McCole had been right. They’d needed taller fences, stronger ones too, then maybe there wouldn’t be great gaps where they’d toppled, the supporting weights strewn to the side. If they had, then maybe outbuildings wouldn’t be on fire, their windows melted, roofs caved in, leaving just the rising black smoke. The shells of Land Rovers littered the car park at the front of the low hospital, trucks too. Bodies of soldiers, their weapons at their sides, red-blooded messed up faces lay all around. The more numerous corpses were the creatures, the normal people who were infected, driven of their will. Their bodies paved the tarmac, the grass, everywhere I looked, even wedging wide the main doors dripping with blood, stained with hand prints streaking down the wood. Bullets strafed brick, the windows riddled. Smashed, the glass gone.
Cassie knew something was up, despite facing out the back doors. She saw before asking, climbing to her knees, helped up by Connor to peer over the seats. Rising, she stifled an intake of breath, her good hand to her mouth before she could ask the question to which I had no answer. We could all guess what had gone before. They’d been overrun, but somehow I could still feel the hope. It was a big building, plenty of places to hide. Only the fast creatures, the unnamed, the hunters, would seek their prey, the others, the Cords, were opportunists and would walk away.
I drove slowly, letting the wheels turn, snaking around the death and decay. I saw no movement other than the smoke. I saw no imminent threat, but I didn’t kid myself that couldn’t change in an instant. We travelled half way around the building before the fence and the building were at their closest, where the route became impassable, blocked with a sea of bodies, too difficult to tell which side they’d belonged too. I pictured the last stand in my head. A line of troops, guns up, expressions set waiting for the creatures to gather in the bottleneck, waiting for the prime range, only then letting rip, mowing down time and again, but something had caught them by surprise, something in the air bearing down. I saw the machine gun post beyond the bodies, the heavy weapon mounted in the hastily constructed fortification of sand bags. The gunner was gone, the assailant too, leaving just the weapon and the road scattered with a sea of shell casings.
To the side was a fire exit, the doors open from the inside with another stack of bodies which were easier to identify. Their white, bloodied coats and camouflage clothes told me of their allegiance, the blood slicking a line down the centre of the corridor behind, its surface ruined by heavy footsteps telling me the story. They’d evacuated, ran into the bottleneck and the hail of crossfire and fell to the ground. The soldiers would have been left with no choice, they’d had to make sure they were not coming back.
“I’m going in,” I said, pulling off the seat belt, turning away from the thick air drifting through the missing window.
“Why?” Connor replied, climbing into the front seat. “Let’s drive, find where the quarantine zone ends, deliver the boy.”
I shook my head.
“Where is that? What direction? Where do we get the fuel? How many of the petrol pumps still work?”
“He’s right,” Cassie said, I could tell she was doing her best to keep her voice level. “The place is so big, someone who can help might be alive.”
Connor looked at Cassie, then turned to the children huddled in the back.
“It’s a mistake, we’re safer on the road,” he said taking one of the hand guns from the passenger seat. I leant in, pulling him close, pushing my mouth to his ear and whispering the firm words.
“They’ll be dead before you get out of the county,” I said as quiet as I could. He put his hand on mine, gripping my head and squeezing gently.
“I’m sorry,” he said, tightening his grip. “But they’re dead already.”
I let go, pulled out of his grasp.
“Find another,” I said. “Go.” He sat looking down at the floor. “Look, over there,” I said pointing to another khaki green Land Rover parked at the side of the building. “And there,” I said my voice building. “Take one of those and run.” He didn’t move, looked at me and I turned away. Still, I saw as he turned to Cassie and I knew she would look back with a face full of sympathy. Connor looked down to where Andrew lay silent, at the old woman at his side, Cassie reaching over putting a hand on Andrew’s chest. He looked over at the children, at Shadow, his eyes reflecting the light as his head raised, then turned, pulled open the door open and left, letting it shut quiet on the hinges.
“I thought he was better than this,” I said to no one in particular. Cassie’s hand reached out, resting on my shoulder. She was warm, for now and we needed her strength, needed what she had left. I handed her the last handgun and pulled open the door, stepped out not watching Connor as I strode into the corridor, keeping to the side even though the blood had dried hard.
I heard noises echoing. There was life in the building still, but I didn’t know if it was their second time around.
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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One