Authors: Richard Murray,Richard Murray
Claire was a petite lady in her mid thirties. Mousey blond hair cut in a tight bob. She wore glasses, too much lipstick and eye shadow with tight fitting jeans, trainers and a t-shirt that depicted some band from the nineties. She had the bubbliest personality of anyone I had ever known and she hugged me for an uncomfortable amount of time. Her daughter Maggie was eight and shy. I was generally fine with that, being the quiet type myself. When Claire had finally released me I was the recipient of a hug from Maggie.
I had never been a fan of touching other people in general. I tolerated it when it was necessary and of course during sex, but as a general rule a hand shake was often too much contact so to be hugged and touched by so many people at once was entirely uncomfortable.
Claire, Maggie and Lily had all set up camp inside the stadium. They had arrived early enough to receive a sleeping bag for Maggie and blankets for themselves. They had made a nest of sorts at the top of one of the stands. With just enough space between the top row of seats and the wall, it was snug but helped them share body heat at night. It also gave them some added security.
Lily and Claire alternated talking as they filled me in on what had happened since we had parted. It seemed that Claire, her boyfriend Pete and her daughter Maggie had been fleeing the town with the intention of heading to meet her parents at their lodge in the Lake District some hundred miles or so away.
Driving through the town the front driver side tyre had blown. Pete had managed to pull into the side street before getting out of the car to assess the damage. This had happened early enough in the crisis that the undead weren’t swarming everywhere, but not nearly early enough as one had attacked Pete as he bent about his task.
Claire had been forced to sit in the car, shielding Maggie as best she could as Pete died beside her door. She had locked all the doors and waited for the zombie to move on. Before long though others, perhaps smelling the fresh spilled blood had joined the first. Claire had hugged her daughter to her breast and prayed they wouldn’t be noticed.
When Pete rose beside the door, his almost unrecognisable face peering through the window it had been too much. Claire cried out and Maggie had caught a glimpse out of the window. It was her scream we had heard that day that had caught our attention.
Lily took over the tale then. Explaining that after I had led the zombies away, she and Brian approached the car to find Claire and Maggie in tears and almost hysterical. With the very real fear that more of the undead would turn up at any moment, they had coaxed Claire and her daughter from the car. They gathered a few of their belongings and set off down the street in the opposite direction from where I had run. Lily had the foresight to try and retrieve my knife. After finding it stuck fast in the skull of the zombie I had killed she gave up and took the tyre iron that had been dropped by Pete when he was attacked.
They had been fortunate that their walk along the streets was generally uneventful. One moment of danger came when a zombie staggered through a doorway as they passed. It lunged at Brian who, in a panic to escape its grasp had carelessly knocked Maggie into its path. Lily’s face flushed as she said this, her hands clenched into fists. Claire pulled her daughter close. I felt more than a little anger myself. I should have killed Brian when I had first met him.
Brian may have failed, but Lily had responded quickly. With the life of a child in danger she had leaped at the zombie, swinging the tyre iron for all she was worth. She managed to bludgeon the zombie before it hurt Maggie. She had more than a few choices words to say to Brian after that.
By the time they arrived at the park they were all tired and scared. Lily assured me that they waited as long as they could but eventually Brian managed to convince them that I must have died. A group of undead approaching the park where they waited was the decider. They had to go.
I waved off Lily’s apologies here and she continued her story. They had left the park and were not far from the same block of flats I had found respite in when a military convoy had passed. The soldiers quickly had them in the back of a truck with some other refugees and brought them here.
When they were through the gate, Lily had made it clear that she had no interest in Brian sticking with them. Claire and Maggie eager for any familiar face had stayed with her. I asked if they had seen Brian since then and Lily shook her head. Claire told me that she thought she had seen him in the corridors beneath the north stands, though she couldn’t be certain. I smiled at her and changed the subject, though Lily gave me a long look.
The fact that Brian was somewhere in here caused a need within me. I wanted to finish what I had started days before when I stabbed him in the leg. The fact that I would need to hunt him as the zombies assaulted the gates and privacy seemed to be a thing of the past in this overcrowded place just added extra appeal.
At Lily’s prompt I told Claire what had happened after I ran away followed by the zombies. She was an appreciative audience, staring rapt as I recounted the peril. When I finished with Lily finding me by chance here, Claire reached over and engulfed me in another hug.
“Thank you.” She said quietly.
“Think nothing of it.” I said as I awkwardly patted her back. “The danger isn’t over for us. We need to leave here.”
“Why? The soldiers are keeping us safe.” Claire said as she sat back down beside her daughter.
I explained what the soldier had told me and added, “I really don’t think this place will be safe for long.”
Lily looked thoughtful and Claire worried. “I am going to have a look around, see if I can find a way out for us. Perhaps we can make our way to your parents.” I said as I stood.
Claire seemed to like that idea and nodded her agreement. As I walked away Lily followed and grabbed hold of my arm, speaking low to avoid being overheard. “I know what you are thinking.” She said.
“He is a prick but you can’t just kill him.”
“I have no intention of killing anyone. I am just going to look for a way out.” I lied.
Lily glared at me. “That’s bull and you know it. Do not lie to me Ryan.” Her hand tightened on my arm. “I like you. You have saved my life more than once and I am more than happy that you are alive and here with us now.”
“But, I can’t be a party to you killing innocent people. I just can’t. I know that you have killed people before and I owe you enough not to tell anyone, but if you stay with us you have to stop.”
“I can’t help who I am Lily. Perhaps it would be better for us to part now.” I couldn’t help the lurch my stomach gave at the thought. In my life I had few friends and none had ever known the real me. Lily did know me and wasn’t running for the hills. I really didn’t want to lose her again.
Long seconds passed as Lily, head tilted to the side and lips pressed tightly together considered my words. Finally she spoke. “I think we would do better together. I don’t think anyone will survive alone out there.” She sighed. “If we stay together though we will need some rules.”
“You can’t hurt children.” She said.
“That is one thing I will agree to unconditionally. I have no interest in that.” I said with a more genuine smile.
“If you have to kill someone, restrict yourself to those that deserve it. God knows they’re enough of those around these days.” Lily said. “An apocalypse seems to bring the worst out in people.”
I had to think about that. On the one hand I had to agree that we would doubtless meet many people who would mean us harm as society crumbled. On the other hand though, it would cross Brian off the list. Reluctantly I agreed.
“Good. So no Brian, and no lying to me. Ever.” Lily said firmly.
“Yes fine, I won’t kill Brian.” I felt a little sorrow at that but it would pass no doubt.
“Ok. What do you need me to do?”
“To get ready to leave dummy,” she said with a smile. “You don’t have to do everything yourself.”
“Oh. Of course. I will look for a way out. You could gather up any food, blankets and perhaps see if you can scrounge a few medical supplies.” I said.
Lily nodded and we agreed to meet back at her rest spot before dark. I walked away with a lighter step. The rules weren’t ideal for me at all, but I could already see loopholes big enough to drive a truck through. I would stick to the letter of the terms. I hummed an old pop tune as I looked for a way out of the mess we seemed to be in.
I stepped out of the south entrance to the sound of gunfire and screaming. The zombies had arrived. Beyond the fence hundreds if not thousands of the undead pushed forward, determined to reach the living.
The soldiers stood in a line firing between the bars of the steel security fence. The land rovers I had previously seen patrolling along the roads were parked behind the gates. They were an extra barrier to help prevent the opening of the gates. Two soldiers stood atop each, firing down into the crowd of the walking dead. Civilians were streaming towards the north around the side of the stadium in a panic.
The zombies were bunching up against the gates and slowly moving outwards along the fence. From where I stood I couldn’t see how many were coming this way but the numbers weren’t thinning out.
All too soon the zombies stopped falling when shot. Too many were pushing against them from behind. The soldiers were rapidly reaching the point where they were just wasting bullets. Officers were screaming orders at their troops and fear was writ on every face. They knew they couldn’t hold. I turned and ran back inside as the sounds of gunfire drifted down from the north.
I had to push my way through crowds of scared people. Panic was spreading like a wave through the stadium. Children cried and adults screamed at each other, as they begged for help or salvation.
Lily was already with Claire and Maggie by the time I arrived sporting several fresh bruises from the fight through the crowd. They were gathering together their small belongings, remarkably calm compared to the people around us.
“We have to go now.” I shouted to be heard above the din.
“Where to?” asked Claire.
That was exactly the question I had been asking myself as I worked my way through the crowd. An answer had come slowly. “We need to head towards the gym.” I said.
Lily just nodded and picked up her final belongings from the ground. She had enough faith in me to not question. Claire didn’t know me well enough, but trusted Lily. Maggie had no choice. I smiled at her and waggled my eyebrows. She just looked down and took Claire’s hand.
I led the way down through the stand and into the corridor beneath. It was hard work, people were moving in every direction desperately looking for a place of safety. Within the corridors we couldn’t hear the shooting from the gates above the noise. We had no idea if the zombies had broken through or not. We reached the main entrance to the gym with little more than a few new bruises. I held the door and urged the others through.
Inside the gym all was calmer. The panic hadn’t seemed to spread within yet. The doors had opened to a reception area. Motivational posters and flyers covered the walls. Makeshift beds covered the floor along with the detritus of human habitation. Men and women of all ages sat on the floor. Some speaking quietly together, others sat with eyes closed trying to get whatever rest they could.
We had barely made it through the doors when the screaming started behind us. Faint at first, it soon grew in volume the sound reverberating from the corridor walls. Beyond the entrance people were moving faster, they pushed against each other. I saw a man push aside a woman carrying a small child. She fell to the ground and was lost beneath the feet of the panicked masses.
“Close the doors and barricade them if you want to have any chance to survive!” I yelled as I pulled Lily through the doors to the gym.
A young man beside the entrance had been looking out at the crowd moving down the corridor. He called after me. “What’s going on?”
“They’re inside the building.” I replied. His face lost all colour and he reached for the door. Cries of dismay rose around us. Two more men rose from their seats and moved to help with the door.
“What about the people outside?” asked one middle aged woman from where she sat.
“What about them? We can’t fit everyone in here.” A balding man in what would have once been an expensive suit responded. More voices yelled out questions and declarations. We left them to it and let the gym doors close behind us.
We found ourselves in a large room. The walls were covered floor to ceiling in mirrors. TVs hung from the roof silent and dark. The various pieces of gym equipment that were not firmly attached to the floor had been pushed against the far wall to make room for people to sleep. A great many people filled the room. Several doors were set into the wall to our right. I led the way to the one marked “Staff Only”.
Beyond that door was a corridor that ran in a straight line towards the north wall of the building. On either side were doors, each had a sign above it. We moved down the corridor reading each sign as I looked for the one I wanted. Swimming Pool, Sauna, Locker Room, Staff Room, Store Room and finally Roof Access.
The door was locked which was a good sign. It meant that if we could get through we would be able to reach the roof without other people being in the way. I pulled the claw hammer from my backpack and gestured the others back. The wooden door was most likely locked to stop staff using the roof for smoke breaks, rather than as serious security. A dozen blows against the area I estimated the locking mechanism to be and the door fell open.
A steel ladder bolted to the wall opposite the door was all the room contained. I motioned for the others to follow and started to climb. I kept the hammer to hand which made the climb awkward. It would be needed though if the trapdoor above was locked.
At the top of the ladder I took a moment to check the progress of the others. Claire was directly behind me, followed by Maggie and then Lily brought up the rear gently urging the little girl on. In the dim light I ran my hand around the edge of the trapdoor, feeling for a lock by touch. I found a deadbolt set into the frame beside the ladder and pulled it back before I heaved on the wooden trapdoor.