Ryan woke with a start. He thought he’d heard something and was immediately on his feet; 9mm pistol in hand. He pointed it at the closed door of the office and held his position for several seconds awaiting more noise. The only light in the room was filtering through the window by virtue of the bright moonlight and stars that were suddenly in abundance now that street lighting was a thing of the past.
After a pause, Ryan walked towards the door and opened it. He poked his head around and looked left and right down the wide corridor. He couldn’t make anything out in the darkness. His natural instinct was to check the stairwell and ensure his blockage of the door at the bottom hadn’t somehow been breached, but he knew the weight of the objects blocking the door was far too much for the lethargic lurchers; even if they were in great number. They’d have surely long since forgotten he went up the stairwell.
He closed the door quietly and headed back inside the room to the window. The office block wasn’t tall; only four stories; and he could easily see down to the street outside that was still swarming with lurchers. They moved in as slow a motion as was possible and often just in circles. It was almost as though they were trying to get their bearings.
However, it was the ones that stood perfectly still and stared dead ahead that freaked Ryan out the most. Gawkers he called them. Their eyes were unblinking and bright, yet dull simultaneously. They made the occasional convulsive movement, but nothing more. Ryan would often contemplate what might be going through their minds.
This particular night was no exception. In amongst the throng of lurchers moving slovenly around were two or three gawkers and one caught Ryan’s eye. He stared at the decaying form who appeared to stare straight back at him. Their eyes locked and remained that way for what felt like an age. Ryan felt frustration well up within him and he pulled the gun up to aim at the gawker. Every part of him wanted to pull the trigger and blow the creature’s brains out all over the road.
He didn’t do it. He knew well that the noise would only draw trouble his way. Not worth it for the sake of one gawker. Ryan lowered the gun and went back to where he’d been sleeping just minutes ago. He had a drink of water before lying back down and interlacing his fingers across his chest. He’d have to leave this office block soon, though where he’d go was anybody’s guess.
Several weeks ago
The room at the back of the bingo hall was somewhere nobody went. Either people were too scared they’d get in trouble for doing so or they simply didn’t know about it, but whatever the reason, it was the perfect place for Ryan to get away from the droves of people he didn’t like for some solace or to have sex with women; like he was doing in this particular moment.
The woman in question was the wife of some bloke whose name escaped him. He could barely remember hers. Amy or Annie or something. He didn’t necessarily fancy her, but it was slim pickings in the Safe Zone. Any port in a storm, Ryan thought as he finished relieving his tensions with a barely satisfied grunt.
She leaned in and kissed him on the lips; the passion only one way before climbing off his lap and beginning to dress herself. Ryan watched her as she bent to pick up her clothing. He felt a tinge of regret in doing so. This woman was just ordinary in every way. She wasn’t offensive to the eye, but she wasn’t exactly pleasing on it either. His regret wasn’t about what he’d just done. He did it at least once a day with her or one of the other women dotted around. It was a means to an end and he simply couldn’t go without sex.
His regret was in the fact that he’d taken all the beautiful women he’d bedded before the apocalypse began for granted. He actually genuinely missed his ex-girlfriend, Georgina. He’d tried to contact her after everything had kicked off, but his every call had gone unanswered. He didn’t want to contemplate her death, but also hoped that she hadn’t just ignored him because she’d finally had enough of him.
Amy or Annie or something approached Ryan and kissed him again once she was dressed. Still in his daydream, he grabbed her forcefully by her backside and kissed her with great ardour; fully imagining her to be Georgina. When they pulled out of the kiss several moments later, she looked at him with starry-eyed lust.
“Wow! I’ll definitely be seeing you later handsome,” she said with a smile before turning to leave.
“Yeah, cool,” Ryan responded not even half-heartedly.
He rubbed his face vigorously; trying to rub away the sudden vexation he felt. He then began to dress himself before deciding he wanted to take a walk to try and clear his head. He left the room and made his way through the bingo hall; speaking to nobody and ignoring Amy or Annie or something as was the usual custom.
The bright sunlight hit him like a tonne of bricks once outdoors. There were murmurings that the unseasonable hot weather would create havoc with the water supply situation, but Ryan hadn’t noticed any rationing thus far.
He headed left out of the bingo hall and in the direction of the tall barriers. It was his usual tack when going for a head clearing jaunt. There were rarely any people along the way and that worked perfectly for him.
Ten minutes into the walk and he noticed a building. It was a building he saw every time he’d taken the walk over the past couple of weeks, but had never paid any attention to. However, today he found himself curious. The door into the building sat at the end of an alleyway and clearly stated that no entry was permitted. What was also clear was that the door was unmanned.
In that split-second, Ryan decided he wanted to know what was behind the door. He looked around to ensure no squaddies were about and started down the alleyway when he was satisfied there weren’t.
The door wasn’t locked and opened with a slight creak. It was dark inside and there was a smell of damp, but Ryan wasn’t even remotely perturbed and stepped inside; closing the door behind him. He waited a minute to give his eyes a chance to adapt to the dark surroundings. There were a couple of doors on a narrow and short corridor and a stairwell. The floor was wet and he worried fleetingly whether he’d be greeted by rats. Shaking the fear, he approached one of the two doors and tried the handle.
He wasn’t entirely shocked. Nor was he when he tried the next one and that was locked too. He could’ve easily shoulder barged them open, but decided he’d head up the staircase instead. He didn’t try the doors on the next three floors either and instead just went straight to the top level.
There he was greeted by a fire exit. He hesitated briefly, but already knew exactly what he was going to do. He went over to the fire exit and tried the push bar, but it was stiff. He jostled it a few times to no avail before eventually shoulder barging it.
The door flew open and Ryan stumbled through. He’d have tumbled over the edge of the fire escape staircase if not for the iron fencing that prevented it from being so. A loud alarm sounded and Ryan immediately knew he’d be in trouble, but that became suddenly irrelevant as he brought himself back to a vertical base and looked out beyond the stairwell. He was effectively outside the barrier and the gravity of what was outside hit hard.
It was tough to count how many of the so-called lurchers littered the streets, but there were certainly more than a handful. Ryan could only stare in dumbstruck incomprehension. Had they been lying about the number of infected and it was more than what they’d said?
The noise of the alarm appeared to whip the lurchers into a frenzy as they staggered around in search of the source of the noise. Ryan could just about hear their groaning noises through the loud alarm. His every sense was telling him to turn around, head back inside and get away, but he simply couldn’t tear his eyes away from the gruesome sight of the undead and their rotting flesh that seemed to be melting from their bodies. He’d never seen the effect of the virus with his own eyes before and it was a shock to the system to say the very least.
The next thing Ryan’s system felt was a sharp pain on the back of his head immediately preceding darkness.
Light flooded into the room as the door opened and Ryan had to shield his eyes. He had no idea how long it’d been since he was shoved in solitary confinement, but he knew he didn’t much care for it. The silhouette of a soldier stood in the doorway and Ryan had no way of knowing what expression adorned his face.
“On your feet, Lloyd. Sergeant Harris wants a word with you”.
The man’s deep voice echoed around the room. Along with the lack of light, Ryan had hardly heard a sound during his incarceration either and it caused him to move his arm away from his eyes in order to cover his ears instead. The soldier chuckled callously before moving aside to allow a subordinate officer in. He hoisted Ryan up by his shoulders, but Ryan was quick to shrug him off and get up to his feet independently. He walked out of the cell and into a corridor; rubbing his eyes periodically as they adjusted to the light. Both soldiers followed closely behind, but the subordinate scurried ahead of Ryan to open the doors leading the way.
They made it to the office of Sergeant Harris in just over a minute and the ranking officer knocked on the door.
“Enter,” came the booming voice of Harris.
The officer pulled down on the handle and allowed Ryan to enter. He walked in slowly and his eyes rested almost immediately on the bald-headed sergeant and his humourless grey eyes. Ryan was rarely intimidated by people, but this man made him feel uncomfortable. Harris gestured towards a chair across the desk from where he sat and Ryan took it without a sound. Ryan ignored the admonishing gaze he received as best he could.
“What d’ya want me to explain?”
“Don’t try actin’ the smartarse with me, sunshine! You entered a forbidden area without permission. I want to know why”.
“I was just curious,” Ryan said quietly.
“Curious as to what?”
“As to what’s out there. We get told nothing. You military pricks walk around like you’re the overlords of everything while we get to follow your orders and have no idea about anything going on beyond those barriers”.
“If it were safe to leave then we’d tell you”.
“I saw with my own eyes that it wasn’t safe,” Ryan said darkly. “We’re fucking surrounded!”
“Yes; that’s the long and short of it,” Harris conceded. “I can assure you we’re safe behind those barriers. It’d take a helluva lot of lurchers to compromise their sturdiness”.
“But we aren’t getting out of here, are we? We’re stuck here”.
“The problem is worse than we first anticipated,” Harris said; looking somewhat sheepish. “There are more infected than we first presumed there might be. It’ll take a lot of resources to eradicate the problem and we don’t have them at present. It’ll take some time”.
“So we are stuck here,” Ryan stated more than asked.
“What do you expect, Lloyd? For us to send you out there amongst those things? Is that really preferable to what you have here? Is this place really that unbearable?”
Ryan shrugged his shoulders. He honestly didn’t know how to answer the question. Did he want to be out there with the lurchers? No! Did he want to be in the Safe Zone under the watchful eye of the military? No! His choices were slim.
Harris reclined in his chair and gazed at Ryan with intensity.
“Regardless of what you feel to be right or wrong, I must impress upon you not to breathe a word of what you know to the other residents. The last thing we need right now is panic”.
“And what if I decide the residents should know what’s really going on,” Ryan asked; leaning forwards with a sneer. Harris leaned in also.
“Then two days in solitary confinement will feel like a fortnight in the fucking Maldives, Lloyd,” Harris warned with deadpan seriousness.
TO BE CONTINUED