Authors: Richard Murray,Richard Murray
Light flooded the narrow passage momentarily blinding me, before I climbed through the opening and onto the gym roof. I took a quick glance around to ensure no immediate threats were near before I reached down to help the others through. In moments we were all stood together on the roof.
“So what now?” Lily asked.
“Well now we need a way down.” I said looking towards the southern edge of the roof. I couldn’t hear any gunfire. Perhaps more alarming, I couldn’t hear any screaming which would indicate that no living remained outside the stadium itself. I leaned in close to Claire and quietly said “Best keep Maggie here, she won’t want to see what’s happening.” She nodded and I walked over the roof with Lily in tow.
The large roof area had a black coating of tarpaper and several large aluminium vents rose out of the roof. We reached the edge and immediately dropped to lie flat against the soft and tacky material of the roof. The car park before the south gate was an abattoir.
Beyond the gates, hundreds of corpses lay. In some places they were stacked one atop another where they had been cut down. The gates themselves still stood, the land rovers had provided an effective barricade. The security fence though had failed to stand against the mass, bending inwards in some places while entire panels had fallen in others.
Several soldiers still lay where they had fallen though some were already up and walking around. The tarmac of the car park was littered with the fallen. I could clearly see some zombies feasting on the fresher remains. The majority though seemed to quickly lose interest in dead flesh and headed into the stadium in search of live food.
A countless number of the refugees lay dead, their blood covered the ground and splashed the walls. The largest concentration lay around the entrance. They must have been pushing against each other trying to get in as the zombies came up behind them. Beside me Lily was quietly crying.
I shuffled backwards away from the edge. I awkwardly patted Lily as I inwardly cursed my inability to offer comfort. She looked back at me and wiped her eyes. She seemed to understand that I had tried.
Lily headed back to Claire and her daughter whilst I checked the north and west sides. The north held much of the same, the west though held promise. It seemed the west wall of the gym provided a natural barrier to entry so the security fencing was bolted into the walls to the north and south. Below the roof on the west side was pavement and road. Very few of the undead were in sight. Any that had been here had joined their brethren and were inside now feasting.
I re-joined the others. “We have a way out. The only problem I can see is that we have about twenty feet to drop from the roof to the road.” I told them.
“There’s no chance we could make that without breaking bones.” Lily said with frustration.
“No. Not just dropping. We will need a ladder or a rope, something to help us get closer to the ground at least.” I agreed. I glanced towards the trapdoor set into the roof. I really wasn’t looking forward to this next bit. “I am going to head back in and see if I can find anything to help us.”
“Are you kidding!” said Lily. “You know what it will be like in there.”
“We don’t have very much choice.” I told her, trying to keep my tone firm. “Beside’s. I am pretty sick of getting stuck on roofs.” I added with a grin.
I handed the hammer and backpack to Lily. “If anyone but me comes up here, feel free to whack them.” I said as I lifted the door and cautiously peered within. It seemed clear. I began the long climb down watching the light slowly disappear as the trapdoor above me closed. I dropped the last four feet and fell into a crouch, ready for anyone beyond the doorway. All was clear.
The staff corridor had gained a number of people in the short time I had been above. They pressed together against the door that lead out to the gym. Fear was palpable. The noise of their whispered conversations merged with the screaming and crying from within the gym. Wary of being noticed I crept quietly down the corridor to the door I had previously seen marked as a store room.
The store room door was unlocked and I slipped into the cool dark interior. I fumbled along the wall beside the door for a light switch, finally finding one and flicking it on. The light revealed a room full of shelving. Metal racks lined the walls from floor to ceiling. Two shelving units stood in the centre of the room. Each space on the shelves was filled with spare towels, mats and weights. Boxes of water bottles, plastic wallets for membership cards and spare parts for the various pieces of gym equipment were stacked neatly.
I moved down the shelves peering into boxes and shifting items. Eventually I found what I needed. A box of jump ropes, each one seemed around ten feet including handles. Made of a thin and flexible rubber they weren’t ideal but they would perhaps get the job done. I counted five. Fifty feet of lightweight modern material, I hoped it would be enough.
Carrying the box, I pulled open the store room door and peeked through. It seemed things had escalated in the brief time I had been searching the room. The crowd of people were pushing against the doors. Something on the other side was trying extremely hard to get through. It was definitely time to leave.
Giving up any pretence of stealth I ran for the ladder. I managed to climb one handed the box tucked under my arm and I banged my elbow against the trapdoor when I reached the top. It opened slowly to reveal Lily stood above, hammer raised. She let out a yelp of relief as she saw me, throwing back the trapdoor and reaching to help me through.
I explained the plan with the others. We took the jump ropes and tied two knots in each, trying to keep the distance between even. That task done I began to tie each of them, one to another. We lost some length from the knots and the necessity of making them secure. We could still have perhaps forty feet or so of a makeshift rope.
We carried it to the edge and I let one end fall over to hit the floor below with a thud. As I stood holding the end of our rope and only hope of escape, I realised we had a problem. We had nothing to secure it to on the roof. I began to swear loudly.
It would have been pleasant to be able to sit and moan about how bad things were, but to be honest, I was tired of sitting on rooftops. I was tired of reacting to the undead. It was time to be proactive. It was time to act.
I stood on the edge of the roof and looked around. The road that ran beneath me travelled generally from north to south. Across the road sat a public house, two stories of stone. A small beer garden was enclosed in a wooden fence. Beside the pub was a row of terraced houses each house quiet with no movement behind their windows.
The houses continued to the north until the road turned a corner. The road had a great many vehicles parked along its length. In places some of the vehicles that had likely been abandoned had been pushed aside by the military to allow their patrols to drive through. I studied each vehicle as I tried to find one that was suitable. Eventually I found what I was searching for. It sat pushed onto the curb and against a wall. The passenger side door was open.
“Lily.” I called.
“What’s up?” she asked as she walked across the roof to join me. I pointed to the vehicle I had chosen. “Do you think you can start that if I can get you off the roof?” I asked her.
“Sure.” She said after a moment. “But why?”
I quickly outlined my idea. Lily smiled and agreed. I called Claire and her daughter over.
“Ok. Claire, you and I are going to hold onto this end of the jump ropes.” I said, holding up the end of the rope as I did so. “We are going to hold tight so Lily can climb down. She will then head over to that van.” I pointed at the large grey transit van I had seen.
“What good will that do?” Claire asked.
“That van is perhaps seven or eight feet high. Lily can drive it alongside the wall directly beneath us. I can hold the rope and lower you and Maggie down, but with no way to secure it I would be stuck. With the van beneath me I think I can hang from this roof ledge and I won’t have so far to drop.” I told her with a smile.
“Ok.” She said as she grabbed hold of our makeshift rope. I was fine with her taking the end. I would stand at the edge and take the majority of the weight on the rope. I got into position and braced myself, right foot pressed up against the small raised lintel
that ran along the edge of the roof.
Lily wrapped the line around her waist and sat on the edge of the roof. She took a deep breath and gave me a nervous smile before taking a firm hold on our rope and lowering herself over the edge.
She was in no way large for her size but trying to support the full weight of an adult was harder than I had imagined. The thin rubber rope dug painfully into my flesh as I leaned back to avoid being pulled over. It must have taken less than a minute but that minute stretched painfully for me as I tried to hold myself in an unaccustomed position, muscles aching from the strain.
Finally the line went slack. I looked over the edge in time to see Lily wave before she sprinted towards the van. I waited impatiently and watched her reach the back of the vehicle. She was cautious, taking her time to look around before approaching the door. I saw her poke her head through the open door and held my breath. If anything was in there, now would be the time to grab her. She looked back towards us and gave a wave that I hoped meant all clear before she climbed into the cab of the van.
Shouting from the open hatch caught my attention. I jogged across the roof to see what was happening. I reached the trapdoor just as a man climbed out. I skidded to a stop with a curse.
“Help us, quick” he yelled at me as he reached down into the passageway.
I peered down through the opening. The ladder held two women and a man. I couldn’t see below them but I could hear enough to know that zombies were crowding the bottom of the ladder. This was a complication I didn’t need. I looked across at Claire. She was busy looking towards the van. I considered throwing this man back down at his friends and closing the trapdoor. Maggie turned her head and saw us. She pulled on her mother’s arm and pointed. Damn. I couldn’t do it with them watching.
I reached into the gap and helped the newcomer pull up his friends, one after another. When the final man had climbed out we slammed shut the trapdoor. I didn’t think the zombies could climb but it wasn’t worth risking.
“Thanks for the help” Said the first man. He held his hand out towards me, “Names Mike. Thought we were done for there.”
I reluctantly shook his hand. “These are Rachel, Ellie and Patrick.” Mike said pointing at each in turn. I nodded once to them as their names were called.
“Ryan.” I said, “Maggie and Claire” I pointed.
“Really pleased to meet you all. I hope you have a way down, it’s all gone to hell down there.” Mike said.
“Working on it.” I responded reluctantly before trotting back to Claire and Maggie.
“How’s Lily doing?” I asked Claire.
“Van’s not moving yet.” She replied sounding scared. I gave her a pat on the shoulder. I hoped I was getting better at providing comfort but doubted it. I looked towards the van. It was still and quiet. I hoped that meant Lily was making progress in the cab.
“Blimey that’s a bit of a drop” Mike said as he reached us and looked down. “We all climbing down that rope?”
“Then what’s the plan?” He asked, his brow furrowed in puzzlement.
“Our friend Lily is going to bring a van so we can drop down” Claire said. She was looking at Mike from the corner of her eye, she had an appraising look. Great, that would be yet another complication we wouldn’t need.
Claire and the new folk exchanged names as we waited. She took the time to ask what had happened and made various sounds as they told their tale. I was feeling sulky. I didn’t like large groups and was just getting used to the people in this one. Too many people around me at once was incredibly stressful and a nuisance I didn’t need. If nothing else it would make me irritable in a way that only a kill could help.
The faint sound of an engine coming to life brought my attention back to the van. I saw an arm reach out and pull the door shut before it slowly reversed away from the pavement. Lily had come through for us. In minutes she had the van turned around and was parked beneath us.
“Right then. I’ll hold the rope whilst you climb down” I said to Claire.
“Why bother with the rope?” interrupted Mike. “If Pat and I hang down, the drop to the roof isn’t far and we can catch the rest of you.”
“That’s a great idea.” Claire positively gushed. Mike set about directing his friends. In a short time he and Patrick had dropped to the roof. Maggie was gently lowered down to their waiting arms. Claire followed and then Rachel and Ellie. I went over the edge last. I hung from the ledge and pushed off to the side to land at the back of the van, disdaining their offers of help.
I climbed off the van and approached Lily who was in the process of being introduced to the newcomers. “Good work.” I said as I gave Lily a smile.
“Thanks. What now?” She asked.
“We stick to the original plan, we head north to the Lakes but we will need supplies first.”
“What’s in the Lakes?” Mike interrupted again. “Why not find somewhere in town to hole up?”
“Look around you. That idea hasn’t worked so well so far has it?” I told him.
“Tell you what. I worked on a farm a few years ago. We should head there.” Mike said, looking around for support.
“You can head wherever you like. We have somewhere else to go.”
“No, no. Let’s go to the farm. We can at least have a breather there before doing anything else.” Patrick chimed in as Rachel and Ellie offered their support.
“We could do that” Claire said looking to Lily. “It makes sense. We won’t get far without some food and stuff anyway.” She added.
“Right then. It’s decided. You lot jump in the back and I’ll drive us.” Mike spoke with determination. His friends were already on the move to the back of the van. Patrick climbed in the passenger side of the cab. Lily looked at me helplessly and shrugged.