The Doctor was gone and with her went all hope. My plan evaporating like the foul smoke.
Connor had been right and the low hurried calls from the corridor told me it would not be a simple case of rewinding our path. I knew before I stepped from the office, the two soldiers would be making their slow way towards us, but I hadn’t accounted for the crowd at their back, seven or more figures just behind, the details lost in their silhouettes.
Cassie levelled her gun, aiming high as I arrived by her side. I put my hand to her forearm and whispered,
“You’ll draw more in.” She let me lead her back around the corner where she stayed to the rear, kept her place in our order as I moved back to lead. I pulled the Doctor’s office door closed, not voicing what I’d found, not letting them in on my race to figure out what we would do next. Instead, I took the next steps, following the torch beam to the slow plod of feet and the squeak of wheels.
Scanning left to right, the corridor was a mess with debris. Large sandbags lay halfway along the centre, piled high either side of the corridor in a haphazard dark mass, blood pooled at the base, the walls scratched, strafed with bullets. I tried not to imagine the horrific battle which must have taken place.
Along the walls I recognised pairs of doors. The Doctor had led us through one of these, but I had no impulse to take that journey again, knowing what would have happened once we’d left. Each of my footsteps resounded around the corridor, echoed at my back with the five other pairs and squeak of the wheels. At least the sound following grew no louder.
Tracing the walls up and down, I saw no more writing, no more graffiti guiding our way, just the occasional splatter of blood and pot mark of brass embedded in the wall. Walking at a pace no faster, no slower than the Cords, I ran through the layout of the hospital in my head. If I remembered rightly, around the next corner would be the room where Cassie and I had first been taken, where we’d been subjected to the thorough exam to make sure we were not bringing anything in, even though that’s what they’d wanted. They would want Cassie now. She’d been recently infected. Andrew too, both their bleeding stopped soon after they’d been bitten. McCole’s face flashed into my head. How long had it been before we’d had him bandaged? It couldn’t have been much over five minutes, but still he’d died.
I flinched my head back from its downward drift, lifted high and took a thick, copper tasting breath.
It was no way to think, this not the place to reflect.
A light flashed ahead and my reaction was quick, I killed the torch without pause. With the darkness the close footsteps stopped, the wheels ceasing their irritating noise.
The white light was gone, blinking out so soon, making me think my brain was overworking. I would have carried on thinking the same if it hadn’t been for the footsteps, loud and energetic with a purpose. But there was something else. The steps were uneven like someone walking with a limp. I kept the torch unlit even though this was what I’d wanted, what I’d searched for. Someone had come through the double doors, through the entrance we’d been brought through and now they were making their purposeful way down the corridor towards us.
With footsteps slow, I hoped to make no noise, hoped to give no reason for the others to do anything but stand and wait for my command. So far it had worked, the echo of the uneven steps at my front helping to mask my own progress. One handed, I pushed the rifle out, digging it into my hip for a second time whilst remembering McCole’s advice. The sound of the steps become so much clearer in an instant. I stopped, tried to slow my breath, realising they’d turned the corner and whoever it was they were right in front of me.
Still I waited, wanted them close, couldn’t let them run away in panic if they could help us. I didn’t want to scare them off if they were a survivor and we could be the ones to help them. Or maybe looters were already on to this place. I didn’t want to give them the chance to escape either.
As the thoughts rolled around my head, the footsteps stopped and a new noise took up. It was the sound of effort, of strain and I clicked on the torch. There in the bright circle a man stood hunched over, he was halfway through a turn and in his thin sleeveless arms he held a large sandbag with the contents dripping down. The man was gaunt, hair stuck to his scalp, his skin so thin in the bright light I could see dark veins running up and down. His eyes were white and his face covered in dark dried blood.
It hadn’t been a man for some time and those weren’t sandbags in the pile.
The soldier’s body dropped to the floor and the creature’s mouth dropped open. I knew the noise it would issue before the scream began.
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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One