A look inside the rucksack confirmed what Ryan had feared: he was out of food. He’d depleted all of what he’d grabbed from the vending machine prior to coming into the office building. It was unavoidable now; he’d have to move on. The fear crept in immediately. How would he even get out of here while myriad lurchers milled around downstairs? He knew there’d be another exit from the building, perhaps more than one. Where they might be was another matter entirely. Now was the perfect time to try and find out.
The office block was never going to be anything permanent. Ryan had every intention of moving on eventually. It just seemed a much scarier prospect than he’d first envisaged now 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 of the staircase he’d entered from. There was a second staircase at the other end of the corridor that he hadn’t brought himself to inspect in case he didn’t like what he found.
Ryan approached the doorway into the staircase tentatively, 9mm pistol in hand. The handle made nary a sound as he turned it and the door clicked open. The staircase was illuminated slightly by small windows; 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. 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, cursing inwardly.
The lurcher situation in the lobby was worse than he’d first envisaged and it concerned him that this particular stairwell had been free for them to walk into at any point. He thanked his lucky stars that they hadn’t thought to head towards that particular door while he’d been staying there or he could have been in serious trouble.
He then tried the other door. 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. Though the door was only open fractionally, there was enough of a gap for him to see that it led out into a courtyard. 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 and was relieved to see the lurchers were still ambling aimlessly around. A lucky break and he knew it.
Next, he headed up the stairs right to the top where a heavy door blocked his path to the roof. It was stuck, but he applied some effort and it eventually opened. The sun was still unrelenting and it hurt his eyes. He made his way towards the edge of the building where the courtyard was.
A quick glance confirmed that it was his best escape option albeit by no means perfect. While the heaviest concentration of lurchers was on the entrance side of the office block, pockets of them were still present on the road at the rear. Escaping wouldn’t be simple. Alas, he’d run out of alternative options.
One week ago
“One hour ‘til curfew,” came the monotonous sound of the voice over the PA system.
“Fuck you!” Ryan held 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,” the young woman he was with suggested.
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, only eighteen. 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,” he replied.
“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 need to be alone for a while.”
Carly could sense the sharpness of Ryan’s tone and pulled back with affront. “Fine! Pick me up and drop me whenever it suits you.”
“Seeya later,” Ryan called after her nonchalantly as she walked out, though she did turn again to raise a palm towards him before leaving.
He chuckled quietly in amusement. Had he been a good five or six years younger he’d have probably really dug her. As it was, he couldn’t cope with the immaturity for long.
It had 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 shared nothing of what he knew. In return, he’d been 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. He could never be happy knowing he was essentially a prisoner and living under the say-so of the army, even if he could live something even vaguely resembling a normal life by doing so.
His mind was made up: he was leaving the safe zone. He’d decided on it several days ago and had merely been allowing the dust to settle. The dust had settled; tonight was the night!
To say it had been planned to meticulous perfection would have been untrue. He knew what he was going to do. Whether it would work or not was a complete crapshoot. He no longer cared at this juncture.
He shaved his head of the inch or so of hair that had grown. There happened to be a battery powered grooming shaver in the room that still only he and his paramours seemed to know about. 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. 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 provided any illumination. A minute later, Ryan stood and opened a cupboard. He changed into the clothes that hung on the rack, hooked a rucksack over his shoulders, and retrieved a 7-iron golf club. Why it was there he didn’t care to presume.
He was ready—at least as ready as he was likely ever to be! Slipping out of the door, Ryan headed for a fire escape at the rear of the building unseen. He knew this door wasn’t alarmed and got outside without a glitch.
The streets were lightly patrolled by the military. Ryan knew he’d get pockets of time to advance towards his escape point. He also knew there were unguarded alleyways he could use and wasted no time in making early progress. At an ordinary walking pace, he’d make it to the fire escape in ten minutes; he wanted to be there in less than five.
The going was smooth, so smooth in fact that it caused him concern. 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 patrols 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. There was an officer stood in front of the door, a measure taken since Ryan’s escapade. He waited at the end of the pathway and quietly whistled; this would be the death or glory moment.
The bait worked and the officer walked slowly down the pathway—straight into the business end of Ryan’s 7-iron! The force was enough to knock him out cold. Ryan wondered momentarily whether it had actually killed him; a quick check told him he was still breathing.
Ryan dragged the officer’s limp form back down the pathway, leaned him against the wall outside the door, and then checked him over for any essentials he could pilfer. He found a 9mm pistol, a torch, and a bowie knife. Perfect!
He slipped inside the door and closed it, flicking on the torch. The dingy stairwell was bathed in yellow light. Aiming the beam upwards, he followed a red wire that was tacked to the ceiling. The wire led to a small red box and he opened it. The switches inside made no sense at all.
With that in mind, he 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 alarm was neutralised.
Ryan continued up to the fire door and paused. He knew soldiers would burst through the door downstairs any minute. Sucking in a lungful of air, he approached the fire door and pushed down forcefully on the handle.
The only noise was the sound of the heavy door swinging open and he sighed with relief. He might just get away with this! Ryan closed the door after stepping through and looked out onto the dark streets below. He could hear and just about see the lurchers below. There appeared to be considerably less of them as compared to when he’d been out here last. Their eyes gleamed 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 the building and it urged him to move quickly down the metal staircase to the bottom. A flimsy metal gate stood between him and freedom and he kicked it open with gusto.
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 made contact and the creature flopped to the ground. He promptly turned his attention to the next one. Another deft swing of the club found its mark, though the club got wedged in the lurcher’s skull and he couldn’t dislodge it.
The next one was upon him too quickly for him to react. He fell back. The lurcher he’d just killed cushioned his fall; that was of little comfort as he now had one of them snapping away at him 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 its prey. Ryan had the strength to keep the lurcher from indulging in its post-death meal.
When he got a split-second of respite to do so, Ryan reached down into his pocket and retrieved the bowie knife. When the lurcher went back for more, he buried the knife up to the hilt in its temple. The growling and struggling stopped almost immediately and Ryan quickly pushed 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 their sockets at any moment. The mouth was ajar and the lips were gone, as were most of the gums, causing the teeth to appear extra-long. They no longer looked human and it was at once the most revolting and fearsome sight Ryan had ever seen.
Retrieving his club and the knife, he shook the ordeal out of his mind and jogged away from the safe zone. He was free. At what cost remained to be seen.
Four days later
Ryan looked out at the town ahead of him, one he recognised well. It was his hometown.
It had been a long poke to get there; somehow, he’d managed it. Trouble was avoided for the most part along the way and he’d happened across semi-reasonable places in which to rest as he went. It had been countryside pretty much all the way once he left Sheffield and one big winding road. Caution had been the reason it took so long. Better cautious than dead!
What Ryan didn’t like very much was that the town centre was empty. Not a soul around. As unfeasible as it seemed that there’d be no lurchers around at all, a quick reconnoitre uncovered nothing. It was the same story on 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. Without much forethought, hunger clouding his judgement, Ryan took his 7-iron and swung it at the glass, shattering it with a loud smash.
They appeared from out of nowhere, so many he couldn’t count. He retrieved as much of the food and drink as he could, stuffing them into his rucksack, and then ran as fast as he could. He had no time to wonder where they’d all come from and how. All he knew was that he had to escape.
As he ran around a corner, an office building appeared up ahead. The doors were smashed, so getting in wouldn’t be a problem. The problem was the lurchers milling about in the lobby; he had to swerve the advances of one or two, using his 7-iron to bash in the brains of a couple of others.
He went through a door to a stairwell and closed it behind him as the pursuing lurchers thudded against it. The door could be locked and he turned the knob to make it so. That would hold them for a few minutes, but their combined strength would eventually breach the door and he knew it.
He ran up the stairs onto the next floor and saw there were several chairs and desks. He began throwing them into the stairwell and used them to barricade the door.
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 confident the office furniture would prove too much of an obstacle for them to work through.
Satisfied, he trudged wearily up the four flights of stairs to the top level. Once there, he looked around and ensured any lurchers present 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 reasonably safe for the time being.
TO BE CONTINUED
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