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 in abundance now street lighting was a thing of the past.
After a pause, he walked towards the door and opened it. He poked his head around and looked left and right down the wide corridor; nothing to see. He ignored an urge to check the stairwell to ensure his blockage of the door at the bottom hadn’t been breached. The weight of the objects blocking the door was far too great for the lethargic lurchers despite their great number.
He closed the door and headed back inside the room to the window. The office block wasn’t tall, only four storeys, and he could easily see down to the street outside. It was still swarming with lurchers. They moved painfully slowly 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 simultaneously dull. They made the occasional convulsive movement and 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. One caught Ryan’s eye. He stared at the decaying form, who appeared to stare straight back at him. Their eyes locked 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. The noise would only draw trouble his way. Not worth it for the sake of one gawker. He lowered the gun and went back to where he’d been sleeping just minutes ago. He had a drink of water then lay back down and interlaced his fingers across his chest. He’d have to leave this office block soon. 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. For that reason, it was the perfect place for Ryan to get away from the droves of people he didn’t like, either for some solace or to have sex with women—like he was doing at that 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 he 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, then climbed off his lap and started to get dressed.
Ryan watched her as she bent to pick up her clothing. He felt a tinge of regret in doing so. This woman was ordinary in every way. She wasn’t offensive to the eye; she wasn’t pleasing on it either. His regret wasn’t about what he’d just done. It was sport, a means to an end.
His regret was in the fact he’d taken for granted all the beautiful women he’d bedded before the apocalypse began. He genuinely missed his ex-girlfriend, Georgina. He’d tried to contact her after everything had kicked off. Every call went unanswered. He didn’t want to contemplate her death, though also hoped she hadn’t ignored him because she’d finally had enough of him.
Amy or Annie or something approached and kissed Ryan again once she was dressed.
Still in his daydream, he grabbed her forcefully by her backside and kissed her with fervour, 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, turning to leave.
“Yeah, cool,” Ryan responded nonchalantly. He rubbed his face vigorously, trying to scrub away the sudden vexation he felt.
He got dressed, deciding he’d take a walk to try and clear his head. He left the room and made his way through the bingo hall, speaking to nobody along the way.
The bright sunlight hit him like a tonne of bricks. There were murmurings that the unseasonably hot weather would create havoc with the water supply situation and rationing would soon be implemented.
Turning left out of the bingo hall, he went in the direction of the tall perimeter barriers. It was his usual tack when going for a head-clearing jaunt. It was generally desolate and that worked perfectly for him.
Ten minutes into the walk he noticed a building. Despite seeing the building every time he’d taken the walk over the past couple of weeks he’d never paid any attention to it. Today he found himself curious. The door into the building sat at the end of a pathway and clearly stated no entry was permitted. Also clear was that the door was unmanned.
Ryan decided he wanted to know what was behind the door. He looked around to ensure no soldiers were nearby and started down the pathway.
The door wasn’t locked and opened with a slight creak. It was dark inside with an accompanying smell of damp; he wasn’t perturbed and stepped inside, closing the door behind him. He allowed his eyes to adapt to the darkness a minute. There were a couple of doors on a narrow, short corridor and a stairwell. The floor was wet and he worried fleetingly whether he’d be greeted by rats. He approached one of the two doors and tried the handle.
No big shock. Nor was it when he tried the next one and that was locked too. He decided to go up the staircase, ignoring the doors on the other floors, and went straight to the top level.
There he was greeted by a fire exit. Part of him told him he should leave it alone. He ignored the voice of sense and went over to it, trying the push bar. It was stiff and the door wouldn’t open. He jostled it a few times to no avail before shoulder barging it.
The door flew open and he stumbled through. He’d have toppled 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 he immediately knew he’d be in trouble. That felt irrelevant as he brought himself back to a vertical base and looked out beyond the stairwell; the sight that greeted him made him very nervous.
It was tough to count how many of the so-called lurchers littered the streets—certainly more than a handful. Ryan could only stare in dumbstruck incomprehension. Had the military lied about the number of infected? Was it more than what they’d said?
The noise of the alarm whipped the lurchers into a frenzy as they staggered around in search of the source of the noise. Ryan could just about hear their groans through the loud alarm. While his every sense told him to turn around, head back inside, and get away, he 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 and it was a shock to the system to say the very least.
The next thing his system felt was a sharp pain on the back of his head preceding darkness.
Light flooded into the room as the door opened and Ryan shielded his eyes. He had no idea how long it had been since he was shoved in solitary confinement. The silhouette of a soldier stood in the doorway.
“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 to cover his ears instead. The soldier chuckled callously, moving aside to allow a subordinate officer in, who hoisted Ryan up by his shoulders. Ryan was quick to shrug him off and rose to his feet independently. He walked out of the cell and into a corridor, rubbing his eyes periodically as they adjusted to the light. One soldier followed closely behind while the other led the way.
They soon arrived at the office of Sergeant Harris and the ranking officer knocked on the door.
“Enter!” came a booming voice from within.
The officer pulled down on the handle and allowed Ryan to enter.
Ryan walked in slowly and settled his gaze on the bald-headed sergeant’s humourless grey eyes. Rarely intimidated by people, he felt uncomfortable around this particular man. He took the seat that Harris gestured towards without a sound, ignoring his admonishing stare as best he could.
“What d’ya want me to explain?”
“Don’t try acting the smartarse with me, sunshine! You entered a restricted area without permission. I want to know why.”
“I was curious.”
“About what’s out there. We get told nothing. You military pricks walk around like you’re the overlords of everything, telling nobody a thing about what’s going on outside.”
“If it were safe to leave then we’d tell you.”
“I saw with my own eyes that it wasn’t safe! 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 hell of a lot of lurchers to compromise their sturdiness.”
“But we aren’t getting out of here, are we? We’re stuck here.”
“The infection spread worse than we first anticipated,” Harris admitted, looking somewhat sheepish. “It’ll take a lot of resources to eradicate the problem and we don’t have them at present. It’ll take 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 it 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 leaned back in his chair and gazed at Ryan with intensity. “Regardless of what you feel to be right or wrong, I must impress on 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 countered, leaning forwards.
Harris leaned in also. “Then two days in solitary confinement will feel like a fortnight in the fucking Maldives!”
TO BE CONTINUED