Authors: Richard Murray,Richard Murray
I had no more encounters along the canal bank. It was quiet and fairly stress free all the way. Soon enough though I had reached the point where I would leave the canal. In the distance I could just make out the football stadium to the north east. Lights attached to the walls of the stadium were switched on and I could see movement at the entrances. It was time to re-join whatever remnants of civilisation remained, crammed into that large imposing edifice.
The town’s football stadium was a fairly new structure. Built in the early nineties, it could comfortably house twenty to twenty-five thousand people. It was enclosed on all four sides with large banks of seating surrounding the sports field in the centre. Attached to the east side was a gym complete with swimming pool and sauna. It jutted out from the side of the stadium adding little to the aesthetics.
Large car parks could be found at the north and south entrances, a road ran along the east side of the stadium linking the two. An impressive looking steel security fence surrounded the entire place with secure gates at the north and south entrances.
These gates had been augmented with a wall of sandbags and mounted machine guns. Armed soldiers walked the perimeter in pairs whilst land rovers bedecked in the green hues of the military, drove up and down the streets.
Within the barrier the tarmac that would hold hundreds of vehicles on game days, was buried beneath a sea of tents. Families huddled together, husbands and wives holding their children close. An air of desperation blanketed the area.
I walked towards the south gates, stopping and raising my arms whenever a land rover drove by. I barely rated a glance from the hard eyed men and women driving, being unarmed I imagine that they considered me little threat. I had already stashed the hammer in my backpack. Further along the road and more so before the gates, the ground was spotted with dark patches that looked to be blood and other unidentifiable substances. The whole area reeked of death.
The sentries dutifully ignored me once they realised I was a living breathing person and concentrated on their jobs. As I reached the gates one was pulled open and a soldier holding his rifle at the ready gestured me in.
The soldier bade me follow him as he walked along the fence to a large tent set away from the others. Several soldiers stood guard around it and I began to feel a little concern. My escort stopped at the entrance and gestured at me to continue. I stepped into the tent.
Within the tent all was quiet, it was easily tall enough to allow me to stand upright. Cloth partitions surrounded me. A pretty young lady in combat fatigues and a white coat came around the fabric wall to my left.
“Hi there. Welcome to our little hospital.” She said with a smile. “You just arrived I take it?”
“Yes just minutes ago. What’s going on?” I asked.
“Standard procedure I’m afraid. We need to make sure you are clear of infection before we let you into the general population.” She smiled at me again; I suspected she was trying to put me at ease.
“Don’t worry we have been checking all the new arrivals. We didn’t actually expect any more. The roads are pretty bad out there.” She chattered on as she led me back the behind the partition she had first stepped through.
The small space was empty but for a stern soldier holding a rifle. I began to sweat. “It’s ok” she said noticing my concern “he is just here for our protection. If you aren’t infected you will be fine.”
“And if I am infected?” The soldier stood a little straighter and clutched his rifle tight as I said that. He didn’t blink as he stared at me.
“If you have been bitten, or have an open wound and obvious signs of infection; this soldier will take you to a holding area. If you are still ok after twenty four hours you will be checked over and given the all clear to enter the camp. If you are infected you will turn and, well we wouldn’t have much choice then would we.” She said before adding, “You need to get undressed please.”
Neither the medic nor the soldier showed any indication of allowing me privacy so I reluctantly dropped my backpack and started removing my clothes.
“What happened there?” asked the medic as I removed my t-shirt. The soldier had the rifle up and pointed directly at me. I stood as still as I could, doing my best to appear unthreatening.
“An accident a couple of days ago, I cut myself” I said, careful to stress that it was not recent. The medic pulled away the gauze, the tape doing its painful best to remain attached to my skin. She inspected the deep cut. Despite the antibacterial I had used, the skin around the wound looked red and inflamed.
“Ok. It’s certainly not recent but it does look like you might have a standard infection. I can give you antibiotics to help combat it. Do you have any other wounds you need to tell me about?” she asked, as she looked towards the soldier and gave a small nod. He lowered the rifle again.
I told her that I had no others and explained that I had been hidden away for the last two days as I finished removing my clothes. The medic gave me a thorough and more than a little embarrassing inspection. Finally she gave the all clear and allowed me to dress once more. The soldier relaxed and I breathed a sigh of relief.
The medic led me back to the front and I was handed over to a soldier stationed outside the tent’s entrance before she handed me a small bottle of pills retrieved from a pocket of her coat and scurried back to whatever she had been doing before I arrived. The soldier led me towards yet another tent set away from the main camp. This tent was a hive of activity, soldiers of all ranks bustled about their business.
The soldier left me with a portly man dressed in the now familiar military garb and seated behind a table just outside the tent. He identified himself as the quartermaster and filled me in on the basic camp rules. I would be given a blanket if I did not have one. The tents and sleeping bags had all been taken days before. I could sleep anywhere around the stadium that I could find space provided I was out of the way of the soldiers.
Food was in short supply with so many people, so meals were rationed and provided once a day. Water was still running but to get any I would likely have to queue. Inside the stadium and sports centre were toilet facilities but again the camp held far too many people, so temporary port-a-loos had been set up around the camps.
The camp rules were fairly simple. Any theft, fighting or rape and you would be kicked from the camp. The soldiers here were too few in number to do much more than guard the perimeter so they certainly had no capacity to care for prisoners. If you killed someone or interfered with the military operation you would be executed. That order had been given by the military high command with the backing of the government just days before.
If I obeyed the rules, I could spend my time as I pleased. If I wanted to leave and they could open the gates safely, then I was free to do so. If someone left though, it was unlikely they would be allowed back in. Too many chances someone would bring the infection back in with them. The quartermaster solemnly informed me that an incident just after the camp was set up had caused the deaths of fifteen people. The military would not be taking any more chances.
The atmosphere of the camp was overwhelming. Thousands of people crammed into one place with limited access to water, stank to high heaven. The noise was constant. People talking in low tones, arguments and swearing were commonplace. No laughter and no smiling faces, just an undercurrent of despair.
I spent the few hours that remained before it would become too dark to do much of anything, exploring my new home. I moved through the press of humanity, always keeping a wary eye out for somewhere to spend the night.
Within the stadium itself, thousands filled the seats. Anyone who cared to look would be unable to see the grass of the pitch due to the sheer number of people huddled together on it. The corridors and rooms that filled the stadium itself had become a home to the dirty masses. Children and adults alike wept for loved ones they had lost. As the day wore on, I couldn’t help but become claustrophobic.
The stadium was too crowded for my taste. It would just take one person getting infected before dying of old age or someone keeling over from a heart attack, before rising as a zombie and attacking everyone around them. No place to run, they would be sitting ducks.
Even though the nights were becoming colder as the days moved ever further away from summer, I decided to sleep outside. I chose a spot by the outer wall of the gym, away from the worst of the wind and most of the people and lay down. The area was quiet being so close to the fence that ended against the gym wall. That seemed to put people off which suited me well. My backpack served as a pillow and I wrapped myself in the blanket and fell asleep.
I was awakened before dawn by the pop pop of many guns firing. The sound seemed to come from the north. The firing continued for several minutes before silence fell once more. The zombies it seemed were approaching the camp.
Sleep would not return. I couldn’t get comfortable and the cold was seeping into my very bones. I gave up and decided to have a look at what was happening at the north gate. I gathered up my few possessions and made my way around the stadium and through the camps.
By the time I had reached the gate, the soldiers were dragging away the last of the corpses. A few other curious civilians had gathered to watch. The majority though seemed unwilling to leave the warmth of their blankets or tents.
The soldiers had soon returned to their routine and I had grown bored of watching them. In truth I was bored with the whole camp already. I spent the rest of the day wandering aimlessly around the camp. Occasionally the monotony would be broken by a group of zombies approaching the camp. They were quickly despatched and it was not really that much fun to watch someone else shoot them. In the late afternoon I joined the long lines of people waiting for food and had a fairly unappetizing meal before settling down once more for the night in my corner by the gym.
I awoke the next day feeling out of sorts and irritable. I sat and leaned back against the stadium wall, wrapped in my blanket and stared morosely through the fence. Nothing moved on the road beyond. The gunfire was heard often and from several places throughout the day but I couldn’t even rouse enough interest to go and watch the zombies as they were gunned down.
The boredom was becoming too much. I could feel no special desire to try and talk to anyone within the camp. They were all too fearful, too content to let the soldiers protect them as they hid here. I ran my hand across my chin. I needed a shave and a shower but could find no way to do either whilst in the camp. It was time to go. I had made a mistake coming to this place. It was not for the likes of me. I would be better suited taking my chances outside the camp, even if I was alone.
There would be no point in wasting any more time. I still had a little food hidden away in my backpack and whilst the soldiers had been cleaning out the nearby supermarkets for food to supply the people here, a great many houses would still contain items of use for someone who was not squeamish about removing the occupants whether living or dead.
I stood slowly and stretched. I had been sat in one place so long my muscles had stiffened. I pulled on the backpack and headed for the gates to the south. As I approached I couldn’t miss the commotion. The soldiers had the gates shut tight and were gathered before them listening to one of the officers speak.
A crowd of worried people had gathered. I approached the nearest soldier and asked. “What’s going on?”
“Zombies are coming. Lots of them.” He said. “Looks like we are going to be having a rough time.”
“Ah. I was actually headed out. Which way are they coming from so I can head in the opposite direction?”
The soldier looked at me and snorted. “You aren’t going anywhere mate. Gates are shut and camps on lockdown.”
“Even the north gate?”
“Yes. We have a shit ton of zombies headed this way. No one is going in or out. No point, nowhere to go.” He said before he ran over to a group of soldiers by the medical tent.
It was typical of my luck of late. Decide to leave just as I became stuck in the camp. I felt a very real urge to scream and have a tantrum.
“Ryan?” A familiar voice called from somewhere close by. “Oh my God that is you!”
I turned just in time to see Lily running towards me. Arms stretched out as she embraced me. “We thought you were dead.” She said through tears.
“What?” I said more than a little shocked by her sudden appearance.
Lily gazed up at me through tear filled eyes. “We waited for you and you didn’t turn up. We thought you were dead.” She said smiling. “What happened to you?”
I quickly filled her in on what had happened to me after we separated. I kept it short and left out a couple of things that may have upset her. When I had finished she just stood smiling at me. I was very aware of the fact that she was still holding on to me.
“I am so glad to see you. I was worried. Come on you have to meet Claire, she will want to see you.” She said as she grabbed my hand and started to pull me through the growing crowd of worried onlookers.
“Who is Claire?” I asked.
Lily looked back at me, smile still fixed in place. “Claire was in the car with her daughter. She will be so happy to know you are alive so she can thank you.”
She seemed genuinely happy to see me, so I didn’t protest too much as she led me through the crowd and into the stadium. My mood had lightened considerably and the prospect of being stuck within the camp didn’t seem so terrible.
As I followed Lily my thoughts turned back to the approaching zombies and the worry I had sensed in the soldier. The stadium wouldn’t be able to hold out against any group of zombies large enough to require them to lockdown both gates. It would be just a matter of time before they managed to get in. I would need to find a way out and holding Lily’s hand, her flesh warm and not unpleasant I silently added that I would need to get her out too.