Chapter Forty-One

'They're coming!' shouted one of the survivors from a lookout position on the third floor of the university accommodation block. The building was otherwise quiet and the disembodied voice of the lookout quickly travelled down empty corridors and into the various room where the rest of the survivors sat and waited. Donna and Keith Peterson were the first to react. They jumped up from where they had been waiting anxiously in the assembly hall and sprinted quickly through the complex.

They headed over to a balcony on the side of the building which overlooked the enclosed football pitch that they had earlier agreed to use as a temporary lock-up for their vehicles until they were ready to leave the city. Donna pushed her way out through double-fronted glass doors and leant precariously over the edge of the balcony, craning her neck to try and catch sight of the returning survivors while, at the same time, doing her best to ignore the nauseous vertigo and fear she felt hanging a hundred feet above the crowds of corpses. She could hear some kind of transport approaching but the disorientating silence of the world made it impossible for her to be able to tell how far away they were and in which direction they were travelling. There were relatively few bodies on the ground below the balcony - perhaps only a hundred or so - and Donna also thought that their numbers appeared to have reduced somewhat around the part of the front of the building that she could see.

The noise and distractions caused by the survivors being in another part of the city had temporarily tempted a large proportion of the immense crowd of figures away from the university. It was obvious, however, that the return of the six men would inevitably also result in the return of massive swarms of the decaying corpses. 'I can see them,' Keith Peterson said. He had climbed up onto the metal safety barrier surrounding the balcony and was holding onto the door they had just come through for support. 'Are they all there?' Donna asked anxiously. 'Can't tell,' Peterson replied. 'There are at least three of them. I can see a van and two trucks.' The blood-splattered convoy slowly pulled into view, the white fronts of the van and the trucks having been soaked with the gore and dripping remains of a thousand collisions with a thousand rotting bodies.

Inside the lead van Phil Croft steered towards the welcome sight of the university buildings with Cooper at his side still trying to peer through the mayhem of countless random figures, trying to locate the track which would take them off the main road and deeper into the centre of the complex. Ignorant to the danger of the huge and powerful machines, the pathetic corpses continued relentlessly to gravitate around the vehicles. Croft took a sudden sharp left. He recognised the narrow road. He knew that it would take them all the way around the back of the building and allow them full access to the rest of the site.

He glanced up into the rear view mirror and, amongst the confusion, watched as first one and then both trucks turned and followed him away from the main road. 'Not far now,' he said quietly. Cooper didn't respond. Instead he turned around on his seat and stared up at the accommodation block which they were slowly passing. He was looking for the other survivors, wanting to be sure that they knew they had returned. He saw Donna and Peterson first, and then noticed other faces peering out from different windows on different levels. The group still hadn't been able to make any definite plans or work out the precise details of the afternoon's risky excursion out into the open. Their main aims had quickly been identified and agreed upon. The more practical points, however, had been knowingly overlooked.

Where was the sense in trying to iron out fine details, they had decided, when no-one knew whether or not their main objectives were going to be achieved? Now that the men had succeeded in getting transport, the intentional shortfalls in their planning were unnerving and daunting. 'So what do we do now?' asked Croft as they drove towards the wiremesh enclosed football pitch. They could already see that the gate was closed. To get out and open it would be taking a huge risk and to smash through would open the entire area up to the wandering bodies. 'Just keep moving,' answered Cooper, swinging himself around and sitting back down. 'We're going to have to drive through the gate.' 'But we'll...' Croft began to protest. 'Go through, reverse up and we'll use the van to block off the entrance once the others are through.' 'So how are we going to get back inside if we're going to block the fucking exit?' Cooper shook his head, resigned and irritated by the doctor's obvious nerves. 'We're not going to be able to do anything for some time,' he explained, holding onto the sides of his seat as the van bumped and rocked as it ploughed through still more bodies. 'The noise we're making is going to bring thousands of these bloody things here.'

'We could make a run for it.' 'We could, but I think we should sit tight and wait for a while. Doesn't matter if we don't get back inside for a couple of hours. Hopefully there will be fewer of them around by then.

' Cooper braced himself as Croft accelerated towards the metal gate blocking the entrance to the football pitch. Steve Armitage watched from the larger of the two trucks following close behind. 'If he can't do it,' the lorry driver grunted, 'then I'll get through it with this thing.' 'You'll take half the bloody fence with you,' snapped Bernard Heath sitting next to him. As they had neared the university so Heath's nervousness and apprehension had increased considerably. He knew the time was coming for them to risk leaving their shelter. The four men following watched as the police van careered into the gate. The force of the impact was enough to twist and smash it out of shape, leaving the buckled metal barrier hanging half-open, held in place by one stubborn hinge. Croft reversed a few meters back and then drove forward again, forcing the remains of the gate to one side and driving onto the football pitch. Suddenly free and able to move without obstruction, the doctor turned the van around in a large circle. He watched with nervous fascination as the bodies began to arrive. The diseased shells collided with the rattling wire-mesh barrier around the entire perimeter of the football pitch. 'This is going to be tight,' Armitage muttered as he lined up the truck and drove through the space where the metal gate had been. An experienced driver, the sides of his vehicle missed the fence by little more than a few centimeters on either side. Seeing that the first truck had entered the football pitch unscathed gave Paul Castle a false faith in his own abilities. He forced the smaller truck forward and winced as the passenger side scraped along the gatepost.

As soon as the last of the three vehicles was safe within the confines of the metal fence Croft parked the van across the width of the entrance, blocking access to the football pitch for the hundreds of staggering cadavers which dragged themselves towards the survivors. Steve Armitage parked his vehicle in the middle of the pitch. After obliterating three bodies which had managed to squeeze onto the playing field in the short time between the last vehicle entering and Croft closing the gap, Paul Castle did the same. 'Get out of sight,' Cooper ordered as he ran from the van towards the larger of the two trucks. 'Get in the back of this one.' All around the football pitch bodies continued to collide noisily and clumsily with the fence. Where between ten and twenty had stood moments before, now hundreds of ragged, bedraggled figures stood and smashed their rotting hands against the barrier, grabbing and shaking the wire-mesh and trying hopelessly to get at the survivors inside. Needing no further encouragement, the five other men followed Cooper into the back of the truck.

Taking care not to fully shut the heavy, security locked door, the soldier collapsed down onto a nearby metal bench. 'Did it,' he said quietly. The military authority and direction previously so clear in his voice had suddenly been dropped and had been replaced with obvious relief. The other tired faces around him looked similarly relieved. 'So what do we do now?' Jack Baxter asked. 'Looks like we're stuck out here for a while.' 'Let's just take it easy,' the soldier replied. 'Nothing else to do but sit and wait.'

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