A look inside the rucksack confirmed what Ryan had feared; there really was no more food. He’d depleted all of what he’d grabbed from the vending machine before coming into the office building. That meant only one thing; he’d have to move on. The fear crept in immediately. How would he even get out of here while there were myriad lurchers milling around downstairs?
Of course he knew there’d be another exit from the building; perhaps more than one, but he had no idea where they might be. Now was the perfect time to try and find out where they might be, Ryan mused.
The office block was never going to be anything permanent. Ryan had every intention of moving on eventually, but it seemed a much scarier prospect than he’d first envisaged it would be now that his hand was forced.
He stepped out of the room he’d called home for the past few days and turned right out of the door; the opposite direction from the staircase he’d come in from. He knew there was another staircase at the other end of the corridor, but he hadn’t been able to bring himself to inspect it in case he didn’t like what he found.
Ryan approached the doorway into the staircase tentatively; 9mm pistol held out before him. The handle made nary a sound as he turned it and the door clicked open. The staircase was illuminated slightly by small windows and the slight light filtering in only served to make the scene that bit eerier.
Quietly, he made his way down all of the stairs to the bottom. There were two doors; one to his left and one straight ahead. He opened the one to the left very slightly; expecting he knew what was on the other side and his instincts didn’t lie. It opened out into the main lobby and he closed the door after a glance of little more than a second.
He cursed inwardly. The lurcher situation in the lobby was worse than he’d first envisaged and it concerned him that this particular stairwell was free for them to walk into at any point. He thanked his lucky stars that the lurchers hadn’t had the thought to head towards that particular door while he’d been staying there or he could have been in serious trouble.
Having checked that door, Ryan then tried the other. His attempts to open it discreetly were met with failure as it screeched metallically and his heart jumped into his mouth. He hoped it hadn’t been as loud as he thought. The door was only open fractionally, but he could see through the gap and it became immediately apparent that it led out into a courtyard or something. Better still, there appeared to be no lurchers around.
This would be his escape route.
Ryan left the door slightly ajar as it was; not wishing to cause any more noise. He checked through the other door again to see if the screeching had caused a stir, but the lurchers were still ambling around aimlessly. A lucky break and Ryan knew it.
He headed back up the stairs right to the top where a heavy door blocked his path to the roof. It was stuck, but Ryan had the strength to dislodge it and it eventually opened after the application of some effort. The sun was still unrelenting and it hurt his eyes, but he made his way towards the edge of the building where the courtyard was.
A quick glance confirmed it was his best option for escape, but by no means was it perfect. While the heaviest concentration of lurchers was on the entrance side of the office block, there were still pockets of them on the road at the rear. Escaping wouldn’t be a walk in the park, but Ryan knew already what he’d have to do.
About a week ago
“One hour ‘til curfew,” came the monotonous sound of the voice over the tannoy.
“Fuck you,” Ryan said; holding up the middle finger of his right hand at the speaker in the corner of the room.
“Plenty long enough for us to get another round in,” said the young woman present.
Ryan scrutinised her. She was prettier than the rest of his paramours. He could even recall her name. In fact, he almost fancied this girl. The only problem was that she was young; about eighteen or nineteen. He could only stomach her presence for a given length of time and they were approaching the cut-off.
“Let’s leave it there for today, Carly,” Ryan said dismissively.
“Ah, come on. You know you want it,” Carly uttered; walking towards him with a seductive glint in her eye and lifting her vest top slightly to display her midriff.
“Maybe tomorrow, yeah? I just need to be alone for a while”.
Carly could sense the sharpness of Ryan’s tone and pulled back with an offended look on her face. Ryan knew this was where the teenager in her would flood out.
“Fine! Pick me up and drop me whenever it suits you”.
“Seeya later, Carly,” Ryan called after her nonchalantly as she walked out; though she did turn again just before opening the door to raise a palm towards him before leaving.
Ryan chuckled quietly in amusement. Had he been a good five or six years younger he’d have probably really dug her, but as it were he couldn’t put up with the mood swings and childishness for long.
She was another risk for him. He was actively sleeping with four different women now; three of whom were either married or with a partner while Carly was with a protective dad who’d already made it clear he didn’t much care for Ryan. That didn’t bother him at all. He wasn’t intimidated by anybody who wasn’t in the clothing of military personnel.
It’d been a couple of weeks since his altercation with Sergeant Harris. Nothing more had been said. Ryan kept to his end of the bargain and said nothing of what he knew to anybody and the military had allowed him to get on with his life.
He’d played the game and had them believe he was content with the way things were. The truth, however, was that he wanted out. While he knew that he could live a semblance of a satisfactory life in the Safe Zone, he could never be happy knowing he was essentially a prisoner and living under the say-so of others; especially when those others were the army.
His mind was made up; he was leaving the Safe Zone. He’d decided on it over a week ago, but was happy to allow the dust to settle in the meantime. The dust had settled. Tonight was the night.
To say it’d been planned to meticulous perfection would’ve been being economical with the truth at best. He knew what he was going to do, but didn’t know whether it’d work. He no longer cared at this juncture.
Ryan shaved his head of the inch or so of hair that’d grown. He never allowed it to grow that long, but hadn’t been given the opportunity to cut it since the virus hit hard. There happened to be a battery powered grooming shaver in the room that still only he and his paramours seemed to know about. After shaving his head, Ryan looked himself over in a small mirror. Back to something resembling his usual cut. He also took the opportunity to reduce the length of his facial hair to short stubble.
After his grooming session, he returned to his seat and waited in silence. The thoughts danced around in his head as much as he tried to prevent them from doing so.
Then the lights went out. The room was bathed in near darkness; only the dim emergency lighting providing any illumination. Ryan waited a minute before standing and opening a cupboard. He changed into the clothes that were hung up before hooking a rucksack over his shoulders and retrieving a 7 iron golf club that’d presumably belonged to one of the bingo callers.
He was ready, or at least as ready as he was likely ever to be. He slipped out of the door and headed for a fire escape at the rear of the building unseen. He knew that this door wasn’t alarmed and got outside without a glitch.
The streets were patrolled by the military, but not heavily. Ryan knew he’d get pockets of time to make progress towards his escape point. He also knew there were unguarded alleyways he could use too and he wasted no time in making early progress. At an ordinary walking pace, Ryan would make it to the fire escape in ten minutes. He wanted to be there in less than five.
The going was smooth. It was so smooth in fact that it actually concerned him. It shouldn’t have been this easy. He utilised every shadow, nook and cranny along the way to keep himself hidden from the occasional patrol he happened across. The military present had no reason to believe anybody would be stupid enough to break curfew so they took a lackadaisical approach to their patrolling.
Ryan made it to the fire escape in good time. He didn’t know if it was less than five minutes, but it was certainly quick. There was an officer stood in front of the door; something that’d become a regular thing since Ryan had been through it. He waited at the end of the alleyway and whistled. This would be the death or glory moment.
The bait worked and the officer walked slowly down the alleyway; straight into the business end of the 7 iron golf club Ryan carried. The force was enough to knock the soldier out cold. Ryan wondered momentarily whether it’d actually killed him but a quick check told him the man was still breathing.
Ryan dragged the limp form of the officer back down the alleyway and leaned him against the wall outside the door before checking him over for any essentials he could pilfer. He found a 9mm pistol, a torch and a bowie knife. Perfect, Ryan thought.
He slipped inside the door and closed it; flicking on the torch immediately after. The dingy stairwell was bathed in yellow light. He aimed the beam upwards and followed a red wire that was tacked to the ceiling. The wire led to a small red box and Ryan opened it. The switches inside made no sense at all.
With that in mind, Ryan switched to a different tactic and instead used the bowie knife to cut the wire. He half expected an electric shock or some sparks, but neither came.
The stairs were bounded up in next to no time and Ryan paused outside the fire door. He expected soldiers to burst through the door downstairs any minute. Sucking in a lungful of air, he approached the fire door; pushing down forcefully on the handle.
The only noise was the sound of the heavy door swinging open. He breathed a sigh of relief. He might just get away with this. Ryan closed the door after he’d stepped through and looked out onto the dark streets below; the street lamps having long since been disconnected. Nonetheless, he could hear and just about see the lurchers below. He couldn’t tell, but there appeared to be considerably less of them as compared to when he’d been out here last. Their eyes seemed to gleam in the darkness and it was all he could do to prevent a shiver travelling down his spine.
He thought he heard a noise from inside and that urged him to quickly head down the metal staircase to the bottom. A flimsy metal gate stood between him and freedom and he kicked it open without much effort.
It proved a costly idea.
The noise attracted nearby lurchers and they ambled over to the source. Ryan panicked and was about to head back up the stairwell until he realised that the fire door at the top only opened from the inside. It was a case of fight or die.
Luckily for him, their movement was slow and laborious. He swung his 7 iron at the closest one to him; a shot straight to the head. There was a sickening squelching thud as the heavy club head made contact and the creature flopped to the ground. Ryan wasted no time in turning his attention to the next one. Another deft swing of the club found its mark, but the club got wedged inside the lurcher’s skull and Ryan couldn’t dislodge it.
The next one was upon him too quickly for him to react. Ryan fell back. The lurcher he’d just killed cushioned his fall, but that was of little comfort as he now had one of them snapping away at him just inches in front of his face.
The smell was indescribably disgusting and Ryan fought the urge to wretch. All he could see were bright, unblinking eyes and snapping teeth with the occasional flash of muscle where the flesh had eroded from the poor cretin’s face. It growled feverishly as it vied desperately to sink its teeth into Ryan, but the latter had the strength to keep the lurcher from indulging in its post death meal.
Ryan reached down for his pocket when he got a split-second of respite to do so and retrieved the bowie knife. When the lurcher went back for more, Ryan buried the knife up to the hilt in its temple. The growling and struggling stopped almost immediately and Ryan took a moment to gather himself before pushing the creature off him.
He stood and perused the lurcher. It was a hideous sight. The eyelids had wasted away leaving the eyes looking as though they were ready to fall out of the sockets at any moment. The mouth was ajar and the lips were gone as were most of the gums. That gave the teeth the appearance of looking extra-long. They no longer looked human and it was at once the most disgusting and fearsome sight Ryan had ever seen.
Retrieving his club and the knife, Ryan shook the ordeal out of his mind and made his way stealthily away from the Safe Zone. He was free, but wondered at what cost in that moment.
Four days later
Ryan looked out at the town before him. It was one he recognised well. It was his hometown.
It’d been a long poke to get there, but he’d managed it. Trouble had been avoided for the most part along the way and he’d managed to find semi reasonable places in which to rest as he went. It’d pretty much all been countryside once he’d left Sheffield and one big winding road. His caution had been the reason it’d taken so long, but better cautious than dead, he reasoned.
What Ryan didn’t like very much was that the town centre was empty. Not a soul around. It seemed unfeasible that there’d be no lurchers around at all, but a quick reconnoitre uncovered nothing. The same could be said of the markets when he went in search of food.
He noticed a vending machine in the shopping centre doorway. More to the point, he noticed the vending machine was full with drinks and snacks. He took his 7 iron; swinging it at the glass and it immediately shattered with a loud smash.
They appeared from out of nowhere. So many that he couldn’t count. He retrieved as much of the food and drink as he could and stuffed them into his rucksack before running like his life depended on it, which it very much did. He had no time to wonder where they’d all come from and how. All he knew was that he had to escape.
Ryan ran around a corner and saw an office building up ahead. The doors were smashed so getting in wouldn’t be a problem. What was a problem was the several lurchers milling about in there too and he had to swerve the advances of one or two while using his 7 iron to bash in the brains of a couple of others.
He made it to a stairwell and went inside; closing the door behind him. He could hear and feel the thuds as the lurchers attempted to come through the door; their attempts lacking any sufficient power to overhaul Ryan who was reasonably strong. Ryan noticed the door could be locked and he turned the knob to make it so.
That would hold them for a few minutes maybe, but their combined strength would eventually breach the door and he knew it. He ran up the stairs onto the next floor and looked around. There were several chairs and desks and he began throwing them into the stairwell before using a bunch of them to barricade the door that the lurchers were still vying to break through.
After twenty minutes of filling the area with office furniture, Ryan finally stepped back and admired his handiwork. Even if the lurchers got through the door, he was very confident that the office furniture would prove too much an obstacle for them to work through. He sighed aloud before making his way up the four flights of stairs to the top level.
Once up there, he looked around and ensured that any lurchers hanging around were made short work of. There were only a couple so it was no real chore comparatively speaking. He then selected an office to hole up in.
That was that. Ryan felt at least reasonably safe for the time being.
Ryan was ready to go. He’d done his best to draw the lurchers out of the lobby and from the surrounding streets to the entrance of the office building by throwing various objects from the roof and making as much noise as he could. It’d worked and the hordes had grown in size. That would make his idea of sneaking out of the back much simpler.
He made his way down the stairwell and to the door he’d been at earlier. He opened it and stepped outside into the sunshine. The couple of lurchers hanging around approached immediately and Ryan used his golf club to despatch of the first before plunging his knife through the eye socket of the next. He was already proficient in the art of slaying lurchers.
However, there was one thing he wasn’t used to and that was when one of the creatures ran directly at him and leaped. He almost didn’t see it, but more via luck than judgement, Ryan swung his club and caught the lurcher hard in the midriff. It fell several feet away and it was clear that several ribs had been broken.
That didn’t stop the lurcher from advancing again in a crawl, but Ryan took another vicious swing with the club and virtually took half of the unfortunate creature’s head off. The face was still intact and Ryan could see that it was a gawker. He knew there’d been something different about them and now he knew what. That would certainly make things interesting from here on in.
Ryan knew exactly where he was going from this point. Home was less than a mile away. He was concerned about what might await him.
TO BE CONTINUED
Don’t forget that the sister story to this, Just Another Apocalypse Diary by Kira Scribbled, is available to read too. Catch up with Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4 now by clicking the appropriate link. A story that’s simply too good to miss!