By Martin Yates
Like a ghost slipping through the shadows, the figure swooped down from the small grating in the ceiling and landed safely on the hard linoleum floor of the supermarket.
He scoped around with a catlike stare before moving stealthily down the aisle. There was one or two of them on the other side of a line of shelves, he had seen them when he dropped in, and he hoped they hadn't spotted him yet.
He bolted down toward the frozen foods section.
Before most of them left or died, Billy and some other survivors had set up a diesel powered generator to prevent the food in the freezers from spoiling. He kept it regularly filled with fuel acquired from a local gas station. Neither the food nor the fuel would last forever though, and Billy knew that sometime in the not too distant future he was going to be forced to move on. He wished he didn't have to though, this place held a lot of memories for him.
He began loading groceries from the freezers into his backpack. He swooped the barrel of his assault rifle around, checking up and down the aisle, searching like a bloodhound for a target but thankfully nothing moved.
He forced as many groceries as possible into the rucksack, shopping after doomsday was not the safest of practices (It wasn't very safe even before the fall of civilisation) and Billy preferred to stockpile food rather than have to make too many trips into dangerous territory. He pushed a bag of frozen peas as hard as possible into the sack so it would fit; he tugged on the zip and just managed to pull it shut with the huge load inside. He had enough food for him to survive on for a week, now he just had to get out of the supermarket. The rope from which he had descended into the shop was a few dozen metres away; he heard shuffling noises echoing from directions.
"Shit!" he mumbled to himself "There's more of them than I thought!"
He stopped moving toward the rope and crouched down, flicking the safety switch on his rifle to 'off' and clicking it into full automatic mode, that way he could just hold down the trigger and mow them down, just fire and forget.
Then, the first corpse came staggering around a junction in the aisles. It was decaying slightly around the face and Billy caught a glimpse of a small colony of maggots chewing on its left eyelid.
On sight of the human, it drew back its head and wailed an awful, banshee-like scream that swept throughout the entire building. It was answered by several dozen similar calls from all across the inside of the shop as the other zombies swivelled on their weak legs and staggered clumsily in the direction of their prey.
Billy's rifle crackled as it released round after round into the first ghoul, sending it flying backwards into the liquor shelves in a rain of blood, bullets and exploding beer cans. The zombie was still moving as it crashed to the floor, it scrabbled around at the linoleum and tried to drag itself in Billy's direction. Aiming down the barrel of his rifle Billy squeezed off a single round into the head of the ghoul blasting its face all over the already bloodstained floor.
Billy relaxed and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. But as he hung his rifle round his shoulder, he was alerted by a shuffling sound from behind him. He spun around to see a group of around ten flesh-eaters marching blankly toward him.
Time to get the hell out.
On turning toward his escape route, however, he discovered a similar sight. About twenty undead filled the space between the escape rope and Billy. He new there was only one way out now.
He charged screaming down the aisle with his gun blazing at the shuffling corpses. The creatures wailed with anger, fear and the insatiable hunger that haunted their half-dead minds as he launched himself at them. Bullets sliced through torsos, crania and various limbs sending small chunks of red material spattering around like slush. Some were blasted backwards onto the floor, others staggered away in an attempt to escape while others danced back and forth as the gunfire ripped them apart.
Billy decided he could make it now. He waded quickly through the gruesome piles of flesh that littered the floor.
His heart almost dived out of his mouth when the arm of a small boy reached out from the bloody pile and grabbed his leg. Billy screamed as the undead child clawed carnivorously at his trouser leg. He raised his weapon but found he could not bear to pull the trigger on the child. He cursed to himself.
Kicking the boy's arm aside, he bombed down the aisle at top speed. The zombies behind him were very close now, their arms outstretched towards him, moaning with inhuman, ravenous hunger. He hated to look at them, he was always afraid he would see someone he had once known shuffling along among the hordes of flesh-eaters.
He grabbed the rope and hugged it like a lifeline. Billy heaved himself up as fast as was humanly possible, shimmying hurriedly away from death.
A forest of arms reached upwards, clawing the air, trying mindlessly to grab at their human prey that was already far out of reach.
I've made it again, he thought as he pulled himself from the grating and out onto the rooftop; another week's food shopping successfully completed.
He had enough supplies in the bag to last seven or eight days.
He was happy. Not happy in a grand, joyous sense, but at the most basic and simple level. He knew he would probably live for at least another week.
He strolled leisurely toward the long wooden plank they had set up several months before. It acted as a bridge between the roof of the supermarket and the third level of a dilapidated four-story tenement building that he now called home. It saved him from having to use the dangerous city streets that were infested with the undead. Even now as he looked up and down the road from the elevated view of his makeshift bridge twenty feet above the streets, he reckoned he could see at least a hundred zombies trudging mechanically through the city.
If an observer from a previous age had glanced briefly upon the scene, it would have seemed at first like an ordinary day in the city. Groups of people walking up and down the sidewalks, barging past one-another and going about their daily business. Only when they looked closer would they notice that something was amiss. The lack of traffic, the bullet holed buildings, the dried bloodstains that covered anywhere the rain would not reach, the rotting pedestrians that staggered about covered in blood, the chilling cries that rose from across the city from time-to-time.
The screams of the dead were the worst of all. Billy would lie in bed at night reflecting on the gruesome events of the past year, listening to the occasional cries and moans from the creatures and wonder if tonight would be the night they broke through the barricaded doors and windows, would tonight be his last night as a human.
He jumped down into the window, which served as an entrance to his home. Slamming the shutter closed he turned into the dimly lit dining room, it was 4pm, too early to eat. He decided to listen to the radio for an hour, perhaps today would be his lucky day, he might pick up a broadcast.
Billy booted a waste-paper basket angrily into the kitchen. Why was he lying to himself? He hadn't picked up a radio broadcast in over six months.
The last station went down very suddenly, it was only possible to receive it at night and even then it had been pretty faint. While the station was on the air, all communications networks went down, making it impossible to use telephones, e-mail and Internet to receive information; the station became a faint link to the crumbling civilisation. The people at the station had become pretty crazy towards the end, babbling religious junk about punishment from God, the coming of Armageddon and the rising of Satan. One night they were on the air spouting their usual nonsense and playing the occasional country and western song, then the next they were gone. They had either left or been killed sometime during that day. That was the end of any outside contact.
He moved into the lounge of the apartment and switched on the radio. He was greeted with the usual, fuzzy, unwelcoming crackle of static. No surprises there, he thought mournfully to himself. Undeterred, he hit the scan button and the set began to skip through all the possible frequencies and all the wavelengths but, as usual nothing. There was nobody out there transmitting, there hadn't been for months. Civilisation had been crushed under the heels of dead men.
A freezing hot rush of anger and grief washed through Billy. For the first time since the dead had first walked, the survival instincts that had kept him alive and sane fell from his control. For the first time in years he began to cry.
"How could we have let this happen!?" He screamed hysterically at the cracked ceiling "They won...the bastards won...damn them! DAMN THE FUCKERS!"
Out in the streets the undead heard the human's ranting; faint signs of excitement registered on their pale, bloodless faces. The ghouls glanced up and down the streets searching for the source of the voice. They squinted up alleyways and in shop windows. A dead soldier, still wearing his combat gear and carrying a rifle, moaned at the sky, his finger repeatedly pulling the trigger on his weapon which had long since run out of ammo. A zombie child of about five years old, wearing a bullet-ripped Spiderman t-shirt, searched ravenously for the human, saliva and bacterial corruption oozing from its mouth.
Billy fell back into a recliner, exhausted from his outburst. His eyes closed tightly and he began to shake his head back and forth as if trying to wake from a nightmare.
He let out a childlike whimper and he wished he had someone to cry to. His nightmare was not the armies of the dead, or the constant danger. His nightmare was the loneliness, the solitude.
Sadly, mournfully, he cast his mind's eye back to the beginning of the end...
The sky overhead was turning grey, towering walls of thunderclouds were moving in, a storm was brewing on the horizon. Twenty-three-year-old police officer Billy Lambert rested his M16 over the trunk of a cop cruiser, the barrel aimed expectantly at the distance. His blond hair was messed up and his normally bright green eyes were dreary from lack of sleep, his team had been trying to help control the spread of the 'cannibal creatures' for several days now and he'd only been able to rest for a few hours during that whole time.
Around him dozens of other cops swarmed, loading weapons, shouting instructions and taking aim. Confusion was tearing apart the force, nobody new what to believe. Reports of cannibalism, mass murder and people literally tearing one another apart had begun over a week ago and the latest and most incredible revelation - the reanimation of dead human beings - had finally begun to topple the sanity of the public.
Billy knew where the targets were coming from, he knew his orders, he knew what the targets were...but how the hell was this happening? He hadn't been able to see any TV since the beginning of the crisis but he had heard that there were several theories, none of which answered every question satisfactorily.
Sergeant Willis climbed on top of one of the cruisers. He was a very small man who somehow did not seem to fit his high position within the force, he needed to climb up on the car to draw the attention of the confused mass of dark blue uniforms, automatic weapons and shiny badges. He raised a megaphone to his lips.
"Listen up people!" he bellowed in a voice that was surprisingly powerful for a five foot tall near midget "I have received our orders from Emergency Control, so pay attention."
The crowd listened intently, eager to find out what was going to happen.
"As you may have heard, contact had been lost between Control and several cities around the world..."
A series of shocked mutterings rose from the crowd of cops. Daniel Yeoh, Billy's partner, an Asian American with an itchy trigger finger, turned to Billy.
"You know, he's right," he said quietly "I saw a news broadcast before we left, they wiped out Boston and Atlanta! This is some deep shit we're in."
"As you know, all civilians have been evacuated from this part of the city and a state of marshal law is in effect across the state of New York. Our orders are to exterminate as many of those things as possible, they are being lured here as we speak."
Most of the officers were still confused and uneasy; some had begun to shake like leaves in the wind. A few of them started crying.
Billy began his head in despair and disbelief.
"Lured here? How?" asked Natascha Reed, a young female officer who was somehow keeping a level head throughout it all.
Willis smiled at the young brunette. Billy wasn't sure whether it was a dirty leer or an amused grin, but he assumed it was the former, as he never trusted anybody under five feet tall.
"You'll see soon enough," said Willis.
Reed moved to where Billy and Daniel crouched behind their cruiser. Natascha Reed was a very attractive young woman, she had light blue eyes and long brown hair. And she was so damn laid back, she seemed to be taking this whole thing in her stride.
Suddenly, everything went silent.
A man with half an arm and a huge shotgun wound in his chest was strolling peacefully down the street toward them.
"Holy-shit-goddammit," someone murmured as a single word.
The corpse swivelled its head toward them and let out a low moan as it speeded up and staggered like a drunken sprinter in their direction.
"Shearer, Winters...fire!" growled Willis.
Almost before he had finished speaking two officers began blasting away with their M16s. Bullets thudded into what remained of the zombie's torso launching it backward onto the street, spraying the asphalt red.
Everyone stared at the gruesome red spectacle lying in the roadway. Silent tension began to pull on the nerves of the officers, all were holding their guns at the ready. They were aiming down the empty, deserted street, some pointed their weapons nervously at the semi-pureed body that lay like a smashed mannequin.
Somehow, the unspeakable mush began to move again, slowly, painfully trying to heave itself up onto what were left of its legs. Instantly it was devastated by a deafening scream of bullets as every cop fired simultaneously. The slugs pounded into it, shattering its body into an unrecognisable pulp and blasting its brains ten feet down the road.
It didn't get back up.
The gunfire stopped, the sound of bullet clips being reloaded clicked around the group. Nobody moved, nobody spoke. The loudest sound was Hunter, a rookie cop, hyperventilating. His face had contorted into a shocked snarl. His eyes had changed, they had the look of a war veteran... a haunted look. A sound of a single diesel engine growled in the distance followed by several distant moans that caused the hair on Billy's neck to stand on end. Then, the noise came. An unearthly noise, like an army of demons charging the gates of hell. It was the march of the dead.
The cruiser radios fizzed into life.
"This is unit one-lemur-one-niner, the bait has been taken," crackled the serious voice from the other end "There's more than expected, be ready. ETA is one minute."
Nobody moved. All guns aiming toward the junction ahead, untrusting, like the road itself would attack them at any second. The confusion that was swirling within Billy's mind condensed itself into one single, basic question; one that he knew nobody here could answer: What is happening?
Simultaneously, all the cops' hearts hammered against their rib cages as a police van crawled around the corner at 20 kilometres per hour. The bait was two officers sitting in the open back compartment of the van.
Then, everybody from Willis to Hunter screamed. Rushing after the bait, staggering, bleeding, moaning, and salivating like ravenous beasts. It was the most horrific, chilling sight imaginable. Upwards of fifty dead bodies were chasing the truck. Some looked like normal people and were totally untouched, some were rotten and looked like they had been dead for weeks, some looked like they had been torn apart and others had clearly been partially eaten. Among them, some undead children walked, their eyes glared and their faces showed vicious, hungry snarls.
"I don't suppose anybody brought along any thermonuclear weapons?" someone murmured quietly in a pathetic attempt at dark humour, almost drowned out by the wails of the dead.
"Don't fire 'till the truck passes..." ordered Willis.
The dead were closer now, they seemed to have spotted the small army of police and were moving directly in their direction.
The truck speeded up and tore past. A thunder of gunfire exploded from the group. Billy roared a sound that was reminiscent of a primal war cry as clouds of blood, flesh and bone erupted from the army of zombies. Bullets and buckshot tore through limbs, torsos and skulls. Some fell, motionless to the street, most kept moving. They showed no fear, no anger, no mercy as they continued to charge the police even under the hail of fire. The only driving impulse in their minds an unending, undying, undead hunger. They didn't care about the bullets that were tearing their already mauled bodies to smithereens, they just wanted to get at the humans, to kill and to feast. They were the only thoughts that permeated their dull minds.
They were bearing down on the police now. They had already surrounded the first cruiser, an officer screamed as a corpse stumbled to its knees and sunk its teeth into his hip and tore a chunk away like someone biting a chicken leg. His body jerked and his finger jolted the trigger of his auto-shotgun and giving his partner, who was trying to pound the creature with his rifle butt, the full barrel in the chest.
The screams and cries of the humans now intermingled with the drones and squeals of the dead, the sounds mixing in an obscene melody.
"Don't give up!" someone cried as several cops tore off down the street. Panic gripped the group. A female officer screamed madly into her radio, the zombies clawed at her over the trunk of a car. "Backup, requesting...urrrg," she gurgled one of the dead reached over, grasped her throat and yanked it out of her neck bare handed. Several creatures moved in on her body to feed, the one that had killed her strolled off, gnawing and licking the blood from the tough lump of cartilage it held in its hand.
Lambert, Yeoh and Reed hunched behind their cruiser, their ammo depleted, as was everybody else's. The undead were now being fought hand-to-hand by the few cops who were still remaining. Nightsticks cut the air, pounding the creatures, smashing skulls and limbs, riot shields held the creatures away. Someone set off a tear gas canister, the vapour making no impression on the dead but causing the unprotected living to stagger coughing into the clutches of their rotting adversaries.
"We gotta...we gotta get away," wheezed Yeoh, struggling to pull on his gas mask.
An undead monster, so badly blasted apart it could barely move, crawled painfully under the cruiser, trying with an inhuman determination to grasp Billy's belt. Billy screamed and recoiled.
"Let's move our asses then!" shouted Billy with revulsion through his gas mask.
Like antelope being hunted by a lion, the trio ran screaming, almost panicking, dodging a sizeable group of lunging ghouls to make their escape.
"Wait up," cried a familiar voice from behind them. It was Willis, running from his cover to join them.
Looking back towards the carnage, Billy witnessed in muted horror, the creatures overturn a police cruiser, trapping Winters beneath it screaming for help. A petrol tank exploded, turning humans and zombies into squealing humanoid fireballs that ran about frantically like screaming meteors.
The group powered down a dark, shadowy back alley. Ahead was another street, lined with old, crumbling tenement buildings. There too, shuffling along the road were groups of corpses, the walking dead.
"There's no way out," cried Willis "It's everywhere...they're everywhere. We've gotta..we gotta get away...we..."
"Shut the fuck up!" shouted Yeoh, his face almost in Willis', his teeth gritted angrily, "Stop panicking you son-of-a-bitch!"
Willis looked shocked, nobody had ever spoken to him like that on all his years on the force. He wanted to shout back but the look in Yeoh's eyes made him think twice, he had the look of a crazy man.
Yeoh was trying to prevent himself from laughing and crying all at once. The surprised look on Willis' face was extremely satisfying, it was also hilarious. Neither of them noticed the ten zombies shuffling towards them, arms outstretched, reaching for their prey.
"Look out!!" screamed Reed.
Willis and Yeoh jerked with shock as the dead lunged at them, blood-spattered jaws flexing horrifically. In a cool, swift motion, Billy reached down and pulled Willis' unused .44 Magnum from its holster and began firing. The first bullet caused one of the creature's head to disappear in a puff of red smoke and wet chunks of grey gunge. The second and third bullets landed in the chest of one, doing horrendous damage. It fell to the ground, and started crawling.
"The door!" shouted Reed as she charged at the rear exit door of a shop that backed onto the alley. Willis, Yeoh and Lambert turned and followed.
"It's locked, it's locked!!" she screamed, tugging at the rusty steel handle. The dead moved forward relentlessly, reaching for them, their hands contorted into talons.
Billy spun, pointing the gun in direction of the door.
"Get clear," he called, aiming down the barrel of the Magnum.
He jumped backwards a few steps towards the lunging demons. The gun cracked and the lock on the door exploded, blowing shards of wood and metal in all directions and throwing the door open.
The humans hit the door, running at full throttle, stretching out their arms to pull themselves inside to safety.
Yeoh slammed the door shut behind them and pushed all his weight down on it to hold it shut as the zombies battered it with all their insatiable fury.
A bloody, gnawed arm pushed through the hole the gun had torn, flailing blindly around. Reed pounded her nightstick down upon the limb, concentrating all her hatred for it onto one point on its arm. There was dry snapping sound and it pulled itself back out the door. Billy and Willis grabbed several huge boxes, heaved them toward the door and blocked it off.
Billy scoped the room they had entered. It was dank and smelled musty, there were empty boxes and crates of various sizes lining the walls and cluttering the floor. A single bare, forty-watt light bulb hung shamefully from the middle of the grey ceiling, barely illuminating the moist, bare brick walls. There were two other doors in the room, one was a cheap, wooden slatted door, the other was a huge, rusty steel one with a heavy lock.
Unexpectedly, an unfamiliar gravely voice echoed through the dimly lit room like the growl of a guard dog moving in on a trespasser.
"Stupid bastards, you bust 'da goddamn door," it snarled "They can 'git in here now!"
Lambert spun and saw the source of the voice. An overweight middle-aged male emerged cautiously from behind a stack of crates. A neurotic looking businessman type wearing a torn and ragged suit wielded a pistol, and a black teenager packing an UZI 9mm flanked him. "Everyone's supposed to be evacuated," said Reed "Why the hell are you here? And were did you get those weapons?"
The businessman and the kid laughed.
"You're standing in back of a gun store," grinned the boy "We're better off in here, we got a whole damn arsenal in this store. The doors are secure, at least they were 'till you arrived!"
Willis and Reed moved through into the front of the store followed by Billy as Yeoh gave their new acquaintances the third degree. The protective bar blocking off the gun rack lay hanging ajar, most of the weapons had been taken. The Plexiglas display cases had been opened; the ammo and small arms that were contained within had been snatched. They had been opened with a key; apparently, the fat guy through the back-shop seemed to be the owner of this joint.
Moving to the display window at the front of the store, Reed inspected the protective gate that had been pulled over the outside. It was designed to keep out raiders; it would easily keep the weak, dull creatures at bay. Turning her head and looking down the street through the gate, she could see where the team had been overpowered. Most of the cars were on fire and blood stained everything. Some of the police lights were still flashing bright electric-blue, the zombies stared at them with dumbfounded wonder.
Something tapped the other end of the window. Natascha turned toward it and screamed. Outside, staring in at the humans, were two zombies in police uniform. Reed recognised them immediately as Shearer and Wisconsky, their bodies had been gnawed and torn at. They fixed their eyes on her in a gaze that felt like an accusation. She had just lost her level-headedness.
Yeoh and the others rushed through into the front of the store at the sound of Nat's scream, grasping their weapons ready for a fight. Then Yeoh saw what Reed had seen and felt waves of nausea and sadness sweep over him simultaneously. His face went the same colour as the cheap green carpet and he spewed. Billy tried to close his eyes and look away but found he was transfixed on the gruesome spectacle with shock and macabre curiosity. Willis began to cry.
The three others looked unfazed, save for the kid who was staring, disgusted at the little puddle of puke that was drying on the carpet.
"Anyone who dies turns into one of them," said the fat man flatly "It doesn't matter how they die; if their brain is intact then they come back."
Yeoh spat, trying to banish the lingering taste of vomit from his mouth.
"Is there anyone else... left alive here?" he wheezed, close to hyperventilating.
"Upstairs," answered the man in the suit "There's three levels above us. We're living there just now, have been since everyone was supposedly evacuated, we figured we're better off defending ourselves without the goddamn cops and army sticking their noses in. The more people there are, the more zombies will turn up. Emergency Control are useless, they can't cope with this."
"Why do you say that?" asked the still-shocked Natascha "You could have been safely out of the city by now and under the protection of trained soldiers."
"Hah!" spat the kid "You're training didn't help much out there, did it?"
A sudden hammering sound shuddered through the store. Something was thumping and scratching rabidly at the back door, trying desperately to gain entry. Willis looked through into the back shop, they were forcing the door open from the outside, the crates they had piled in front of the door were giving way.
"They're gonna get in here!" squealed Willis like a child.
Mike, the overweight owner of the store, glared at the cops with a stare that ate into them.
"If we get eaten, it's your fault! Damn pigs," he growled, narrowing his eyes and pointing a beefy sausage of a finger at them accusingly.
"Up yours, man," hissed Yeoh "If we hadn't bust in here we'd be dead, shufflin' around out there right now!"
Billy cut in, trying to stop a conflict.
"Look, we all gotta stick together. If we're going to survive we can't turn against each other. Let's grab what we can and get upstairs!"
Through back, the crates were pushing outward, inch by inch, the door was being forced ajar. One of the creatures' arms slipped around the gap and began tugging weakly on one of the boxes.
Grabbing ammo for their assault rifles; Billy, Daniel and Natascha, followed by Willis, hurried into the back shop where the other three survivors had opened the heavy steel door. As they passed through the room, the top crate was yanked off, crashing down onto Willis sending him sprawling to the deck. The ghouls began to force their way into the building, crawling around the edge of the door and grabbing Willis by the legs. He gave a scream and began swinging insanely with his nightstick.
Billy watched in revulsion as the zombies began to tear at the flesh of Willis' legs. He wanted to rush over to the rescue but more of the things were moving into the room, jerking towards him robotically. "Help me...!" gurgled Willis as his body was torn into a blood-spattered flesh feast.
Shouldering his assault rife, Billy raised the Magnum. One bullet remained. He fired it into Willis' skull, blasting it into a reddish-grey pulp, the sound of the gunshot echoed like an exploding bomb in the dank room.
Billy slammed the steel door shut on the carnage and locked it. He was standing in a dark corridor with two doors, one led to a storage room, the other opened out onto a steep stairway. Reed sat calmly at the top of the steps, waiting for him.
"Is he dead?" she asked coolly.
"Yes, don't worry, I took care of him," he answered softly, pushing the empty Magnum behind his belt. Natascha nodded silently, she understood. Then she turned and disappeared into the apartment. Billy followed.
Mike's apartment was pleasant, if somewhat cheap looking. The bright though dated wallpaper gave the room an almost welcoming feel. A middle-aged woman, probably the gun store owner's wife, slouched in an armchair in the cluttered lounge, her head was leaning on her arm, watching at the TV in a silent stare.
An emergency network had taken over the station. The young newscaster looked tired and overworked, he was trying in vain to interview an elderly white bearded scientist with a strong southern accent.
"The people need answers," the presenter was shouting "What exactly is causing this phenomenon and can it be prevented."
"The only way to prevent reanimation is to burn the body or damage the brain so it can't be reactivated!" hissed the scientist angrily.
"You are deliberately avoiding the question, Dr Weir, what is causing this!?"
"No! You listen to me. I think you just don't wanna admit that you don't have a clue as to what's causing this."
Names of emergency stations began to scroll across the bottom of the screen. The nearest was almost fifty miles away, there was no need for one in an abandoned area.
"We have an idea what's causing it," said the scientist defensively. People behind the cameras also began to shout. The studio was turning into a zoo, the shouts of men and women building into a crescendo of noise.
"If you know then why don't you answer the goddamn question?"
The studio went quiet, waiting for Weir's answer.
"A NASA space probe returning from Venus was intentionally detonated when it was discovered to be irradiated with an unknown form of radiation..."
"Hah!," the presenter interrupted "That's old news, man! That was last month, and it was millions of miles away. How the hell could that cause it!? This ain't some sorta science-fiction movie!"
"...Possibly causing an existing viral or bacteriological strain to mutate..."
Billy turned away from the TV set, disgusted. It had only started several days ago and already the people were turning on each other. The meltdown of civilisation had begun.
Moving to the window, Billy discovered he had a view of the whole street. He could see the carnage of the police roadblock, he stared in transfixed horror as the dead officers rose to their feet, one by one. And he watched as the storm came overhead, dousing the flames of the battle and washing the drying blood from the streets. The rain fell and nature carried on as normal while mankind was stamped out.
For five months the eleven survivors began to eke out a life among the walking dead of New York City. A successful expedition to the small supermarket across the street had secured the shop for the humans. They wiped out the zombies that inhabited it and locked the roll cages to prevent more from gaining entry. A long, solid plank of wood was stretched from the supermarket roof to the third-story of the tenement. A mechanic that lived with his wife on the top
floor, even managed to rig a powerful enough generator to provide energy for the freezers in the supermarket in an attempt to keep the food fresh, occasional trips to a nearby gas station for diesel were not a problem. The ammo in the gun store's storeroom, if used sparingly, could last them for years.
The survivors had it made.
TV and radio channels were already beginning to go off the air. The stressed staff at the media stations, barricaded in their places of work, turned against one another instead of teaming together to stay on the air and fight the dead.
Remaining channels reported that most rescue stations had been wiped out, the National Guard had been unsuccessful in trying to reclaim Los Angeles and were now turning their forces toward NYC, cities were being overrun all over the world.
Across the planet, the remnants of humanity panicked and fought among themselves and died.
The group living in the tenements paid only a passive interest to the crumbling society, they were interested only in survival. They managed somehow, unlike the rest of the world, to avoid conflicting with one another, for down that road of conflict death was waiting with bared fangs. Instead they maintained peace and stuck together against the ever-present threat of the dead, trying to force their way into the tiny pocket of humanity that existed among a city of the dead.
Billy was sleeping when the news came. Death and blood and massacre haunted his dreams. In his sleep he saw his friends and family shuffling mechanically through the streets, doomed to wander the Earth for centuries searching for the rare delicacy of human flesh.
The horrific nightmare he was experiencing soared to its terrifying climax and Billy snapped awake, letting out a small scream. The world around him was hazy, surreal, he wasn't sure where he was. A voice came to him through his semi-conscious awakening.
"...Scientists have predicted that a reanimated corpse's life span may be well over 200 years due to the reduced decomposition rate..."
Lambert blinked trying to drag his mind into alertness. The voice was coming from a small portable TV set in the corner of the room. It was a spare room in the top flat of the tenement. Some mattresses were laid out on the floor, Billy was lying on one of them, he had been huddled in a foetal position under the sheets. Across the other side of the room, Natascha sat on the carpet, staring depressed at the TV.
"Welcome back to hell," she smiled at him as came fully awake. Billy nodded and smiled back, his hands dragging his messed up, strawberry blond hair into something resembling order.
"Good to be back," he said sarcastically. Suddenly the door swung open so fast it was nearly torn from its hinges. Instinctively, Billy grabbed his rifle which lay next to his pillow like a child's teddy bear. Danny Yeoh leaped into the room letting out a whoop of joy, giving Billy such a shock he nearly shot the man.
"Jesus, you scared the shit out of me!" Billy hissed through his teeth, genuinely angry.
He was, unknowingly, still pointing his gun at his friend. Daniel caught the look in Billy's eye and calmed down, he was still grinning from ear to ear.
"Turn on the radio," said Yeoh excitedly "Tune to NYRN!"
"But that station went down months ago," said the still sleepy Lambert, a little confused.
"Yeah, the dead overran it but the army have just re-secured it for themselves," Yeoh was smiling with glee like a child on Christmas morning "The army are coming here...to the Bronx, they're securing the city!"
Billy stared at Daniel with surprise and joy, then he turned and looked at Natascha in the same way. Natascha and Billy both dived simultaneously for the radio that lay nestled next to the TV set. As Lambert's hands closed around the set, Reed snatched it away from him with a happy giggle.
"Gimme that..." laughed Lambert.
"Swivel on it, boy!" Natascha grinned, flipping Billy the finger.
Daniel chuckled whole-heartedly.
"Hey! You're insulting each other, next thing you know you'll be getting married," he laughed.
"Shut up," snapped Billy playfully at Daniel.
Natascha began to tune through the weird whistling static to find the radio station. A voice, crisp, clear and in perfect stereo cut through the whining noise.
Billy hit the TV off.
"...secured Central Park and much of Manhattan although very few survivors were rescued. Teams of the National Guard are moving into several other areas of New York, including Brooklyn and the Bronx..."
Billy frowned and rubbed his hand across his face. He was beginning to feel the first pangs of a very bad feeling in his stomach, like something evil was living there. Was getting rescued any better than their present situation?
"Listen guys," sighed Billy reluctantly to the excited faces of Reed and Yeoh "I dunno...maybe we're better off here on our own."
The others looked at him, surprised and shocked, the way they'd look at a drunken tramp that just uttered an obscenity about their mothers. Daniel looked almost concerned for Billy.
"What?" Natascha was close to shouting, trying to force some sense into Billy "What do you mean? That's the army out there, for Christ's sake! This could be our last chance, this isn't gonna end, not in our
lifetime anyway. We gotta survive and the best way to do so is with as many guns and supplies as possible. The military have the means to survive for decades, for god's sake, and I plan to do so too!"
Leaning his head on his fist Billy stared at the floor.
"I just got a bad feeling about this, that's all," Billy said defensively, having been verbally shot down by Natascha.
"You're always getting bad feelings," he chuckled "Remember the time when you had a bad feeling before we made that narcotics bust in the docks last January? And when your unit went in they blew up that crack shipment? You whole team got high and Davison had to go into rehab! You remember?"
"That's my point, Dan," said Billy sternly "When I get bad feelings there's usually a reason..."
Yeoh clamped his hands into fists with anger.
"Goddamn it, Billy!" he hissed, suddenly serious "I'm getting away from this dump the first chance I get, I wanna live, dammit! You must be crazy!"
Daniel was shouting now, the pent-up anger and fear of the past few weeks was being released suddenly onto Billy like floodwaters from a broken dam. He continued his outburst.
"We're gonna let the army know we're here, I'm getting out...if you don't wanna come, you can go jump in front of a fuckin' zombie."
"ENOUGH!" bellowed Reed at Yeoh, finally pissed off with him. Daniel's angry stare dropped to the floor, he walked from the room with a growling expression on his face and his head down, like a sulking child. He brushed violently past Julia, a teenage girl from the middle floor of the tenement, who had just arrived in the doorway to find out what was going on. Reed stared after him with disgust before turning back to Billy. "He is right you know, we can't stay here forever," she said softly, she motioned toward the direction Daniel had left "He seems to have his mind made up, guess I have too. Just leave Daniel alone for now, we can't afford any conflicts at the moment."
Billy shrugged, Julia turned and sullenly left the doorway.
"It's your choice," said Natascha "I hope you'll come with us."
"I'll come, I just thought...never mind."
"Get some more sleep," Natascha told him "You were up all night on watch, you look like death."
Billy stared at her.
"Sorry, bad choice of words," she apologised and went back to sit on the floor in front of the radio. Billy closed his eyes and lay back down on his makeshift bed. His mind was too full of anger and turmoil to fall asleep immediately, so he lay there for over an hour remembering his life before everything had ended. He felt like a different person now, those memories were of a past life that he knew he could never return to, a life that felt weird and surreal like a vivid but strange dream. The old world was gone, all that remained now was the Deadworld, the world that he was learning to survive in, the world that was now his own.
Eventually, his consciousness waned and he dropped back into his haunted sleep.
He awoke, hours later, to the faint sounds of distant combat. The sound of gunfire jolted him into awareness and he leapt up and grabbed his rifle and looked around, Natascha was not there. He stood still for a second, confused, for a moment he had thought the ghouls had broken into their hideout, but the battle sounded too far away to be within their stronghold. Rushing to the window, he saw two men running across the bridge toward the roof of the supermarket. It was Daniel and Mike, carrying rucksacks and weapons, they were getting out. The army were almost there.
"Here come the cavalry," whispered Billy dryly to himself.
The fear he had felt now mixed with a sense of excitement, this was it, their escape was now or never. Reed ran into the room looking a little scared.
"Let's go. Pack your stuff, we're leaving...now," she said "There's a rescue helicopter coming to pick us off the roof of the supermarket."
Billy grabbed the few spare clothes and belongings he had managed to obtain while hiding in the building. He stuffed them into his rucksack and shouldered his rifle. Leaving the room, he slapped himself in the face to knock the last wisps of sleep from his eyes, and to make himself believe he wasn't still dreaming, before moving out into the hall and leaping down the steps, two at a time, to the third floor.
The sounds of conflict were nearer now, they seemed to be emanating from very nearby. Billy's hand pulled his rifle into reach when the sound of gunfire cracking came to him from within the very walls of the building. He strode into the sitting room, used as access to the bridge, with his gun in hand.
James Hanson, the old hick that had lived on the top floor, was hanging from the window, firing his pistol out into the street in the direction of the gunfire. Reed was already there, watching intently.
"What's going on? What the hell are you shooting at?" asked Billy anxiously, he was frightened in case the old duffer had finally gone crazy and was blasting down the army in the streets as they moved to rescue them.
"Just givin' them military boys some backup, officer," he explained as he squeezed off another cross-eyed shot "Them dead things are givin 'em a damned hard time," he fired again "Did I ever tell you about when I was in the army, kid?"
Billy disliked being called 'kid' and sure didn't want to hear Jamie's war stories right now. It was one thing boring people to death during peacetime, but when you're fighting a war right now it can mean the difference between life and death.
"Yes, you told me," shouted Billy over the sound of a gunshot, eager to shut James up.
Looking out into the already battle scarred street, Billy watched the soldiers fighting the dead. They moved stealthily and fought the creatures well, they had been fighting them for months and seemed to be able to get the upper hand, unlike his police unit. They moved into a zombie free area of the street, levelled their guns at the next area, blasted the zombies and moved on, dodging the remaining creatures skilfully, almost without effort. The surviving ghouls were left looking confused and dazed, wondering what hit them. The soldiers' faces were battle-weary, aged beyond their years by the horrors they had witnessed in the past few months, like 'Nam vets.
Across the makeshift bridge, Daniel, Mike and Will (the kid from the gun store) crouched with their weapons, watching the skies for the transport.
"Hey, Nat," said Billy, turning to Natascha "Can you go and make sure everybody is ready to leave?" Natascha nodded and Billy turned to James.
"You go too, I'll take over the sniper thing. Okay?"
James turned with a nod of his head and followed Natascha out of the room. Billy turned his gun toward the battle in the street. Staring down the barrel of the assault rifle and gritting his teeth he punched off a bullet at the head of a zombie in a policeman's uniform, he vaguely recognised the guy but didn't much care as the back of it's head opened into a bloody, fist-sized hole and it fell motionless to the street.
He swung the gun round, looking for more easy targets. A teenage ghoul wearing a 'No Fear' T-shirt lunged at an unsuspecting soldier who was looking the other way, two bullets seemed to make the creatures head magically disappear in an explosion of grey ooze and sent it soaring through the air. The soldier turned to Billy with a look of shock and relief, then he smiled and gave a small nod, which Lambert returned.
"Hey, sniper!" a voice called from below.
Looking down, he saw a lieutenant and some other soldiers crouching at the bottom of the building.
"The choppers are on the way. They'll lift you off the roof of the supermarket," he briefed "There's two of them cos the gunships'll only hold six passengers each. They'll be here any minute..."
"Hey!" Billy interrupted, staring down the street at a group of soldiers trying to bust in the gate of a hardware store "What are they doin'?"
"They say they heard someone in there..." the lieutenant began.
"There's no one alive in there!" Billy shouted.
Even from the third-floor Billy could see the eyes of the lieutenant widening with horror.
"Jesus Christ! Those things..." The military officer's hand reached for his communications radio but before he could warn anyone the gates of the store launched open and a small wave of zombies erupted through the broken picture windows of the store and launched themselves, arms reaching outward and jaws hanging open hungrily, at a small group of warriors standing nearby.
The zombies tore and ripped at the flesh and clothing of the soldiers. They began firing wildly, spontaneously as the creatures clawed and bit at them like rabid, growling, starving wolves.
Billy screamed. The situation was becoming very familiar, the creatures were, once again, getting the upper hand. As a ghoul sank its teeth, like a vampire, into the neck of a screaming soldier, the victim's hand clutched down on the trigger of his machine gun, spraying another team of warriors with a hail of death as they ran to the rescue.
"Shoot the bastards!" screamed the lieutenant into the radio, near hysterical.
Billy was already firing, as was Daniel on the other roof. Billy was crying now, a tear slithered down his cheek as he sniped at the creatures.
On seeing the panicking violence below, Mike jumped from his hiding place on the supermarket and ran as fast as his tree trunk legs would move him towards the stairway entrance to the supermarket.
"Where you goin' ya wimp!?" Daniel shouted after him "You run out of chocolate or sumptin'?"
"Weapons...I hid a cache of weapons in the supermarket!" he called back as he wobbled his fat ass across the rooftop.
There were hundreds of zombies in the street now, attracted by the sounds of battle and the smell of blood. They outnumbered the humans and dragged them screaming to the ground and feasted. Some of the dead soldiers were already reviving, heaving their mangled bodies off the street, staggering among the dead and eating the living. Some of the dead men still carried their weapons, firing them randomly and sporadically, shooting their own kind as well as the humans.
"What's happening out there," said Natascha's voice.
Billy turned towards her. Everyone was there; Will's sister Julia and their mother, the mechanic and his wife, Mike's wife and Keith, the insurance salesman.
"Chaos is what's happenin'" said Billy tersely.
The voice of the lieutenant tore up to him over the blast of his own weapon.
"Get to the supermarket roof, dammit! We'll take care of this. Backup's here."
The group climbed out onto the bridge and began to move hurriedly, twenty feet above the battle, toward the roof. Below them, several Jeeps and a heavily armoured tank rode into the street like executioners, crushing zombies and blasting them with machine guns. A young troop tried desperately to tie a tourniquet around the mangled arm of his friend. The injured soldier was screaming as complete agony gripped his nerves, his young comrade was almost hysterical. Blood poured onto their combat gear from the open wounds, splashing them with red. Neither of them saw the creatures looming over them like grim reapers, bloodstained saliva drooling from their jaws, their eyes wide in a mad feeding frenzy. They dropped upon the soldiers suddenly, using their dead weight as a weapon against them. They began to feast on their screeching, squirming prey.
"BASTARDS!!" screamed a jeep driver who was witnessing the horror, he turned and began screaming at his gunner, "The sons-of-bitches killed Traxler!"
Spinning the jeep in a u-turn, against the screams of his commanding officer over the radio, he rammed into the small tangle of flesh that squirmed in the street. There was a satisfying crunch as the Jeep mashed a ghoul's head into pulp under its wheel. Unexpectedly, a scarred hand wielding a brick flew up and struck the passenger window, shattering it into tiny lumps of glass that shot inward as glittering stars of reflected light from the sun. Two zombies fought each other wildly to claw their way through the tiny opening of the smashed window, one of the creatures was missing an eyeball. The driver could see the exposed muscular tissue moving in the socket as the good eye rolled and locked onto him like a gun sight. Screaming, the man raised his rifle and fired it, point-blank, into the open socket, a section of the back of the creatures skull blew away out the window. The driver turned to shoot the other ghoul but its head was too close, he couldn't get into a firing position.
"NOOOOO!!" he shouted with all his might as the monster began to eat from his shoulder. His foot slammed down on the accelerator as his body convulsed with pain. The Jeep roared down the street, soldiers and zombies alike dived for cover as it ploughed down through them before skidding into the front protection gates of the supermarket just as Billy and his party reached the roof. The driver's screams still came from the crashed Jeep, the gunner in the back of the vehicle fired his machine gun uselessly into the air in his panic as the creatures crawled around to get him. Then somebody shot the crates of ammunition in the back of the truck...
KABOOOOOOOM! A phosphorescent fireball engulfed the truck, incinerating the driver, gunner and the creatures in one blast. The explosion blew away the protective gates of the supermarket and fried everything near the front of the store...Mike's dying scream could be heard briefly over the roar of flames. The zombies turned, moaning, panicking away from their only fear: fire.
Billy's group just stood watching, silent, aghast.
"I told you so," murmured Billy "I knew this was gonna turn bad!". Daniel glared at him, still shocked from the explosive battle in the street.
In the streets, the military were being slaughtered by their mindless adversaries. Billy began to experience a horrible sense of deja vu as the carnage continued. Daniel, seemingly uncaring about the senseless massacre, cursed the rescue helicopters for being late. Natascha began to shake, fear had finally seeped through the defences in her mind like a disease infecting a body.
"Heeeelp...help us...sniper guy!" a terrified voice roared up from the scarred street.
Billy and Will scurried over to the edge and looked down onto what now looked like an abattoir. Blood ran through the gutters and into the drains like rainwater during a storm, the zombies feasted like blood-crazy beasts in the wild. The lucky victims were so badly eaten they would never regenerate into the monsters, others, some almost untouched, got up from their pools of gore and joined in. In the distance, crows began to gather, waiting for the last gunshots to cease, waiting to join the party, to peck the last morsels from the dead.
Down on the sidewalk, screaming hysterically as the creatures advanced, stood the young lieutenant and two troops. They were calling to Billy to rescue them. Thinking quickly, Billy spun and shouted at his small group.
"Rope! I need some kind of rope!"
Still shaking, Natascha reached round and grabbed a length of thick cable that she kept attached to her rucksack and tossed it to Billy. Tying the cord around his waist, he dropped the other end down towards the panicked soldiers.
One at a time Billy felt the weight pulling on the cable the troops heaved themselves up on the rope and ran vertically up the face of the building as if they were on an assault training course. The senior officer leapt nimbly onto the roof and Billy waited for the second trooper as he felt the weight of the man's body pull down on the cable.
A sound like roaring thunder hammered into Lambert's eardrums, tearing wind whipped at his clothes and blew his hair as he struggled to pull the weight of the second soldier up the vertical wall. The helicopters were here, behind him, over the sound of the screaming blades, he heard his comrades in arms whooping with joy as the metal skis of the first gunship touched down and kissed the hard tarmac surface of the roof.
The second soldier dragged himself onto the roof, his clothes spattered with blood that Billy couldn't discern as coming from his own wounds or his adversaries'. Just as Billy put his body back into position for pulling the weight of the third soldier, the second man flashed an indecipherable look at his lieutenant, which was returned with a slight, but grim, nod of the head. The instant Billy felt the tug on the other end of the cord, the troop flicked out a blade and slashed cleanly through the cable. A second later a blood curdling scream that dwarfed all the other, now diminishing, sounds of the frantic battle. The screeching lasted several seconds before tailing off in a snapping of bone and an agonised gasp.
Billy shouted in the soldier's face, his features contorted with his shock and anger at the atrocity he had just witnessed.
"You killed him! Why!? You let him die!" he hissed through clenched teeth, his mouth millimetres from the face of the other man, his rifle raised to the trooper's stomach. The soldier just stared back into him, his battle weary eyes displaying no emotion.
"Hey! What the hell's happenin'?" Daniel's voice drifted to Billy over the deafening whirr of the blades, he had seen the incident too. The lieutenant broke desperately through the icy rage of the two glaring men. Billy could see that he was looking very concerned, he seemed to be trying to stop the survivors from turning against one another.
"They would have got him anyway," the senior officer said softly, almost patronisingly "They were so close they would have got him anyway. If he hadn't cut the cable they'd just have climbed up here and gotten us too!"
Billy sighed wearily and lowered his rifle. The troop's cold stare slowly stretched into a slight sneering grin.
"You're pretty jumpy, sniper boy," he sneered.
The thunder of the helicopter changed in pitch behind Billy as it rose slowly into the overcast sky with its full compliment of refugee passengers. Turning around, Billy saw Will and Jamie standing behind him, holding their weapons, staring suspiciously at the young soldier. He realised that when he had squared up to the troop, the duo had pulled their guns, ready for a firefight... that was one thing they could do without.
"It's OK, holster your guns!" Lambert instructed them. Uneasily, the trigger-happy old cowboy and the teenage survivalist shouldered their rifles. Billy turned away from them and stared, expressionlessly, down
at the asphalt under his feet. His mind had not yet found an emotion to fit his situation so he just stood there, looking blank.
The first helicopter and its passengers, including Reed and Yeoh, was, by now, fading into the hazy, low cumulus clouds. The sounds of battle were gone, replaced by the shuffling of the walking dead, marching through the territory they had stormed like the Nazis through a conquered land. The faint sounds of crazily-driven vehicles faded into the distance as the few surviving warriors fled and the second 'copter was nowhere to be seen.
The lieutenant began barking into his short-wave radio handset. His hand kept rising and brushing his eyelids as tears began to weigh on his eyes, his voice broke as his macho toughness battled the urge to break down into hysterics.
"This is Lieutenant Bennel calling gunship rescue two, do you copy?"
"Copy that, Lieutenant. This is gunship-stroke-rescue two, over."
"Requesting immediate evac for three civilians and two..."
"Roger that, we know your position. Just sit tight, at present we are providing air support for the retreating vehicles. We'll be with you in ten. Over." Bennel swore angrily to himself. Pulling his assault rifle into his hand, he stormed toward the edge of the roof.
Jamie turned to the other soldier looking worried and depressed.
"We're losing this war, aren't we?" he said nonchalantly.
"We've been losing for months," answered the young troop, his voice shaking with tears "We've...we've lost already. There aren't many... humans left alive, not in this country anyway. As for the rest of the world...we just don't know, most communications are down. All I know for sure is that they outnumber us...thousands to one."
"Where are the 'copters going?" asked Billy.
"Rescue Station, just outside of Newark."
The roar of two gunshots sliced through the darkening day. Bennel was standing on the edge of the building firing downward into the street, rage burning in his eyes.
"Sir, I don't think..." the young troop began to call across at his superior.
He stopped his sentence in a rush of horror as a loud, wet thump echoed over the small group and a large red hole appeared in Bennel's neck. Everybody looked in shock at the lieutenant as he turned towards them with a surprised, confused look on his face. As he opened his mouth to speak, a dribbling of arterial blood came forth instead of words. Then his eyes rolled and he fell in a pool of red on the tarmac.
The young soldier screamed like a frightened child as he watched his commanding officer dropped dead.
"Who...who shot him?" stammered Billy, his face pale with fright "Who could have shot him..."
As if in answer to Billy, a victorious wail rose from the street and a second bullet cut up into the sky.
"I didn't know...I didn't know they could use guns," stuttered Will "Jesus! They must remember, they must remember...remember some stuff from before!"
The soldier fell to his knees, weeping uncontrollably. His tears fell to the ground and dripped into the little stream of drying blood on the asphalt.
"We can't win!" He cried at his lieutenants corpse "They'll find us and kill us no matter where we are, whether we're here on the roof or in a rescue station or in a bunker, they'll get us eventually, there's just so many of them! And when they find us we will become THEM!"
Billy and Will exchanged worried glances. The soldier was falling into the dark recesses of madness.
He continued his rant, shouting at nobody in particular, his voice sounded strangely sane and sober from a man who was breaking down into insanity. He dropped weakly to his knees, yanking his service pistol from its holster and pushed the barrel against his temple. His face displayed grief and horror but also some kind of warped realisation was showing in his eyes; he had discovered his escape route from the Deadworld...a bullet in the brain.
The others stared frozen and surprised at the soldier's sudden insanity. Suddenly, Will dived at him, aiming his body at the gun before the soldier could pull back the hammer and fire.
"Noooo!" bellowed Will as he threw himself at the troop like a boulder. As his body was about to plough into the madman's shoulder and knock the weapon away, the soldier's fist flew up with surprising speed and force, smashing Will in the face. A loud, brittle crack sounded as Will's nose cracked and he fell backwards, moaning with pain.
Before Billy or Jamie could react, the soldier turned his pistol on Will and fired one straight shot clean through the boy's forehead, ending his life in a microsecond and a splatting burst of grey matter.
Lambert and his comrade stared with hatred and shocked rage at the psycho. Their weapons were drawn, aimed at a point directly between his eyes, but they didn't fire. They just glared at him.
"I did it for him," whined the soldier "He will never become one of them now! He is safe now; where he is, nothing can ever harm him again. He is free!"
He saw the hatred and sadness in the eyes of the others, he looked into the cold, blank barrels of their guns that were fixed on him.
"Go ahead, shoot me," cried the troop "Finish me!" he looked upwards into the dim, grey sky and screamed "TAKE ME LORD..."
A bullet pierced his cranium, cutting off his speech. His body flew
backwards and landed on top of the lieutenants corpse. Billy calmly blew away the smoke that was floating out of the nozzle of his assault rifle.
The two survivors stood over Will's body for a moment, a tear fell from Billy's eye and into Will's head wound. Reaching down with a gentle movement, Billy closed the boy's eyes.
"Rest in peace, kid," he wept, before spinning around, screaming, and kicking the soldier's body with rage and grief.
He stopped, closing his eyes and listening to his breathing. The horror and depression of it all was eating into him like acid. He realised that mankind, in its human form, was ceasing to exist and he was gripped by an emotion that he had never felt before; it was as if he was feeling death, but it was the death of his whole species he was mourning. He was feeling an emotion that was locked away inside humanity, a sensation that can only be felt when one's race is dying.
"Oh, no," Jamie's voice came to him through the surge of emotions, it sounded scared and desperate.
"What is it, what's wrong?" asked Billy softly.
Jamie's right hand was clasped tightly against his chest, he was breathing heavily and was glancing around like a frightened and confused animal.
"It's ma' chest," he wheezed "I'm getting chest pains, buddy, I thinks it's my...my heart. It's on its last legs..."
"Shit," said Billy, now close to tears "Please man, please don't die on me here. Don't leave me here alone! Oh, no!"
"I'll be okay, it just hurts...damn!" hissed Jamie through his pain, trying to sound reassuring "When the helicopter gets here...they have doctors and medical...medical supplies."
As Billy moved to help the old man a sudden thud caused him to jerk with surprise. The door that led down to the supermarket was thrust open and a shocking sight advanced on the two survivors. Dozens of ghouls staggered out onto the rooftop, their jaws flexing and dripping with saliva and gore, their bodies mangled with bullet holes and bite marks. Dead, glazed over eyes swivelled around and locked onto the humans and the leading zombie's head rolled back and emitted a banshee-like, loud, shrieking wail. It was the feeding call of the walking-dead. The creatures had gotten into the store when the explosion had blown gates apart, among them was the badly burned and blasted body of Mike. Billy reached around and pulled the old man back behind him protectively as he moved slowly backwards away from the dead that were forcing them into a corner. Jamie almost fell over the edge of the supermarket roof, there was nowhere for them to escape to now. The creatures surrounded them in a semicircle, moving inward, cautiously but hungrily, towards their feast.
Lambert raised his weapon, he knew he didn't have enough ammo to deal with all the demons but he would never go down without a fight. As he was about to fire his foot brushed against something on the ground, it was the body of Lieutenant Bennel...and without warning it grabbed his leg in an iron grip.
"Bastard!" roared Billy as he fired into the dead lieutenant's skull, shattering it to smithereens. Some of the creatures flinched as the sparking flash of his gun lit the darkening rooftop like a flash of lightning. They were frightened by the sudden burst of flame-like light.
The nearest ghouls were now less than two meters away from the terrified humans. A sudden explosive thought ripped Billy's mind: Fire. They were scared of fire, he could buy some time. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, disposable Bic lighter. As he fumbled with the lighter the nearest monster grabbed his jacket, a small flame jumped up on the end of the lighter. The zombie glanced at the fire and recoiled, moaning with fear.
Billy held the little flame down to the corpse of Bennel. The lieutenant's clothing caught fire first time, in less than three seconds, his whole jacket was blazing and the smell of burning flesh reached Billy's nose. The creatures were falling over one another to get away from the flame, their fear eclipsing even their insatiable blood lust.
Jamie's hand clutched Lambert's shoulder tightly, Lambert realised that the old man's pain was worsening. He began to pray inwardly for Jamie, he didn't want to be alone. Lambert lowered his own police combat jacket into the flames. The demons were no longer retreating, they just stood in a semicircle once more, waiting for the flames to die down and staring at the men. As the plastic lettering on the back of his coat began to melt and distort in the flames he whipped it from the fire and dragged it through the air like a burning torch, flailing it back and forth in front of him. He was moving towards the zombies now, he waved the burning jacket at them and they recoiled away from him.
The sound of helicopter blades was fading into earshot, growing louder as the gunship approached, their last hope of return to safety and civilisation.
Flames were burning Billy's hand now. He was holding it tightly in front of him like a shield. A path was appearing slowly as the creatures moved away from the flames like vampires reacting to a crucifix.
"Go back to hell...MONSTERS!" Billy found himself screaming at the ghouls as the reached out at him, staying as far away from the fire as possible.
The helicopter was visible now, its searchlight was beaming down onto the roof, picking out Billy and Jamie huddling behind their shield of fire.
Billy began to wave the burning jacket in the air as a signal to the chopper until a large tongue of fire licked up and burned his hand. He let out a scream and dropped it to the ground and the army of zombies advanced, grabbing at his clothes and limbs.
As he fought to keep the clamping jaws of the monsters away from Jamie and himself, he heard the terrifying sound of the helicopters engine fading into the distance. They were being left for dead.
A creature, trying to bite his arm, began to tear at the fabric of his shirt with its teeth. Pushing all his weight behind his shoulder he rammed the ghoul, sending it falling backwards and knocking down several other zombies behind it. Jamie teetered over the edge of the roof on the other side of Billy, he was clutching his chest ever tighter and his face had become a mask of stabbing pain, Lambert grabbed him by the collar and pulled him safely away from the drop. A monster clutched at his throat, its hands tightening as it tried to yank out his windpipe. Billy slammed his fist into its face knocking it onto the asphalt.
"Try and make it to the bridge, they're too clumsy to be able follow you across that narrow plank," Billy told the old man.
Lambert kicked the burning jacket that now lay smouldering on the ground. It soared in a fiery arc like a meteor towards the bridge. The creatures backed away, creating a temporary path through the zombies.
"NOW! LET'S GO!" shouted Billy, grabbing Jamie and helping the old man run down the gap between the demons. Cold, clammy, bloodstained hands reached at them, grabbing at their clothing, trying to drag them into the jaws of death.
"Ok, Jamie," said Billy as they reached the bridge "Get over into the house, I'll take care of this!"
Jamie staggered across the wooden plank, whimpering with pain and still grasping his chest.
Billy planted punches on the faces of the two nearest zombies, knocking the weak creatures backwards. He managed to reach the corpse of the dead madman and grabbed a grenade from his body. The creatures clawed at him and one almost sank its teeth into his shoulder before he pulled away and retreated back to the plank.
Some monsters moved towards him, as he stood halfway across the bridge, a few walked in a straight line off the edge of the roof and headfirst down against the solid concrete below.
Pulling the pin on the grenade, Billy roared a primal scream of rage and vengeance and lobbed it perfectly at the doorway to the roof where it lay for a couple of moments before detonating and destroying the zombies' only access to the top of the supermarket as the stairway below caved in on itself.
"Come on you beauties, this way," growled Billy under his breath as more of the dumb ghouls walked off the edge of the roof in their pursuit of their feast.
Billy stood, almost victoriously, on the bridge, his figure silhouetted against the dim sky. Then he turned and strode purposefully back into the tenement building.
Climbing in the window, Billy saw a sight that made his stomach tighten. On the carpet lay Jamie's body in a lifeless heap.
Crying and raving hysterically, Billy tried for several minutes to resuscitate the old man but when his eyes flicked open and locked on him they were not the eyes of a human.
One shot in the head took care of the thing that was once Jamie. Billy knew that like every other human, Jamie wouldn't have wanted to be one of them. His body was tossed into the street as Billy mumbled, "Rest in Peace."
Then he was alone.
Billy turned his mind away from his past, away from the memories that stung like hot needles. He opened his tear-moistened eyes. He knew living in the past was the quickest way to become mad but the past was all that he had to keep him company.
Out in the city, the dead droned in a weird and frightening harmony, the sound of hell on Earth. Hairs on the back of Billy's neck began to stand on end, the sounds of the living corpses never failed to chill him to the bone.
Billy had long since decided that his story had drawn to a close. He had always felt that he had no future other than living here in his tenement by himself and perhaps moving to another part of the city when food ran out. But today, as he reminisced on his post-apocalyptic life, he had realised that there was still a possibility that Natascha, Daniel and the others might still be alive somewhere out there in the Deadworld. Perhaps he would go out there some day and search for them.
Some day he would break free of this prison of death and make a final attempt to seek out the last bastions of Man....
-- END --
You can e-mail Martin Yates at email@example.com.
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