Chapter Twelve

Holmes drove the car the wrong way down the ring road, swerving around meandering bodies and avoiding the abandoned wrecks of other crashed vehicles. Slamming on the brake, he took a sharp right turn and followed a narrow service road between two grey university buildings and down around the back of the accommodation block. The number of bodies on the far side of the complex was considerably fewer. Clare looked up and saw people watching from the first floor windows of the large red-brick building. Holmes parked the car on a grass verge a short distance away from the block, close to an enclosed artificial turf football pitch. In silence the four survivors quickly clambered out and grabbed as many bags and boxes as they could carry from the boot of the blood-soaked vehicle. Struggling with their loads and following Bernard Heath's lead they half-ran, half-walked towards an inconspicuous blue door which was being held open by another survivor. Holmes ran back to the car after dumping his first load of supplies indoors, not about to leave behind his precious beer outside after he'd risked so much to get it.

He slammed the boot of the car shut and turned and scrambled back to the safety of the building, disappearing inside and pulling the door shut just seconds before the first of five approaching bodies could reach him. 'We'll come back for this lot later,' said Heath as he dropped another carrier bag on the large pile of supplies. 'I need a rest first.' Jack stayed close to Heath as they walked deeper into the bowels of the building. It was dark, cold and quiet inside but it still felt safe and strangely welcoming. The surroundings didn't matter, he decided. All that he cared about was stopping still for a while and being with other people again. 'How many people did you say are here?' Jack asked. He'd already been told once but so much had happened so quickly that he hadn't been able to take everything in. Less than an hour ago he'd been sat in the remains of the department store with Clare. Until then she'd been the only other living person he'd seen. 'Forty or so, I think,' Heath replied. 'I'm not really sure. This whole part of the complex was mainly student accommodation. There are a few hundred individual rooms here and so far most people seem to be keeping themselves to themselves. Lots of them just found themselves a room and shut the door behind them and no-one's seen them since. There are a few of us who have started to spend time together and try and get things sorted out but there are many more who prefer to be alone.'

Leading the group through the building was a tall, willowy man named Keith Peterson. With his long hair in an untidy ponytail and wearing several layers of loose, warm clothing he looked as scruffy and unkempt as any of the corpses roaming outside. His face was pale and drained of emotion. He hadn't smiled, spoken or even raised an eyebrow when the car had returned with an additional two passengers. Jack attempted to catch his eye in an attempt to at least try and make contact but it was obvious that Peterson wasn't interested. The fact of the matter was that he, like just about everyone else, was struggling to make sense of the illogical hell that his previously structured and normal life had suddenly become. They climbed a short staircase which led up to the main part of the ground floor. As they climbed the light increased. Jack and Clare looked from side to side as they were led across a wide, glass-fronted reception area. Tightly packed bodies were pressed against every available square inch of glass, being forced forward by more and more of the sickly creatures that were slowly dragging themselves out of the city towards the university. The rest of the world had become painfully silent. The noise that the group of survivors made - no matter how slight and insignificant it seemed - was enough to attract the unwanted attention of the dead hordes. And the reaction of the nearest bodies to that noise as they smashed and crashed against the glass frequently resulted in sudden frenzied activity spreading through the masses with startling rapidity. In turn that activity attracted more and more of them. 'See that lot,' Heath said quietly, gesturing towards the bodies, 'started gathering here late last night.

They seem to be able to hear us now.' 'I know,' Jack replied, 'we found out this morning.' 'God alone knows what's going on, but if they can hear us and see us today, what are they going to be able to do tomorrow? That's why a few of us have been out for supplies. I think we're going to batten down the hatches for a while.' Clare was relieved when they turned right and began to walk down a darker, windowless corridor. At the end of the corridor was the entrance to a large assembly hall. Her eyes widened as they entered and as she saw that there were people scattered all around the edge of the room - living, breathing people, not empty shells like the pitiful things outside. The hall was generally quiet but now and then an occasional whispered conversation would quickly begin and then end with equal speed. The only constant noise came from a couple of very young children playing together in the furthest corner, blissfully ignorant to the pain and fear so obviously consuming everyone else. In keeping with Keith Peterson's lack of interest in the new arrivals, every other survivor they passed also showed complete disinterest towards them. Most of them stared into space. One man was lying on his side on the floor, covered by a grey blanket and rocking steadily. His dark eyes were wide open like saucers. Clare thought to herself that he looked too afraid to shut them. After diagonally crossing the room Peterson took them outside through a fire escape and then walked through a small concrete courtyard towards another door. There were a few more people outside. An older woman sitting on a wooden bench wrapped in a thick overcoat nodded and managed half a smile at Clare as she followed the others through.

'These are the rooms we're using,' Heath explained as they reached another connected part of the building. It looked and smelled much newer than the rest of the site. More flights of stairs and then they followed a long and narrow corridor with numerous small bedrooms running off on either side. 'Those of us who were here on the first day cleared the whole place,' he continued, slightly breathless. 'You won't find any bodies in here. Fortunately term hadn't started so there weren't many people around, just a few of the overseas students who had come back early.' Peterson stopped walking. He turned round to face Clare and Jack and, for the first time, spoke. 'Most of us are on this floor,' he mumbled, his voice flat and monotone. 'Find yourselves an empty room. I suggest you stay on this side,' he said, nodding his head to the left. 'The other side overlooks the city. There are thousands of those bodies out there. We're trying to keep out of sight as much as we can.' Jack nodded in appreciation as the thin, lifeless man walked back in the direction from which they had just come and then disappeared. Heath watched him go before speaking again. 'Get yourself settled,' he said softly. 'I'm going back to the hall. Come down when you're ready and we'll get you something to eat.'

'We really appreciate this,' Jack said suddenly, his voice filling with very obvious and yet wholly unexpected emotion. 'I didn't think we were going to find anyone else who...' Heath smiled and rested a reassuring hand on the other man's shoulder. 'It's not a problem. I know exactly how you're feeling,' he sighed. 'As does just about every other poor bastard unfortunate enough to be stuck here.' The lecturer paused for a moment and thought carefully, as if he was poised to say something of great significance. But the words wouldn't come. Instead he turned and began to walk back down the corridor, tired and in need of rest. 'Thanks,' Clare said. 'I don't know...' Her words were abruptly truncated by a sudden scream of pain from somewhere else in the building. It seemed to be coming from somewhere on the floor above them. 'Bloody hell,' cursed Jack. 'What the was that?' 'Nothing to worry about,' Heath explained, turning back around to face the other two. 'We've got a lady upstairs who's going to have a baby within the next couple of days. The doctor reckons it might even be born before the day's out.' Another scream. Jack looked down at Clare, concerned that the woman's noise would upset the teenager. 'Jesus,' he said quietly. 'What a time to have to go through that.

I mean, it's enough of an ordeal at the best of times, but now...?' Jack let his words trail quietly away. 'I know,' said Heath. 'Look, I'm going to leave you to it. I'll see you both later, okay?' With that he was gone. Jack and Clare were alone. 'You okay?' Jack asked. 'I'm all right,' she replied. 'You?' He nodded. 'I'm fine. Let's get these rooms sorted out.' The rooms were small and compact but practical and more than sufficient compared to the department store where they'd spent the previous night. A narrow bed, a wardrobe, a couple of small cabinets, a desk, two chairs and a sink were all they contained but that was more than enough. They managed to find adjacent rooms two-thirds of the way down the corridor. Jack left his rucksack on the end of the bed, not bothering to empty its contents. There didn't seem to be much point. Although the accommodation block seemed to be a remarkably safe and sensible place for them to shelter and hide in, he didn't dare think that they might actually be able to stay there for any length of time. The world was full of so much uncertainty and fear that nothing could be taken for granted.

As more screams echoed through the building Clare sat down on a hard plastic chair by the window in her room and held her head in her hands. She felt ready to burst into tears but her emotions were not forthcoming. The relentless pressure of their bizarre situation seemed to be acting as a kind of stopper, preventing her from outwardly showing how she was really feeling. The room was cold and clinical and her sense of bewilderment and unfamiliarity was overpowering. It was only when she thought about her parents and everything else she had lost that she finally began to cry freely. After just over ten minutes had passed Jack left his room and walked across the corridor to the room directly opposite.

The panoramic view over the city from the window was, for a few seconds at least, impressive. But then, as his curiosity took hold, he allowed his eyes to wander down to street level. An massive crowd of diseased, staggering bodies surrounded the front of the building. And with the rest of the city appearing to be completely lifeless, he could see more and more of them dragging themselves out of the shadows continually.


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