Eight bodies lay littered about on the ground. Tom and a woman who’d been part of the mob were injured but alive. Outside, the infected grew louder.
“Sean, that includes you.” The man with the rifle advanced.
The captain didn’t seem to hear at first. He stayed huddled over the dead woman in silence. When he looked up his face was stark with loss, embedded with lines. He appeared to have aged a decade in a moment. His hands were covered in blood.
“Will you bury her?” he asked.
“Yes. She’ll be given a proper burial.”
Sean carefully laid Lila on the ground. He picked up the backpack she’d brought and, slinging it over his shoulder, rose to his feet and looked around him. “Cooper and Matt, too?”
“Yes,” the man with the rifle said. “We’ll see to them too if you go peacefully. Now.”
Sean nodded and turned to Nick. “I’ll go first.”
“Right,” said Nick. He stood, pulling Ros up with him and holding on tight. She didn’t complain.
“We’re going to be fine,” he said, willing it to be true.
Anything less was unacceptable.
Terror toyed with him, fucked him up just a little. He needed to focus. Roslyn couldn’t afford for him to be anything but on top of his game. They were going out there.
Oh God, please let them be fine. He wasn’t even convinced he believed in God, but just in case.
The rest of their group gathered around. There were nine of them. Funny, the night he’d first entered Blackstone it had been as part of a group the same size. On the other side of the wall the moaning and growling went on. Impossible to tell how many zombies had gathered. Definitely more than a few. They were walking out into a killing field.
“Stay close together. Noise won’t matter now. Shoot anything that moves.” Without a backward glance Sean ducked his head and walked through.
The man was covered in Lila’s blood.
“They’ll tear him apart,” said someone behind him.
Roslyn fought the haze filling her mind from the pain meds, the lethargy slowing her limbs. She could do this. She would do this. There was no other choice.
Nick stayed close, keeping a hand on her back as she crawled through the hole and emerged into the back of the refrigerated van. Sean took one look at them, nodded and threw open one of the back doors.
A sea of infected waited beyond with mouths wide open and arms outstretched. The putrid stench of them was overpowering. It filled her nose. Bile rose in her throat. The rotting remnants of clothes hung from emaciated limbs. No trace of humanity lingered. Every instinct in her screamed to turn and run.
More people came through the hole behind her and the van filled up. But what was claustrophobia when confronted with what lay ahead?
Sean fired his weapon into the crowd. Her ears howled in protest at the ricochet. Infected fell and the man pressed forward, stepping down from the back of the vehicle and onto the ground. There were so many of them out there, a veritable sea of monsters.
Her legs shook, partly due to fear but also care of the drugs rocking and rolling through her system. She was all over the place. This wasn’t going to work. She needed both hands to have a hope of aiming the gun. Quick as she could she unbuttoned the jacket, still holding onto her gun, and freed her arm from the sling. Her movements were slow, sloppy. She stuffed her left hand into the coat arm and pushed up the sleeve. Much better. The spare pistol still sat in a coat pocket along with her medicines. Truth was, they were probably going to die. But they’d go down fighting.
“Stay close to me,” said Nick, and followed Sean out into the night.
Growling and gunfire filled the air. One foot after the other, she stayed close but not too close. Nick needed to be able to move. Carefully she pointed her weapon out into the horde. She took aim at the nearest, a woman in a tattered dress, and fired. The semi-automatic only had a mild kick, but it set her wound to stinging.
It hadn’t seemed quite so dark inside Blackstone but out here the world was murky gray. She could feel, more than hear, the people behind her. More gunfire and more moaning ahead. The rising stink of blood and guts and gore as they pressed forward. Beneath her feet was gravel. At least she was wearing shoes.
A man in overalls, his face caked in blood. She aimed and fired. Pain swamped her shoulder at the jolt to her body. A boy who couldn’t have been more than ten or twelve. It looked like its face had been skinned. Thank God it was too dark to see properly. Her bullet hit it in the chest. For a moment he faltered, but then started reaching for her once again.
Shit. Impossible, but there it was. Just like the zombie in the downed plane. They weren’t dying.
“Head shots! You have to shoot them in the head,” yelled Sean.
“Fuck me,” swore someone behind her.
“They’re not going down,” said another, a woman.
“Get ’em in the head, take out the brains.”
The virus must be mutating, evolving to survive. Infected were running out of food so the plague made them hardier, harder to kill.
The boy stumbled toward her. Her first bullet flew past it but the second punched into the side of its forehead and it fell. Head shots worked. Blood soaked into the bandage on her shoulder. Felt like she’d ripped some stitches. She gritted her teeth as pain coursed through her. Without the meds she’d have been rolling on the ground in tears.
“Watch out for the train tracks,” Nick said.
Someone called for ammunition and another answered. Something tugged on her foot. An infected lay on the ground, its mouth stretched around the toe of her boot. It had no legs below the knees. She could see one bloody stump, the white of bone. It was all so surreal. If only her hands would stop trembling. Her gun muzzle jittered all over the place. She bent and placed it against the thing’s head and pulled the trigger. Brains splattered her arm and shoe. Disgusting didn’t cover it. She straightened too fast and the world slid. Deep breaths. They had to make it. If she fell now she was screwed.
A big building loomed ahead, blocking out the stars. It might as well have been a world away. They’d come to a complete stop. There were too many infected. Ammunition was running low. Zombies surrounded them.
Sean reversed his rifle and slammed the stock into the face of an oncoming infected. Bone crunched and the thing dropped dead. Roslyn’s head swum woozily. She shook it off and aimed at the next target, trying not to see too much. An old woman. A child. A man missing an arm, with his neck torn open. They were all monsters now.
Blood soaked her bandage. Her left arm felt numb and her hands were slick with sweat. Sure enough her boot caught on a train track and she lost her balance, almost falling on her face. Nick hauled her upright, not missing a beat. She almost sobbed in gratitude. Maybe she did. The noise of the guns was unending, and it was impossible to hear anything over it.
They were going to die here. If something didn’t happen soon, they were not going to make it.
“We need a distraction,” yelled Nick.
“Yeah, we do.” Sean plucked the semi-automatic from her hands.
“Hey,” she cried, startled.
“Get them out of here, Nick,” he ordered. He flicked on the little flashlight and shone it in the faces of the oncoming infected, then he dove into the crowd. “Come on! Come on, you fuckers!”
“Captain!” one of the other men yelled. “Shit.”
The lunatic Viking ran deep into the seething mass of the horde, flashlight waving madly. It didn’t distract all of them, but it distracted enough of them. Heads turned in his direction. Feet shuffled away from them. Suddenly the group of survivors moved forward again toward the building. Nick tugged at her arm, leading her on. She could barely hear Sean yelling hoarsely somewhere, lost in the crowd. The bright beam of the flashlight cut into the night. She stared at it in horror, hand fumbling over the grip of her spare pistol. The grip was smaller and slid in her damp hands. She struggled to hold it, pins and needles filling her left arm and shoulder screaming bloody murder.
What Sean had done was suicide.
“Move,” someone said behind her.
“Hurry,” Nick kicked in a door on the side of the building, a pistol in hand.
Gravel gave way to concrete as she felt her way up a step.
Holy shit, they’d made it.
Inside was no darker than out. The other side of the building seemed to be missing, or maybe it had always been open, and part of the roof had fallen in. Several zombies shambled toward them. Her shoulder throbbed. Her finger jerked at the trigger until the gun clicked uselessly empty. Nick and another man pulled at a tarp and it slid free, revealing a black SUV.
“Come on, Ros,” Nick said.
A man ran past, reaching for another tarp covering yet another vehicle. More infected stumbled into the warehouse. They started pouring in from every direction. Shadowy figures shambled towards them. Nick pushed her into the back seat of a vehicle, still firing at the oncoming horde. An engine roared to life and headlights flicked on, blinding her with their sudden brilliance.
“Move!” someone yelled. “Ali!”
The doors opposite her flew open, both front and back. People jumped in. A man gunned the engine. The brunette slid in beside her and slammed the door shut. Nick climbed in and shut his side. There was no sign of Sean. Of course there wasn’t. He’d be dead by now, ripped apart. He’d sacrificed himself so they could make it. She barely even knew him. He’d given up his coat to keep her warm. Everything was numb inside her.
“Go,” said Nick.
The SUV powered into the darkness, throwing her back against the seat and rattling her brain. It ploughed down the infected in front of them with barely a hiccup. Behind them the second vehicle followed.
“Do we even know where we’re headed?” asked the brunette beside her.
The man in the passenger seat turned, bracing himself against the console. It was a hell of a rocky ride. “There’s a place we scouted about two hours from here, an old convent. It’s got good high walls and the gate is still intact.”