He’d left Roslyn tucked up safe and sound in their bed, still ignoring him because of one closed-lip kiss. He winced and the stiff, sore flesh around his cut pounded in protest. Such a stupid kiss. If he’d dared to try pushing his tongue in she probably would have bitten it off.
He needed to do some wooing. Fetching her stuff seemed the obvious answer. Or the only one he’d come up with, lying awake on the couch all damn night. For hours he’d stared at the ceiling. All of his other efforts had failed up to this point. He’d fed her and kept her warm, clothed her and enabled her to be clean and comfortable. The woman wanted for nothing. He’d listened to her and tried to get to know her. He’d chatted and joked with her, tried to charm her pants off and got no-fucking-where at all.
So like a good little errand boy he’d grabbed his pistol and his bowie knife, and headed out into the great unknown.
Not that she’d thank him.
Difficult damn woman. He missed her smiles. They’d been rare, only an occasional thing. Just enough to get him hooked on pleasing her and bang … they were gone. All due to one crappy kiss. He’d done better at twelve, sneaking a smack on the lips with some girl in a cupboard at a party. Of course, the girl at the party had wanted him to kiss her. Big difference.
He’d planned to scale the wall, get in and out without anyone knowing, but the gate stood open. The only other time that had happened he’d been exchanging the van for Ros.
His back felt inexplicably cold and his hair stood on end. He’d learnt to trust his instincts a long time ago, at least when it came to danger. He’d been to Afghanistan with the army. He’d felt this feeling before. Last time it had been the moment of quiet before an I.E.D. blast tore a building in two. The building his team had been about to walk into. He’d been lucky to survive that one. Others hadn’t.
Things were very fucking wrong here. He could taste it. Something fierce and bitter hung in the air.
Thank God she wasn’t with him.
Nick headed for the main building, dashing from tree to tree. The old wooden front door stood open and some dead leaves had blown inside. It didn’t feel like a set-up. These weren’t the kind of people to lay traps. They were, however, the kind of bloody idiots to screw up and let the infected in somehow.
He should head for home. Pretend he’d never been there. It wasn’t like Roslyn would ever know. But what if someone had survived?
The thought of playing hero turned his guts over. Too many times he’d seen heroes die grisly, thankless deaths. Doing the right thing rarely worked out well, but walking away …
Fuck. Shit. Damn.
These people meant something to Roslyn and Roslyn meant something to him. He wasn’t sure exactly what she meant, but … yeah.
In he went. Not that she’d thank him.
He palmed his pistol. Every bloody hair on him had frozen upright.
It was a big old building, riddled with corridors and classrooms. The place stood two stories high.
Roslyn had been hiding in a storage room beneath some stairs. He hadn’t always watched from outside. He’d seen her tucking herself away in there when things got interesting. Like when the shithead with the glasses hassled her. Nick headed there first.
The long hallway was quiet as a tomb, shadowy and cold. He kept his footsteps soft but he still made noise. And the noise was like the clanging of a bell in the silence. A big-ass announcement to one and all that there was fresh meat in the building.
A bloody handprint graced a gray-white wall. Beneath was a swipe of dried blood. No body in sight.
A wide staircase led up to the second level, wooden steps worn down from who knew how many years in service. The door to Ros’s sanctuary was closed. Further down the hallway a shoe stuck out of an open doorway. A shoe connected to a leg. Neither moved.
A chill slid down his spine.
He should have stolen another kiss. Rubbed his cold nose against her warm neck before leaving, and held her tight. Not making it home was out of the question. She needed him, whether she admitted it or not. He’d taped the key to her padlock to the back of the bedside table just in case. Eventually she’d find it, but hopefully not before he got back.
Nick opened the door to her old room. He grabbed his flashlight from his belt and flicked it on. It illuminated a nest of gym mats and a blanket. A stack of moldy old school sweaters she’d obviously used for warmth. Pile after pile of books. How she’d read in here, he did not know. There was no window. Empty steel shelving lined the walls. She must have thrown out the collection of cleaning products, but the place still reeked of bleach.
To the side of her bed was a handbag with some things strewn about nearby. The sort of girly shit you’d expect, along with another book. This one was a yellow spiral-bound notebook, well used. It appeared to be full of her handwriting. There’d be time to check it out later. He chucked everything into the black handbag and slung it over his shoulder, out of the way.
Ros didn’t need anything else from this shit-tip.
He about-faced and headed back out into the hallway for a quick tour. A swift search for any survivors, then he’d be out of here.
Everything was still. Silent. Nick walked fast down the hall, checking out the body in the doorway first. Lots of blood. By the size of the corpse it had been a man, but not enough remained to tell more. His upper body had been well chewed on. Probably a day old at most, and it stank to high heaven. One arm had been torn off completely.
Damn it, he’d be seeing this mess in his head for weeks. The kids had been the worst, back when everything was first going to shit. But all of it sucked.
Bloody hell. Go.
He kept moving, trying to look everywhere at once. Ears pricked, on the alert. He heard nothing, but then … moaning. The noise was low and noxious. Hard to tell where it came from. It seemed to bounce off the walls and echo up and down the stairwells. Nah. No way. He was out of there.
Nick turned and jogged toward the front door. He trotted past the empty science labs with their rows of desks and past her room beneath the staircase, not slowing down for anything. He’d kiss her feet and suck on her toes. Do whatever it took to get off her shit list. Anything but spend a heartbeat longer in this death trap looking for her crappy friends.
And sure as fuck shouldn’t.
Then he heard the scream. A high-pitched wail, coming from the floor above him. It sounded like a woman.
“No.” He forced the word out through his teeth. “Fuck!”
He ran, headed straight up the stairs, hitting another seemingly endless hallway. The noise came again from his right. This time feverish bursts of screaming, again and again like a record stuck on repeat.
Three infected were battering at a door, throwing themselves full body against it. Inside the room the screamer sobbed and coughed and screamed some more. One of the infected was an older woman, its dress hanging off one shoulder, ripped open and bloody. The other two were men. One of them was the asshole Roslyn had decked the other day. Its nose sat crooked above a bloody, gaping wound of a mouth. Still wearing the steel-rimmed glasses. Its eyes were empty and its teeth snapped.
Bloody marks covered the white linoleum floor like something had been dragged. A body, reduced to no more than pulp, sat against an empty wooden rack meant for school bags, not the dead.
His body temperature dropped, despite the adrenalin. Or it felt like it did. They could only come at him one at a time in this corridor. Nothing was behind him or to either side. Nick concentrated on the three zombies ahead of him.
He readied his Glock as the first infected twigged that he was there, turned and came toward him. Stumbling steps across the bloody floor. It wore heavy work boots and overalls and looked to be an older male. Didn’t matter. The thing was infected and he would put it down.
He raised the pistol nice and calm. Only four, five meters from the target. Small chance he could miss. The weapon became an extension of him. He knew how to do this.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
The pistol bucked in his hand. Three bullets punched holes in the thing’s head, blowing out the back of its brains. Blood and bone fragments sprayed the two infected behind it. It dropped like the live, rotting sack of flesh and bones it was, dead for good this time. Inside the room the girl screamed louder, knocking a hole through the sound barrier. Hopefully her throat would give out soon. The nerve-rattling noise didn’t help anyone.
Nick walked toward the two remaining zombies. Their faces were gnarled and warped with hunger, stained with fresh blood.
Moaning started up behind him, bouncing off the cold, gray walls. It sounded close, far too fucking close. Shit. The other end of the corridor had appeared clear, but he’d missed some.
His back was wide open and exposed. The two in front of him shambled forward, one tripping on the freshly dead body on the floor and going down. It crashed at his feet with a groan. Raw, bloody fingers clawed at his boot. He stepped aside, balanced himself and brought his foot down on the thing’s head. It was an old woman, but it didn’t matter. No one came back from the virus. He stomped it, smashing his boot down, once, twice, three times to crush the thing’s skull. Brains spewed out across the floor amongst shards of white bone.
Behind him the moaning got louder. Another joined in. One started growling.
Eight. There had been eight left behind once he took Roslyn home. The girl screeching in the room beside him. The body downstairs, and the other corpse stinking like the bowels of hell by the bag rack to his right. The two at his feet, freshly dead. Leaving the three closing in on him.
The one Ros had punched lurched closer, navigating the bodies on the floor to get at him. It was the fucker with the steel-rimmed glasses.
Nick ignored the two coming at him down the hallway. They were still a couple of body-lengths out. Hands outstretched, reaching for him. Shit, the smell of them filled his head. Smelt like death dug up.
The girl behind all the screaming stumbled out into the hallway, face red and dripping snot. Blonde hair hung in straggly knots about her face and blood stained her dress.