbed to my feet, I saw the end of the crowbar diving deep through the skin head’s eye socket.
A second booming gunshot rattled the house, from a shotgun I was sure as we caught each other’s glances before running to the window. The older of the looters was staggering backwards along the path from the cottage we’d last seen his group attacking, behind him he left a trail of blood, his face fixed through the open door. A third shot was louder than we’d yet heard and his body shook, but he hadn’t been the target.
“Look,” Cassie said and I turned, following her blooded, outstretched finger in the direction their cars had first arrived. Blinking away the drying blood, I rubbed my eyes hoping when I opened the first vision would have gone. As my view cleared I saw twenty or more of what appeared to be old age pensioners in gowns, jumpers and tweed jackets, each walking with a new lease of life, their posture hung over and their pace slow, but still they looked too pronounced, too put together for what had been their age before they’d died.
“Where the hell are they all coming from?” I said, not expecting an answer.
“We weren’t the only ones left behind,” Cassie said as another gunshot rattled the window. We turned to each other, both our heads moving to peer in the opposite direction, looking passed the buildings blocking our view, trying our best to reach out to know if our friends were okay, if they were ready if we couldn’t protect them.
“We need to,” I was saying when I turned, but Cassie was already moving, already grabbing the baseball bat from the floor, already at the door. I followed, holding my chest, limping on my knee, stopping to pull the crowbar from the skinhead’s eyes, trying not to listen as it sucked out from the deep wound. “Get to the cars,” I shouted, following as quick as I could down the stairs, rushing as fast as I could to get to where she was waiting at the backdoor smashed up to the side, weaving around the obstacle course of TVs, consoles, DVD players and plastic boxes overflowing with designer shoes.
Out of the door Cassie looked left and right, our eyes only meeting for a moment, hers dropping to my knee as I leant heavy against the wall. She paused, offered me the baseball bat and I shook my head. I didn’t need a walking stick. Around the corner of the building, I waited at her shoulder, was about to edge my way out when another gunshot ripped through the air, followed by a searing howl of pain. Cassie was off, running fast between the houses, not looking back, not waiting for me. She was out and across the tarmac, crouched down by the side of the pickup, its rear overflowing with boxes and gadgets, all before I had cleared the gap.
I waited at the front of the house, seeing the procession of the elderly impossibly close, almost at the rear of the Land Rover. Cassie’s eyes were twitching everywhere, but she couldn’t see another backing away from the door of the looter’s cottage. He dressed the same as they others, a long kitchen knife held high in his right hand, the left pointing up empty. She couldn’t see the body lain out on the path leading away from the house, it was the man we’d watched emerge trailing blood. I watched her flinch as another shot raced from the house, watched as the guy dropped the knife, collapsing to the floor, watched the car knock her back as shot slammed against the front of the pickup, exploding the front left tyre.
She turned, saw me standing between the building, held her hand out for me to stay put, but my look flinched away as I saw one of the tracksuits appear, running hard, from the back of the building, his aim heading for the Land Rover, its engine still running. The group of dead elderly inmates of a forgotten nursing home all flinched in his direction in a uniform turn. Somehow his speed had caught their collective attention and they ignored Cassie altogether as they changed their course, veering towards the passenger door. He didn’t make it. A shot slammed against him, his wails of pain telling us it wasn’t a clean kill. Still the creatures headed in his direction, his vocal agony seeming to urge them on.
I ran, or tried, hobbling, almost collapsing on my knee each time I put down weight. Cassie had seen my move and made her own, leaping towards the Land Rover. The creatures picked up on her run and the group split down the middle, changing their course. Still she made it to the door, pulled it wide and was in, despite the wrinkled hands scrabbling, bones crunching as she slammed the door hard. Grinding the gears, she kangarooing around the pick up. I changed my course and headed for the passenger door. I was going to make it, but as I turned to the cottage, I saw an old man in the doorway, his face wet with tears and both barrels of a shotgun pointed in my direction.
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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One