Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Horror  ➡  Science fiction  ➡  Apocalyptic  ➡  Undead

Z Games

 

 

 

Z GAMES

 

 

A Z GAMES NOVEL

 

 

WARREN ROGERS

Copyright © 2016 by Warren Rogers

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher and/or author.

 

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

The right of Warren Rogers to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

 

If you enjoy reading Z Games then you can join my mailing list at http://www.warrenrogersbooks.com/.

You will receive news on other projects I am working on and maybe even some future freebies.

 

Books by Warren Rogers

 

Z GAMES

(available as a free download if you join my mailing list at http://www.warrenrogersbooks.com/)

 

HOMECOMING

Chapter One

Bang. Bang. Bang.

She ran her hands across the cold dark walls, desperately trying to find another way out of the room. It was only small and she quickly found another door on the opposite side to where she’d come in. Locating the handle she twisted and pulled on it furiously but it was locked. She fumbled around the handle but had no way of releasing it: the lock was on the other side of the door.

Bang. Bang. Bang.

This time the noise made her scream and she backed into the far corner of the room, sliding to the floor. Raising her hands to her face, she couldn’t stop the trembling. The thin sliver of light coming from under the door partially illuminated the furniture in the centre of the room: a table and one chair, facing the wall she had backed up against. She crawled forward and grabbed at the chair, hoping she could peg it under the door handle and stop them from coming inside, but it was bolted to the floor. So was the table.

She slumped back down into the corner, watching the light under the door black out momentarily as something on the outside moved past. She could hear them scratching and banging on the walls, their groaning digging into her stomach and twisting like a knife. The deep gouges in her legs from the glass in the broken window in the lobby stung as she felt the blood seeping out.

“Helen…..” the voice rattled through the door, the final letter lingering in the air.

“No, get away!” she managed to scream as the door tore from the hinges.

She saw the shadows of the creatures spill into the room, fighting to get at her in the corner. One tumbled over the table whilst another dragged itself underneath and grasped at her ankles, a mouth full of broken teeth biting into her flesh. Many more ploughed in behind the first two, pulling and pushing each other to get at her. Before she blacked out she felt the one that had come over the table reach down from above and sink its teeth into the top of her skull, crushing the bone as it clamped down, the pressure on her brain flashing white lights before her eyes. The blood ran down her forehead and into her failing eyes as the powerful fingers pushed deep under her chin, blood running into her throat as they pierced the flesh.

The feeding frenzy continued for a few more seconds before the creatures suddenly lost interest in their prey, filtering back out of the room and into the main lobby. Some sniffed at the air, as though trying to locate the source of their next meal.

Their attention was stolen by the sound of the sirens and the amber revolving beacon lights on the walls. Vents opened low in the walls around the room and a thick white smoke pumped out, blanketing the creatures. They collapsed to the ground one-by-one, the vents closing back up as the last: the woman from the room, hit the ground.

The building fell silent.

Bodies littered the ground and the smell of rotting flesh hung in the air.

Ten minutes later the amber lights went dark and the sirens stopped. A series of solid clunking sounds signalled a number of locks being released somewhere, and daylight beamed into one of the corridors off the main lobby. Shadows spread across the ground as four people walked along the corridor, adorned in military uniforms and wearing full face gas masks. They stopped by the door of the side room and waited for a female in similar clothing to walk out. She was not wearing a mask. She looked at the bodies on the floor, then at one of the men, and shrugged.

“Seventeen bastard minutes!” he shouted, ripping the mask off his head.

One of the soldiers by his side flinched, not expecting the outburst.

“One of them was a martial arts instructor as well,” said the female.

“A lot of goddamn good that did them in here. Get this mess cleaned up Major Lawson. And bring the next group in: we need some results,” he then turned and began to walk back down the corridor, followed by his eager lap dogs.

“Yes General,” replied the female, hands on hips, surveying the carnage.

This is hopeless, she thought.

Chapter Two

She sat paralyzed on her bed, her knees pulled up tight under her chin. She knew she had to play the scene out the same way she had done every time she’d had this nightmare before. Once again she was unable to move throughout the ordeal, it was part of the torture.

She acted the part of the innocent spectator as her bed was dragged across the floor towards the door, the outline of fire between the door and the frame licking at the air around it. The door erupted, once again into a cloud of sparks and ash, covering her in cinders. The wall buckled under the pressure, bowing back and forth, until the heat tore it apart, smashing it to pieces.

This revealed the field of fire and lava behind. The scene she was so used to. When she first started having these dreams, at the age of six, she was terrified. She would wake her mum and dad with her incessant screaming, and it would take hours to calm her back down. Over time she became used to them, and her mum was able to find methods to bring her back quicker. But this came at a price: countless hours of therapy with the freaky Doctor Mannheim and talk of steam shock therapy. He wanted to scare the visions out of her, but her mum would have none of it. Her dad couldn’t handle it though and walked out.

Over time she suffered the nightmares more often, but learned to deal with them more effectively.

Recently she was seeing glimpses of her nightmare world in her everyday life. She would be walking down the street and have to change direction as she saw the bodies of the dying blocking her path. She knew it wasn’t real, but her head tried to tell her it was.

But the voice. The voice was what really messed with her head. The same one each time. It didn’t tell her to do anything, like most other sufferers seemed to experience, as Doctor Mannheim put it.

The world she saw before her was a mass of burning bodies, writhing in agony. Huge horned beasts scattered the landscape, tearing tortured souls to pieces and throwing the remnants into the fires. She looked down to see her bed had burnt away along with the rest of the room leaving her resting on the burning bodies of the discarded ones, grasping at her flesh, leaving scorch marks across her body. It used to be excruciating, and felt like she was being burnt alive, but with time she no longer felt the pain.

Before her the mass of tortured souls separated to form a path of fire, along which strode the hooded figure in black. He was there every time, and she never got to see his face. She could see the souls cowering in fear as he passed them by, muttering words she could never make out. As he approached her he held out his hand toward her, calling her name, calling her to him.

The nightmare ended here every time.

 

Her eyes snapped open. She sat up in her bed, staring at the door, giving herself those few moments she needed to remember where she was again. Reaching up her hand to touch the scar on the back of her head, hidden beneath her hair, it burned again.

It hurt more these days.

Chapter Three

On the thirteenth of March, 2023, the human race tried to kill itself – The War as we now call it. With nuclear stockpiles numbering in the tens of thousands, numerous countries testing their neighbours with excursions into their sovereign territory and a bunch of itchy trigger fingers, it was never going to take much to provoke the first attack

The proliferation of the hackers attacking a world reliant on the internet and ever more effective cyber security lead to a time when nobody felt safe. They spread panic and fuelled paranoia, stealing information and planting bugs that messed with corporate data, military defence systems and financial markets. When allegations of government sanctioned cyber-attacks were made against authorities in Asia and the Far East by the Western World, Russia and China were the first to flinch, launching their first co-ordinated strikes by 00:30 Greenwich Mean Time.

Nobody expected it to be over so quickly.

Ironically it was those that had fuelled the fire that came to the rescue of our doomed race: the hackers quickly realising the danger we were all in. Working together, they infiltrated the military systems and put an end to the attacks, destroying the networks in the process.

The final nuke detonated fourteen hours and seven minutes after the first, but only after a quarter of the human race had been wiped from the face of the earth. What had taken centuries to build was destroyed in less than a day as most major cities fell. Some few fortunate cities were left untouched, Manchester in the British Isles being one of those. The economies of every country were wiped out and one fifth of the Earth’s surface was left uninhabitable for the next few thousand years.

From the ashes a new and wiser society grew, with old governments disbanded and international boundaries torn down. Countries kept their names for the sake of simplifying geographical identification, but the populous were free to move about as they wished. For the first time, the human race worked together as one, rather than countless segregated groups trying to best the next.

Transport was overhauled, diesel power and steam being the primary power sources in use other than those provided by nature. The ferocity of the war wiped out most other sources. Electricity was still in use, but not as widely as before. We switched to a simpler way of life, wiping away decades of technological progress.

We forgave a number of civil liberties and the freedoms that many of us had become accustomed to, but we accepted that this was for the best. No-one wanted to return to the devastation and loss of that fateful day.

Society became more integrated than it had ever before, with equality between all sexes, ethnicities and religions. We were, for the first time ever, and as close as was possible, as one.

Personal firearm ownership grew exponentially, with many people forced to use their own ingenuity due to scarcity of available supplies creating their own weapons. The same happened with transport. It was a golden age of invention and everything possible was recycled.

There were those that felt the fallen governments should have been replaced with a similar entity, and were distractingly vocal about their position, but the majority of society opposed their views, silencing them easily. They were known as the Handgunners.

Given time, we would wish we had listened to them.

We now lived a simpler life. Mankind came so close to the brink of extinction that we scared ourselves into a different mind-set and cast aside years of so called progress.

It was almost as if we turned back the clocks a hundred and thirty years.

Chapter Four

“So I decided to finish work early for the day and I get home about two in the afternoon. I back up the driveway as usual and unload the tools and take them into the garage,” said Tony, drawing his actions in the air with his hands.

“Tell them what you saw,” goaded Steve.

“I go into the backyard, and am about to go in through the kitchen door, and I can hear the veranda at the back creaking, and that thing never even makes a noise in a tornado. My dad doesn’t build shit,” continued Tony.

“This is so funny” sniggered Steve.

“How would you know man?” snapped Danny.

“Because he’s already told me,” replied Steve. “Tell him about…..”

“Shut up Steve,” snapped Danny. “Let him finish.”

Steve didn’t drop his smile, fidgeting in his seat.

Owen remained silent, his cheeks beginning to flush red.

“So I walk back onto the lawn and look up, and I can’t believe what I see,” continues Tony. “This little pervert,” he points at Owen, “is standing on the veranda, pants round his ankles, and I can see his little elbow going up and down furiously.”

“What? Shut up,” jokes Danny.

“He’s actually watching my mum through the bedroom window and playing with himself.”

“Oh, no way. Seriously?”

“Nah, that’s crap man,” snapped Owen, his face tomato red.

“Hey Owen, don’t make me show them the photos,” smiled Danny.

“You got photos? Aww, I’ve gotta see them,” laughed Danny.

“I’ll show you later. Caught right in the act, hey Owen?” Tony flicked at Owen’s ear, who brushed his hand away furiously.

“Oh man I hope there’s some fitties here. These things are always full of screaming girls, and all they need is a male shoulder to cry on. Well babes, here I am.”

“Shut up Danny, you tool.”

“Yeah you wouldn’t know what to do if a pretty girl even smiled at you, never mind breaking down in front of you.”

“Screw you man, I get plenty of girls.” Danny slumped back down into the oversized leather seats, pissed that the guys were still riding him. It may have been two years since he’d had a girlfriend, but he’d still had some good nights with other women. At least that’s what he’d told them.

“Anyways guys, we’re here to have a laugh, then go and get plastered. Let’s make it a night we can’t remember.” chirped in Steve, getting excited now his stag do was finally under way.

Best man Tony had suggested countless ideas for today, Steve having to knock most back as they involved close contact with scantily clad women. Something he had to avoid with a barge pole, knowing his fiancé Chloe was aware of his past. He knew he was onto a winner with this girl and wasn’t risking messing that up, even if it meant the guys had ridiculed him for the past three weeks. He loved her and he knew it.

“Hey Tony, where did you find this place anyway? I was talking to some mates at work about it and they wanted to give it a go, but no-one’s heard of it before. What’s it called again?”

“Christ Owen, do you ever listen to what people say? I don’t know what it’s called and I didn’t find it. It found me.” Tony looked at them all, but didn’t say another word. He wanted them to push him for more information; he loved messing with people like this. He liked being the centre of attention.

No-one said anything. Steve and Danny looked out the window as civilisation disappeared behind them and they travelled further into the sticks. Owen sat quietly re-tying his shoe laces. Tony looked like he needed a pee he was fidgeting that much.

“Fine, I’ll tell you,” Tony hesitated again, and after a moment with no response he continued. “I put in a request at work on the game boards for an activity weekend, something different. I said anything up to grade five.”

“Well that’s us screwed then,” said Owen.

 

The message boards are open to any government employees, locally or centrally based. They were brought in about five years ago when it was identified that most of the workforce, making up about seventy per cent of the working age population at the time, were suffering from low morale. That many rules had been imposed on the wider population since The War that many felt like they had no control over their lives, and this feeling was reflected in the mandatory quarterly satisfaction surveys the local authorities had brought in.

Their response was simple. Employees could put in a request for something that would lift their spirits or relieve their boredom, and this would be granted, within reason. The chances of acceptance were much higher the more people benefited by the idea. The authorities were quick to pick up on the social benefits of this initiative and the team games were born. Graded on an intensity scale from one to five, one tended to include baking and walking whereas five was likely to get you shot.

 

“Not me,” jumped up Danny. “I’ve come prepared for this bloodfest.”

He took great pleasure in revealing the hand built revolver from inside his knee length leather and suede overcoat.

“I call this the Knights Wish,” he said proudly, holding the cannon in one hand by the leather inscribed hand grip, his other hand caressing the seven inch steel and copper elaborately detailed barrel. He blew into the pressure valve in the base of the handle he’d installed that he was keen to explain allowed for extra power if hooked up to a compressed gas source.

“Danny, what the hell? Do you have any idea the damage your idiot hands can cause with something like that?” snapped Steve.

“It’ll be right, I know what I’m doing,” he said proudly.

“Are those lightning bolts you’ve etched into the barrel?” asked Tony, impressed with the handiwork.

“Yes my friend. Yes they are. I’m glad you noticed them,” smiled Danny. “You see Tony has already given me the heads up about what we’re doing today. I’ve come prepared.”

“Tony?” said Steve, not happy that Danny clearly knew more than him.

Tony sat quietly, his eyes flicking between his friends, letting the tension build. Danny smiled as he was really chuffed with the plans.

“It’s zombie apocalypse boys,” yelled Tony, jabbing his previously well concealed copper handled flick knife into the carpeted roof lining of the limousine. The blade was dull, and he had trouble pulling it back out as the chipped edges snagged on the fabric.

“Oh Christ,” said Owen. “We are screwed,” not looking away from the sepia screen on his Faswell Streambox, twiddling the twisted wire aerial trying to get a strong signal.

“I suppose you’ve got a name for that too?” asked Steve, staring at the crappy weapon in Tony’s hand.

“No, but that’s not a bad idea. I might have to think of one though,” said Tony.

“Hey guys, check this video out” said Owen, gesturing the guys over to his tablet.

“What is it?” smiled Steve, “another one of you spying on your next door neighbour?”

“No, she’s moved out. It’s from Houston, some crazy suicide cult have been throwing themselves from buildings. It’s raining nutters.”

The four of them crowded around the tarnished screen on the heavy brass edged tablet to watch the badly edited film showing scene after scene of people jumping from buildings to their deaths.

“I don’t get it. I thought these mad cults always dressed the same, like they were Jesus or something. They all look like normal people” offered Tony. “Look, that one’s gone out in his suit and brogues. Damn, that’s crazy.”

“Hey look at that guy just standing there, he looks well confused,” said Steve, pointing towards the dishevelled middle aged man in a cheap suit, police ID hanging from his neck. He wore a dark brown top hat, with the goggles wrapped round just above the brim. “If he doesn’t know what’s going on, nobody else has a chance.”

“Owen stop fidgeting man, I can’t see clearly. Keep still,” said Tony.

“I can’t help it man, the batteries are getting really hot again,” replied Owen, shifting his fingers to try to locate a cool spot.

“Are you sure this isn’t just another parody video that someone’s cooked up?” asked Danny, believing this was all a bit much.

“Nah, these look like news clips that have been put together. This is real” said Owen. “Ow, shit,” he snapped, as one of the transistors gave out and sent a spark onto his pants. He dropped the Faswell onto the leather seat as smoke trailed from the edges of the screen, the fizzing sounds signalling the end of the device. “Dammit.”

 

The chauffeur broke up their macabre entertainment at this moment by sounding the four stretched air horns mounted on the bonnet of the Bonneville Mura Limo the authorities had provided them with. Tony hung his head in shame as they pulled onto the overgrown car park of what looked like an abandoned cinema. The driver negotiated the slalom of rusty shopping trolleys, making his way across what once would have been an area teeming with people on any given night, but now just housed a few makeshift cardboard shelters for the neighbourhood’s homeless. A mountain of burnt out steam generators provided the final obstacle before they pulled up outside the entrance.

Owen tried to proceed with a stylish exit from the oversized suicide doors, ruining it for himself when he realised his Faswell had burnt an inch wide hole in the leather crotch insert on his pants. He pulled the matching trench coat closed quickly, hoping nobody had noticed his faux pas.

The driver had pulled up next to four other similar looking official vehicles and muttered something under his breath about not helping to clean up again.

With the door open wide enough to block a sidewalk the rest of the stag do party stepped out into the light.

Dotted in-between the cars were four other groups of people, with the same numbers and all kitted out in similar attire. Everybody had come ready for a higher grade of entertainment it seemed. Steve’s group felt quite confident in themselves, on first appearances the other teams looked quite inept, one was made up of just girls for Christ’s sake they thought.

Each team was standing in their own groups, the odd one looking across to others, trying to gauge their competition, but nobody had made the effort to bridge the gap yet.

The cars drove away and left the twenty contestants looking quite lost outside the dilapidated building. A long five minutes passed before discontent started to take hold and voices were raised, the groups now beginning to acknowledge the presence of others, and just the one question flying across the divides, “What the hell was going on?”

One young girl in her early twenties seemed quite distraught when she found that her brass plated Elston Arman phone, basically a smaller rip-off of the Dimstack Portoo, had lost all signal. This was a feeling echoed across the groups as more realised they had the same issue, pulling all sorts of contraptions from their collections of pockets to try to boost the signal: a common requirement these days with the levels of radiation they were subjected to on a daily basis. One person even suggested now would be a good time to run away, but he didn’t speak again for a while given the looks he got.

At the point that a number of them were contemplating walking away and abandoning their group party organisers to look for the nearest pub a door opened from what at first had looked like a boarded up part of the building’s wall. A young woman stepped out sporting what looked like an army outfit and made her way to the guests. She had a captivated audience without having to say a word. Looking like she had just stepped out of a warzone and covered in fake blood will have that effect on people. Leather boots with a three inch wedge laced to the top reached half way up her shins, covering the bottoms of her functional, yet fitted, suede knee patched combat trousers. The red and black leather military coat, criss-crossed with co-ordinated straps and dropping to just below the waist at the front and below the bum at the rear was a nice touch. She had military patches too, but nobody recognised them. There were that many branches of the military these days that this came of no surprise. And no cutting edge outfit would be complete without the steel and brass goggles around her neck.

“Welcome contestants. Your party organisers have been specially selected for your mission today, and they in turn have been instructed as to who they should bring along to support them. You should be proud, for you could be about to make history.”

“Damn this is lame,” a male thought he was funny until his team leader slapped him up the side of the head. Another felt the humour too but the involuntary snigger drew attention she didn’t want from the other teams for all eyes were now on her, for varying reasons.

She was stunning: bright red hair and large chest, enhanced further by the tight white sheer blouse with centre straps she’d squeezed into. She was the vixen of the group, with a black knee length ruffled satin skirt, finished off with an embroidered waist line. Black patterned tights disappeared into the light brown suede ankle boots with thin decorative silver anklets. The pink cowboy hat with obligatory goggles resting on the brim finished off the outfit a treat, a full ensemble shared by the rest of her group: the hen do girls.

A confident man from the back raised his hand in the air. “Hey does anyone wanna swap shirts?“ gesturing towards the lady that had just sniggered. “You look lonely, thought you might want some company.”

She responded with a perfectly well rehearsed raised middle finger. At this point in the proceedings it didn’t really matter what she had to say; the women hated her for her looks, whilst the men were staring at her chest.

The easily distracted group then turned back to the host as she continued.

“It is now ten o’clock in the morning. The deadline to escape from the building alive is six o’clock this evening. You have eight hours to fight your way back out, using any means necessary. You choose if you work as teams, or if you believe you will fare better as the lone wolf, it’s your decision. The normal rules you face in the outside world do not apply in here. It is survival of the fittest. Any questions?”

“Yeah, can I get your number after all this is over? I’m finding the tough girl image kind of hot.”

Steve turned to his team mate to deal with what many others were already thinking about, “Danny, seriously, shut up you dick.”

“Right let’s get this party started.” bellowed an over eager participant as he made his way to the door, arms raised as though he’d already won.

“Just one question,” proposed another hen girl team member quietly, so as not to be noticed too much, “What do we win if we make it out?”

“Your life,” replied the host.

More than one managed a little smirk at this response.

The visitors made their way inside one-by-one, some of them looking like dead men walking. They obviously weren’t happy with their day out. Once the last two were inside they turned to watch the host as she followed them in.

“Just one piece of advice before we begin,” she continued, as she walked away from the entrance. “The creatures you will find in here are unlike any others you have seen before. For the most part you will be able to move around them freely without interference. New arrivals will only attack if they smell fresh blood, whereas the seasoned veterans will go for anything with a pulse, but I do suggest you keep an eye on him,” the host pointed directly at one of the last to enter the building with a tissue pressed against his nose. “He’s been nursing a nosebleed since you got here.”

With that warning nineteen confused looking participants looked at the bleeder as the door slammed shut behind them, the sound of multiple locks banging into place from outside, small gaps in the massive steel reinforced wall revealing gears spinning and locking as each lock engaged. With the door secure a jet of steam sprayed out from one of the waist high panel gaps, causing a couple of girls to shriek and jump out of the way as their skirts were blown in the air. Tony thought now was a good time to demonstrate his physical prowess for the big bosomed lady that clearly not only he had taken a fancy to and placed a heavy and deftly aimed kick at one side of the door, crumpling into a heap of broken man as he realised he’d just tried kicking in a solid wall.

The intended recipient of his act of bravado wasn’t impressed.

Elsewhere somebody clapped.

Nobody had a word to say. They didn’t know what to say. They just looked round at each other expecting someone else to have an idea, but none were forthcoming. Nobody had even noticed the soldier was no longer standing amongst them.

“Well this is great,” said Steve, standing with his back to the entrance and surveying his surroundings.

It was an old cinema, obvious from the movie posters hanging from flag poles dotted around the main hall, the films they were advertising suggesting this place closed around eight or nine years ago.

A large round wooden serving counter occupied the centre of the room, glass worktops covering half of it caked in dust with the odd smear and hand print.

A wrought iron and glass staircase ran up through the tall room, just behind the counter, wrapping itself around the imposing lift shaft. Heavy brass and steel doors on each of the three floors were sealed shut, and it looked like the complex machinery high overhead hadn’t been run for years. The etched metalwork encasing the lift shaft ran up to the first floor landing, continuing from there as a combination of criss-crossing steel beams and glass panels.

Thin shafts of sunlight cut through gaps in the fragile and rotting roof high overhead.

A mix of pre and post war technology and decoration sat in juxtaposition in the hall, leading off into each of the opposing corridors off the far back wall on the ground floor and up to the screening doors on the upper two floors. Four closed doors sat ominously on the back wall.

Heavy halogen lighting gantries hung from long thick and ugly grey cables in the plain roof, in contrast to the elegant and intricate designs of the wall mounted gas lights evenly spaced across each floor. Walls adorned with cheap grey flecked formica panels fought the senses against the black and brown parquet flooring. The contrast was that striking it could only have been deliberate. The old and the new combined in a way intended to offend the senses.

The uneasy silence of the room was broken by the sound of an alarm bell. Flashing yellow lights, up to this point unnoticed, began to flash on the walls. The alarm was too loud to comfortably ignore and many covered their ears with their hands, or whatever else they could get hold of. Panic set in as small ground level vents in the walls around the large room opened and pumped white gas in, creating a cloud that was impossible to see through. In the hysteria that followed disoriented guests ran into each other, and any other obstacle, as they tried to evade the gas and find a way out. After just a few more seconds the last of them collapsed to the floor.

Chapter Five

The feeling of nausea quickly dissipated as the guests woke up one by one, still dizzy from the effects of the gas.

Pete, a blue team member, as he would shortly learn, was the first to pipe up, “What is this shit? Stacey what have you brought us to? And what the hell am I wearing?”

Stacey, another blue player, swiftly went on the defence, “Oh stop your whingeing Pete, I thought it’d be a laugh. As long as you stop having nosebleeds, you might not be the first to get messed up. And seriously what the hell are you wearing?”

“Shut up, it’s not my fault, it’s my hayfever.” retorted Pete. “Where the hell is my shirt?”

“More like the rocks you keep snorting up there you crack-head. Jesus Christ, they’ve done it to me too. What the hell?”

Pete and Stacey stood opposing each other, each one looking down at the wardrobe change they appeared to have gone through after the gas had knocked them out. Each one was wearing a dark blue shirt, with their name embroidered over the left breast pocket, and in larger lettering between the shoulder blades as each would quickly discover.

“Ladies, ladies, come on. Let’s go see what’s going on in here,” interrupted Reggie, another member of their team, as he realised that the other four teams had already started wandering off, ignoring the tiff. Everybody else seemed to have taken the change of clothes issue without question, having heard of people going through similar processes with other games. Strangely none of them found it odd that they’d been gassed in order just to change their tops.

“Yeah, that’s it Reggie, you take charge as usual,” smiled Stacey.

“I thought you liked it when I took charge babe,” Reggie sneaked Stacey a quick wink, out of the view of Pete.

“Yeah in your dreams,” Stacey reciprocated the gesture.

 

With the visitors now colour coded into their teams, an inquisitive fellow from the yellow team, goggles still strapped to his head, sat down on the bottom step of the staircase and took the time to check the names of everyone in the room. This was Stan. He already knew his team mates; Maggie, Alex and Jane.

He recognised straight off the bat the loudest team, the guys in green, probably here for a stag do; Danny, Steve, Tony and Owen.

The red brigade was made up of Barry, Andy, Caron and Marcie.

The team that obviously had some kind of internal romantic issues going on were dressed in blue; Stacey, Mark, Reggie and Pete.

And finally the hen party girls, for some reason allowed to keep their pink cowboy hats from the costume change; made up of Lisa, Wanda, Gemma and Carrie.

Chapter Six

The team now sporting white shirts with their names embroidered on, previously wearing a range of pink cowboy hats, had made their way into the centre of the large room.

“Well Wanda, you’ve got us into a great one here,“ said Gemma, our vixen, directing her comment at one of her friends. “I’m booking the next hen do.”

“The next one could only be mine or Carrie’s, isn’t that right Carrie?” replied Wanda.

“Yep” answered Carrie.

“Because the rate you’re going,” continued Wanda. “You’ll never be walking down that aisle Gemma.”

“It’s not my fault, I’ve just not met the right guy yet. It’s not for want of trying, it’s just that I always seem to meet the dicks, never the gentlemen.” Gemma dropped her head at this point, her eyes reflecting the mood change.

“Hey girls, what you up to?” interrupted a guy in an ill-fitting red shirt, inserting himself annoyingly into the middle of the group, an arm each around the shoulders of Gemma and Wanda.

“I rest my case,” affirmed Gemma, shrugging him off and walking around the other side of the counter.

“Son of a…” yelled a guy in a green shirt from the back of the room. “They took my bloody Knights Wish,” he patted furiously at his shirt and pants as though he’d lost something important.

“Hey calm down man,” said one of his team mates. “I’m sure they’ll let you have it back at the end okay?”

“That’s not on man. They can’t just go around taking people’s stuff, you know?”

“What the hell are you doing?” snapped Lisa.

“I’m seeing if they’ve left anything behind when they cleared out of this place,” said another idiot in a red shirt, as he tried prising open the drawer of an old till with a short rusty flick knife they apparently missed when they patted the other guy down. His hand slipped several times, each time the blade getting nearer to his other hand.

“Hey, if you’re not careful you’ll cut yourself. You heard GI Jane out there telling us the creatures are attracted to blood,” laughed Wanda.

“Yeah okay, I’m tempted to slice my hand anyway to see what crappy special effects they have for us.”

He got impatient with the till at this point and instead dragged it from the counter and onto the floor, smashing the empty drawer open. Brass levers and numbered keys bounced across the floor, a few tapping off the toecap of Gemma’s left boot.

The crashing sound echoed around the inside of the large room, but all of them had stopped what they were doing to listen to a different sound that followed the crash, the groaning anguish filled noise from elsewhere in the building. They all fell silent to listen to what sounded like two or three different groans, punctuated by a random metallic clanking noise. It came from one of the two wide corridors that ran off opposite corners of the far end of the main room. The origin of the groaning presented itself not long after when what looked like three walking dead stumbled round the corner, sniffing at the air like they were trying to pick up the scent of something. The one at the back left a bloody handprint on the edge of the wall as it tried to steady itself on an apparently well-worn and ill-fitting prosthetic leg. Everybody remained silent as they made their slow un-coordinated march across the room, and past the central counter that most had now congregated around or inside. The one legged mess stopped momentarily next to Pete and sniffed him up and down. The stench was making Pete’s eyes water, but he didn’t move away. He really didn’t know what to make of this, the same mind set most of the others in the room were currently in. After brushing its clammy nose up against the side of Pete’s cheek, sniffing at his nostrils, it gave up its quarry and moved away, limping after the other two. Pete looked like he’d shit himself by this point. They may have smelled rotten, but they were well dressed for corpses, each one adorned in suits of the most expensive tastes. The waistcoats alone would have cost a few hundred easily and Tony couldn’t help but feel how wasted a good pair of leather shoes had been on the one legged cripple.

“Well I’ve got to give it to them,” bellowed the till breaker, that some had now noticed was named Barry. “The makeup is shit hot. I would not have wanted to be that man right then,” pointing at Pete. “I don’t mind admitting, that freaked me out a little.”

“Yeah me too,” said Lisa. “I’m not sure about this. That was a little too realistic for me.”

“Well, let’s hope they’ve got more than that, because if that was the main event then we’ve got eight very long hours to kill,” said Barry as he jumped up to sit on top of the glass counter that once housed the evening’s popcorn.

A few looked on with interest as his weight proved too much for the glass top and he crashed through it backside first and into the mouldy popcorn below. The broken glass tore through the leather seat of his pants and into the flesh of his buttocks as he screamed out in pain, profanities echoing off the walls.

“Shiiiiiitt” screamed Gemma as she ducked down out of the way of the first of the walking dead as from fifteen feet away from the counter it became airborne and launched itself, arms first, into Barry, teeth bared and aimed to tear at his flesh, screaming an almost banshee like war cry. The second took a more circuitous route and came at him from behind, biting straight into the torn flesh of his butt. Barry screamed out in pain as the third went down as its metal leg gave way and was reduced to dragging itself across the tiled floor, leaving behind a putrid bloody smear. The room cleared in seconds amid a blind panic as people made for the first available doors, or just the farthest they could get from the attack at the counter.

The yellow team went straight for higher ground, scaling the central staircase at an impressive speed. With the room mostly cleared, the odd straggler running back and forth screaming wildly whilst deciding where to go, the attackers settled into their meal at the popcorn counter.

Carrie took an accidental elbow to the face which split her bottom lip in two. Staggering about as water streamed from her eyes, she tried to wipe the blood away with her sleeve but it soaked through the fabric and dripped onto her hands.

The creature with the false limb locked onto the scent of her blood instantly, turning to focus in her direction, but too fast for the prosthetic to keep up with the motion and it tore from its socket. The creature dropped to the ground, but even by dragging itself across the tiled floor by its nails, chiselling grooves into the wooden tiles, it still moved faster than many humans could on foot. Rounding one side of the central counter, the momentum caused it to slide across the floor as it tore its own fingernails from its fingers as they jammed in the cracks between the tiles, smashing its ribcage into one of the thick metal pillars.

It didn’t flinch or slow down; keeping its lifeless eyes focussed on its prey, it went for Carrie.

She spotted the attack heading her way, the angry soundtrack of a rabid animal mixed with the crunching sound of bones making her look up from her blood flecked hands. A natural athlete, she still had no chance of evading the ruthless predator, its teeth plunging into the back of her leg as she turned to run. At first she tried to drag herself away from the creature, but as it tore the tendons from the back of her leg, the limb crumpled beneath her.

With her lay prone on the floor, the one legged assailant moved up and sunk its bared teeth deep into her left thigh, the few remaining fingernails digging into the skin on her back. Gemma grabbed hold of Carrie’s arms and tried to pull her free whilst Andy from the red team beat the animal over the head with a metal dustbin but it did nothing to slow its relentless assault. Carrie’s body lay motionless on the ground as Andy pulled Gemma away, which she reluctantly allowed him to do.

The creature looked up at Gemma and let out a chilling scream that echoed off the walls of the huge hall, flesh hanging from its rotten teeth, blood pooling on the floor around its prey.

Gemma screamed at Carrie to get up as Andy led her through the closest door into what turned out to be a storage cupboard. He managed to tie some rope around the handle on the inside of the door and secure this to a heavy shelving unit, hoping it would be enough to keep the outward opening door closed. He turned to Gemma, who was a gibbering wreck in the corner of the room, trying desperately to brush her friend’s blood from her hands.

Chapter Seven

“Hey, it’s okay, we’re safe in here,“ he said as he reached out a hand to steady hers clasped tight to her heaving chest.

“Oh my God, she’s dead isn’t she. Carrie’s dead. What the hell was that? What just happened? What the hell were those things?” screamed Gemma.

“I don’t know, I thought this was a windup until that happened. But this shit is real, Barry was my best friend, and those things just tore him apart right in front of me. This is really happening. I’m sorry about your friend.”

“We’re going to die in here.” Gemma was becoming more hysterical and could feel herself begin to hyperventilate.

“What’s your name?” said Andy as he tried to calm her, rubbing his hands on her shoulders, just trying to get her to think of something else.

She hesitated for a moment, sure her breathing was steady, then spoke, “Gemma. It’s Gemma.”

“Listen Gemma, I’m Andy, I won’t let anything happen to you, okay? We’re safe in here, they can’t get in.”

Gemma took a step back from him and looked around her. The room had been cleaned out, empty shelves lining each wall of the tiny space. The only way out was back through the door they’d come in through, back out to where the attacks were still going on, the odd scream still sounding out from beyond the door.

Besides a few metal buckets in the corner and a plastic brush with half the handle missing, the room provided nothing to defend themselves with.

“Maybe we can wait it out until help comes,” he tried to pull her towards him again, under the guise of wrapping his hands around her shoulders to comfort her, but she resisted, turning to her side. Undeterred, he kept trying.

“There, there, it’s okay,“ he reassured as he stood by her side, rubbing his hand in circles between her shoulder blades. She arched her back slightly against his touch, which put more ideas in his head as her chest heaved outwards, forcing gaps between the buttons on her shirt. A white vest top worn underneath the shirt ruined his voyeuristic view for the moment, but he continued, sliding his hand down until it brushed across the clasp on her bra.

“What the hell are you doing?” she shouted as she pushed him away. “You’re going to try mess with my tits at a time like this, get away from me you pervert.”

“Oh come on, you know you’re game.”

“What, what makes you think I’d just strip off and screw the first guy that comes along.”

“Well I kind of thought with the red hair and fake breasts you were up for that sort of thing.”

“Back off arsehole, you’ve got me all wrong. And these babies,“ she grabbed at a breast with each hand, “are all me. Now get out of my way.”

Gemma brushed Andy to one side and started to untie the rope on the door handle.

“Whoa, what are you doing? Those things are probably still out there.”

“I’m probably safer out there with them than in here with you. Those things are less grotesque than your ugly mug.”

Just as she pulled the rope loose from the handle Andy grabbed at her waist spinning her round and made the short lived mistake of telling Gemma that she wouldn’t be going anywhere, which she replied to with a solid knee to the groin. She felt hugely satisfied with the crunch sound and watched him collapse to the floor in agony, smacking his head on a metal mop bucket as he dropped, leaving a blood stain on the sharp lip.

“Shit, now I can’t stay in here with his dumb ass,” she whispered to herself.

Gemma pulled the door open enough to glimpse into the lobby to see if those things were still out there. She couldn’t hear anything but could see Carrie’s blood soaked body shaking on the floor, as though having some kind of spasm, her throat ripped out and the pool of blood spreading slowly across the parquet floor. The zombie had clearly had its fill and abandoned her where she lay.

Gemma could feel the nausea creeping up inside her. She stood up slowly, opening the door wider as she rose, but then hesitated and dropped again when she saw Barry at the counter. She wasn’t quite sure at first she was actually seeing what her brain was telling her she was, but she was sure Barry was still alive. She could hear him groaning. It was then she realised that he wasn’t still alive, in the normal sense. He appeared to be acting like one of the things that had attacked them.

“Holy shit, what the hell has happened to him? Poor bastard.”

Panic struck again as one of the attackers bounded out from behind the counter and headed towards the door she was hiding behind. She assumed it had picked up the fresh scent of Andy’s blood and it was moving fast. Gemma managed to slam the door shut just as it got to it and started ramming against it to force entry. She screamed out for help but knew it was pointless, everybody else was either dead or hiding themselves, waiting for the help that probably wasn’t going to come. Luckily she managed to just reach the end of the rope that was still tied to the shelves so she could tie the door shut again. She wasted valuable time doing this before she realised that the creature wasn’t trying to open the door using the handle, it was trying to come through it with its head. She let go of the handle and backed away from the door, hearing the angry wailing and screaming as it tried to get to her.

“Okay, I’m not a religious person, but here goes. Please God, I’d be ever so grateful if you could find me a way out of this goddamn room,“ she put her hands together in a praying motion and looked upwards, as though she was going to be hit with some divine inspiration. A smile forming, she was now looking at the air vent in the ceiling directly above the shelving unit. She didn’t need to pause for thought as she was already halfway up the shelves by the time the creature’s head finally made a hole in the door, just large enough for it to push its head through but then get stuck by virtue of its large ears. In a rage the creature shook the entire door and frame as it thrashed about trying to work itself free. It hadn’t actually seen Gemma pull the cover from the vent, nor did it notice when the cover fell down and slapped it in the face on the way down. It was focussed on the stirring body of Andy, waking from his temporary unconsciousness.

The first thing Andy saw when he drearily opened his eyes was the fury filled face of the creature that was trying hard to get at him. It was only feet away, for now. He searched frantically with his hands both sides of him for something to protect himself with, feeling some slight relief that he’d found a metal bar, he swung his arm round to realise his chosen weapon was a can of air freshener, an empty one.

Gemma climbed into the vent pipework as the door frame finally gave way and the door shattered into a cloud of splinters, leaving blood curdling screams in the room behind her.

Andy soiled his pants just before the top of his skull was ripped off.

 

The pipework was narrower than Gemma was hoping for. Probably not an issue for the average female but she was finding her ample chest a hindrance right now, cursing it as she kept getting wedged. The multi layered ruffles in her skirt kept getting caught on loose screw heads, leaving behind tearing sounds and black threads as she went.

Only a few yards in she had the choice of going straight on or taking a left turn. Without thinking about her current location in relation to where she’d climbed into the venting she fumbled her way to the left only to face another vent cover. She cursed her own stupidity as she edged up to the cover and looked through the slats to a different view of the lobby. Barry was still wedged in the counter top and the one legged creature was dragging its sorry corpse towards the far corridor, where what sounded like a man’s screams emanated from. She looked down at the body of her friend lay on the floor below and felt her entire body freeze. She trembled and her fingers rattled the slats on the vent cover as Carrie’s body wrenched itself back and forth on the blood covered ground. She flipped over onto her front and then slowly climbed to her feet, her limbs jerking in deliberate movements, making a cracking noise as each joint fought back against the motions. Once upright she stopped, her body perfectly still, frozen.

“Carrie…” cried Gemma ever so softly, trying to hold back the tears. She put a hand to her mouth to fight back the urge to scream out in pain.

Carrie’s head turned slowly to the right and up, her neck cracking as it went, looking up at the vent that Gemma was hiding in. The blood from the wounds on her leg had turned black, and looked like sludge as it spilled over the top of her boots. Her normally pristine bleach blonde hair hung in tatters, blood mixed with the fake extensions lying on the floor and one side of her scalp hung loose. A torn and blood stained cowboy hat lay upturned on the floor by her feet.

Gemma felt everything around her freeze and her body went numb. She felt physically sick as she stared at her friend. Her heart went into overdrive when she heard the gargling and choking as the blood curdling voice deep from within the torn out throat called out, “Gemma…”

Gemma froze, paralyzed with fear, unable to move or think what to do. She’d just seen her friend turn into, something, right before her eyes, and now it was calling out to her.

She stared at the cold black eyes filling those deep eye sockets that had once held the beautiful green eyes that Gemma was so envious of. Now they were dead, no soul lay behind them.

Gemma didn’t know what to do, fearful of moving and making noise in case it provoked a violent response. She knew she was in a position that offered her no defence or potential to fight, she had no options. She raised her hand to cover the burning feeling at the back of her head.

As the black eyes remained focussed directly on Gemma’s position, she felt all hope drain from her body. She was ready to submit to the inevitable when something spooked her former friend, a noise from the other side of the lobby. She was not going to waste this only opportunity to move.

Adrenaline took over as Gemma backed up in the narrow vent to the turning point, now taking the access straight ahead this time, after clumsily manoeuvring herself back into the original section of pipework, her skirt once again slowing her down. She had no idea where this was taking her but she didn’t care as long as it took her away from the lobby. Twenty yards in the section of pipe she was in started to creak and sway from side to side. She hesitated, hoping the pause would calm the movement in the structure, which it did, for a second. She tried to decide whether to back up a few yards and go through the other pipe to the side she’d just passed or carry on. The weld in the pipe behind chose for her and tore open, spinning her through the air. She got glimpses of the room she was falling into as she span; toilet: sink, floor, toilet, sink.

She crashed head first into one of the urinals, ripping it from the wall and rendering her unconscious. She lay helpless on the bathroom floor, blood seeping from the fresh wound above her right eye.

Chapter Eight

Stacey, Reggie and Pete had darted for the corridor off the lobby nearest to them when the creatures took up flying. They had no plan for where to go, just to get away from the carnage. Screen twelve seemed as good as any and once inside they sprinted to the front of the aisle and crouched down under the front row of seats. They could hear screaming from outside and both the boys tried comforting Stacey, even though she seemed to be handling it all much better than they were.

“This is some messed up shit man. What are we going to do?” stammered Pete.

“We’re gonna get out of here, that’s what,” said Reggie confidently, as he strode towards the fire exit. “Ta da,” he proclaimed as he pushed the bar down on the door, for nothing to happen.

He wrestled with the bar, pushing it up and down, to no avail. He then turned to kicking the door, like that turned out really well for Tony barely ten minutes earlier. It dawned on him perhaps a little later than necessary that they weren’t getting out through this door. He turned back to his friends to find Pete had already gone back to his old ways and was about to snort a monster rock up his nose.

“For Christ’s sake Pete, we really don’t need you spazzing out on us now. Pack that shit in,” shouted Reggie.

“Back off man, I’m stressed. We all deal with it in different ways. Mark goes out and starts a fight, you play with yourself, I sniff crack.”

“Goddammit. You’re such a tool,” Reggie turned his back on Pete and moved his attention to finding another way out.

From what he could see there were only two doors to this screen, the fire exit he’d just discovered was locked shut and the door they came in from, which no-one in their right mind would want to be using right now. The third option, after a few moments thought, seemed obvious. “We go through the screen,” he whispered.

Reggie broke the arm of one of the front row seats and with the sharp wooden stake he was now wielding stabbed at the white screen. It was tougher than he thought it would be but he figured he could force his way through once he’d made a few strategically placed holes. He got a run up and dove at the crude phallic pattern he’d cut into the screen with the stake, only to get himself stuck in the fabric, swinging in mid-air. Stacey chuckled to herself as Pete sneezed the coke back out over his favourite leather and suede pants. She looked at him with pity as he tried licking it back up.

Reggie was screaming for someone to help him; he knew he was fair game hanging from the air like this if any of the creatures found them, but he had forgotten for now about the rule of them only attacking for fresh blood. As long as he didn’t get cut he’d be okay, he told himself.

Stacey on the other hand had gone quiet, and was slowly backing away from Pete on the floor, still licking his pants. Pete hadn’t noticed that as well as the coke on him, he also now had a number of fresh drops of blood from his nose dripping down his leg. Reggie went quiet as he heard the now familiar scream from one of the creatures as it appeared from behind a pile of boxes on the rear side of the screen.

The creature clambered up onto the platform below Reggie, sniffing at his face, as though it could sense something was there but wasn’t quite sure what. Reggie watched it silently, trying the best he could to remain still, but the screen was shifting under his weight.

Locking on to another scent, the creature tore through the screen, followed by another three similarly bloodthirsty animals. The stench of their rotten putrid flesh filled the air and he could feel the bile inside his stomach churning, trying hard to hold it in as he knew there was the chance vomiting bodily fluids could attract them to him.

Reggie couldn’t see what they did to Pete, but he heard them tear at his flesh and the sound of him drowning in his own blood as it filled his throat and lungs. Reggie cried in helpless desperation as the last sounds of his friend slowly faded out.

Reggie hung motionless, trapped in the screen, just waiting for the creatures to leave through the door at the entrance to the room once there was nothing living left to devour that they could lock onto. He shouted out for Stacey but got no reply, he was sure he hadn’t heard them get to her as well, but the duration of this had blurred for him. He had no idea how long he had hung there and for how long he’d tried to block out the sounds of his friend being massacred. The noises he’d been forced to endure would stay with him until the day he died, which he hoped would not be today. He hoped she’d found somewhere safe to hide and she was okay, but right now he needed to deal with his own predicament.

They’re bloody zombies, he told himself.

He again thrashed wildly in the hope the screen would tear and release him, and this time the damage left behind by the zombies had weakened it enough that he could hear tearing in the fabric from above, but then there was a worrying crack followed by a crashing sound as part of the ceiling broke away where the screen was secured and fell to the floor. Reggie had no time to get out of the way and felt the base of his spine crush underneath the weight of the massive steel lintel that had collapsed, then nothing.

The room fell silent again and Reggie’s adrenaline kicked in, his upper body tingling with fear and he couldn’t stop himself shaking as he realised he couldn’t feel anything from the waist down. He could see that his legs weren’t broken but knew the felled lintel had broken his spine. The adrenaline was stopping him from feeling any pain at the moment, but he knew that wouldn’t last. He found he was surprisingly calm, but the shock of the broken spine and massive fear he was feeling soon rendered him unconscious.

Chapter Nine

Danny and Mark sprinted past Wanda and Marcie to go down the corridor that the zombies had originated from, after Mark selfishly, and loudly, pointed out they’d have a better chance of getting away because they were faster than them. Wanda managed a short break from screaming to point out what a bunch of bastards they were.

As they sprinted down the dimly lit corridor, filled with panic, a door swung open between screens three and four. Danny slowed as he waited for further zombies to flood out from the darkness and tear them to pieces, but the attack never came. As the screams in the lobby behind them grew louder he ducked into the doorway and bounced off the cold concrete wall, followed by the other three. The quartet cleared the stairway ahead effortlessly and rounded the corner at the top to two possible escape routes.

 

Straight ahead of them was a large fire door with no handle on the outside. Danny tried to prise the door open by squeezing his fingers into the tiny gap round the edges but it was too narrow. Wanda’s attention jumped from the violent and bloodthirsty attack they’d just escaped to the nail she’d now snapped trying to work her fingers into the edge of the door alongside Danny. He ignored her and doubled back to follow Mark up the metal ladder on the wall which he assumed led directly to the roof.

After climbing about a full storey the ladder ended and the safety rail curved over the top out of sight. Mark cleared the top first, to find a short concrete platform, leading to a second ladder, which again climbed upwards, further into the darkness.

The climb seemed to take forever, their arms aching as they reached the final rungs. The hatch at the top was not locked and piercing bright sunlight blinded Mark as he pushed against it, a thin layer of rust flaking down onto him. Climbing out onto the roof he tried to raise a hand to his brow whilst squinting against the light. Him and Danny helped the girls onto the roof behind them as Danny kicked the hatch closed and then sat down on it.

“What the hell was that man?” screamed Mark, holding his head in his hands.

“I don’t know, I’ve never seen anything like that. I thought it was some joke at first when they came out, what with the one with the peg leg, but that was real. When that redhead screamed I knew that was not made up,” said Danny, the fear clear in his voice, as he tried to get his breath back.

“That was Gemma,” said Wanda quietly, the words streaming out like there was no off button, “my friend. My God, Carrie, I saw the one on the floor get hold of her. It wouldn’t let go. Gemma and some other guy were trying to get it off her but it just wouldn’t let go, it kept biting her leg. It tore her skin off. I should have helped her, but I was scared, I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t go back.”

“That’s not your fault,” said Danny, “we all ran. What else could we have done? I don’t get what’s going on here.”

“Those really were zombies man, that’s what’s going on. Those things are killing people. Stacey booked this for us, it’d be just like her to take the mick but this isn’t right. There’s something else going on here. This is the end of the world shit,” Mark’s panic was making the others freak out more and Marcie was muttering to herself with her hands covering her ears.

She walked away from the other three as she didn’t need to be hearing what they were saying, her nerves were already shot. She made her way to the far corner of the roof where she could see the top of an emergency escape ladder, maybe this could be her way off the roof. The building was old and she could feel the roof buckling under her weight as she walked but she didn’t pick her steps carefully and halfway to the ladder the felt covering tore and she dropped through the rotten roof, grabbing a hold on the edge of a section of guttering as she dropped. It just about held her despite her thrashing about. Her screams disturbed the others from their hysteria and they rushed to help her back up.

Again they didn’t consider the weakness in the roof and this time Mark dropped through the lining, but he dropped further and had to rely on a steel girder below his entry point to take his weight. It groaned under the strain as he swung trying to get a better hold. He’d hit his head on the edge of the girder as he fell through and opened up a deep gash on his right temple. He could feel a thick stream of blood running down his face as he strained to pull himself up onto the top of the girder. Danny and Wanda had managed to pull Marcie back up on to a more secure section of the roof by the time Mark had got himself back up, but he froze as he heard the screams of more zombies below. He looked down and far below could just about make out the outlines of four or five of them in the lobby, jumping up to try to catch the drops of blood that had descended from his chin. He backed away from the hole in abject fear as he saw them jumping much greater than their own height, their arms outstretched, grasping at the few drops of fresh blood. There was no way they could reach him, but the sight of them leaping up for such a small teaser of fresh meat chilled him to the bone. These things were strong, fast and hungry. What chance did they have?

“Jesus, have you seen them things jump? That’s not even possible,” said Wanda.

“Possible? There are zombies, chasing us. Zombies. And you ask is that possible when they jump a little higher than you can,” Danny’s sarcasm mixed with anger didn’t register with Wanda as she turned her attention back to her broken nail.

“Screw this, Mark give me a hand.” moving round the back of an air conditioning unit that sat only inches from the hole Mark had just created. He rocked the unit back and forth as Mark kicked at the edges of the hole, trying to widen it further and make it easier to tilt the unit over. Wanda and Marcie stood back, shaking their heads, as the boys cursed their way through the demolition job. Finally the unit leaned over enough that the brackets holding it down on the opposite side to the hole snapped under the strain and it slid down into the hole. Elation met desperation as it got wedged on the girder that moments ago had been the only thing keeping Mark from a certainly fatal drop.

“Shit! Give me a break,” Danny started pacing up and down on the roof, stepping precariously close to the hole they’d just widened. Mark wasn’t beaten yet and forced a piece of metal guttering loose from the edge of the roof and wedged this tight under one corner of the unit and swung on it to edge it closer to the side of the girder.

Danny was incensed by this point and, forgetting everything that had happened in the last few minutes, jumped onto the top of the unit, leaping up and down on top of it to try to get it to move, which looked like a lost cause, until the girder snapped at one end. The guttering shot out of Mark’s hand and spun through the air, narrowly missing Wanda’s head as she ducked out of the way, but caught Marcie full in the face. She didn’t have chance to scream as she landed flat on her back on the broken roof, blood gushing from her smashed nose.

Danny screamed in pain as he tore a ligament in his shoulder when he pushed his arm through one of the holes in the girder on his way down, the only thing he could do to avoid meeting a bloody end on the tiled floor far below. The heavy rusted wreck of the air conditioning unit plummeted from the ceiling, making a whistling noise as it picked up speed on its descent, then smashed into the floor far below, crushing a zombie on its way, disintegrating its diseased body into a cloud of blood and bone fragments. The other zombies offered no response whatsoever, instead taking it in turns to climb onto the smashed unit and try to jump higher to get at their quarry.

Nobody above had noticed the creature earlier known as Carrie had been attracted to the middle of the lobby by the other zombies. Limping into the centre of the room, it had looked at the ground confused as the square shaped shadow on the floor grew larger, looking up just in time to see the hulk of an air conditioning unit smash into her face and plough her body into the ground.

“Shit Danny, you okay?” shouted Mark through the hole.

“No, I’ve torn my damn shoulder. I can’t get back up.”

“Wait there, I’m coming down,” said Mark as he tested the girder with his foot to see if it could take the weight of the both of them. After a few sturdy kicks he decided it was safe to go, wondering in his mind why he’d be risking his life for a bloke he met less than thirty minutes ago. Would he do the same for him given swapped predicaments? He wasn’t so sure.

Danny was obviously in a lot of pain by the time Mark had got down to him, but the look on his face told him how grateful he was that he was there. Danny managed to swing his good arm around Mark’s shoulder and with them locked together Mark called up what little strength he was capable of to push against the girder with both legs and lift them most of the way out of the hole.

Wanda leant down at the edge to help him lift Danny back up onto the roof and as they cleared the edge all three pushed with their feet to shuffle across the weakening structure and away from the sound of the bloodthirsty screams below.

“Damn, I owe you one man,” said Danny sincerely as he patted his good arm on Mark’s shoulder.

“That’s alright, the way I see it, any of us are screwed on our own. We’re stronger together,” Mark slammed his head back down on the roof in sheer exhaustion, but knew this wasn’t over, not by a long shot.

As they turned their backs to the hole to look at a bloody Marcie lying on the roof the background sound of terror changed as though it suddenly got a whole lot closer. As Mark turned and got a glimpse of the zombie head appearing through the hole, flesh hanging loose from its long gangrenous fingernails and blood dripping from the gapped teeth, he instinctively grabbed a loose section of guttering and aimed a jab directly at the creature’s head. Luck had more influence on the result than any skills with a weapon but there was a strong sense of satisfaction as the sharp end of the guttering speared the zombie through the mouth and out the back of its head, continuing through until it got wedged in a hole in the girder. The enraged animal hung from the girder, high above the blood stained floor below, globules of dark congealed blood running out of the end of the guttering, swinging about helplessly with all its weight resting on the thin remnants of its neck. It thrashed about periodically and then appeared to settle down as though it had accepted its fate, its black eyes permanently focussed on its human prey looking down on it from the roof.

“Where the hell did that one come from?” freaked out Danny.

“I’m sure this has crossed the minds of the rest of you, but I’m going to be the first to put it out there,” said Mark. “But why are they all wearing suits?”

“They are quite well dressed for zombies aren’t they,” said Danny.

“That sod’s wearing an Armani waistcoat, they’re easily a few hundred quid.”

“Maybe Hell upped its budget,” joked Danny.

Wanda lost all sense of compassion at this point and decided the best way to rouse Marcie was to slap her in the face. Really hard.

It worked, and Marcie sat bolt upright, blinking like crazy, trying to wipe the blood from her eyes. Mark ripped a small section from the bottom of his already shredded shirt and spat on it before offering it to Marcie to clean her eyes. She didn’t notice she was wiping his spittle all over her face and she may not have even cared given their current circumstances.

“Right let’s get off this damn building,” ordered Mark as he headed for the escape ladder. He didn’t check to see if any of the others were following him, he just wanted out, but he did take care of his footing. He had a desire not to go out that way seeing what was waiting down there. As he got to the ladder he did the same as for the girder and tested its integrity with a few well-placed firm kicks to its mountings and decided it was good to go when nothing fell off.

“Erm, guys,” called out Wanda.

“This ladder seems quite strong,” shouted Mark, I’m going to give it a go.

“Guys,” called out Wanda again.

“Yeah, should be good,” said Danny, rubbing at his shoulder. “Take it easy though, this whole building seems to be falling apart.”

“This cloth smells funny,” complained Marcie, dabbing it at her eyes. “Where did you find it?”

“You keep a look out for any of those things below me as I climb, okay?” said Mark, selecting Danny as his spotter.

Danny nodded his agreement.

“Guys, Jesus Christ, look!” screamed Wanda.

“Oh crap,” said Mark, walking past Danny and back away from the ladder to what Wanda was trying to direction their attention towards.

Bearing down on them was the great white hulk of a Barings Globemaster airship. Smoke flooded out from the windows of the gondola hanging loosely below. It was clearly out of control and losing altitude fast, the strain on the engines audible as whoever was piloting it desperately tried to put all the power into the propellers on one side to get it to change direction, but it was stuck on a constant bearing, with the roof of the abandoned cinema dead ahead.

Wanda grabbed Marcie, still a little dazed and unsure of what she was looking at, and dragged her around the hole to the far side of the roof. Danny dropped to the deck, hoping it would pass just overhead and leave them be, whereas Mark turned and ran.

Danny turned out to be wrong, as the gondola bounced along the roof structure, smashing more holes through each time it touched down and rose back up again. The huge anchor was hanging loose and was being dragged across the roof, tearing up guttering and loose sections of steel and lead as it scraped along. Danny stuck his head up just in time to see the anchor dragging a tangle of guttering and wiring towards him, and rolled to the side, dropping off the section of roof he was on to a ledge four feet below. As he bounced off his bad shoulder, he reached out his good hand and secured himself on a drainpipe as his feet swung out over the edge of the roof. He tried to tuck his head back in under his arm to protect himself from the debris bouncing everywhere.

The sound of screeching metal and crashing finally stopped as the airship cleared the roof and the anchor toppled over the edge, dragging half of the roof structure with it. Wanda and Marcie had managed to avoid most of the carnage, and had now got back to their feet to watch the airship continue its downward journey, smashing its way through the mostly empty distribution yard on the other side of a high razor wire fence, which the anchor made short work of. Empty trailer units were swept aside as the heavy gondola again bounced along the ground, one being sliced in half as one of the propellers worked itself loose and span through the air under its own wishes. It finished up a couple hundred yards away in a group of trees.

The violent landing finally took its toll on the fabric of the airship, long gashes torn in its underside, and the last of the gas inside rapidly escaped, the loose fabric flapping as it deflated and wrinkled in on itself.

Expelling the last of its momentum, the gondola smashed into the corrugated side wall of a warehouse building at the centre of the yard, the fire from inside escaping and quickly setting alight to whatever it could find in the wide open building. It took mere moments for the flames to start licking at the roof, bursting out through gaps at the tops of the walls.

With the gondola walls torn open, the inhabitants spilled out into the debris strewn yard. Burning zombies dashed around, sniffing at the air trying to re-orientate their senses following the crash, the flames tearing away at the remains of their flesh. A few quickly dropped to the ground motionless, the fire weakening their bodies too far to continue.

Wanda and Marcie walked nearer to the top of the ladder, looking around them at the wreckage. They both assumed the other two had been dragged off the roof by the runaway anchor, scared to look over the edge to see where they fell.

Their fear was interrupted for a moment as they heard someone laughing from nearby, just over the side of the roof. Wanda held an arm back behind her that Marcie grabbed hold of to steady her as she neared the edge. Budging her foot ever closer until she could see, she shook off Marcie’s grip and stood upright. Both hands on hips, she looked down over the edge at Danny lay on his back on a lower section of roof only a few feet below. Still nursing his injured shoulder, he looked up at the smoky sky, chuckling to himself.

“What are you finding so amusing?” asked Wanda, clearly not amused.

“I have no idea,” he replied.

“Then get your arse back up here,” she said. “I think we might have lost Mark.”

“Thanks,” yelled a voice from behind her.

She turned to see two hands either side of the handle holds at the top of the ladder, then Mark bobbed his head back up over the edge.

“That was a close call, wasn’t it,” he grinned.

“Too close,” added Marcie, now seeming to come back around from her daze.

“I‘m not sticking around for anything else to happen,” said Mark, and began his descent of the ladder.

“Okay, one at a time,” jumped in Danny. “We don’t know if the ladder is as knackered as the rest of the roof.”

“Keep an eye out for any of them things when I get near the bottom,” shouted up Mark.

“Yeah that’s fine man. Try getting over to those cars over there when you’re down. They should provide cover.”

“Will do,” replied Mark.

“Shit…..” was the last word he managed as he stepped down onto the next rung, which was on a lower section of the ladder. The bolts securing it to the wall had long since eroded and snapped the instant the top rung took Mark’s weight and the whole section rapidly leant away from the wall, with Mark stood atop. He grasped with his hands back at the rung immediately in front of him but he didn’t react quickly enough. The detached section of ladder swung away from the wall and catapulted Mark far away from the side of the building and in the direction of the cars Danny had identified as their hiding place.

The wind was knocked out of Mark as he slammed backwards into the windscreen of a rusting blue Ford pickup truck, his arse cheeks wrapped around the top of the steering wheel.

His body stiffened, every part of it feeling the impact. He knew some bones had broken, but didn’t want to lie there waiting for a zombie to jump him. The adrenaline was numbing the pain, for now. His hands shook as he tried to extract himself from the windscreen. Struggling to calm his nerves, they were put further to the test when the driver’s airbag exploded into action, covering him in white powder.

“Jesus,” he screamed, wondering what else was next.

Looking back up to the roof and the three small outlines of the others far above, he couldn’t believe he’d survived the fall.

Danny shouted down to him as the truck horn dropped to a low pitched squeak with the dying of the car battery. “Shit man, are you okay?”

“Yeah, I think so. That mother hurt,” muttered Mark, pretty much to himself. He didn’t have the lungs on him right now to shout all the way back up, hearing Danny still yelling something down, he made out the bare gist of it.

“See if there are any of those things down there will you?” shouted Danny, his words laboured as he tried to make his voice heard through cupped hands, realising Mark maybe couldn’t hear it all. “We need to know if it’s safe bef…..”

Danny was curtailed mid-sentence as the Ford exploded into a ball of flames, sending Mark and the bonnet flying high over their heads. They turned to watch as a helpless Mark and bits of bodywork sailed overhead and crashed behind them, sliding across the roof looking for something to break their momentum, but it didn’t come. A partially unconscious and badly chargrilled Mark slid across the roof, breaking sections of guttering as he went, until his limp body disappeared down the hole he’d just pulled Danny out of, down to the background sound of rabid screams from below. As he slid through the hole, the impaled zombie tried to grab hold of him on the way past, its putrid fingers just missing out on a solid grip. If a zombie was ever capable of portraying disappointment on its dead lifeless face, then this one was giving it a good go. The bonnet slid up behind Mark’s body and then slotted neatly across the gap, as though closing a lid on a barbecue.

Nobody said a word. They just stood, and stared.

Chapter Ten

Lisa had been one of the first to react when the original onslaught began, leaving the pink cowboy hat tumbling as she bolted for the first door she could see. Unfortunately this one took her into the old sweet shop, which was still a part of the lobby, keeping her close to the action. It also had glass walls, which she didn’t notice until she got inside and locked the door shut behind her. Not the most secure place to hide, she admitted to herself.

She crawled behind one of the sweet displays that was lay on its side on the floor, old crusted mounds of sugar welded to the floor were now attaching themselves to her bare legs. She dropped her head in the hope no-one could see her, but was jolted by the banging on the door.

Her pulse raced and hairs stood on end on her arms as she felt the fear in the pit of her stomach, the fear of being ripped apart by those things, those zombies. She tried telling herself that they couldn’t possibly be zombies, they weren’t real, just someone’s idea of a sick joke.

But they were real alright, she saw as two of them tore into that poor guy, one was ripping chunks out of his backside. Mercifully she missed the attack on Carrie.

The banging on the door was joined by a male’s voice shouting to let him in. It was definitely male, and from someone still living, but she didn’t want to jeopardise her own safety by unlocking the door for the split second that was required to allow entry, so she instead chose to keep her head close to the floor and try to ignore the shouts.

Her peace, and the window, was shattered, shards of glass spraying across the room, when a fire extinguisher sailed in and smashed into the counter behind her, breaking the trigger as it hit the wooden top and emptying its white powder across the room. The noise from the extinguisher drowned out all other sounds for a time, something that Lisa was grateful for, but completely disoriented her. She screamed out in agony as someone, or something, grabbed her by both arms, just above the elbows. She tried to shake herself free but her assailant was too strong and she braced herself for the intense pain that would surely come as her throat was ripped out by bare teeth. In a last moment of desperation she kicked out with her right leg, clad with a knee high cowboy boot, and connected with what she believed were a pair of testicles.

The scream was unmistakeable. It was human. They were testicles: Steve’s in fact.

“Owwww, Jesus Christ, why did you do that?” screamed Steve in pain, rolling around on the sugary floor.

“I’m sorry, I thought you were one of those…..zombies,” said Lisa, trying to pinpoint Steve’s location based on the sound of what he was rolling into in the room. As the extinguisher’s contents settled and the air cleared, Lisa could make out the shape of his body on the floor, locked in the foetal position, his bright red face pocked with sticky mounds of rotten sugar. “Are you okay?”

“Just give me a minute,” he managed.

She gave him about ten long painful seconds, then needed to start talking again to keep her mind off what she’d just seen.

“Why do you think this is happening to us?”

“I…..I don’t know. I’m here on my stag do, Tony organised this.”

“Ditto, it’s my hen do. Doesn’t look like I’ll be walking down the aisle now though. Damn I wish Carl was here.”

“Is he your fiancé?”

“Yes. He’s in the army, he’d kick some arse right now.”

“Yeah, we could do with the army right about now.”

“Any ideas how we’re going to get out of here?”

“Well, we could wait in here for eight hours, like that chick said and wait for them to open the doors.”

The expression on Lisa’s face told Steve this idea wasn’t acceptable.

“Or we can try and find a way out. But we’re not going anywhere unless we can find a way to stop or hold those things off. We need something we can fight with.”

“Did you notice that at first they ignored us, just walked straight past. One of them sniffed at the crack head but then left him alone. They only attacked because that moron fell through the popcorn window and cut himself.”

“Yeah, that bothered me. They must attack when there’s blood. I didn’t think zombies did that, I thought they went for anything that was alive.”

“That crazy army girl at the start warned us about that remember. What was it she said, the fresh ones only go for blood but the veterans will attack anything.”

“Did you see how far that one jumped? God knows what else they’re capable of.”

“Are we really doing this?”

“What?”

“We’re sitting here talking about zombies like it’s a normal every day thing.”

After some hesitation, and a futile attempt to make sense of what actually was happening, Steve shrugged his shoulders.

“I know, wha…..”

“What?”

“Sshhh.”

“What?”

“Sshhh, I’m sure I heard someone speaking.”

“Who is it?

“I don’t know, but I heard someone say Gemma’s name.” Lisa crept out from behind the sweet display and kept her head down as she made her way to the door. She rose up slowly until her head filled the small shoulder height window in the door, affording her a decent view of the opposite side of the lobby. She saw a blonde haired girl in a white shirt, ripped to shreds at the back with blood dripping down from the torn flesh. She stood at an angle, most of the body weight leaning to one side as though to take the weight off the other leg. But that high ponytail was unmistakeable.

Lisa took another step forward and disrupted a shard of broken glass on the floor as she started, “Car..…”

The rest of her words were muffled as Steve, the first to notice the flesh hanging loose from the woman’s face, cupped his hand over her mouth and dragged her down to the floor, spinning her round so he could place his back to the door. He kept himself silent and ensured through the hold that she did the same. He wasn’t sure if her friend, her former friend, had seen or heard her, but he was worried that she was now coming over to their hiding place, and seeing the strength of the others he knew a glass windowed shop was not going to offer much protection, certainly one with a window missing.

He felt the dead hands slap against the door behind them and could hear a groaning noise as the face brushed up against the window in the door. His eyes darted around the room for something to protect them with but there was nothing. He tried to position his legs in a way to fortify the door as best he could as he expected it to be forced open at any moment. This never came as shouting noises that sounded like they came from high above them attracted the creature’s attention.

“Don’t say a word,” whispered Steve into her ear.

Lisa raised her hands to his and tried to pull it down, but he resisted.

“That’s not your friend. She’s turned.”

Lisa started to sob, silently, the presence of his hand still preventing her from making a noise. He held her there until he felt her start to give in to him, his head nuzzled close into her neck as he tried to comfort and restrain her at the same time. Her hair smelled amazing, like strawberries. For that moment he forgot about Chloe.

“I’m going to move my hand now. Are you going to keep quiet?”

Lisa nodded and he released his hold. She remained still.

“Are you okay?”

She nodded and then slowly turned sideways on to him to rest against his chest, her head supported in his arms. She may be engaged to Carl but right now she needed a hug, and he seemed open to this. She felt safe for that brief moment.

The blood curdling scream of the zombies and human voices shouting could be heard from the lobby. They both imagined that another massacre was taking place outside their fragile glass box, the flimsy plastic blinds being the only thing keeping them hidden, but soon realised that this sounded different. The human voices weren’t screaming, they were shouting at each other. Steve uncurled his arms from Lisa’s shoulders and she climbed to her feet, but kept her head down.

Steve rose up to look through the small window again in time to see a huge metal box plummet from the ceiling and crush what was left of Carrie into the ground. He didn’t dare tell Lisa he’d just seen that.

Three zombies had climbed onto the box and were leaping off the top of it, in a fruitless attempt to reach what looked like someone swinging from the ceiling. With the sunlight shining in from behind whoever was suspended up there, all they could make out was silhouettes as it looked like someone else was trying to help them back in.

“I think we need to get out of this room, meet up with some of the others,” said Steve.

“I agree, but what if we’re wrong, what if it isn’t the blood that attracts them,” said Lisa, still shaking.

“Well then we only get one shot at this. Follow me, and stay close.”

“Okay.”

Steve quietly unlocked the door and opened it slowly, just enough for them to slip outside. He left it ajar enough for them to get back inside in a hurry in the event this was a bad idea, completely forgetting the fact that he’d left a six foot wide gap in the window only a few minutes ago. They edged their way along the wall of the lobby, heading for the corridor that the first zombies were originally heading for before they got distracted.

So far, so good.

They turned into the next corridor, poised ready to run, just as a series of banging noises from high up in the roof made them look up. Holes appeared in the roof, moving across in a straight line from one side to the other, scattering debris across the lobby.

“What the hell is that?” asked Lisa.

“I have no idea,” said Steve. “Don’t stop, keep moving.”

Rounding the corner of the lobby wall, they disappeared into the darkness of the corridor, Lisa holding onto the back tail of Steve’s shirt.

Chapter Eleven

“You really couldn’t make that up,” said Danny, looking at the smoking bonnet wedged in the roof.

“How on earth did that just happen?” asked Wanda, bemused how someone could befall so many accidents on the way to their death.

Marcie was still trying to wipe dried blood from her eyes to be able to restore full eyesight, whilst cursing about her broken nail.

As the three of them stood on the roof, staring at the bonnet, pondering the briefness of their future existence, the warehouse behind them continued to burn. The billowing black smoke now being joined by banging and loud popping noises, as whatever was inside the warehouse began to explode in batches. They jumped back when a larger explosion sent two metallic looking objects flying through the roof and towards the car park of the cinema. More explosions and projectiles followed, sailing randomly across the sky.

With them all looking skyward, watching out for the next one that might be heading their way, for the first time they noticed the skyline. In every direction fires burned, the sky filled with more smoke than they were used to from the constant coal fires. As far as they could see across the horizon, the world seemed to be burning.

“Armageddon,” whispered Danny to himself.

“What?” snapped Wanda.

“The end of days,” he replied. “The world burns and the dead inherit the earth.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Wanda continued.

“How long were we out for?” he continued talking to himself as he turned and walked slowly back across the roof, paying no attention to the endless supply of missiles peppering everything around them.

“Danny?”

“This couldn’t have happened in a few hours. This would take days, longer even,” Danny continued muttering to himself.

“Danny, hey, snap out of it,” Wanda snapped again, slapping him across the face. Not an assault, but just enough to get him to stare her in the eyes.

“What?” he muttered.

“You need to pull yourself together,” she said, squeezing against his upper arms.

“It’s happening again isn’t it?” he said, his eyes bloodshot.

“What?”

He looked up, and around him, at the destruction. Turning back to face her, she saw the fear in his eyes.

“Hey, no. It’s not another war, okay? This is something else. Right?” for the first time she questioned her own words in her mind.

He stared into her eyes, his own glazing over as he mulled over their position. Finally, he spoke.

“We need to get back down off this roof.”

Wanda pulled her hands away from him and shielded her head as one of the flying canisters smashed into the roof only yards away from them, Marcie’s scream being louder than the impact.

When she turned back, Danny had already started climbing back down through the hatch. She grabbed Marcie by the arm and dragged her to the hatch, climbing down after Danny.

Chapter Twelve

Caron, a red team member, was the only one to head for the toilets after the initial attack, and had barricaded herself into one of the cubicles. She sat on the pedestal with her legs stretched out in front of her forcing the cubicle door shut, praying she was in some kind of a bad dream and was going to wake up at any moment.

In the time she’d been in here she’d lost count of how many times she’d counted to ten to try to calm her nerves. It hadn’t worked. Deep breaths did nothing to calm her, and her shot nerves weren’t helped by the screaming, smashing glass, banging and explosions from outside. She didn’t understand how she’d ended up on her own though, this was supposed to be a team effort and as usual she’d been abandoned.

After what seemed like an eternity she hadn’t heard any more noises from the lobby so decided she would venture back outside and see if she could find a way out of the building. She was happy to do this on her own she decided. After all, everyone else seemed to have ditched her, why should she help anyone else?

She dropped her legs away from the door and set them down on the floor, lifting herself back to her feet slowly to try to avoid making any noise and attracting attention. The lock on the door was broken and she cursed as the squeaking hinges jerked the door towards her and glanced off her head. She popped her head out from within the cubicle and when satisfied there was nothing around she ventured to the main toilet door and stuck her head out slowly. There was no sign of anyone else, but Barry, who was still wedged in the top of the popcorn counter. His skin had turned a sickening shade of grey, his bottom half covered in congealed blood. The stench made her reach to cup her mouth as she rushed across the back of the lobby. She felt no remorse for his demise, having secretly held a grudge for all those years since she thought he was the one that grassed her up at high school for selling single cigarettes. Caron could really hold a grudge.

Clearing the back of the counter, she looked across to her left, at the three zombies crouched down on the floor eating a chargrilled victim. There wasn’t much left of him, but she could see he had been wearing a blue shirt.

Keeping out of the way of the zombies jumping up and down on a large metal box in the middle of the room, she headed straight for the white door in the far corridor with the ‘NO ENTRY’ sticker on it.

“Yeah right, do I look like the kind of girl that follows rules?” she said to herself as she pulled the handle down. The room was dark as she stepped inside and she screamed out when what was a reflection in a mirror on the opposite wall at first appeared to be one of the zombies ready to go toe-to-toe with her. She fumbled for a light switch on the wall and flicked it on, a single fluorescent tube overhead flickering into action.

She stepped inside and let the door swing shut behind her. As it slotted into the frame she heard the unmistakeable sound of a lock engaging. She grabbed the handle and tried to wrench it up and down but it wasn’t moving. It was locked solid. She tried the door on the other side of the room but that was locked too. She was trapped inside, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing considering what she knew was outside. The walls of the room were clad with large white tiles, so were the floor and ceiling. In the middle of the room was a large metal table and chair, both bolted to the floor. The chair faced the large mirror on the wall.

“Why would they have a room like this in a cinema?” she whispered.

“Please sit down,” boomed the monosyllabic voice.

“What? Who’s there?” asked Caron, looking round the room, trying to identify where the voice was coming from. She spotted a video camera high up in one corner, secured inside a protective metal cage. Underneath it hung a small speaker, from where the voice emanated.

“Please sit down,” repeated the firm voice.

“Who is that?”

“Please sit down, Caron.”

She felt the urge to be somewhat more amenable to the instruction with her name attached, but not completely.

“I’m not doing anything until you tell me what’s going on here? What are those things and why are they trying to kill us?”

“If you want to get out, then you must sit down,” still in the same non wavering tone, but with a hint of assertion this time.

After some hesitation, Caron finally relented.

“Fine,” she said, as she dropped reluctantly into the chair, staring at herself in the mirror. She normally looked better than the reflection she saw.

“How do you feel?” asked the voice.

“What the hell type of question is that? I’ve just watched one of my friends get torn to pieces. He’s stuck out there in the popcorn stand after getting his backside eaten. And some poor bastard has been burnt alive. How do you think I feel?”

“How do you feel?” the voice continued.

“Scared. Okay, you happy now? I’m scared.”

“What will you do?”

“What? Look who, no, what the hell are you? I demand to know what’s going on.”

“What would you be prepared to do to survive?”

“I don’t know.”

“What would you be prepared to…..”

“I’d kill every damn thing in here if it meant I could go home, okay. Is that what you want to hear? That I’m a cold hearted bitch? Watching your friend get murdered in front of you will do that to a person.”

“You had no affection towards Barry though?” definitely phrased as a question.

The tone made her realise she was talking to a computer, like the ticket machines in the train stations. But this one knew her thoughts. She didn’t understand how; no-one knew she hated Barry.

“What? How did you know that? Look, who the hell are you?”

“We know everything we need to about you. Now is the time for you to prove yourself.”

“Prove myself? How? What are you expecting me to do?”

Caron didn’t get her answer as at that moment the door she entered the room with was ripped off its hinges as Tony, she first thought, tore in wrestling with one of the zombies. Its distorted and elongated jaw was thrashing at his shoulder, trying to get its pound of flesh. But Tony was somehow managing to hold this thing off whilst getting a few sneaky punches into its chin, none of which phased the crazed animal. He managed to throw the zombie over the table and send it crashing into the opposite wall, but it was soon back on its feet and vaulted the table to get back at its adversary. Tony rolled out of the way and tried to make a weapon of the chair only to find it was bolted down. Instead he knew he only had one option and threw all his weight at the zombie, picking it up off its feet and slamming it into the opposite door, smashing that off its hinges as well as the two of them crashed into the next room. Tony would have admitted later that he got really lucky at this point. As they fell through the door the back of the zombie’s head was thrust on top of an upturned chair leg and it penetrated right through the centre of what was left of its diseased brain. Its thrashing ceased after a couple of seconds as dark green blood and mucus ran from its nostrils.

Tony rolled onto his back to find a pretty freaked out looking Caron staring straight back at him. He was hoping to take a second to get his breath back, but this chance was taken away when he spotted a movement in the shadows behind Caron. He jumped to his feet, his hands grasping for anything he could use as a weapon, his heart almost beating out of his chest. The adrenaline felt like it was burning through his torso. He stopped and just stared blankly when he realised the shadow posed no threat.

“You?” snapped Tony accusingly to the figure emerging from the darkness.

Caron snapped her head round to look at who had been sneaking up on her, and then slapped the female soldier that brought them into this hell across the face. Her palm burned as she pulled her hand back to strike again.

As the soldier struggled to steady herself against the desk to her side, Tony grabbed hold of Caron’s hand. The stunned woman raised a hand and bowed her head as though to signify surrender, a gesture that Tony didn’t understand from someone in the military.

Why did she give in so easily?

“Please, let me explain” she said, straightening herself but keeping a comfortable distance between herself and Caron’s right hand, which hadn’t yet been fully lowered.

“Explain quickly then,” said Caron angrily, “before I put you on your arse.”

“What’s going on here? We know these things are zombies,“ said Tony, pointing towards the impaled one behind him, currently leaking its contents across the tiled floor. “But how is that possible?”

Caron shot him a look that said she hadn’t put two and two together yet.

“I suppose there’s no harm in telling you everything now, given what’s happened,” she said. Sure she’d be allowed to continue, she began.

“You’re in a military installation, as of earlier this year. Prior to that, it was an abandoned cinema complex. It had been empty for about eight years, but earlier this year we began to observe strange activity in this area, and this building was at the epicentre.”

“What do you mean by strange activity?” Tony’s interest had been piqued.

“Seismic tremors, but highly localised. Increased radiation levels and ambient temperature.”

“What caused that?” the Learning Channel fan in him was rearing its head.

“Some kind of device had appeared within the complex. It seemed to be the cause of the readings, but we couldn’t figure out why. Geologists were the first on site, but all the tools they had available to them to carry out tests were ineffective, as they had no effect on the device. Added to that, it keeps vanishing and then coming back.”

“What are you talking about, device? And, what? Vanishing?” asked Tony.

“A large structure in the ground, of unknown origin. We didn’t know where it had come from, what its purpose was, or how to even move or open it. Then, ten days after the first observations, it opened up.”

“What do you mean opened?” Tony had all but forgotten about the danger they were in, he was mesmerised by this.

“We believe it’s some kind of gate, and those zombies have been coming through it ever since.”

“Why don’t you just blow it up?” asked Caron sarcastically.

“We’ve tried. There’s now hundreds of these things all over the world, and we’ve not been able to damage a single one.

“Then cover it up,” suggested Danny, assuming the military, the people entrusted with ensuring the safety of millions, wouldn’t have thought of that.

“That doesn’t work either, the gate just reforms and we start all over again.”

“What’s on the other side of the gate?” asked Tony.

“When the zombies are coming through, we have observed fields of lava through the gate. That’s where they’re coming from.”

“Hell,” said Tony.

“What?” yelled Caron. “Hell?”

“Sorry,” said Tony.

“He may be right,” said the soldier. “These gates are one way. Things can come through to our world, but we can’t send anything to the other side.”

“Things? You mean the zombies?” Caron, still scared, had calmed a little, and was also getting more interested in what they’d walked into.

“Initially there were just one or two, and when we realised what they were, and how to kill them, we believed we had the situation well under control. But it became clear early on that this wasn’t going to stop, and when more gates kept opening up in other locations we needed an overarching plan. And test stations like this were set up.”

“This is a test station, for what?” asked Tony.

“This is not a problem local to Holts Farm, it’s everywhere. We cannot contain this, and one day it will break out and it will become everybody’s problem. That’s why we began inviting people like you in here, under the guise of a zombie survival experience. We wanted to see how the general public would handle themselves when the creatures got out. We needed to know if you could fight to defend yourselves, or if this would have to be a solely military response. Other authorities and local military units have begun similar schemes. We needed to know if we are to allow the public wider access to firearms. It’s a game changing decision to make.”

“Well you must be pretty disappointed with your first test subjects then. I think half of us are either dead already, or soon to be,” said Caron, her hands pulling her hair tight behind her head as she tried to re-tie her ponytail.

“You’re not the first, but there is a bigger problem than how you’re faring.”

“Really, what could be worse?” asked Tony, eager to know how this could escalate further.

“When you all came inside, and the doors were sealed..…”

“And you gassed us,” quipped Caron.

“Yes, that was a part of the test I’m afraid. Before we let you inside the building, we build a temporary seal over the gate. It usually takes thirty-six to forty-eight hours for the seals to break down, and the creatures start appearing again. The plan is to knock you out for that period so you don’t spend the two days getting suspicious and trying to smash your way out of the building. Forty six minutes after you went under we experienced massive tremors, and the seal began to fail. Something went wrong with the security system, and it released the entire reserve of gas. The only saving grace, in large quantities, it can also incapacitate the zombies for some time. My section also got gassed, but a little later than the rest of the building, after I’d been out and removed any weapons that people had brought in.”

“So how long were we out for?” asked Tony.

“Almost nineteen days.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Tony. “No wonder I’m starving.”

“That’s your mind telling you you’re hungry, not your body. You’re no less nourished than you were when you came in here. The gas puts the human body into a type of stasis, sustenance is not needed during that time,” continued the soldier.

“What exactly has happened?” asked Caron agitated, flashing Tony an angry look. Even though this woman was opening up to them, she still felt a lot of important details were being left out.

“We have an exact chain of command for this facility, and I am only supposed to receive orders from my direct superior. This reduces the amount of communication that could potentially be intercepted, jeopardising the secrecy of the project. About an hour after the initial tremors, I received a direct communiqué from the General, in direct contravention of the mission protocols. He’s my father.

It was brief, he always was. He told me the mission was aborted, and all fail safes had been insufficient. He instructed me to find somewhere safe and to try to wait it out, away from all other civilisation, to try to get myself away from any potential threat. The last thing he said was that he loved his little Sophie,” she hesitated, taking a moment to gather herself again. “He’d never told me that before. My father is a strong, and emotionally non-functioning man, but he’s the most courageous man I know.”

“But you’re a soldier, quite an accomplished one your uniform would suggest” said Tony, looking at the markings on her jacket.

“I’m not a real soldier, just a pencil pusher. I just do admin. I completed basic training and I’m a good shot, but that’s about it. My father got me this gig because he thought it would be safe. We normally have a small army stationed just over the hill behind the building, ready for if things get out of hand.”

“What do you mean, normally?” asked Caron.

“They’ve gone, as soon as the tremors hit. I assumed they’d received orders to move out. Other than the communiqué I received from my father I’ve not been able to send or receive any other transmissions. We’re flying blind in here. We had quite a lot of surveillance set up all around the complex, but most of that has gone on the fritz now. We only have a few operational cameras left. I don’t know how many of the other counter measures are still in working order.”

“What counter measures?” asked Tony.

“They’d never hold them forever, but this area is rigged to try to slow them down if they get outside the main building. Anti-personnel mines buried around the perimeter of the building. Explosives loaded into a number of vehicles scattered outside, triggered by motion detectors. Not to mention the generous supply of weapons, ammunition and other explosives dotted around the inside of the building,” she turned to the bank of monitors on the wall behind her, and pressed a switch next to one of them. The monitor revealed a dark corridor somewhere with a ladder on one side, and a large door at the end that had just opened. “The bulk of which has just become available. As people travel around inside they will trigger different doors and sections to open, sometimes giving access to weapons and other supplies, others may release more creatures as they somehow find their way into enclosed spaces and locked areas. We still haven’t figured out how they do that.”

“I don’t get it” asked Caron. “Why go to these lengths, all the games and the secrecy? Why not just tell everyone what’s happening, give everyone a gun and a fighting chance. Let them take control of their own destiny.”

“History has shown that given a moment of crisis and the ready supply of weapons that the human race simply implodes. Mob rules apply and anarchy ensues. If we go public and tell the world that the gates to Hell have opened up and the dead are walking the Earth there will be widespread panic, civilisation will break down, and then we have no chance of survival. The response needed to be co-ordinated. If not, we could be looking at another global war, and we were extremely fortunate to survive the last one.”

“Well it looks like we’re already there, if you’re unable to contain them in here, and if it’s happening in other places too. Looks like we’re all screwed,” said Tony, with no confidence in the initial plan.

“You just said the gates of Hell. Do you really think that’s what we’re dealing with here?” asked Caron.

“However implausible it seems, we do believe these gates are a pathway from Hell. We can’t destroy them, we can’t get into them, and their numbers are growing. In China they even tried nukes, and all they managed to do was level a city. The gate was back within hours.”

“I thought nobody was supposed to have nukes anymore?” asked Tony.

“You don’t really believe everything authorities say do you?” quipped Caron.

Sophie smirked.

“Was that the news report from last week? I thought they said that was an accident at a power plant,” asked Caron pointlessly as she realised she knew the answer before she’d finished speaking.

“More than a week with how long you’ve been asleep for, but yes, it was. A sad, and ultimately pointless, loss of life, but somebody had to try it, and they were the only ones with the resolve at the time. Every authority in the world was watching that day, and they all lost hope together.”

“So there’s nothing we can do to stop this then? The human race just rolls over and dies?” shouted Tony, as he paced up and down the small room.

“There are many people working to solve this, but at the moment, as far as I’ve heard, we’re really against it. We have found no way to stop the process once someone gets bitten. We do not know how it works. All we know is that it usually takes anywhere between ten and sixty seconds for someone to turn, but never really any longer. For a short time after transformation they seem to retain some of the consciousness of the host victim, but this effect varies greatly. Those with a stronger mind seem to take longer to change completely, retaining some of their personality and memories until they do.

“At least it will be quick for you then Tony,” smiled Caron, winking at Tony.

“No arguments there,” retorted Tony.

“This is not the movies though, they are not like the zombies of folklore,” continued Sophie.

“They looked pretty much like we’d expect, biting people and turning them into the walking dead,” said Tony.

“These zombies don’t just bite, they can fight too. And don’t be surprised if you see some working together to get at victims. To a certain extent they are intelligent, some more than others, and they have a sense of self awareness.”

“Zombies that think?” surmised Caron.

“I’m afraid so, but no two are the same,” confirmed Sophie.

“To stop them you must remove the head, or inflict catastrophic damage to the brain stem or the brain itself,” Sophie pointed to the motionless one pinned to the chair leg by its head. “My case in point. You can even hurt some of them.”

“So you’ve built this place like a fortress to keep these things in, but by the sounds of it, also bloody impossible for us to escape,” said Tony, feeling helpless right now.

“It’s not impossible to get out, but it won’t be easy. First we need to get to some of the weapons, but we don’t have much time before more come. The gate will be open again soon and there will be more of the zombies to deal with. The system, which in hindsight was poorly designed with no override, locked down the facility when you originally entered, and this is programmed to unlock again once all the participants have killed the zombies, or…..” Sophie then hesitated, realising she’d wandered into more dangerous territory.

“Or what?” Caron was very adamant this question needed answering.

“..…or all participants have been turned. Then the system is purged, all creatures inside destroyed, and the next group comes in.”

“How many groups have there been so far?” asked Tony.

“You’re the fifth.”

“What happened with the other groups?” not sure he wanted this question answering.

Sophie looked between them both before answering, worried for the reaction. “Pretend you didn’t ask that question.”

“Shit,” Tony hung his head and leant against the desk.

“Great. So we’re screwed,” Caron wrapped her arms around the side of her head again.

“It is in theory possible to get out, but it would take a number of us working together. There’s no way of getting the system to unlock the exits, but because there are weak points in the structure we can blow them out. There are red canisters scattered around the facility: each one is highly explosive and, provided with a source of ignition, a number would be sufficient to blow an exit out. Most of the outside is covered by landmines, but if we try to get out the west side, and head towards the rail track, there are much less there. It was built that way so supplies could be brought in, and, other stuff taken out.”

“What other stuff?” asked Caron.

“I don’t think you want to know the answer to that Caron,” said Tony, knowing it was most likely bodies going back out. This fact hit Caron a second later and she rolled her eyes back.

“How do we get there?” asked Tony, pointing to the monitor with the armoured door that had been triggered as they spoke.

“Back out the way you came in, third door on the left.”

Caron jumped as they heard the sound of a gunshot echoing through the building. None of them moved as they listened for the sound of zombies crying out, but none came.

 

As the three of them left the camera room in search of weapons, the monitor on the wall showed Danny leaving the weapons room, a pair of small sub machine guns held out uncomfortably in front of him. Wanda followed up the rear with a pistol in each hand pointed at the back of Danny’s head.

Chapter Thirteen

Danny reached the bottom of the ladder first, took a quick look round to check there were no zombies close by and gestured for Wanda and Marcie to follow, sneaking a cheeky look up Wanda’s skirt as she climbed down. He loved thongs.

The girls stepped off the ladder to realise that Danny had gone. They were both too afraid to shout out his name but moved closer to each other for comfort. The closeness made it worse when Wanda jumped out of white cold fear as Danny’s hand slapped down on her shoulder from behind.

“Damn it Danny. What the hell are you playing at?” snapped Marcie.

“Sorry, I’m not messing. I didn’t mean to scare you. Here check this out,” he said, as he led them through the thick metal door.

“Wasn’t this locked a minute ago?” asked Wanda.

“Yeah, we couldn’t get in before. How did you open it Danny?” said Marcie.

“I didn’t. It was wide open when I got back down. Somebody else must have unlocked it. But look at this,” he said with excitement in his voice as he led them into the brightly lit room.

“Oh my God!” exclaimed Wanda.

“Okay, this is messed up,” said Marcie, not knowing what to do next.

The metal lined room was about five metres in length along each wall and two high with a metal table in the middle. All four walls were populated floor to ceiling with black metal shelving, and every shelf was fully packed out with every piece of firepower they could imagine, and some they had no idea what they could be used for. They walked round the room slowly as though browsing at the local supermarket, Danny’s eyes almost popping out of his head at some of the weapons and other contraptions he was looking at.

“What do we take?” asked Wanda, not knowing where to even start.

“How do we even use them?” Marcie had no idea what she was doing.

“Oh I like the look of this one,” said Danny, as he carefully lifted down a matt black blunderbuss from a wall bracket. With a leather covered grip and overly flared muzzle it was a thing of beauty, and looked terrifying in Danny’s hands.

“Do you have any idea what you look like with that thing? Talk about over compensating for something,” laughed Wanda, as she realised he actually looked quite sexy stood there with the big gun.

“Of course I know what I’m doing,” said Danny. “You just do this.”

Marcie didn’t get chance to recognise the potential danger of standing anywhere near an idiot like Danny holding a loaded weapon as his cocking action somehow discharged the gun and blew the top of her head all over the ceiling and wall behind her.

Danny let go of the cannon and dropped to his knees, his hands covering his ears as the sound of the blast echoed and amplified between the metal walls. The flared muzzle of the barrel vibrated against the concrete floor, creating a high pitched tap-tap-tap sound against the deep throbbing of the sound waves from the blast reverberating off the walls. Wanda screamed in hysteria as she’d just watched another person get killed in the most gruesome way possible.

“Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God,” she kept saying to herself as she stomped round the room, her hands clasping her head.

“Damn. I didn’t know that would happen,” said Danny, as he slowly rose to his feet.

“You think? Really? What the hell are you doing, waving a loaded gun round like that? What did you think would happen?”

“I didn’t know it was loaded.”

“Oh right, so that makes it okay. Let’s test this theory, shall we,” she shouted hysterically as she reached for the closest gun to hand, which just so happened to be a ridiculously heavy barrelled .44 Magnum. She ignored the extra mahogany insert that had been installed under the barrel designed to steady the weapon and tried to manage it one handed, the wooden grip slipping in her small fingers. Danny cowered under the table in fear as she waved the huge gun round the room. “Look at me. I’m a moron without a clue, any more innocent bystanders want to see what happens when I get hold of a loaded weapon? No, where has everybody gone? I don’t remember blowing everybody’s head off. Oh there you are,” she said as she crouched under the table, resting the gun barrel on her knee and pointing in Danny’s direction.

He jumped out from under the table, arms outstretched in front of him. “Whoa, okay, stop. It was an accident. I get your point. I’ll be more careful. Just please put Dirty Harry’s gun down” he pleaded.

She slammed the gun down on the table, the bang echoing off the walls, making Danny jump again.

“Let’s just get what we can carry, and comfortably handle, and try to get the hell out of here,” said Danny, feeling a little more at ease now Wanda was no longer holding the cannon.

“And if we find anyone else still alive tell them about this room.”

“Yeah definitely, we’ll need more than the two of us to get out of here,” said Danny, as he picked up what at first he thought were two pistols, then realised the ammo for them came in steel rectangular magazines that slotted into the bottoms of the oversized handles. They were submachine guns made to look like pistols. He tried not to let his giddiness get the better of him, bearing in mind what happened only a moment ago.

He would have been satisfied with the Blunderbuss and the quick fire pistols if he hadn’t then spotted the Mariner’s assault rifle hanging by the door. With a long ornately carved wooden grip, and brass plated scope he had to take it. The half-moon shaped magazine loaded underneath the barrel was a beautiful addition to the design, and also served as the secondary hand grip. Slinging it over his shoulder, he stuffed his pockets with the ammo that was next to each weapon he’d picked up and headed for the door.

Wanda was clueless and stopped Danny before he left the room, “Erm, Danny?”

“Yeah?” he asked, still facing the door, a smirk on his face that she couldn’t see, as he knew what she wanted.

“I have no idea what I’m looking at. Could you please help me?” she asked.

“Of course I will,” he said, resting the Blunderbuss back down on the table and helping her to pick out some smaller weapons and ammo.

 

“Who’s Dirty Harry?” asked Wanda as they edged along the corridor, back past the ladder.

“What?”

“Harry. You said to put Harry’s gun down. How do you know it’s his gun?”

“Are you serious? You don’t know who he is? That cop on TV? The guy’s a legend.”

“Never heard of him.”

“God, kill me now.”

“That can be arranged,” smiled Wanda.

“You’re not going to let that go are you?” hesitating for a moment to look down and to his side.

“Nope,” she tapped his butt cheek with the tip of the short stock assault rifle she was clumsily carrying.

Danny almost screamed in fear.

Chapter Fourteen

Water, lots of water.

Air bubbles rose past her eyes in the freezing, murky water.

She tried to hold her breath, but the panic had already taken over. She gasped for air, drawing in more water each time.

Then there was a feeling of pressure against the small of her back, as if she was being lifted upwards, and the water was gone.

She looked around her desperately to work out where she was but she didn’t recognise her surroundings. A crowd gathered at the side of the river, shouting and venting their fury, clearly at her. She tried to struggle free, but she was bound to some kind of contraption. She quickly realised her hands were tied to the arms of a wooden chair, as were her legs to the uprights. She wore a crude brown dress, ragged and torn, with blood stains down the front. Now she was out of the cold water, the wounds on her face and neck began to ache.

Some of the words from the baying crowd became clearer as the numbness in her ears died away, but she tried to ignore them.

Before she had chance to speak, the chair dropped again, back down into the cold and muddy water. At least she’d managed to get the chance to catch some air before going in this time, but it wasn’t enough, and she was held there for what felt like an eternity.

She felt the oxygen wear thin, not enough to hold her for much longer. She fought the urge to breathe, convincing her body it would be less painful to run out of air than it would be to inhale the water again. As she neared unconsciousness, she hit the break point and took an involuntary breath. The water flooded back in, and she felt the world go dark.

At this point, she realised she had no control over what was happening, she was along for the ride in this dream, but it seemed vividly real.

As the darkness took hold, she hoped to wake from the nightmare, expecting to find herself back in her bed and a mug of hot tea that her mum had sneaked in whilst she slept.

Her cheek burned, then her head snapped back, almost to the point of it breaking. Slowly opening her eyes, she was no longer in the river. Still bound to the chair, it had been pulled back in over the bank. The baying from the crowd had grown louder and she felt her arms and legs relax as someone cut the bonds. Two unseen men, strong and forceful, lifted her out of the chair and dragged her round to the edge of the bank. She did not have the strength to stand on her own feet.

Before her stood a figure in a long black cloak, another man she guessed by the gait as he took a couple of steps forward, his face hidden under the long hood. The cloak swung open in the middle and she caught a flash of light hitting something metallic as the long blade thrust deep into her belly, twisting as it tore through her flesh.

The hooded man stepped to the side, and the two handlers dragged her forward another few steps before throwing her into the river. The water turning a deep red around her, she felt what little strength remained leave her body as she slowly sank. Looking up at the outline of the two large men on the bank of the river, the last few air bubbles rising away from her, the image faded as her eyes closed.

 

Gemma’s eyes snapped open to find herself looking up at the ceiling of the toilets, the remains of the venting just about holding onto its brackets as it swayed about, squeaking against the silence. She rolled over and up onto her knees, her hands resting on the stained floor, working through her body’s need to vomit up the water she’d swallowed, but there was nothing. She could taste the stagnant water and the mud. She could feel it in her lungs and her throat, but she couldn’t bring it up. Thrusting two fingers into her mouth and taking a grip on her tonsils and yanking, she managed to make herself dry retch some bile. Her throat burned, but she wouldn’t be able to get anything else out.

Resting her bum back down onto her heels, she took a moment to take in her surroundings.

Looking round the room, she realised she’d crashed face first into a men’s room urinal, and the smell was most definitely her. She slowly rose to her feet, trying to straighten her back against the pain of what felt like multiple vertebrae out of place. Turning round to face the wall opposite the urinals, she was ashamed of the person she saw looking back at her in the mirror. Her hair was all over the place, she had urine down one side of her shirt and a dried stream of blood ran down the side of her face. She wasn’t sure which side, taking her time to raise one hand to her head, then the other, the reflection was confusing her and she was still dizzy from the fall. Her left arm ached if she tried to lift it any higher than shoulder height, but it wasn’t broken or dislocated.

She stumbled unsteadily, running her hands along the bank of sinks, making her way to the door at the far end, hoping she’d been out for long enough for it all to blow over and she’d be able to go home. The small fluorescent ceiling lights in the room flickered erratically, plunging parts of the room into complete darkness one second and piercing blinding light the next. All the gas lights dotted along the walls in between the mirrors were out. She started to think back to the last hug she had from her mum before she left this morning. Was it this morning? She didn’t know anymore, she had no idea how long that gas had put them to sleep for. It could have been hours, or even days. She could really do with another hug right now.

Two stalls away from the exit, the door at the opposite end of the room, that she hadn’t noticed was there until now, swung open and a man labelled as Owen crashed into the room. At the moment he entered, lights flickered on to announce his presence, whilst the other end of the room remained in darkness. Gemma dived unnoticed into one of the stalls and swung the door shut behind her, locking it before sitting down on the toilet and raising her legs up to push against the door. She wasn’t sure if Owen was being chased into the room, and didn’t want to get caught up in the massacre if he was. She’d moved that quickly, she’d not taken the time to check if he was still human or not, a chance she didn’t want to take.

She heard another stall door close at the far end of the room, and swearing as Owen realised the lock was broken. Then came the unpleasant sound of Owen taking a massive dump, which by the sounds of it would have made an entrance whether he’d made it to the bathroom or not. She sat trying to ignore his sounds of contentment as he satisfied the pain in his bowels, fighting the urge to laugh.

Hoping he would clean up and leave soon, she put her hand over her mouth to quieten her breathing as she heard the far door swing open and the nerve wracking moaning sounds from one of the zombies entering. She guessed it was the crawler due to the sliding noise as it dragged its broken body across the floor, hoping it wasn’t in her direction. She checked herself for fresh wounds, then froze when she remembered the cut on the side of her head. She grabbed at her hair, pulling out flakes of dried blood, panicking that she was going to find fresh blood on her fingers.

Owen had gone quiet too, but was unaware of what was attracting the creature. A steady supply of blood, and he’d just deposited a large amount of it from his agitated bowels.

The lights flickered on and off as the zombie dragged itself across the floor. The putrid smell of rotten flesh mixed with the stench of Owen’s discharge forced Gemma to try hard not to start retching again. She couldn’t believe her ears as she heard Owen start to goad the zombie as it got closer to him.

Owen had a plan. He knew he’d been caught with his pants down, literally, and the zombie was going to try to take a chunk out of him any second. He also knew it was his fault that the thing had caught on to his scent and followed him in here. He’d been having some problems with his bowels, but didn’t tell his mates about it as he knew it would result in endless teasing about him soiling his pants. He knew his affliction would make his life harder, but never imagined it could potentially bring it to a premature end. He planned on letting the zombie get close enough so that he could swing the metal toilet pipe he’d found was loose at his side and smash its head in, he just had to wait for it to get close enough. He was judging this by how close the sound of its few remaining fingernails digging into the floor were, and how strong the smell of rotting flesh was. He couldn’t rely on the light to confirm location, as the flickering mixed with the groaning noise was freaking him out, so he’d already closed his eyes.

He knew he had one shot at this, and he took it. He screamed out loudly as he swung the metal pipe out and above his head, ready to plant a firm and solid strike on the zombie’s head. As he raised the pipe above his head he felt a cold, foul smelling liquid drip down onto his head. The light then stopped flickering and brightly lit the stall and the surrounding area of the room, allowing Owen to look up and realise the metal pipe he was holding was in fact a really flimsy metal effect toilet brush.

The groaning and eye watering smell hit Owen firmly as he lowered his head slowly to find his face barely two inches from that of a rotten zombie.

“Oh shi….”

Gemma sat silently in her stall, listening to the sound of Owen drowning in his own blood as the zombie sunk its teeth into his throat. The burning at the back of her head was getting worse. Raising her hand to massage the source of the pain, she took a few rapid blinks to refocus her eyes, then lowered it again. Her hand trembled as she looked at it, at the blood on her fingers, as it ran down the back of her hand.

Chapter Fifteen

Stacey popped her head up from behind the second row of chairs on the balcony she’d climbed onto when the zombies had jumped Pete. After the initial attackers had gone she heard another start groaning from near the front of the room a short while later, and that soon followed out the main doors.

She could hear a groaning noise from down the front of the room, near to the screen, and what sounded like something being dragged along the floor.

In her mind she knew this was her chance to kill one of these things, and what better way to start than with one that couldn’t fight back.

She lowered herself down as quietly as she could and made her way slowly towards the ripped screen, picking up a smashed chair leg on her way. The sharp pointy end of the stick would be ideal to ram through the things head to end its day.

She cursed herself for making so much noise climbing onto the stage as the floor was sticky from the accumulation of years of spilt drinks that had never been cleaned up, loud sucking noises following every footstep.

She stepped carefully through the void left by the collapsed screen and saw the soles of the feet of her prey painfully slowly trying to pull its way away from her. As she got closer she raised the makeshift stake above her head, ready to strike, as the creature turned round to face its attacker.

“Oh my God Reggie, what happened to you?” she said as she dropped the stick to kneel at his side, trying to pull him up into a sitting position. He winced in pain as she twisted his spine further than it cared to go.

“I got trapped in the stupid screen and the top collapsed on me. I think I’ve broken my back,” the adrenaline had drained from his body, and the pain was kicking in now. He bit down as Stacie reached an arm round his side to find some of his vertebrae were indeed smashed and the base of his spine was out of line. Luckily, from some perspectives, there was no blood though. If any of these things attacked again now, he’d be easy pickings.

“You need to leave me, and find a way out. Go get help.”

“I can’t leave you here like this. I’ll go and get some others and they can help carry you,” she said, trying not to show how upset she was.

“Be realistic Stacie. Believe me, I don’t want to die in here, but look around you. Those things took out Pete in seconds. I’d just slow down anyone trying to help me. You need to go.”

“I can’t, not without….”

“Go. Now. I heard a gunshot a minute ago. That means there are others still alive in here.”

“Yeah, I heard that too.”

“You need to see if you can get hold of a weapon yourself, and fight your way out. Don’t try doing it on your own though, like you always do. There are other people in here just like us, wanting to survive. Go find the others and get out.”

“We’ll come back for you, okay?” with that Stacie gave Reggie a loving kiss on the lips, looking him in the eyes as she slowly pulled away. Reggie had waited years for this moment. It would probably be his last.

“Go,” he snapped, secretly wanting her to refuse the order and stay by his side.

Stacie turned and ran back across the sticky floor, picking her pointy chair leg back up along the way, and jumped down onto the thin section of carpeted floor before the front row of seats. As she landed her left ankle gave way and she collapsed to the floor, sliding until she collided with the seats. She sat up quickly and checked herself, her hands felt wet as did the front of her shirt but knew she hadn’t cut herself.

“What the hell?” she couldn’t figure it out.

“Stacie, what is it? What’s wrong?” called out Reggie, hearing her fall down and talking to herself.

“I..…I don’t know. I’m covered in something, but I don’t know..…”

“What?”

“Oh crap,” Stacie moved a few steps to the side, allowing one of the flickering copper gas lights behind her to illuminate the floor where she’d just fell. The trembling started in her knees and quickly spread all the way through to her fingers.

“Stacie, what’s wrong?” the fear in Reggie’s voice was evident.

“Shit. Shit. Shit,” Stacie looked down at her hands, lifted her shirt to see how bad it was and at the floor. The blood soaked floor. Pete’s blood.

She quickly began pulling her clothes off. It was on her shirt. Her pants. Her hands. In her hair. She heard the sound of one of the zombies groaning just outside the door. Her scrabbling about in the blood must have raised the scent again, and now it had attracted its attention. She hadn’t seen a way out beyond the screen where Reggie was lay, so figured the only escape was back up on the balcony again. She ran to the same position she’d climbed up from before and jumped off the back of one of the chairs and grabbed a hold of the ledge again.

She’d pulled herself up enough to get a grip on the handrail above her when the zombie crashed through the doors. In a panic she rushed herself and lost the grip with her first hand on the ledge and she dropped down, her fall only impaired by the loose single handed grip she had on the rail. She reached back up with her loose hand, scrambling for a grip on the ledge.

The blood on her hands was making it difficult to get any kind of decent grip, as she tried to pull herself up with the one hand and get her free one onto the rail too, then she could swing a leg up and over and away from the clutches of the zombie. It was a sound idea, but it came to her after the zombie had already taken its first bite out of her left foot.

She screamed out in agony, thrashing wildly with both feet and managing to kick the zombie hard enough in the head for it to momentarily release its grip. Out of blind fear and a sudden adrenaline rush she managed to get her free hand onto the rail and pull herself up away from the secondary attack.

Rolling over the top of the rail, she slammed down onto the balcony floor, landing heavily on her back. The blissful moment where she should feel that she had evaded further attack lasted a fraction of a second as she could hear the growling of the zombie grow louder. Looking up she saw a hand of rotten flesh grab hold of the rail, then a second. The growling was inches away from her as the creature’s face then appeared over the ledge, trying to squeeze its head in between the rail and the kickboard, green mucus and blood dripping from its mouth of misshapen teeth. Stacie rolled out of the way, the intense pain in her foot burning as she just dodged an outstretched hand grabbing at her shoulder. Climbing to her feet, favouring her good leg, she kicked at the one hand the zombie had left on the rail, splintering its fingers underfoot. As it reeled backwards, trying to secure a second grip, she slammed her hands into both shoulders, sending the creature flying backwards onto the seats below. The sound of cracking bones signalled it had arrived at the bottom.

Stacie knew she was in trouble as her foot gave way beneath her. The burning had spread from her foot, up through her leg, and now the intense pain was taking over her upper torso. Her fingers tingled and painful cramps riddled her body. Struggling to breathe, she gasped for air, her lungs burning. The heat became so intense she felt as though she would burst into flames. Then everything went cold.

And then came the darkness.

Now back on its feet, the zombie stood below the balcony, looking up. It had lost its desire to attack, as though the fresh meal was no longer there.

It just stood there, motionless.

 

Whilst the attack had been taking place, Reggie had slowly managed to drag himself back through the screen opening and now lay on the stage, looking back up towards the far doors. He hoped to see Stacie’s head pop up from behind the upper tier seats, some kind of signal to communicate that she was okay. He knew he was clutching at straws but he really wanted to be right this time. He’d took his time getting to his current position, so hoped she’d got out without him noticing.

He couldn’t figure out why the zombie was just standing there.

None of them had taken anything seriously that the woman had told them at the start. Why would they? But now he was thinking back and it was making sense. The zombies were just wandering around at the start, not going for anyone. They didn’t attack until that idiot cut his arse on the popcorn stand, or Pete got another one of his damned nosebleeds.

And Stacie might still be alright if he’d been able to protect her.

With the reasoning complete in his head, he called out loudly, “Stacie! Are you okay? Talk to me baby.”

The zombie didn’t flinch.

“Stacie? Stacie?”

Reggie almost snapped his spine back into place when Stacie’s head appeared above the edge of the stage. Her flesh had taken on a greenish hue, and her eyes were jet black – there was nothing behind them. He froze with fear as she walked slowly up the steps, sucking noises with every footstep. She crouched down at his side and put a hand on his cheek. The icy touch stung his skin as he hung paralyzed.

She leaned in closer, her face next to his. He knew he was looking into the eyes of a zombie, and he could meet his painful and bloody demise any second, but he felt the fear drain from his body. He raised a hand and cupped it under the side of her jaw: the skin was cold and clammy. She lifted her head slightly, rubbing her mouth gently across his forehead. Her breathing was heavy, and laboured, each breath chilling the skin on his face.

“Stacie?” he whispered, a tear running down his cheek.

The zombie by the door let out a scream directed towards them, continuing until Stacie rose to her feet and ran after it as it smashed its way back through the doors.

Reggie rested his head down on the stage floor, the feeling of helplessness running though his mind.

Chapter Sixteen

Sophie stopped at the door of the room with the table and two way mirror and pushed the muzzle of her pistol around the door frame before she risked exposing her head.

“Hey Sophie,” called out Tony, from only a few feet behind.

“Jesus. What?” snapped Sophie, quickly falling back into the room.

“What did you do with the weapons that people sneaked in? You said you took them off us when we were asleep?”

“They go into a hatch at the back of the camera room, everything goes straight down to a furnace.”

“That’s a shame. Danny brought a kick ass eight shooter in with him.”

“Yeah I saw that,” said Sophie. “We have better gear in the first armoury though. Let’s go.”

The three of them had cleared the room just in time to see two familiar faces exiting cautiously from the remains of the sweet shop, sidestepping the burning remains of a blue team member on the floor being feasted upon by some zombies.

Chapter Seventeen

“Hey, Steve,” shouted Tony, in an accidental attempt to wake more of the dead. “Over here man.”

Sophie turned and gestured to smack him across the side of the head with the barrel of the pistol, to which he flinched, realising the danger of having an open cut.

Steve and Lisa dashed across the warzone of a lobby area and dived into the room that Tony had just called from.

“Oh man, I’m glad you’re okay,” said Steve elated as he hugged his best man. “Have you seen Danny or Owen?”

“No man, I bolted that quick, didn’t get chance to check behind me. I’m sure they’re hiding somewhere though, pair of soft arses,” joked Tony, hoping in his mind they really were hiding somewhere.

At Tony’s insistence, and with some of his help, Sophie brought Lisa and Steve up to speed.

As she explained their current predicament, Steve toyed with the idea of taking her gun and shooting her in the head. Lisa was thinking of shooting her somewhere else.

“We need to get to that weapons room, it’s our best option,” said Tony, taking charge now there was another male present.

“Agreed,” chimed the others with little hesitation.

“It’s the third door on the left, let’s go,” Tony left the room and immediately returned. “Sophie, would you like to…..erm…..lead the way?”

“You lost already Tony?” asked Caron.

“No, it’s just…..she’s got the only gun,” gesturing towards Sophie.

Sophie went to lead the way from the room for a third time, this time with no intention of being held back again.

Chapter Eighteen

Gemma sat on the toilet pedestal, her legs still raised to hold the stall door shut, unsure if the crawler had yet left the room. She figured this one was the most dangerous in the room at the moment, being the seasoned professional as there were at least two she knew of it taking down, the guy that had just taken a dump and her friend, Carrie. She knew she had an open wound on the back of her head, so it wouldn’t be long before they went for her, and she was stuck for a way out. She couldn’t reach the air conditioning vents from where she was, and there wasn’t a chance she was going to risk opening the door. She knew she was in trouble.

Pretty sure that the crawler had left the room, as she could only make out one faint groaning noise, presumably from what was left of Owen, she carefully lowered her feet to the floor and stood up. She delicately lowered the toilet lid and climbed onto it, raising her head slowly over the side of the stall. She couldn’t see the crawler, but did see the late Owen partially out of his stall, sniffing at the air, trying to lock on to a scent with his newfound senses.

A gunshot blast from inside the building caused her to almost lose her footing on the toilet lid, and startled the zombie in the room, causing it to turn its attention in Gemma’s direction. As she raised her head over the side of the stall again, this time the zombie came crashing into the side wall, thrashing wildly at the top of the wall, but not quite tall enough to grab a hold to climb over.

Gemma pushed against the side wall as she could feel it giving way, straining from its wall fixings under the weight of the attack, screaming for it to go away. She tried to stand with one foot on the toilet, one against the attacked wall and strengthen her position by leaning backwards, but this only served to make the whole stall twist under the weight. She looked across the far side of the room to see the venting bouncing and swaying from side to side. Someone, or something, was in there, and she hoped it was still human.

Her hopes of the cavalry coming died as the ravaged face of Andy’s corpse appeared in the vent, the black eyes staring dead ahead at Gemma.

“Great. This can’t get any worse.”

She waited for it to fall down to the ground and join the other one in trying to rip down the wall, but it hesitated, and waited at the edge of the vent. It looked round the room and after some careful consideration, slowly backed up into the vent.

“What the hell?” whispered Gemma to herself. The ones she’d seen up to now were bloodthirsty and went straight for the kill in the presence of blood. Why was this one different?

The terrible realisation set in of what it was up to a few seconds later. The swaying and distortion of the venting betrayed the zombie’s movements and demonstrated that it was now crawling down the alternate passage that Gemma hadn’t had time to switch to. Following the path of the vent around the roof space, Gemma could see that the zombie was now on a path that would bring it out directly above her stall.

“Great, this really can’t get any worse,” she cried out to herself.

With all her focus on stopping the wall from being smashed down and keeping an eye on the one moving towards her through the venting, she hadn’t noticed the crawler had re-appeared and managed to slide on its back halfway under the stall door, where it got stuck.

Gemma screamed again as she lost her footing on the toilet seat and slipped to the ground, kneeing the crawler in the head in the process. It looked stunned for a second, before it continued wildly thrashing about again. She tried to climb back onto the seat but it had detached from the pedestal and was no longer any use. Instead she sat down on the remains of the toilet with her legs spread trying to keep out of reach of the head swinging from side to side.

Gemma knew she’d had it, and just wanted it over quick, but didn’t know which one would provide the quickest death. Her despair turned to disgust as looking down at the floor she realised the crawler had temporarily turned its attention from Gemma and had turned its head to the side and was trying to get to the human detritus on the floor. First it licked at what she guessed could only be urine, judging by the sinus burning smell. Then she saw it, and without even realising she’d done it, kicked the solidified faeces closer to the crawler’s mouth. She smiled, and then nearly gagged, at the sight of the creature sucking at and then chewing on the hairy chunks of human faeces in its mouth.

“Oh man, that is fuc…..” Gemma was cut short as the venting above finally gave way and smashed down on top of the stall wall. She looked up to see Andy’s zombie form sliding head first down the vent towards her, and turned her head away out of instinct. The undead missile opened its mouth ready to bite down on its prey as it exited the exposed end of the vent, but then was delayed mid-air, a look of surprised confusion on its face. On its exit from the vent it had impaled itself on a snapped bracket that had dropped away from the wall. It hung in the air, thrashing about as the last few hungry signals in its diseased brain seemed to die away.

Gemma went to lift her head to see what had happened once enough time had passed for her to realise something had delayed her demise, for it to be forced back down as a separate bracket came away from the wall with a chunk of brickwork still attached and cracked her across the back of the head. She slumped forward on the seat, wedging her head against the stall door, blood running around her face and dripping down onto the crawler, who lay there helplessly drinking at the meagre meal.

Tainted blood ran down from the spiked head of the zombie hanging above her, dripping off its single shoe onto Gemma. The blood soaked into her straggly hair and ran into the fresh supply running from her open wound.

Chapter Nineteen

The four test subjects followed closely behind Sophie as she headed, gun held out in front scanning the way forward for threats, towards the weapons room.

They stopped and looked towards the men’s toilets when they heard the loud screaming and banging, waiting for someone else to speak first.

“Maybe we should get some weapons before we go helping others,” suggested Lisa, self-preservation understandably her number one priority. She may have reacted differently if she’d known who was screaming.

“Good idea. Let’s go,” agreed Steve, encouraging her to keep moving by gently pushing his hand against her butt cheek. She went to slap it away, but for a second held onto his hand instead.

Sophie continued on and then through the open door with the others in tow.

Chapter Twenty

Danny led the way down the dark corridor, following the few dimly lit fire exit signs that still worked. This was the only lighting in this area, as no gantry lights had been installed on this stretch and the gas lights were out.

Wanda followed behind, this time walking backwards with her arms stretched out to each side, guns at the ready for any attack. She would be even more effective if she’d loaded them. Danny caught a glimpse of what Wanda was doing, and stopped to look at her bemused, “What are you doing?”

“I saw this on TV. This is how you cover your boy,” responded Wanda, deadly serious.

“Have you hit your head?”

“Have you blown anyone’s head off recently?”

“I…..”

“Shut it. Find us a way out Dirty Harry,” she smirked.

They reached the end of the corridor and Danny kicked at each of the fire exit door security bars, but none of them budged. Swearing to himself, he didn’t know what else to try.

“Okay, what do we do now? These doors are all secured, just like the ones at the front that Tony tried kicking in,” said Danny openly, trying to encourage some ideas from Wanda.

“You’ve got a gun, shoot through the door, dumbass,” exclaimed Wanda.

“Good idea,” Danny stepped back and aimed the sight at what he thought were the hinges in the shadows. He gritted his teeth and looked away as he squeezed the trigger. The third mistake was squealing like a pig as he did this. Seeing as though he’d forgotten to take the safety off this gun before firing Wanda had just watched him almost pee himself whilst waving a gun about. She was embarrassed for him.

“Have you loaded it?” she asked sarcastically.

“Of course I’ve loaded it. I just must have left the safety on. I can’t see what the hell I’m doing here, I don’t know which one is the right….aaah,” then the gun fired, and in what was becoming a familiar chain of events he didn’t have hold of it properly, managing to leave a vertical streak of bullet holes in the doors and wall above.

“Jesus Christ, we don’t need zombies to kill us with your shooting. You’re unbelievable,” snapped Wanda, questioning in her mind if she’d be safer on her own.

“Hey look, with more firepower we might be able to get through here,” said Danny, pressing his face up against a small cluster of the holes he’d made to take a look outside. “If we make these holes bigger I reckon we can force our way out,” he said, grabbing at the loose sections of door and managing to break bigger pieces off now the pistols had started the job. “Quick, help.”

Wanda stuffed the two pistols down the back of her pants and rushed to help Danny pull at the damaged section of door. They’d succeeded in pulling out enough to fit someone’s head through just as Danny took the initiative and rammed his head into the hole.

“What can you see Danny? How’s it looking out there?” quizzed Wanda.

A muffled response was all she got, so she moved closer.

“What did you say?”

“I said pull me back in quick, there’s a fu..…”

Wanda grabbed at his shoulders and pulled him back inside expecting to find a zombie attached to his face, but instead Danny dropped to the floor struggling to get his breath.

“What is it? What did you see?”

“Run!”

Danny scrambled to his feet and shot to a full sprint, Wanda surprisingly close behind. They got ten feet away from the barricaded exit before the shockwaves from a series of explosions outside shook the ground and ceiling and the doors rattled in their frames. Wanda sneaked a look behind as they ran to see a huge green hand swing across the bank of doors, knocking them down like dominoes. At least that’s what her brain was telling her she’d seen.

“Holy shit. What the hell is that?” screamed Wanda, now running alongside Danny.

“I have no idea, but I’m not waiting around to find out,” Danny tried to accelerate away, thinking the slowest would be the first to die, but he found Wanda was getting away from him.

They heard the crashing behind them but didn’t dare turn back to look in case it slowed them down, or they lost their footing.

It was for the best that they didn’t turn round, for if they did they would have seen a huge green troll like creature chasing them down the corridor destroying everything in its wake. The assailant was taller than the corridor ceiling but rather than ducking down it continued running upright and used its head as a battering ram to smash the ceiling out of the way. Danny swore he heard it shout something, but couldn’t make out what.

“Look,” Wanda pointed ahead of them.

“At what?” screamed Danny, and it was a scream.

“The floor, what’s happening to it?”

“I don’t know,” Danny really had no explanation as to what was going on further ahead.

Swirls of fire and smoke burned lines into the tiled floor, enclosed within a growing circle of fire thirty feet across. As they got nearer, symbols formed in the ground, burning through the floor covering, five in total. They didn’t have time to look properly, their focus was more on escaping the rampaging behemoth behind them.

Expecting to burn themselves as they crossed the circle they both raised their hands to shield their faces and closed their eyes at the last moment, with no loss of speed. As both of them had decided to go blind they didn’t see the circular wall of fire rise up behind them as they cleared the outer ring. There was a yell of pain from the monster behind them, as Danny was the first to go to ground, tripping over rubble from the fallen air conditioning unit from earlier. Wanda opened her eyes just in time to prevent herself running full pelt into the zombie still wedged in the top of the popcorn counter.

Wanda caught the last of the wall of fire, just as it burnt away, and all that remained of the ceiling in the corridor collapsed in.

As the dust cleared, Danny climbed back to his feet and joined Wanda to look at what had been chasing them.

“What the hell is that?” asked Wanda.

“I’m sorry. I’ve got nothing,” said Danny.

They were looking at the dark green bald head and hands of a huge troll like creature. That was all they were looking at as it had fallen into a large circular void in the ground and as the ceiling girders collapsed behind it had trapped it against the side of the hole. It was going nowhere. Its head was the size of a car, and its hands looked like they could crush one. It stared through its half open eyes at the escapees.

“Is that a tombstone on its head?” asked Wanda, doubting her own eyes not for the first time today.

“I think so. This day has just gone to a new level of messed up.”

“It sounded like it was trying to shout something at us.”

“Yeah. I don’t know what, I couldn’t make it out.”

“Run,” grumbled the huge beast, in a deep voice that shook the floor.

Danny and Wanda jumped back, guns raised, and squeezed the triggers. Danny’s clip emptied as the remaining three rounds left the chamber, seemingly bouncing off the beast’s domed head. Wanda’s empty pistols clicked.

Faint traces of smoke rose from the tiny pock marks that the bullets had made, as the scars healed whilst they watched. The beast looked Danny in the eye, who waited for the inevitable feeling of his limbs being torn from his body.

Chapter Twenty One

Caron screamed and burst into tears as she walked round the table in the armoury to stumble over the legs of a headless Marcie lay on the floor, Tony jumping forward to embrace her, turning her head away from the blood stains up the wall.

“Jesus Christ,” said Sophie. “Not again.”

“Again?” snapped Tony. “What so it’s normal for people to shoot themselves in the head when faced with this shit?”

“Marcie wouldn’t have killed herself. She just wouldn’t,” sobbed Caron.

“She didn’t,” said Sophie, turning to the guns on the table.

“How do you know?” asked Tony.

“There’s no gun in her hand, and that damage would have taken a shotgun. She’s got stumpy arms, not long enough to pull the trigger with the barrel in her mouth.”

“That’s cold,” said Tony.

“Then who the hell shot her?” cried Caron.

“This is what happens when you scare the crap out of people then give them access to weapons. It’s not the first time in here,” said Sophie.

“What the hell was that?” jumped Lisa as they all heard the crashing sound from the lobby. Nobody offered a response, but after they heard three rapid consecutive gunshots they hurriedly continued picking out weapons to take with them. Sophie took care to ensure they were selecting the correct ammo, and showed them how to load them. There was no time for a crash course though, she just hoped they weren’t going to kill each other with them. The fresh bloodstain on the wall told her showing them this room may have been a worse idea than facing the zombies unarmed.

“I’m not going back out there until I know I can protect myself. Hey Sophie, are those the explosives you told us about?” asked Tony, pointing a pistol at a row of foot high red gas canisters beneath a shelf loaded with rifle magazines.

“Yes, and will you not point the loaded gun at the explosives,” she demanded through gritted teeth.

“Crap, sorry, didn’t realise I was doing that,” he answered, pulling the offending arm back and making Steve duck out of the way as he waved the pistol above his head.

The crash and gunfire made them hurry with their choices, and they now all had a completely random selection of firepower; some great for close quarters combat and others for picking off targets at five hundred yards, like that was ever going to be a possibility with their complete lack of experience.

Sophie led out of the room, with the others following close behind. She crouched down low, to keep her head out of the line of fire of the idiots that were walking single file, guns pointed to the back of the next one’s heads. Steve and Tony lumbered awkwardly as they tried to carry a canister each, as well as keeping control of the oversized guns they’d chosen. The laser sight mounted on Sophie’s pistol darted across the walls as she focussed along the barrel, ready to unload on any zombie that popped its head up.

Chapter Twenty Two

She walked along the corridor, the chill in the air raising the hairs on her arms, her tears stinging her cheeks as they ran down her frozen skin. The decayed sash windows along one side of the walkway sat open, with the wind gusting in, the torn curtains billowing across to the doors on the other side. She heard gunshots in the background and a faint scream as she tried each door in turn. They were all locked and she was running out of choices as she neared the end of the corridor. Footsteps behind made her turn to look back to where she’d walked from. She heard them grow louder and louder, as they neared her position, but she was the only one in the corridor. She backed up until she could no more, the back of her head resting up against the final blue door, some of the faded paint peeling away as she brushed against it. She raised her left hand to tuck the loose hair back behind her ear, and she stopped to look at what was before her face. The rings, the nail polish and the young child like skin. This was not her hand.

It was another dream.

She heard a sickeningly close click from behind her ear, and leant back slightly as the door ceased to hold her, and the cold breath hit the back of her neck.

“We will take all that come,” whispered the voice from over her shoulder.

The front of her neck and chest felt warm as the liquid ran down from where the blade had sliced open her skin. She fell to the floor and as her eyes closed saw the figure step over her, blood dripping from the aged blade. The handle was oversized and old looking, really old. She could make out a mark on her assailant’s hand, some kind of symbol. Familiar, but she didn’t know why. There was no fear, she was just a witness.

She felt her heart beat grow weaker as her world faded to black.

 

“Hughh” cried out Gemma as she woke from her slumber in the toilet stall. She felt fuzzy, like she was moving in treacle. The back of her head had developed a pulse of its own, to which she raised her hand expecting to find a gaping hole in her skull and return her hand covered in blood. But there was nothing there, apart from small lumps under the matted hair. There was no blood.

Her senses returned to her as she realised the wall was still rattling due to the rabid animal on the other side, and the poo eating crawler hadn’t yet managed to extract itself from under the door.

Anger coursed through her veins as she stood up and kicked the crawler in the head hard enough to push it back further under the door. She climbed onto the unsteady toilet and jumped towards the door, curling the top half of her body over the top, the weight ripping the door from its hinges and dropping it down vertically, decapitating the crawler in the process.

With part of the reinforcement in the stall now gone, the side that the other zombie was banging against collapsed to the floor, smashing what was left of the toilet bowl. The animal turned to face Gemma, a blank look on its face as it weighed up its prey. It should have attacked without hesitation, but for some reason it waited, as though unsure of its purpose. Gemma took advantage of the delay to reach behind her and wrench the already damaged hand dryer from the wall and smash it into the side of the zombie’s head, crushing the skull with one blow.

She stood panting, not ready to let go of the bloodied appliance yet. Turning to walk out the door, she caught a glimpse of herself in the cracked mirror, forcing her to pause. She looked like crap; her hair matted from dried blood, her top covered in the same. Her usual confidence building layers of makeup had long since ran and faded, leaving her with a pasty look. But she didn’t care. She wasn’t herself. She turned back to the door to walk away and as she moved her reflection flicked from one section of mirror to another. She snapped her head straight back to look at the other reflection staring straight back at her, a young looking girl, barely out of teenage years, eyes rimmed in red and cheeks streaked as though she had been crying. They stared at each other, neither daring to blink.

“Run,” whispered the girl, as a faint red line spread across her throat, widening as it went. Deep crimson red spilled from the wound as the colour ran from her face and her eyes turned black as night. “Run.”

Gemma turned and walked to the door at her own pace.

Chapter Twenty Three

“You can talk?” asked Wanda, careful to keep out of the reach of the gargantuan’s arms.

The huge beast looked at her blankly, as though waiting for a translator.

Wanda tried again, “You said to run, wh..…”

“Tombstone say run. Tombstone want to help,” boomed the beast.

“Tombstone. That’s your name right?” asked Wanda, almost as though it was normal to be indulging in conversation with a thirty foot green creature that had just felled one side of the cinema with its head.

“Me Tombstone,” it was clear Wanda would have to keep this simple.

“What are you?” asked Danny, finally building up the nerve to speak to the thing. Tombstone shot his huge yellow tinted eyes to Danny, making him jump back again.

“Me Gilmore,” nodded Tombstone.

“What? Now I’m confused. Is your name Tombstone, or Gilmore? It can’t be both,” asked Danny.

“Me Tombstone,” he repeated, he didn’t appear to even have the level of intelligence required to get arsey.

“And you’re a Gilmore?” interrupted Wanda, glancing at Danny.

Tombstone nodded. The best he could considering the heavy weight of wreckage pinning him in the hole.

“What did you mean about wanting to help?” asked Wanda.

“Yeah, you just tried to kill us with all that chasing and smashing crap man,” Danny was getting brave and moving closer, but Wanda stopped him in his tracks with a firmly raised hand. She wanted to keep this on her terms, and keep the creature calm.

“That wrong way. You get hurt,” replied Tombstone.

“You mean down there, the way we were trying to get out?” asked Wanda, trying to point her way round the wreckage.

A nod again confirmed her understanding.

“Are there more of the zombies down there?” she asked.

Tombstone shook his head side to side the best he could, the girders that had collapsed from the ceiling had restricted his movement in pretty much every direction.

“Something else then? There’s something else down there that could kill us?”

A nod again. “Bang,” with a deeper boom to his voice.

“Bang? You mean bombs?”

Tombstone looked at her blankly. No response was forthcoming. He was waiting for a question he understood.

“If we step outside down there, we get blown up?” she tried to signify an explosion, clasping her hands together and then opening them out, thinking back to the explosives they’d already seen demonstrated on the roof, when Mark became a human firework.

A final nod confirmed her hypothesis.

“Do you believe it?” whispered Danny in Wanda’s ear.

“I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter now though, that way is blocked. We need to find another way out.”

 

“Holy shit, kill it!” screamed Tony as he exited the corridor behind Sophie, opening fire whilst simultaneously dropping the explosive canister and letting it roll across the floor. Sophie dropped to the floor and secured the rolling bomb whilst the rest of the vigilante group behind her fired vaguely in the direction of the huge beast. She’d had the intelligence not to bother wasting ammunition when she’d spotted the first of Tony’s bullets ricochet off its head, leaving only the faintest traces of a wound. The heavily modified Desert Eagle he was clumsily carrying about was easily powerful enough to rip holes in anything that could be killed, this thing clearly not falling into that category. With all seven rounds firmly wedged in the surrounding walls after rebounding off his target, Tony looked at his gun, bemused as to its ineffectiveness.

Danny and Wanda dived for cover behind the popcorn desk, trying their best to keep out of the way of the ricochets and stray bullets that were doing more damage to the décor than the intended target. Danny didn’t realise that the remains of what used to be Barry only a short while ago almost got a grip on him as he dropped to the floor, his disease riddled body was still wedged backside first in the glass top counter. He also didn’t realise that one of the bullets had grazed his elbow, and a thin trickle of blood was running down to his wrist.

“Whoa, whoa, stop. Hold your fire!” screamed Sophie above the din of the gunshots echoing around the room. Her demands fell on death ears until they’d run out of bullets and she’d managed to get their attention before any remembered how to reload.

“You’re just wasting bullets, they’re not doing anything,” she yelled, pointing at the fading scars on the grumpy looking beast. Faint smoke trails dissipated away from the puny wounds, accompanied by a barely noticeable sizzling noise.

With the carnage over, Danny and Wanda climbed back to their feet behind the counter, arms raised out of instinct as if surrendering. Danny was about to speak when he jumped forward in fear as he felt what was left of Barry behind grab hold of his arm and almost get his teeth into him. The head of the zombie exploded to the sound of a single gunshot.

Danny stared at the headless torso, a single red dot illuminating the spot that its face used to be. All eyes in the room moved to Sophie, her body turned side on to the popcorn desk, arms raised with the laser sight equipped hand gun still aimed at her quarry. The sight was almost the same size as the gun, and Danny realised after a few seconds that the laser was burning the flesh that it came into contact with. He took a step back.

“Th…..thanks,” managed Danny, checking his arm for teeth marks. Discovering none brought a sigh of relief, which faded as he felt the cold stream of blood run down from his elbow; the minor singe mark on his skin revealing how close the bullet had passed.

Chapter Twenty Four

Wanda confidently strutted back across the lobby to Tombstone to grill him more about what was going on, and why bullets were bouncing off his head. She was met with the faint aroma of singed flesh.

The rest of them jumped as the men’s bathroom door was almost ripped off its hinges. A room full of unloaded guns was aimed at the doorway, light flickering from inside, expecting a stream of zombies to spill out into the lobby and attack them. But the attack didn’t come. Instead an extremely pissed off looking Gemma walked out, covered in blood as well as some other questionable substances. She was carrying what appeared to be a hand dryer with blood dripping from it.

She looked round the room at the rest of them, somehow not noticing the huge green monster stuck in the floor, as she had only one thing on her mind.

“Where did you get those guns?” she asked calmly.

Steve pointed the barrel of his gun towards the passageway to the armoury, without saying a word. Gemma nodded, dumped the hand dryer on the floor and disappeared into the darkness. Tombstone halted his conversation with Wanda for a second, but didn’t know why. He shook his head and continued.

“What the hell happened to her?” asked Caron.

“Guys, you might want to see this,” said Tony, re-appearing from the men’s bathroom. He led them inside to reveal the aftermath.

“Jesus Christ,” said Lisa, looking round at the bodies of the zombies that Gemma had left behind.

“Did she do all this herself?” asked Tony, tapping a head along the floor with his foot. “I’m changing teams.”

“Yeah I’m with her, where’d she go?” asked Caron.

“She went to the armoury,“ said Sophie, heading back out into the lobby. “Something’s not right with her,” she muttered to herself.

“What the hell?” from the armoury signified that Gemma had just found the headless Marcie under the table.

“Give me a minute with her,” said Sophie to the others, as she half ran across the lobby.

“Yeah sure,” responded Tony, waving her on.

 

Sophie walked into the armoury and quickly raised her hands out in front of her in defence as Gemma cocked and pointed a pistol right at her. Her aim was dead on.

“You know by right I should take your head off right now,” snarled Gemma, furious with the woman she saw before her, remembering she was the one that locked them inside this nightmare.

“I know. I’m sorry. Believe me, there is a reason for all this. Let me explain.”

Gemma didn’t flinch as Sophie went back over what she’d told the others, who by now was hoping would never have to say all this again. She may have been following orders, but felt personally responsible and more morose at every telling.

“So we’re your guinea pigs then?” asked Gemma, continuing with putting together her own lethal arsenal. She knew exactly what she was doing and checked each gun’s operation carefully as she loaded them. She didn’t know how, or why. She just knew.

“I’m afraid so, but I’m more interested in you right now,” replied Sophie.

“Sorry honey, I don’t swing that way,” still not looking away from the task at hand.

“That’s not what I mean. We vetted everyone coming in here, teams were carefully selected. No military, emergency services, anything like that. We had to test the general public’s response to the threat.”

“And why am I an issue then?” asked Gemma.

“I’ve seen what you did in the bathroom. Three zombies single handed is no simple feat, and you don’t seem fazed by it at all.”

“Nothing special there. One hung itself, the crawler got stuck under a door and the last one wouldn’t shut up so I smashed its head in. No big deal.”

“Believe me, it is. All the groups we’ve had through, we’ve not seen that before. The majority fall apart early on and can’t even muster basic defensive moves. Paralysed with fear, if you will. This intake has fared much better than usual, probably due to the extended time under the gas, more exposure to the serum.”

“Serum?” anger flashed across Gemma’s face.

Sophie stared at her blankly, silently cursing herself for letting this slip. Gemma cocked the trigger on the cannon in her right hand, convincing Sophie to elaborate.

“It’s part of the gas. A genetically adapted virus based on the building blocks of smallpox is aerosolised and mixed with the sleep inducing elements. We introduced it to the test environment after the first two groups were massacred, a reflection of an attack on the general populous. We wanted to give humanity a fighting chance.”

“What exactly does it do?”

“In basic terms it messes with the synapses in the brain and suppresses fear whilst at the same time increasing adrenaline, confidence and strength. But it only lasts for a limited time. The body absorbs the chemicals naturally, levels return to normal, and then their ability to defend themselves, or go on the offence, invariably reduces or goes completely. In increased doses the chemicals have created unexpected results in some subjects, such as being overly amorous.”

“So that’s why that freak Andy tried groping me right after the first attack?” asked Gemma.

“No, he was just a pervert.”

Gemma hesitated before continuing, noting the expression on Sophie’s face did not betray any inappropriate attempt at humour.

“So this is what’s happening to everyone here now then?”

“The others yes, they are exhibiting increased confidence and reduced fear. I don’t know how long it will last as they’ve had much more than the intended dose. But you, no. It’s something different with you, something…..new.”

“Explain. In basic terms. I’m not a scientist.”

“The others seem to have no ‘off’ switch when it comes to defending themselves out there. Sure, everybody has run away at some point, but they’re also not balking at picking up a weapon and taking a shot. That’s the serum in action.”

“And again how am I different?”

“As I said before, all teams were vetted, we knew exactly who we were bringing in. You’re a hairdresser, Gemma. A good one, we know, but that would do nothing for you in here. You knew nothing about self-defence, guns or ammunition before you came in here. Look at what you just did in that bathroom, no-one else would have walked out of there. How do you even explain what you’re doing with that gun?”

Gemma looked down to see she was just about to put the last part of the rifle back together in her hands. She hadn’t even noticed she’d taken it apart.

“I…..I don’t know,” she set the rifle down and backed away from the table, looking down at her hands.

They were interrupted by a scream from the lobby echoing off the corridor walls up to the armoury. It wasn’t human.

Chapter Twenty Five

“Shit, I’m out of ammo,” screamed Steve as he repeatedly pulled on the trigger of the pistol he thought he had aimed perfectly at the head of the zombie emerging from the darkness of the far corridor.

Tony and Caron appeared either side of him, only to find they’d fired all their bullets at Tombstone and had nothing left. Caron threw her pistol as though that would help, but it stopped a good thirty feet short. The remains of Stacey followed up quickly behind the first assailant, running at full pelt.

“Nice one Danny, this one’s on you,” said Wanda, slapping Danny in the wounded arm.

Lisa crouched to the floor in a sort of half foetal position, waiting for the painful end to come. Steve instinctively dumped his empty weapon and jumped to cover her.

The sensation of teeth ripping at flesh never happened, instead the room was filled with the deafening repetition of gunshots bouncing off the marble effect walls. Lisa curled up tighter, pulling on Steve’s arms to comfort her, as she heard the sound of bullets thudding into flesh and smashing tiles from the walls.

The first attacker was no problem to deal with, quite slow by the standards they’d seen so far. The one formerly known as Stacey was causing some problems though, demonstrating its ability to climb walls and almost defy gravity to great effect. But it didn’t move quickly enough and a barrage of gunfire at its hands dropped it to the floor where the final three rounds pulverised its skull, spraying the remains of its brain up the wall.

When the noise stopped and the room smelled like a bad barbecue Lisa finally emerged from her cocoon and looked to where the zombies had been. She sat up, giving Steve time to climb back off her, to see bits of zombie scattered across the floor and some up the walls. To the far right of the lobby, just outside the corridor to the armoury, stood Gemma, just not the one she’d seen most days for the last twenty years. Gemma lowered the long copper plated barrel of the assault rifle she’d used to mangle the zombies, a faint trail of smoke escaping from the end of the muzzle.

“What the hell Gem?” asked Lisa, no response or reaction forthcoming.

“See what I mean?” said Sophie, tapping Gemma on the shoulder as she walked out from behind her.

Gemma looked round the room at the others that were slowly revealing their locations from their makeshift hiding places, some looking down at the guns they’d foolishly selected and wishing they’d followed someone else’s lead. Danny felt considerably emasculated right now, and ripped off the bottom of his shirt to wipe the blood away from his arm.

“What the hell is that?” demanded Gemma, raising the barrel up again and aiming through the sight as she made her way towards Tombstone, a stinging pain at the back of her head causing her to wince and blink momentarily.

“You?” blinked Tombstone, lowering his head as though he was trying to make some kind of gesture towards Gemma.

“Is that thing bowing?” asked Steve.

“I think so,” said Sophie, moving closer to Tombstone. “Do you know her?” she asked, pointing towards Gemma.

“Master will be happy with Tombstone,” he smiled a huge toothy grin at Gemma, who carefully, but not entirely, lowered the gun.

“Who? And how do you know me?” demanded Gemma, waving her head slightly as the burning sensation increased.

“Master. He will be pleased,” replied Tombstone, still clearly proud of himself.

“Who is your master?” the agitation in Gemma’s voice was clear.

“You don’t know him?” replied Tombstone, a confused look wiping across his huge face.

“Wait. How do you know her? What is she to you?” interrupted Sophie, eager to uncover what had changed her. Sophie knew she had found something special here.

“Gilmores look for you for very long time. Many, many years,” said Tombstone slowly, his huge head clearly not accommodating a correspondingly large brain.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” said Sophie. “You’ve got something wrong there.”

“NO. Gilmores never wrong. And Gilmores never lie,” the surety in Tombstone’s voice was definite.

Sophie turned to Gemma, “Gemma, apart from this thing clearly not being from our world, it’s also somewhat miswired in its head.” Sophie turned back to Tombstone and continued with her accusations, “There’s no way Gemma…..”

“No, not Gemma.”

“What?” asked Gemma and Sophie at the same time.

“Neela,” Tombstone smiled and attempted another constricted bow. “One of the seven.”

“Christ. He thinks you’re somebody else,” interrupted Tony, waving his arms about in the background.

The searing pain at the back of her head became too strong and Gemma dropped the barrel of the gun to the ground, propping herself up against Sophie.

“Neela. Neela, look at Tombstone,” rumbled the monster.

Gemma turned her head to the side, revealing her bloodshot eyes, and watched Tombstone awkwardly try to manoeuvre himself so he could point his right hand at the back of his head. “You carry the mark.”

The pain became unbearable and Gemma screamed out, Tony rushing forward to help catch her as Sophie struggled to hold her up. Gemma collapsed to the floor, eyes closed, and released her grip on the rifle, letting it clatter against the floor.

“Gemma. Gemma,” screamed Lisa as she stroked the blood soaked hair from Gemma’s face.

“It has begun,” announced Tombstone.

Sophie shook Gemma’s shoulders, but she was out cold.

Danny, trying to demonstrate some initiative, ran off to find some water.

Chapter Twenty Six

Her eyes slowly flickered open; the scattered bright lights making it difficult to focus. She realised she was lay on her back looking up at a tree canopy, the sunlight breaking through the leaves. Climbing to her feet, she felt a searing pain in her left calf and looked down to see the bottom of her grey skirt was torn, blood spilling from the open wound. Focussing on the wound, she thought it looked like bite marks.

She looked down at her blood soaked hands, the hands of a female again.

“Where am I this time? What is happening to me?” she asked in her mind.

Then she realised, as before, she wasn’t in control of the vision again. She was just a witness of what had already passed, or was going to happen. She didn’t know which, but the clothing suggested she was in the past again. The sound of dogs barking in the distance forced the host body to turn to try to locate the origin, but then quickly turned back to run in the opposite direction. Gemma had no control over what she was experiencing, nor could she feel any fear. She could tell whoever she was along with for the ride for was terrified, breathing heavily with an erratic and uncontrollable sobbing sound.

She darted between the trees, slowing as exhaustion took hold, the sound of the trailing hounds growing louder. The trunk of a rotten old oak tree provided what she thought would be suitable shelter, despite Gemma trying to scream to the contrary. She knew she couldn’t be heard, but Gemma tried anyway. It was obvious this hiding place provided no protection, but the host couldn’t recognise this. She didn’t stand a chance.

The world went darker as she backed into the hollow space at the base of the tree, gaps in the bark behind allowing thin slithers of light to cross the space, like blades criss-crossing each other.

She saw two dogs run across the front of the opening, and raised a hand to her mouth to muffle her fear, but she couldn’t stop the tremble in her left knee, which made a hopelessly loud thumping sound on the inside of the trunk.

Everything went quiet and she thought she may be safe. Even Gemma felt the tension ebb away slightly.

The snout and massive pointed teeth of the hound smashed through the bark behind her head and snapped at the back of her neck, warm blood and saliva dripping onto her back. She lunged forward quickly enough to escape the attack, and sprinted out of her hiding place. The sound of more dogs coming over the hill behind mixed with those of a horse galloping in from the side. She veered off to the left away from the sound of the mounted pursuer, towards a half collapsed wooden shack. She didn’t risk going through the door and trapping herself inside another hideout, instead jumping onto a chopping block at the side of the door and vaulting up to the overhang ahead. The shack was in poorer condition than she realised and the wooden tiles crumbled in her hands, sending her crashing onto her back on the forest floor.

She knew those chasing her were now directly behind. Someone was keeping the dogs at bay and preventing them from tearing at their prey, she could hear the deep monotonous commands being issued to the hounds. Further behind them, the horse breathed heavily as the gallop slowed to a casual trot.

She turned slowly, hands raised in the air, trying not to provoke the dogs to strike. Five dogs stood in a line barely six feet from her, saliva dripping from their angry mouths, waiting for the command to attack. The massive horse slowed again to a slow walk, long clouds of moisture exhaling from its nostrils as the rider in black halted his steed and jumped to the ground. She didn’t notice the second man appear from behind the right side of the flank, nor the bow he’d pulled taught.

There was no pain as the arrow thudded into her shoulder, knocking her back and pinning her against the crumbling door frame, just a warm feeling as the blood ran down her chest and soaked into her torn and stained blouse.

The rider walked up to her and drew a well-used blade from under his thick black knee length coat, an old blade with a large cumbersome handle.

“Is it her?” asked the bowman.

“Check her,” said the rider, as the bowman quickly stepped forward and put his hand atop her head, pulling it down and running his fingers roughly through her hair.

“She’s the one,” confirmed the bowman.

“You need to stop,” said the rider, now addressing Gemma’s host, his rough black hair and thin brimmed hat hiding most of his face. The low light made it difficult to make out any features. “This will only ever end one way.”

He caressed the back of the host’s neck with his left hand, as though to give a reassuring hug, then plunged the tarnished blade deep into her gut, thick red blood flowing down it and over his hands. He removed the blade and his hand and she felt the strain of her body weight pull on the arrow in her shoulder as her legs wobbled beneath her.

The archer placed a hand on her shoulder, and yanked the arrow out with the other. With no care taken in retrieving his weapon, she let out a short scream as the barbed tip of the arrow tore through her flesh on the way back out.

Collapsing to the leaf covered ground, her eyes flickered as she watched the rider walk back to his horse. After wiping the blood from the blade on his trouser leg, he re-sheathed the weapon and vaulted back onto the horse in one long smooth movement.

The archer was the last to leave, stepping over her prone body. As he walked away, and her eyes faded, a one word command released the hounds from their obedient state.

Mercifully, the world went black before the first bite.

Chapter Twenty Seven

“Gemma. Gemma,” Sophie continued to try to shake her awake.

Gemma jumped and reached to her belt to grab the flick knife she’d pulled from the armoury and lifted it to Sophie’s jugular, just nicking the skin as Sophie leant forward again to try to wake her.

“Whoa, Gemma,” screamed Lisa, grabbing at her hands to stop her pushing further with the blade.

Sophie backed away slowly, cursing for having a fresh wound, and what that meant in here. She grabbed a handful of dirty napkins from behind the counter and pressed them tightly on the wound.

Gemma realised where she was and released her hold on the knife, dropping her head back onto the floor and covering her face with her hands. “Goddammit!” she yelled out, “I can’t take this much more.”

“I’ve got it,” yelled Danny, running back over with a metal mop bucket that he was struggling to keep hold of. It was clearly full.

“Whoa, no,” shouted Sophie, putting out a hand to stop him. She wasn’t quick enough.

Gemma had just sat up as Danny launched the contents of the bucket at her face, drenching the top half of her body. It was then that he realised maybe the water in the pipes hadn’t been used for a while.

Gemma looked pissed.

“Shit,” said Danny, dropping the bucket and taking a number of backwards steps, quickly.

With the sound of metal chipping at the wooden tiles on the floor, Sophie was the only one to stand between Gemma and Danny, the others had quickly stepped back after seeing the look on Gemma’s face.

She jumped to her feet, grabbing the rifle back off the floor and checking it had rounds left in the magazine. Looking at Danny, she hesitated. He stood there, hands raised out in front of him, like a deer caught in the headlights.

She turned and pointed the rifle directly at Tombstone’s right eye.

“Talk,” she yelled at Tombstone.

“About what Neela?” he answered.

She ignored the reference to the other name and continued, “You say you know me and your master will be pleased. Tell me who he is?”

“Master created Tombstone. And he will end all this.”

“What does that mean? He will end what? This zombie army you’ve got.”

“No. He will end everything.”

“What?”

Their conversation was brought to an abrupt end by the crashing noise from the far end of the building, and the howl of anguish that came with it.

“What the hell was that?” asked Steve, the fear obvious in his voice.

“Tombstone?” asked Caron.

“Hmmph” grunted Tombstone helpfully.

“How many Gilmores are there?”

“Don’t know.”

“Are you the only one here right now?”

“Nope.”

“So is that noise from another one like you?”

“That Azimuth, he Tombstone’s brother. Can smell him from here,” nodding towards the corridor that the noise just came from.

A couple of them sniffed at the air, and apart from a faint burning smell and that of the fetid water Danny had just spilled, they weren’t sure what he was referring to.

“And is Azimuth as big as you?” joined in Wanda.

“Nope,” replied Tombstone cheerfully.

“Oh, thank God,” Steve finally breathed back out.

“Azimuth much bigger than Tombstone. Azimuth going to, how you say, all kinds of fudge you up.”

“Oh shit. Now what do we do?” shouted Tony, bouncing around the room. “We can’t just keep sitting here waiting for them to come to us, getting picked off one by one until we’ve all turned into those, those things,” pointing at the remains of the two zombies Gemma had just destroyed.

“He’s right,” said Gemma. “We need to go on the attack, and kill them before they can turn any more of us. You lot all need to get your guns sorted out properly, and then we’re going to start hunting these things whilst finding a way out. Where did you get those?” she asked, pointing at the two red gas canisters on the floor next to the popcorn desk.

“There’s a few more in the armoury, and others are dotted round the building, as well as other weapons,” answered Sophie.

“Do you know where they all are?” asked Gemma.

“Yes,” nodded Sophie.

“Good. Let’s get started with these two,” said Gemma, flinging the rifle strap over her shoulder and grabbing the two canisters.

“What are you doing with those?” asked Caron.

“This,” she said, carrying them over to Tombstone and setting one down on the floor. Tombstone was pinned just well enough to stop him being able to move his left hand, and Gemma took advantage of this by wedging the first canister between the thumb and fore finger, then grabbing the second and cramming this in-between the next two.

“Gemma, think about this for a second. Tombstone knows things that can help us, he seems to want to help,” said Wanda trying to reason with a pissed off Gemma.

“Yet it’s one of them, and if we want to get out alive then we need to kill all of them. Right?” reasoned Gemma.

“Yeah, I suppose,” replied Wanda.

“Neela, Tombstone want to help,” offered Tombstone, trying his best to pull a sad face, to no avail.

“First, it’s Gemma, not Neela. And as Danny and Wanda pointed out, you tried to kill them not long ago.

“No Gemma. Tombstone save them, not kill.”

“You have a funny understanding of saving people, trying to crush them.”

“Honey, I’m not so sure he was trying to kill us,” said Wanda.

“Yeah,” offered Danny, summoning up the courage to approach Gemma again. “If we’d have got through we’d have been blown to pieces on the mines outside.”

“You will see later Gemma. You will see.”

“See what?” asked Gemma, only intending to entertain his ideas for one second longer.

“Tombstone wants to help.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t take that chance,” she replied, showing some compassion for a minor moment. “We just can’t.”

“So be it,” he nodded solemnly.

As Sophie led everyone back to the armoury, Gemma was the last to leave the lobby, positioning herself just inside the corridor to protect herself from the blast. She took aim with a laser sighted pistol and fired a single shot at one of the canisters.

Chapter Twenty Eight

The room shook to the sound and vibration of two quick successive explosions from the lobby, people shielding their eyes from the dust falling from the ceiling.

“Damn, that woman’s cold,” said Danny. “I think that Tombstone guy was actually trying to help us. Maybe he could have done something about the Azimuth one.”

“Christ, have you heard yourself?” snapped Caron. ”Everything in here not human is trying to kill us. We’re not here to make friends, we need to kill everything and find a way out.”

“But…” Danny started, but thought better of it when Gemma walked into the room. Instead he put his head down and continued to try to put the bullets into his gun back to front. Gemma took the gun from him and showed him how to load it correctly. He smiled back as she patted him on the shoulder and passed it back for him to continue.

“Have we kind of silently agreed that we’re no longer going to mention the headless corpse under the table?” asked Tony.

“Yes,” snapped Wanda.

“Okay, sorry,” said Tony.

“Hey Sophie, not wishing to tempt fate or anything, but I would have thought there would be more zombies walking round here if you’d opened up a doorway to Hell?” asked Steve.

“We didn’t open it up, and there normally are more, many more. One of the reasons previous test subjects, sorry, groups didn’t last as long. When lockdown was implemented I believe this was because there was a wide scale attack, multiple gates opening at once and many creatures being released.”

“So less to go around?” offered Tony.

“That’s my thinking,” said Sophie.

“So that’s why everything outside has gone to crap, and the world is burning,” said Danny.

“You’ve been outside?” asked Gemma.

“Yeah, it’s not good,” said Wanda. “There’s a lot of stuff on fire out there.”

“Yeah, it’s messed up guys,” offered Danny. “We nearly got hit by an airship and that massive warehouse behind went up like a tinderbox.”

Tony looked at Danny the same way he did every time he came up with a cock and bull story. “An airship, really? That’s the best you’ve got.”

“Hang on, which warehouse?” interrupted Sophie.

“The big one over, erm, that way I think,” pointing behind him, trying to get his bearings. “Heading North maybe.”

“Shit.”

“What?” asked Gemma.

“That was our main ammunitions dump for this sector. If we do get out, then we’ve got a long way to go before we can get ready access to more weapons and ammo.”

“How far?” asked Gemma.

“Thirty miles maybe, if that one’s not been destroyed too,” concern flashing across Sophie’s face.

“Any ideas what to do next?” asked Lisa, looking at both Gemma and Sophie standing at the head of the table.

“Go for the roof, I’m assuming the ladder back there is our access point?” said Gemma, waving towards the corridor behind her.

“Yeah, but the roof is no good, we’ve already tried that way,” said Danny. “It’s knackered and full of holes, and the only ladder down on the outside fell off and killed Mark. It’s a waste of time.”

“Well right now it’s our only option. The explosion I just set off has blocked our exit back to the lobby, the only way is up that ladder.”

“There’s an access hatch to the South side of the roof, using that we might be able to get behind that Azimuth thing,” said Sophie.

“Okay, once everyone is comfortable with their weapons we go, so hurry up. Any questions?” asked Gemma.

“Yeah,” everyone turned to look at Lisa. “What’s happened to you Gem?”

Gemma just looked back at her blankly.

“You’ve changed so much. This is not the girl I’ve grown up with. You’ve never fired a gun in your life and the things I’ve seen you do today. It’s crazy,” said Lisa, obvious concern on her face.

“I don’t know honey. I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’m sorry, I’d tell you if I knew. It’s got something to do with my scar.”

“I saw you grab for it when you fainted before. Is it getting worse?”

“Yeah. It went really bad when Tombstone said that I carried the mark. Worse than it’s ever been.”

“Have you had some visions whilst you’ve been in here?”

“Yeah, but they’ve been so different to any I had before. I’m seeing things now, through the eyes of others. I think they happened in the past.”

“Like what?”

“There’s been three so far. And I died in each one.”

“You died?” asked Tony. “Are you some kind of fruit cake? Because that would explain a lot right now.”

“Shut it Tony, you dick,” snapped Wanda.

Gemma continued, “I think I’m seeing the last moments of other people, before they’re murdered. But there’s been a similarity in each one so far.”

“What similarity?” asked Sophie, really intrigued by this, as though it could lend some answers to the change they were witnessing in Gemma.

She was going to mention the same blade she’d seen in each dream, but the bellowing scream from what they believed was Azimuth caused them all to jump.

“So we can kill that Azimuth thing right?” interrupted Steve, completely unaware of the significance of the conversation between Lisa and Gemma. “You blew the first one to bits, right Gemma?”

“I don’t know, it was hard to see what happened. The explosion dropped what was left of the ceiling in the corridor as soon as it went off so I couldn’t see what happened to him.”

“Those bullets just bounced off him like they were nothing. How do we know those canisters could kill him?” asked Wanda.

“We don’t,” said Gemma. “But given the amount of damage I’m pretty sure he finally went down that hole, and that gets him away from us. We just need to figure out a way of getting rid of Azimuth, leaving him to run around unchecked could make things a whole lot worse.”

“Right, are we ready to go?” asked Sophie, backing up to the door. An uncertain chorus of yesses confirmed so and they followed behind her. “Steve, grab some of those rags from the bottom shelf will you?”

“What are these for?” asked Steve.

“Makeshift bandages, we need to cover wounds quickly.”

“Right. Got it.”

Caron waited until last to continue struggling to load the magazine into the grip of her pistol, gently tapping it on the edge of the metal table to push it in the wrong way round. Gemma and Lisa followed the rest of the group, Gemma putting her arms around Lisa’s shoulders. “Hey honey, don’t worry about me. I’ll be okay. I just need to figure out what this stuff in my head means.”

“Talk to me whenever you need babe. Don’t hold anything from me. Agreed?”

“Agreed.”

The group climbed up one by one to the roof, leaving Caron behind to reshape the edge of the table with the butt of her badly loaded gun.

Chapter Twenty Nine

Sophie was the first onto the roof, cursing when she saw the burnt shell of the ammunitions warehouse to the North. She made a quick scan of the rooftop to ensure there were no zombies up there with them, then waved the others onto the roof behind her, out of breath from their long climb. Looking back down through the hole left behind by the air conditioning unit presented the evident damage caused by Gemma’s makeshift bomb.

Far below the lobby floor was littered with debris from the explosion, and one side of the wood and glass central counter had been obliterated. There was no sign of Tombstone, nor the gate.

“Hey, look, she destroyed the gate,” shouted out Danny triumphantly. “It’s over.”

“No, it’s not,” said Sophie, defeat in her voice. “This is what happens. Another will form soon. It always does.”

“In the same place?” asked Wanda.

“Could be anywhere really,” replied Sophie. “But the one in the lobby always reforms in pretty much the same place, give or take a few yards. We still believe it’s the first gate, so it appears to be locked in regard to its location.”

“Damn,” said Gemma, as she climbed up last, scanning the horizon. Black cloud as far as she could see and plumes of fire erupting skyward filled the sky. Darkness was falling.

A thick black cloud of smoke billowed up from behind a hill barely three hundred yards away.

“What’s over there?” she asked, pointing and assuming Sophie knew she was talking to her.

“That was one of our military transport yards, but I believed they had all moved out after the lockdown. It’s possible one of the fuel tanks had been ruptured and something triggered the explosion. There’s no-one left in there now.”

“How do you know?” asked Lisa.

“No gunfire,” she replied.

“We need to get behind that Azimuth guy and deal with him before he gets chance to attack,” said Gemma. “Where’s the other hatch?”

“Follow me,” said Sophie, leading them around the outside of the roof heading for the far side of the building.

Chapter Thirty

Caron carried on by herself smashing the butt of her gun into the edge of the table, like the next hit was going to yield better results. But the reality of her stupidity dawned on her and she threw the gun into the corner of the room. Only then did she realise the rest were long gone, and she was now in here on her own. A sudden flicker of the lights made her jump and start grabbing for guns off the table that Sophie and Gemma had loaded, but nobody had chosen to take.

A double barrelled sawn off shotgun with drilled wrought iron grip was the nearest to her, not practical for level of experience, but she felt comforted by its weight as she lifted it in both hands. She boosted her confidence by unintentionally flicking off the safety catch and realised she now held a deadly weapon in her hands, and felt ready to use it. She staged a mock gunfight with nobody in the room, spinning around the table making pew-pew sounds waving the gun around. An empty magazine falling over on a shelf behind caused her to spin round and pull the trigger.

Chapter Thirty One

The explosion rocked the building and sent a wall of fire rocketing up the ladder shaft towards the roof, erupting out of the hatch only feet behind Lisa, knocking her sideways and over the edge of the roof. Steve turned and dived to the ledge, just managing to grab her hand as she fell. Danny jumped on to Steve’s legs, pinning him down, before he was dragged over the edge. Thick black smoke billowed from the hatch as a section of the wall skin at the back of the building collapsed and fell into the long grass running across the back of the building. The rubble thudded into the ground, triggering hidden landmines to go off, spraying shrapnel outwards and upwards, shredding the bottom of Lisa’s legs as she dangled helplessly far above.

“Pull me up, pull me up,” screamed Steve, both hands gripped tightly onto Lisa’s right arm. There was no way he was letting her fall.

Lisa was silent as she was pulled back up onto the roof, the shock making her stare blankly at the smoke filled sky as Steve and Gemma raced to wipe the fresh blood from her legs with the rags Steve had stuffed into his pockets, but the cuts were too deep and they couldn’t stem the bleeding. Instead they tied the rags the best they could around her legs, Lisa wincing in pain each time they pulled another knot tight.

“Damn, it’s no good,” said Gemma. “This isn’t going to stop, the cuts are too deep. We need to get her out of here before more of them get the scent.”

“Help me get her up,” said Steve, lifting her into his arms and struggling to walk unsupported due to exhaustion starting to settle in.

“You can’t manage her by yourself. Let someone else help,” said Gemma, resting a hand gently on his shoulder.

“It’s fine. I can do it,” said Steve, the strain clear in his eyes.

“Thank you,” said Gemma, clearly grateful he was there to take care of her friend. She then picked her route carefully along the edge of the roof, trying to catch back up to Sophie.

“That was Caron, wasn’t it?” asked Wanda, to whoever was still listening.

“Yeah, could only be,” said Danny, placing one hand on her shoulder. “She must have shot one of the canisters by mistake.”

“We’re all going to die in here aren’t we,” said Wanda, more of an observation than a question.

“No, I’ve seen enough die already. We’re getting out,” he gently took her arm and gestured for her to follow him.

“We need to get them out of here,” whispered Gemma. “We’re going to have some psychotic episodes soon if we don’t. They’re losing all hope.”

“I’m not surprised. They’ve had longer to bond than other groups did, yet they’re still seeing people die all around them,” said Sophie. “This is tough going for anyone. How are you managing?”

“I’m okay, just trying not to think about the other crap at the moment. I’ll deal with that later if we get out of here.”

“Give me a shout if you need help with any of it.”

“I will,” smiled Gemma.

“Just try not to stab me the next time you die,” smirked Sophie.

“I’ll try not to.”

“That’s the rail line we need to head to if we can get outside,” said Sophie, pointing over the edge of the roof to the track that disappeared into a mass of trees maybe a quarter mile from the building

“Hey guys, look down there,” shouted Tony.

“What is it?” called Wanda, walking back to look down into the abyss in the centre of the roof.

“Down there, near the counter. Is that Reggie?”

“Oh my God, I think it is.”

“Why’s he crawling along the floor, does he think he’s in the army now or something?”

“Maybe he’s hurt. Hey Reggie,” she yelled.

“Reggie. Reggie,” yelled Tony, watching amused as Reggie swung his head round trying to locate where the shouts were coming from. Finally he rolled onto his back and looked up at the shadow of two people hanging over the edge of a hole in the roof far above.

“Guys, I thought you were all dead. What are you doing up there?” shouted Reggie.

“Gemma blew a green troll up and this was the only way out,” yelled Tony.

“Who did what now?” yelled Reggie.

“Why are you crawling around on the floor?” shouted Wanda. “They can still see you, you know.”

Tony sniggered, not knowing if Wanda meant to take the piss or not.

“I’ve bust my back, I can’t walk. Can you help me?”

“We’re trying to find a way back down,” shouted Tony. “Try to hide behind the counter and we’ll get to you. Are you bleeding?”

“No.”

“Good, keep it that way.”

“Hurry up guys, I can hear lots of screaming down here, and it doesn’t sound human.”

“Shit, that can’t be good,” said Tony. “Maybe…..” but he was cut short by the deep bellowing from Azimuth, emanating from the opposite corridor that his brother had destroyed.

“Reggie.”

“Yeah.”

“Hide,” screamed Wanda.

Sophie was the first to the hatch on the far side, silently counting to three before lifting it as Gemma pointed the barrel of her rifle inside, scoping the space below for threats.

“Clear,” she said.

“You go in first, I’ll cover you,” said Sophie, drawing her pistol and pointing it into the dimly lit room too.

“Sure,” said Gemma, securing the rifle over her shoulder and dropping down the ladder.

“Man I can’t believe I’m watching this. What’s going on with that girl?” said Danny out loud.

“I have no idea. She’s changed so much,” answered Wanda, watching her friend descend into the room first, something she’d never dare do.

Steve gently lowered Lisa to a section of roof that wasn’t flapping about in the wind whilst the rest peered down into the hole, some waiting for the inevitable scream. Then the tell-tale flashing of fluorescent light tubes illuminated the darkness, and the room’s contents came into view.

“Great. More canisters,” shouted Danny. “Now we can all blow ourselves up,” swinging his arms in the air.

“Gemma, what’s in those cupboards behind you?” asked Wanda.

After a few metallic clangs of old doors being dragged open Gemma replied, “Food, I think. And water. It’s good, you can come down.”

Wanda didn’t hesitate in getting down the ladder, she was starving. Her excitement turned to disappointment as she realised the food was all packaged in small foil packets with no brand names, and on opening one she gagged at the smell of the contents. “Oh man, I think this stuff has gone off.”

“No, it hasn’t,” said Sophie, stepping off the bottom rung of the ladder. “It’s emergency military supplies. It may taste like crap, but it contains everything you need to survive. And it takes a long time to go off.”

“I’m not sure I can eat this,” said Wanda, creasing her face in disgust as she sniffed at a different packet.

“I can, my stomach’s turning inside out,” said Tony, grabbing the first opened packet from Wanda and shovelling the contents into his mouth.

Wanda watched with amusement as Tony’s expression went from one of relief to regret as he tried to stop himself regurgitate his meal.

“Nice?” asked Wanda sarcastically.

“Yeah,” he coughed. “It’s great,” walking to the next cupboard to grab a bottle of water.

“It’s going to be dark soon and I don’t know how long it’s going to take us to get out of this building,” said Sophie. “I don’t think it’s wise to be running around out there with limited vision, so we’re better off bunking down in here for the night and assessing our options in the morning. Everyone agree?”

Danny and Tony seemed to agree for the group, not through common sense, but because they were terrified of going up against anything else in the dark, not that they’d admit this.

Gemma grabbed a few bottles of water and some clean dressings from a small first aid box in the bottom of one of the cupboards and went over to help Steve deal with Lisa’s wounds.

“She’s hurt pretty bad,” said Steve. “Some of these cuts are really deep.”

“Let me see,” said Gemma, untying one of the bandages to reveal strips of loose flesh hanging from her leg.

“Damn, that’s gonna get infected. We need to get her out of here,” said Steve.

“We need to clean this up the best we can tonight and see if we can get her better treatment tomorrow. There’s no way we can do anything more tonight,” said Gemma.

“I know,” said Steve, dropping his head. “I just wish there was something more I could do.”

“You’re doing enough already Steve. She’s lucky to have you here for her,” said Gemma, pulling him in for a quick one armed hug.

“What’s he like?” asked Steve.

“Who?”

“Her fiancé. What’s he called again?” remembering the hen sash she had on when he first saw her getting out of the minibus. That seemed like a lifetime ago.

“Carl,” one of the nicest men Gemma had ever met. She was so pleased for Lisa when she told her he’d proposed. “He’s a complete dick.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Treats her like crap. Thank you for looking after her,” she said, giving him a friendly kiss on the cheek.

“It’s okay. It’s no bother,” he said, feeling a stronger desire to protect her given what Gemma had just said about Carl.

Gemma smiled at him without him noticing as he cleaned the wounds with the bottled water and she passed him the clean bandages.

An hour later they had all succumbed to the exhaustion of their ordeal and were fast asleep in various positions around the room, Sophie being the last to slip off after the sounds of approaching undead screams forced her to get up and close the hatch.

Chapter Thirty Two

She was staring down a rifle scope at an alleyway probably five hundred yards away. A slight westerly wind caused her to compensate in the opposing direction. She slowed her breathing to reduce her movement and steadied herself for the target to appear. Five minutes passed, then ten, yet still she didn’t move an inch, the scope always trained in the same place. Gemma had no control over the actions again, she just had to wait for it to happen, watching the replay in a green hue provided by the night vision scope. At least she knew this one was more recent.

A thin sliver of light appeared at one side of the alleyway, paused for a second, then grew to illuminate the opposite wall. Two drunken men slipped out of the doorway into the night air, trying to prop each other up. The crosshairs on the lens did not move.

A third man appeared from the far end of the alleyway and walked straight over to the drunken pair, shouting at them and waving his arms to get them to move along. Markings on his arms and breast pocket of his uniform betrayed his purpose; military for sure, highly decorated.

Again the scope remained still, only the barely noticeable wobble in time with the slow breaths.

The soldier turned to the doorway and shouted something inside, and was answered by a woman walking out into the cold air wearing a heavy fur coat. She stopped two feet from the soldier, and didn’t seem pleased to see him, waving her finger at him as though reprimanding a child. He then side stepped her and held out his arms, a huge grin spanning his face. Behind the woman appeared a young child; a girl, possible only five or six years old. She seemed wary of the man at first, but after he pulled out a small teddy bear from behind his back she went to him arms outstretched and they hugged. A beautiful reunion.

Then the scope shuddered.

The woman dived forward and both her and the man grasped at the body of the child trying to drop to the ground. There was no sound. Only the pain and anguish on their faces.

Gemma felt sick and wanted the vision to end, but she was just a spectator. She knew she had to watch until the very end, until she died again.

She lay there watching the grief stricken parents tear themselves up, screaming at the night sky for help, crushing their dead daughter in their arms. The discarded teddy lay on the ground, soaking up the dirty water from the puddle in the cobbles besides the mother’s feet.

The area around her lit up brightly from a light overhead, wavering over her position, at the same time the thundering sound of the helicopter blades broke the silence. She dumped the rifle and ran to the exit on the roof behind her, slamming the door against the outside wall as she slid down the banister to the next level.

She kicked the apartment door open, sprinted across the living room and into the kitchen before diving through the open window onto the fire escape. From there she jumped across onto the dilapidated tin roof of the taxi rank and again onto the fire escape of the next building.

She sprinted up five flights of metal stairs, each one feeling like they were the last she would stand on before the whole structure gave way and grabbed hold of the ladder leading to the roof.

A few rungs from the top the searchlight found her again and highlighted everything within twenty feet, but this didn’t stop her. She pulled a pistol from the back of her pants and fired at the helicopter, smashing out the lens of the searchlight before the pilot pulled back on the stick to retreat.

She secured the pistol and continued her rickety climb, looking behind her at the patrol cars appearing below, blue lights flashing, as she reached the top step.

She turned to look into the face of the man with many tattoos, one of which she’d seen before. She didn’t feel the blade go in, but she knew it was there. Looking down, she watched the blade slide back out, blood running down its length and onto the handle, covering the man’s hand.

“We will find you all,” he said, pushing her back with his free hand.

She watched him disappear into the darkness as the ladder she’d been standing atop grew smaller and smaller. The sound of police sirens was the last she heard.

Chapter Thirty Three

The cool breeze woke Sophie and she looked up to see the open roof hatch. She immediately reached for the pistol at her side and scanned the room for threats, but there were none.

“Shit, Gemma,” she said to herself, climbing out into the cool night air. The smell of ash hung in the air.

“Hey, can’t sleep?” asked Sophie, sitting down next to Gemma, dangling her feet over the edge of the building.

“Sleeping isn’t really what I want to be doing right now,” said Gemma.

“Another vision?”

“Yeah.”

“Want to talk about it?”

“Not really.”

“Okay.”

“It’s nothing personal. I just need to make sense of it first. I’m seeing some pretty messed up things.”

“Any idea why it’s happening to you and no-one else?”

“I’ve had them since I was six, but pretty much the same thing every time. Fields of lava, burning souls, the usual nutcase kind of things. The last few years those things have seeped into the real world for me, glimpses of terrible things, Hell in people, if you know what I mean.”

“I think so. The dark side of people?”

“Yeah, something like that. But they’re completely different since I came in here.”

“Different how?”

“Like I said earlier in the armoury, about the deaths of other people.”

“Yeah sorry, you did,” she said, not fully awake.

“You know you asked earlier about how I suddenly knew how to use weapons, and defend myself, and how out of character it was?”

“Yeah.”

“The one I just had, was as some kind of killer. She was good with guns, and merciless.”

“So you think the change in you could be something to do with the visions you’re having?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. It all sounds crazy.”

“Look around you Gemma, crazy is all we’ve got right now.”

“You should get some sleep, I’ll be in soon.”

“I’m not leaving you out here on your own. No arguments, come on.”

“Fine,” grabbing at Sophie’s outreached hand.

Chapter Thirty Four

Bottles of water fell to the floor as the metal doors of the cabinet clanged out, the deafening noise echoing off the walls of the metal lined room.

“What the hell is that?” shouted Tony, adjusting his eyes to the bright fluorescent lights.

Sophie took a second to gather her thoughts, then jumped up, “Shit!” and bolted up the ladder, shouldering the hatch out of the way as she went.

“What is it?” yelled Gemma, stepping onto the ladder to follow her.

“It’s the gate,” yelled Sophie from up on the roof. “The tremors are coming from the gate. Something’s happening.”

Gemma climbed onto the roof, with Tony in tow, and walked to the side of Sophie. She was standing on the edge of the collapsed roof, looking down into the lobby far below.

“I don’t get it,” said Sophie, staring blankly into the wreckage. “Activity from within the gate triggers tremors, but, look,” she pointed down to a mass of twisted metal that filled the hole where Tombstone had been trapped the day before. But it all looked the same as it did last night.

“So if they’re not coming from the gate down there, then where are they coming from?” asked Tony.

“There,” said Gemma, she was standing on the edge of the roof pointing out towards the car park.

“Dammit,” said Sophie, on turning round.

“That’s not good,” added Tony.

“What’s not good?” asked Wanda, rubbing her eyes as the piercing sun found a rare gap in the smoke filled sky to blind her. “Oh crap,” she stopped at the edge of the roof, looking out at the crumbling circle of concrete in the centre of the car park, growing by the second and dropping down in the earth, now large enough to easily swallow a hundred cars. The circle of fire had already been drawn in the concrete and the symbols had burnt deep into the ground.

“Is that how they usually form?” asked Gemma.

“Yes,” replied Sophie. “But that’s the biggest I’ve seen yet.”

The crater stopped growing barely thirty feet from the outside walls of the building, the vibration shaking loose powdered mortar from between the brickwork. They looked on as the cracks widened to release fire and smoke, the intense heat urging a step backwards. One final extended tremor found them scrambling to keep their balance as the ground dropped out completely and a circular pillar of flame the width of the crater erupted into the air.

They stood by, watching the pillar of light climb into the sky high above them. After a few seconds the pillar collapsed in on itself, leaving behind a field of lava within the gate boundary.

“Gemma, the lava,” said Sophie.

“Yeah, I know,” Gemma replied, her stomach churning.

Humanlike shapes formed within the lava and headed towards the edges of the gate, the familiar groaning noise managing to send chills through the intense heat.

“Now what do we do?” asked Wanda.

Nothing.

Their fruitless planning session was brought to an end by a crashing noise from the far end of the car park, joined by a car horn sounding frantically.

“Christ, what are they doing?” shouted Wanda, pointing towards the passenger van careening across what tarmac remained on the car park.

“It looks like they’re coming to us. How the hell are they going to get up?” asked Tony.

“I don’t know, but they’re not going to last long out there. We need to help,” said Sophie, running back to the hatch as she realised she’d left her weapons back inside.

Gemma clicked at the same time and returned to get hers, leaving Tony and Wanda on the roof waving at the new arrivals.

“What’s going on up there?” asked a late rising Danny, tying his shoe laces.

“A new gate has opened, bigger than the last one,” said Sophie. “We don’t have much time. Get your arses up.”

“Can I hear a car horn?” continued Danny.

“Yeah, some other survivors have just turned up. How’s she doing?” looking at Steve, already up and dabbing a damp cloth on Lisa’s head.

“Not good, she’s really warm,” the concern on his face was genuine.

“Her cuts might be infected,” said Gemma. “You’ll need to clean them again.”

“I will,” said Steve. “Leave her to me.”

“Thanks Steve.”

The situation outside had grown increasingly dire in the few short minutes Sophie and Gemma had been getting their weapons together. The car park was crawling with hundreds of zombies, split between those trying to scale the wall of the cinema, and others chasing after the van.

“I thought they only attacked when they smelled fresh blood,” pointed out Wanda.

“They do, that means these are veterans,” replied Sophie.

“How can that be?” asked Wanda. “They’ve only just come out of the gate.”

“We hypothesized that the gates were two way, and the zombies could get back inside, go back to where they came from. I think we’ve just proved that theory, and you did again yesterday when you sent Tombstone back through the gate,” said Sophie.

“We don’t know that’s what happened to him yet,” said Gemma.

“There are no remains in the lobby, that much we can see from up here. He had to have gone back into the gate.”

“Well how about we send them all back from where they’ve come from then?” offered Wanda.

“Great idea, you got enough bullets to take on three hundred of them?” she asked sarcastically, securing the butt of her rifle into her shoulder and taking aim towards the minivan. The scope followed the van round the perimeter, but no shots were fired.

“Shit,” Sophie lowered the rifle.

“What is it?” asked Wanda.

“There are children in the van.”

“Christ, there’s no way they’ll be able to get up here,” said Gemma. “We’re too high up.”

“Wow, what the hell happened here?” exclaimed Danny, finally making an appearance. “Oh crap, not another one,” he said, pointing to the far side of the open gate.

“What?” asked Gemma, looking through the scope of her rifle to where he was pointing.

“I don’t see anything. Where do you mea…..shit! Er, Sophie.”

“Yeah?” looking over to Gemma.

“We’ve got another Gilmore.”

“Oh you’ve got to be kidding me.”

“No.”

“What’s it doing?”

“Just sitting there.”

“What?”

“I’m not kidding, it’s just sitting there. Its legs are crossed and its eyes are closed. It’s just sitting there like a naughty child in class.”

“Shoot it,” said Danny.

“We still don’t even know if we can hurt them,” said Sophie.

Gemma adjusted her stance, dropping to one knee, readying herself to take the shot.

“Gemma, wait. What are you doing?” Sophie was a keen fan of the philosophy of not poking a sleeping tiger with a big stick, but Gemma clearly wasn’t.

She didn’t get chance to voice her opposition as the single round left the rifle’s muzzle and sailed high over the heads of the zombies massed in the car park, meeting its final target as it slammed into the green flesh of the Gilmore’s closed eyelid.

“Whoa,” shouted Sophie. “That was a hell of a reaction.”

“How did you do that?” asked Danny, watching the Gilmore stumbling around in the corner of the car park, clutching at his right eye, screaming in pain. Even from this distance, the effect of the gunshot was clear.

“You’ve made him bleed,” said Sophie. “But the guns did nothing to Tombstone yesterday.”

“Maybe you can hurt them when they’re asleep,” offered Gemma.

“Quick, shoot him again,” demanded Danny.

“Too late,” said Gemma, scanning the scope across the car park and losing sight of the Gilmore as it disappeared under a rail bridge.

“Well at least we know how to hurt them now,” said Sophie.

“Yeah, wait for them to go to sleep then attack,” smirked Gemma.

“It’s a start,” shrugged Sophie.

Gemma lowered the rifle and turned her head to look at the un-coordinated horde of zombies scattered across the car park. The Gilmore’s screams had instilled more frenzy into the crowd of creatures, many of which were venting their anger on the van careering across the car park. The driver had made a valiant effort to take out a number of the zombies with the makeshift battering ram attached to the front, but the sheer number overwhelmed the underpowered vehicle and it was slowing down.

The driver got overly confident and drove too close to the edge of the gate, the heat bursting the left side tyres into flames and making him lose control. It swerved from side to side as it crashed through concrete bollards at the front of the building and came to a violent stop in a head on collision with the wall. Again loose mortar dust rained down from the wall.

The zombies nearest the wreckage burst in to a frenzy as they smelled fresh blood.

“Damn, someone’s hurt in there. They’re going after them,” said Gemma.

“What’s going on with the rest of them?” asked Danny, realising some of them had started to turn on each other.

“They’re eliminating the competition,” said Gemma quietly.

“They’re evolving,” said Sophie. “Their intelligence is increasing.”

“Oh shit,” said Danny, looking down over the edge. “They’re trying to climb up here.”

Far below, some of the zombies had misplaced their confidence, and were trying to scale the outside wall, using each other as climbing aids. Some advanced quite far, before they found the walls had beefed up security too, firing horizontal depth charges at them at a height of twenty feet above ground level. Some of the lucky ones only lost a hand or two, others had to deal with their heads bouncing across the car park.

“If you’ve designed this place so it’s hard to escape, why the hell would you make it harder for people to get in?” asked Danny.

“If we tried to seal the zombies inside, we didn’t want people trying to break in and risk letting them out,” replied Sophie.

Danny’s look said it all.

Sophie just shrugged.

“We need to help the people in that van, I can hear screaming,” said Tony, looking down at the zombies that had locked onto the scent of the injured inhabitants.

Sophie took aim with the rifle and one by one dropped those that were posing the biggest threat, but the noise of the gunfire was attracting others to the van and she quickly realised they would not have enough ammunition to stop them all.

Danny and Tony rushed back down through the hatch to get their weapons, and with some forethought, one of the explosive canisters. Steve had finished changing the dressing on Lisa’s mangled legs and was trying his best to lower her temperature with compresses and the bottled water from one of the cupboards.

Danny was the first one back on the roof and ran to the edge to aim the pistol at the attackers, but Sophie pushed his arm back up and whispered in his ear, “It’s too late.”

He looked down to see the back and passenger side doors of the van had been ripped off. The driver lay half in and out of the vehicle, his throat torn out and a puddle of blood growing around his torso. He remained lifeless for very little time, the change kicking in after only a few seconds, his body flailing about on the floor before pulling itself back to its feet using the driver’s door. It motioned with the van keys in its hand for a moment, as though trying to start the ignition, then dropped the keys, instead spinning round to jump back into the van. But this time it wasn’t to escape, but to take part in the on-going attack.

The van rocked from side to side as zombies fought to clamber over one another to get inside, Wanda covering her ears to muffle the screams. Tears ran down her cheeks.

Then it stopped.

The attack on the van halted, the zombies seemingly losing track of why they were attacking in the first place, meaning only one thing.

“Oh my God,” whimpered Wanda, turning back away from the edge of the roof to allow Danny to comfort her, unable to hold back the tears anymore.

Gemma and Sophie checked the magazines on their rifles, anything to stop and collect themselves. After a few moments, Gemma looked over the edge. She had to remove her finger from the trigger as the trembling in her hand vibrated against the thin piece of metal.

Down below them, beside the burnt out van, stood the blood soaked corpses of two young girls holding hands, staring back up at them. The younger one held a teddy bear in her hand.

Chapter Thirty Five

“Is that the last of the booby traps on the building?” asked Danny.

“The ones in the wall?” responded Sophie.

“Yeah, those and the mines round the outside?”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

Sophie then began to worry about how credible she might appear when she remembered about the waist height charges hidden at the base of the outside walls. She remembered as the first of them exploded, followed in a line across the side of the building. She recalled they were on a time delay.

“Dammit,” she said in her own head.

Looking back over the edge of the roof once more, they witnessed the building’s security measures take out an easy fifty to sixty of the zombies gathered below, slicing them all in half around the groin area. Worryingly, some of the ones demonstrating a rudimentary level of intelligence had tried to evade the incendiaries, crouching down or jumping up to escape the blasts. They did neither with enough verve and heads and feet bounced onto the ground along with the half torsos.

The top half of the van collapsed in on itself as charges ripped apart the metal pillars, shattering the glass in the last remaining windows.

The vibrations from the explosions knocked the canister Tony had brought onto the roof loose from its poor temporary standpoint and it rolled across the roof, just out of Danny’s reach, and disappeared over the edge. He ducked his head into his hands, waiting for the inevitable explosion, but none came.

Gemma looked round for the two young girls in the field of bodies, but she couldn’t spot them.

“We need to get out of here before more of these things turn up,” said Gemma, turning to walk back towards the hatch. “We don’t have enough ammo for what’s here already,” raising her voice as she walked away. She leant down to grab the top of the ladder just as another tremor slammed the hatch down shut. “Oh Christ, what now?” she shouted.

“I don’t think it’s the gate out there,” shouted Sophie, it looks the same.

“It’s not. Look,” said Wanda, pointing down to the wrecked interior of the building.

The rubble and metal beams seemed to crumble and disappear to dust as the original gate reformed underneath and threw out a bright orange glow. Even from all the way up here they could feel the intense heat.

“Oh this is getting ridiculous,” stressed Tony, strutting back and forth, arms raised to cover his head.

“Whatever we’re going to do,” said Sophie. “We need to do it fast.”

“Agreed,” replied Gemma, heading back across the roof and wrenching the hatch back open. She placed her feet either side of the ladder and slid down in a blink, making Steve jump at the speed of her entrance.

“Why are there more tremors?” asked Steve.

“How’s she doing?” she asked.

“Gemma, what’s happening?” he repeated.

“Nothing, we need to move her. Help me get her up,” she said leaning down to grab an arm.

“Gemma!”

“What?” she looked him right in the eye.

“What’s happening?” he said calming his tone, hoping it would do the same to hers.

She hesitated for a moment, looking down at her weak friend. “The first gate is opening back up. There will be more zombies coming. We need to go. Now!”

“I don’t know if we can move her,” he said, his concern growing.

“We have no choice. The longer we stay here, the worse our situation gets. We need to try and get out and find a path away from these gates.

“But Gemma…..”

“If we don’t go now, we all die in here. Do you understand?” she was inches from his face.

“Yeah, okay,” he agreed reluctantly.

“Tony can help you carry her,” said Gemma, looking towards Tony now they were all back inside, who nodded obligingly and stepped forward to help lift Lisa.

“There’s a first aid kit in the camera room. I’m sure it’s got some antibiotics in it,” said Sophie. “There are some adrenaline shots too. If we get those into her, she may be lucid enough to run out of here.”

“Right, so we get that first, and then find a way of getting out on the West side, to the train lines right?” she said, looking at Sophie.

“Yeah, agreed,” replied Sophie.

Gemma and Sophie both checked the clips on their pistols, took a deep breath, and aimed at the massive metal door before them. Danny spun the heavy metal wheel on the door anti-clockwise, an action accompanied by several definite clunking noises.

“Why’d you put such a damned heavy door on here Sophie?” asked Danny.

“We didn’t. It was already here,” she replied.

“In a cinema?” queried Gemma.

“Yeah, no idea why,” she said, gesturing at the door with her pistol.

“Do it,” said Gemma, and Danny quickly wrenched the door open.

Blackness.

“Why’d the lights go out in here?” asked Tony.

“I don’t know,” said Sophie. “A fuse must have blown.”

Danny flicked the switch beside the door several times, to the faint buzz of electricity, but nothing happened. “Weird.”

A red dot appeared at the far end of the dark corridor as Gemma flicked her laser sight on and then led out of the door slowly, her eyes scanning in all directions as they got used to the lack of light. Sophie followed closely behind, but unlike the others, walked behind and to the side. Her laser dancing with Gemma’s along the walls. She’d seen enough mistakes with weapons in here, she didn’t want to be responsible for the next one.

After about twenty feet the corridor switched to the right, then back to the left. The ceiling then dropped as Gemma peered down the staircase in front of her, again the scope not picking anything out. The staircase then turned back on itself, dropping down into the darkness. Turn after turn they ventured further into the dark, everyone silent as they listened out for signs of zombies ahead. The further they went the more danger they knew they would be in if something came out of the darkness. They were now several flights of stairs below the metal lined room, the only place they’d felt remotely safe so far.

After the last drop of steps they covered another twenty feet length of corridor that finally ended at a metal panelled door, but nothing as substantial as the one securing the previous room.

This was a standard fire exit, with the release bar on their side.

Checking which side it was hinged, Gemma leant in close to the door and prepped her pistol ready to take a peek at what was on the other side of the door. She cursed as the bar squeaked when she pushed down on it, but to her relief this was just at the top of its movement, further pressure returning little noise. She felt the latch pin click out of the frame and the door snapped open a couple of inches. She took a firm grip on the bar to stop the door swinging open in case the latest tremor had released scores of zombies back into the building. From her initial viewpoint she could see nothing, just what looked like a pile of rags blocking the corridor. She pushed against the door to open it a little further but this time it was stuck on something. She didn’t dare force it for risk of the noise she could make, instead handing her pistol behind her without looking to Sophie, and crouching down to the floor. She reached her hand round the side of the door, barely believing she was actually doing this, and could hear one of them behind take a deep breath, as though they were expecting something to jump out on them.

She searched around on the ground with her hand and found a roll of cloth had got wedged under the opposite side of the door, pulling on it revealed its considerable weight, but with persistence it started to move. She pulled it along until it moved past the gap in the door she’d reached through, then making her stop abruptly as the roll of cloth became the remains of someone’s leg.

“Shit,” she whispered, pushing the leg out of the way, feeling the door swing loose without the obstacle.

“Gun,” she said, reaching her hand behind her, not turning round again and Sophie handed it back to her. Re-armed, she counted to three on her left hand, fingers raised up so Sophie could see and had her gun trained on whatever would come.

Gemma forced the door open in one and stopped dead, Sophie almost knocking into her through her eagerness to leave the corridor.

Danny cupped his hands across Wanda’s mouth as she prepared to scream, only a slight murmur escaping instead.

Gemma found herself standing face-to-face with a Gilmore sleeping on its side in the corridor. Only three feet separated her and certain death. Silently, she turned to Sophie, who gestured for them to go around, and Gemma confirmed her agreement by skirting along the wall, gun trained at the monster’s head the whole time. Sophie followed out directly behind, cautious about where to aim as the laser seemed to provoke a flinch when passing over an eyelid.

Danny kept his hands over Wanda’s mouth but mouthed to her, “Okay?”

She nodded, trembling though fear.

He removed his hands from her mouth and took her right hand, leading her slowly out of the room. He didn’t dare put any of his guns in his hands just yet, he knew any movement from the Gilmore would probably result in him firing off a shot.

Wanda murmured in fear as she stumbled over something on the ground. Danny steadied her, and looked at what had tripped her.

“Jesus,” whispered Danny, looking down at the mangled torso that used to belong to Pete from the blue team – the nose bleeder.

“What happened to him?” asked Wanda, kicking at the one legged body. The other leg that Gemma had pulled from behind the door must have belonged to him.

“One of the other zombies must have pulled him apart, look at his skin, he’d already turned,” said Sophie. “The head’s been smashed in. They’re turning on each other.”

“Hey, stop messing about,” whispered Gemma as forcefully as she could from the far end of the corridor.

Tony and Steve were the last to exit the fire door, propping Lisa up between them, who was still pretty much out of it, the infection getting worse without treatment. Some scuffling noises were unavoidable as they tried to position themselves so they could skirt along the wall without getting too close to the Gilmore, but this meant they had to stare it directly in the face as they did so. Not the best position to be in as Lisa picked now to wake up.

Steve couldn’t get his hand over her mouth quickly enough – the scream had already made its way out. The three of them found themselves staring into the huge round eye of a very pissed off looking Gilmore.

Gemma had already holstered the pistol and swapped back to her rifle and swung the barrel back round to aim directly at the underside of the Gilmore’s chin, hoping a shot to the base of the skull may do some serious damage. She didn’t get chance to pull the trigger as its huge feet swung across the floor and lifted her off her feet, depositing her twenty feet away, leaving her to slide across the tiled floor into the wall of the candy store. Smashing the back of her head into a pillar made unconsciousness come quickly, as she looked bleary eyed across to Sophie emptying her weapon into the Gilmore, ducking out of the way of the feet on their swing back.

Tony and Steve had already dragged Lisa back through the fire door, but Tony’s attempt to pull the door shut behind them was fruitless, as the Gilmore swung a massive clenched fist round, smashing the door to splinters and removing a chunk of the door frame. Tony stood helpless, looking at the bar in his hand.

“Tony, come on,” screamed Steve. “Let’s get her back upstairs,” struggling to manage this by himself.

Tony realised the Gilmore was badly constricted lay down, and had managed to get the arm it just swing at them wedged in the rubble to the side of the door frame. He used this opportunity to take a run at it, metal bar extended out in front of him, and aimed for one wide open eye.

“Aaagghhhhh,” he screamed, as he exited the escape corridor and ran full pelt at the Gilmore’s eyeball. “Shit,” was the next thing out of his mouth, as the bar bent and snapped out of his hands.

Even the beast’s eyelid was as strong as the rest of him. Before the Gilmore could exact its revenge on Tony’s futile attack, it had to raise its one free hand to shield itself from the barrage of bullets coming from further down the corridor. Sophie was running towards them, scope aimed directly for the head, the deafening tap-tap-tap of the gunshots reverberating off the walls of the corridor. Then came the click.

Sophie looked to Tony, as she reached behind to grab another magazine to replace the one she’d let drop to the floor and mouthed, “Go,” before continuing her assault on the beast.

Tony took the advice and darted back in to the side corridor, running to Lisa’s side to help prop her up, taking some of the weight from Steve.

“How bad is it man?” asked Steve.

“Not good. Keep going,” he replied.

Chapter Thirty Six

When the Gilmore woke Danny and Wanda had gone straight for the door to the armoury, completely forgetting that between them Gemma and Caron had obliterated all that was once there. They realised soon enough, coming to a pile of rubble where the doorway used to be. Looking up they could see patches of blue sky, smoke now appearing to clear and what Danny realised were jet trails high in the atmosphere.

He knew this signified a ray of hope, that others were still alive outside of here. But his joy was premature as another tremor shook the ground and the heat from the gate only feet away from them became unbearable. They shielded their eyes as the lava bubbled and spit, along with the shapes of zombies forming before them. Danny raised his pistol, Wanda instinctively mimicking him, and opened fire into the mass of zombies that was about to step out of the fire. Their bullets disappeared into the void, hitting nothing, until they were clicking the triggers on empty. They were out again, and Danny didn’t feel confident enough to try to reload standing next to the gate. He ran to the farthest, and only point, he could to get away – the male toilets. Wanda didn’t hesitate in following.

“Christ, this is a nightmare,” said Danny, sweat dripping from his forehead.

“What are we going to do?” asked Wanda, stomping up and down the room, letting out a scream as she kicked a severed head across the floor. She was fed up of finding body parts.

“We haven’t got enough ammo to keep this up,” reasoned Danny. “We can’t go toe-to-toe with these things. We need to get out.”

“I’m all ears,” said Wanda.

Danny slumped back on the edge of the sinks, his hands resting on his hips, as he tried to get his breath, and regain his composure.

“Not quick enough Danny,” said Wanda, rushing him.

“Give me a minute,” he snapped, looking up at the flickering light that was distracting his thoughts. “Up there.”

“What?”

“Up there. Look,” he said, pointing up to the remains of the zombie hanging from the ceiling, the name Andy embroidered into the shirt.

“If you think I’m going to dress up as a zombie then…”

“What? No. What the hell are you talking about?” asked Danny, looking at Wanda like she’d completely left the reservation.

“I…..I don’t know. What were you talking about?” she asked.

“The venting. In the ceiling,” this time pointing at what lay above the impaled zombie. “Look, it goes through the walls, we can use it to get round the building, hopefully find another way out.”

“That’s actually not a bad idea. But that’s the easiest way in and I’m not touching that thing. Look, it’s still twitching,” she said, tapping the back of a knee with the end of her gun, provoking a thrashing movement that stopped after a few seconds.

“Fine,” he said. “I’ll lift it down. Give me a hand.”

“Be careful,” she said. “It might bite,” she smiled, as he wrapped his arms round the zombie’s legs and tried to lift it straight up enough to release its head from the bracket it was stuck on.

Thick dark green blood and congealed lumps dripped down onto Danny as he struggled to manoeuvre the cadaver into the right place, Wanda watching on in amusement at his misfortune as she tried to remember her crash course in reloading her gun.

Finally a crunching sound signalled the release of its head from the bracket and it fell down easily into Danny’s arms, who for whatever reason had decided not to let it fall to the floor. He found himself standing face-to-face with half a skull of crushed bone and struggled to control his stomach reflex as he felt a dry vomit climbing up his throat. His attempt to empty his guts was delayed though as the one remaining eye on the zombie snapped open, along with the disfigured mouth that made a jab at the side of his neck, trying to get a grip on the flesh.

Danny instinctively dodged to the side, but with little room to manoeuvre with all the debris on the toilet floor, he lost his footing and hit the blood covered tiles, with the zombie landing on top of him. It thrashed about wildly, trying to bite at whatever flesh it could get to, as Danny struggled to push it away. He hadn’t realised how strong they were, certainly more than the equivalent sized human whose body it had taken over. His attempts to push it off were draining what little energy he had left, and knew very soon that it would take a bite out of him, and that would be it. He just hoped it’d be quick when it came.

Then came a huge crack that echoed off the walls of the restroom, the change in air pressure piercing into his eardrums and making him wince in pain. At first he thought he had been bitten, and this was how it felt, but then he realised the rest of the zombie’s head was missing, and most of it appeared to be on him. The remains of the zombie fell to the side, as Wanda’s right foot came into view, pushing against its shoulder. She stood over Danny, smug grin on her face, hand outstretched to help lift him off the floor. A faint trail of smoke flowed from the end of the pistol barrel in her other hand.

“Are you okay?” she asked, supporting him as he stumbled once he was up to his feet.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said, turning to steady himself on the edge of the sinks. He tried to turn a cold water tap on, but it just groaned, and nothing came out. He composed himself for a second, taking a few deep breaths, then looked up.

“Jesus,” he screamed, stepping back in horror as he saw himself in the mirror.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” said Wanda. “I probably shouldn’t have done that from behind. I didn’t think where the brains would go. I kind of panicked.”

Danny did the best he could at wiping the contents of the zombie’s skull from his face using his hands and shirt, but without water, it wasn’t coming off.

“Thank you,” he said finally.

“It’s okay,” Wanda smiled.

“No. I mean it. Really, thank you. I thought I was a goner then,” he leant forward to hug her but she pushed him away. “I’m sorry..…I.”

“Hey, it’s okay,” she said. “I’m just not touching you covered in that crap,” she smiled.

“Okay,” he said.

“You still wanna use the venting to get out?”

“Yeah, let’s go,” he said, crouching underneath the nearest access point and cupping his hands ready to give her a leg up.

Chapter Thirty Seven

Sophie dodged another kick of the leg to back up to the wall bordering the corridor the Gilmore was still lying in, evidently trapped on something. The Gilmore’s legs tensed as it fought to free itself from the structure, but all its movement had taken its toll on the ceiling of the corridor and Sophie shielded her eyes from the dust cloud that erupted from the corridor. The ceiling had collapsed on top of the Gilmore, the sounds of twisted metal accompanied by the screams from the beast. It was hurt. Badly.

Sophie carefully leant her head round the corner to see if their only escape route was completely blocked, feeling the hope drain away as she saw the corridor was sealed off now thanks to the rubble. She felt some comfort in spotting the massive steel lintel that had come through the ceiling and speared the Gilmore through the shoulder, pinning it to the ground. With its other arm still wedged under a mountain of rubble, it wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Sophie took this time to run to Gemma, placing her forefingers under her jaw to check for pulse. She’d hit the pillar with such force, she was worried it was game over, but her fingers pulsed strongly, bringing a sigh of relief.

“Gemma. Gemma, come on, back up girl,” she urged, slapping Gemma on the cheeks.

Gemma opened her eyes, took a second to regain her focus, then sat up and jumped to her feet, leaving Sophie hanging with an offered hand. Sophie smiled at Gemma’s resolve.

Re-armed, Gemma looked more focussed than ever, and headed straight to the middle of the lobby, keeping the scope of her gun aimed into the corridor the whole time. The wildly swinging feet were yards out of damage range now, giving them a moment to think.

“That must be Azimuth,” said Sophie.

“I guess so,” said Gemma. “He’s a lot bigger than Tombstone. We’re going to need more canisters,” she joked.

“I think we need more than that for this one. Any ideas?”

“Not just now. To be honest I’m a little more worried about what’s going to come out of there next,” she said, turning to face the gate at the side of the room, flames leaping out and singeing the edges of loose metal beams supporting the walkway hanging precariously overhead. The shapes of more zombies neared the edge of the circle of fire, and Gemma raised her gun in their direction, followed by Sophie.

One single gunshot that sounded like it came from the male toilets caused them to turn, but with no further sounds, they turned their attention back to the gate.

“Well as long as neither one of us is cut, we’ll be okay for a while,” reasoned Sophie.

“You have a short memory honey,” said Gemma, not taking her eyes off the targets before her.

“How so?” asked Sophie.

“The zombies in the car park were ready to go straight out of the gate. Somebody’s changed the rules on us.”

“I know, I was just thinking best case scenario, trying to put a positive spit on this little shit storm.”

“Worth a try I suppose.”

“We need to change our game plan though, our way out is blocked.”

Gemma squinted to see through the concrete dust that still hung in the air in the corridor, but could see clearly that they weren’t getting through. “Damn.”

Gemma lifted her hand to the back of her head, and this time dropped it back down with relief. A big arse bump, but no blood.

“We just need to hope that Azimuth mother doesn’t get himself free anytime soon,” shouted Gemma.

“Damn,” yelled Sophie. “You’re full of inspiration.”

“I’d like to go to my grave knowing I really had killed one of those Gilmores though,” shouted Sophie. “That’d be something to be remembered by.”

“I don’t think anyone’s going to be forgetting about you anytime soon Gemma, if anyone gets out of here that is.”

They stood, six feet apart, rifles aimed at the nearest edge of the gate, waiting for their targets to fully form. The gate covered an area larger than the last time, and, to their initial confusion, the zombies weren’t stepping out yet.

“What are they waiting for?” shouted Gemma.

“I think they’re waiting until there are a lot of them ready to attack, makes it harder to fight them off.”

“They really are learning aren’t they?”

“I’m afraid so.”

Gemma had already picked out a really fat one to the left, she’d decided he was taking it between the eyes. Sophie was thinking more tactically, eyeing up the skinnier ones as they looked like they could move faster.

Either way, they were ready for their last stand.

Chapter Thirty Eight

The distress call had come in nearly two hours ago.

The attackers had entered the building via the basement. No description as to who they were, but for whatever reason someone up top felt it was necessary to send their team in. They were highly experienced, and as specialist an outfit as you could encounter, trained to get into locations by any means necessary and retrieve high value hostages. Deadly force accepted. But this situation was far different from any they’d been deployed on before. No specific hostage had been named; in fact they hadn’t even been told to retrieve anyone. The mission brief was strangely simple; get in, investigate, get out, nothing could be further from their previous jobs.

Team Bravo Five Niner had made it down to the fifth floor of the building, painstakingly sweeping their way across each floor, ready to neutralise any threat. Up to now, they hadn’t yet encountered any resistance, but each venture back into the stairwell brought the screams of anguish from lower in the building louder, echoing off the old concrete walls of the structure. Working their way across each floor took time, made slower by the reinforcement built into all doors between sections. The building once being used as a cheque clearance centre meant over the years it had undergone extensive strengthening works to its interior, the 1920s façade being the only original part of the building now remaining.

They couldn’t come in from the ground floor, as the time taken to break through the reinforced doors would have given whoever was inside enough time to panic and kill whoever was still alive. Their helicopter pilot, the only one the five man team had worked with for the last three years, had not long ago hovered over the roof of the old bank whilst they had fast rappelled down the ropes. Night vision lenses were standard equipment on all missions and up to now had been invaluable in their sweep, but they were now down to the fourth floor, and the noise from further down below was becoming unnerving.

“What the hell do you think is going on down there boss?” whispered Stone, the second in command, and the first to actually say what the rest were thinking.

“Christ knows,” responded Breach, the team leader. “Probably another screw up by the Governor’s daughter, got caught up with a crack head again and now daddy’s panicking and wants her back home.”

“You heard the brief,” said Stone. “Nothing about hostage retrieval on this one, they wouldn’t send us in blind.”

“Think Stone, what happened last time little Natasha got into trouble and they issued the commands. Some snot nose rookie on the radio got wind of our mission and leaked it to the press.”

“Yeah, the team nearly got canned because of that shit,” added Hood. “They wouldn’t risk that again.”

“I think you’re off track on this one guys,” boomed Mason, a hulk of a man. Even when he tried to whisper, his deep voice still shook picture frames on the walls. No-one had heard him shout, nobody wanted to. “Those noises from the basement, they’re not human.”

“Oh God Mason, you’re not going to start with that voodoo shit again are you? Every time.”

“This is not a laughing matter Hood. I can feel it this time,” said Mason.

“Knock it off you guys,” demanded Breach. “Let’s get this shit over with.”

“Sorry boss,” chimed White, ever the kiss arse.

With the fourth floor clear, Breach wanted to hurry this along. He hadn’t shot anything in weeks, and was getting an itchy trigger finger.

“Split up for three and two, then re-group on the first. Hood, Mason, you’re with me. Move out.”

With silent agreement, they rapidly descended the stairwell and cleared the next two floors, keen to re-group and go at whatever was in the basement.

What would have been the first floor had at some point in the past been removed in renovations to create a grand entrance hall on the ground floor, with a flamboyant oversized chandelier to finish off the look. They descended the red carpeted central staircase, lifting their night vision scopes out of the way as the ambient light in the room rendered them useless, switching the laser scopes mounted on their weapons on, and painting them across the walls. With the huge room confirmed clear, Stone gestured towards the open doors on the back wall, as a pained scream echoed off the walls.

“Hood, you’re up,” commanded Breach.

“Thanks,” replied Hood, moving quickly towards the doors, rifle aimed out in front of him, the rest of the team backing him up from multiple angles.

Less than twenty feet from the door he stopped and crouched, as the sound of rapid footsteps signalled an incoming threat. It was bare skin on tiles.

Five red dots traced the body up the stairs as the distraught woman appeared out of the darkness, screaming in anguish, blood running down her legs. No shots were fired, but the targets quickly moved to what was behind the woman, as one of them managed to sink its teeth into her shoulder.

“Holy shit,” whispered Breach.

With no hesitation a barrage of muffled silencer rounds fired across the room and tore into the bodies of the ravaged animals chasing the woman, smashing apart their skulls and decorating the walls behind. The woman collapsed to the ground, hitting her head hard against a marble slab, knocking her out cold. White checked she was okay as the others advanced on the bodies on the floor.

“They dead?” asked Hood, kicking at the feet of one of them.

“I’d say pretty much,” said Stone. “Seeing as though none of them have heads anymore.”

“That was messed up,” added Hood. “There was something seriously wrong with them.”

“What’s that shit all over their clothes?” asked Stone, reaching down to take a closer look.

“Their brains,” said Hood helpfully.

“No, this,” picking at chunks of green flesh with the end of his rifle. “It was on them before we opened fire.”

“It’s human flesh,” asserted Mason.

“Cannibals?” asked Hood. “No, we wouldn’t get that shit in my city.”

“No, not cannibals. They were possessed,” added Mason.

“Mason,” Breach turned to face him before continuing. “Don’t start with your shit. Not tonight.”

“Sorry boss.”

“Everybody on me, let’s light them up,” then Breach continued through the doorway, followed by the rest of the team. White ran to take the rear once he was satisfied the woman would be okay.

The stairway made a series of left turns as it descended into the darkness, refitting the night vision lenses revealing several obstacles on the steps. On closer inspection Mason realised they were body parts, then stopped checking. It was Peru all over again. Three flights further down they had to remove the lenses again as the walls reflected an orange glow, causing them to flare. Breach cursed the fact that even after all his team’s successes, they were still handed cheap army reject gear. He knew it was a personal affront to him for years of insubordination, but he’d rather that than kiss the General’s arse. His successful retrieval of the Governor’s daughter on two separate occasions secured his position as team leader though, as long as the Governor remained in office.

Rounding the corner of the last flight of stairs, Breach paused and raised his left fist to stop the guys.

What used to be an underground vault had now been replaced with a massive void, maybe three storeys tall. It had spread out far enough to tear through the base of the underground parking garage located across the street, and a few wrecked cars lay trapped in the rubble. Some water pipes had also been ruptured, which brought unbearable humidity as the water ran down into the centre of the void and into what looked like a crater of lava in the base. A perfectly circular one.

Breach took one step at a time, aiming his rifle out in front of him, looking out for more of the crazies they’d taken down a moment ago. His team followed, spreading out across the steps, lowering the weaponry slowly as it became evident there was nothing else to shoot right now.

“Will someone please tell me why there is a god damn volcano under the Park Street Bank?” shouted Hood, looking down at the crater before them.

“Mason?” called Breach.

“Boss?”

“You’re our C4 guy. Any explosives you know of that could have done this?”

“No. This is something else. Look at the marks on the walls and ceiling, the concrete looks like it’s been melted.”

“Is that even possible?” asked Hood.

“Great,” Breach pressed the button on the mic strapped to his right shoulder, paused for a second then spoke. “Bravo Five Niner to base.”

“Go ahead Bravo Five Niner,” responded the crackly voice.

“We have made it into the sub-structure of the building, eliminating three targets on the ground floor. One survivor so far, minor injuries. Confirm?”

White nodded at Breach to confirm his assessment of the woman lay out cold upstairs.

“Confirm. Bravo Five Niner, please elaborate on the targets you have eliminated.”

“I wondered when you’d get to that, base. And I think you already know the answer to that. Confirm?”

“Bravo Five Niner, please confirm the identity of your targets.”

“Well you see I can’t do that. We blew their heads off, and I don’t think any of them were carrying any ID. They were wearing snazzy suits though.”

“Bravo Five Niner, we need confirmation of what engaged you down there.”

“You fucking know what’s down here, so give that shit a break!” yelled Breach. “Get Stokes on the radio.”

“Bravo Five…”

“Get Stokes on the radio or you can fly your own arse down here to take a look!”

Nothing but a light crackle for a few moments took their minds off the hissing noise of the water turning to steam below them.

“Stokes here. Talk to me Breach.”

“What’s going on Stokes?”

“We had an idea, but needed first hand observations to make a final decision. Your team was the nearest one that could pull the job off.”

“So we’re your guinea pigs?”

“Comes with the pay grade Breach, you know that.”

“Yeah, right. Go on, hit me with it.”

“Earlier today one of our geologists was monitoring reports of tremors in this area of the city, the epicentre being under the bank. She was sending us back live images from a camera mounted on her helmet. We lost the transmission for a while, only a few minutes, after a big tremor hit. When it came back on we saw her being attacked, eaten, by some crazy looking guy. He looked like hell, skin all torn and ravaged. He took a good chunk out of her then walked away.”

“Well we’ve took three of those things out. Haven’t found any more yet.”

“Mark,” said Stokes.

“Yeah,” replied Breach.

“Twenty seconds after the geologist was bit, she got back up. Her helmet had fallen to the floor and we got the video transmission.”

“She might be the survivor we’ve got in the hallway then.”

“No, she won’t be.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because she turned into one of those things that bit her.”

“Stokes, it’s not first of April man.”

“I know, I’m not messing you around. Is Mason with you?”

“Yeah, he’s here. Why?”

“You might want to start listening to your friend about now.”

“Shit,” he looked at Mason, who responded with a shrug of the shoulders.

“I could say it boss, but I don’t think I need to,” boomed Mason, the slowness of his words adding extra effect.

“Stokes. You still there?” called out Breach.

“Yeah, I’m here. Go ahead,” replied Stokes.

“What’s with this crater in the floor? It’s full of lava. What do you want us to do with it?”

“We need you to try and seal it off. Set your charges and blow the base of the building.”

“And if that fails?”

“We have the Air Force on standby, but that will lead to more collateral damage. Right now gentlemen, you’re the tip of the spear.”

“Oh Christ, I hate it when he uses that bullshit,” said Breach, looking around the team after removing his hand from the radio button.

“You heard him men. Let’s get this place rigged to blow and get the hell out of here.”

They completed a full sweep of the cavern to ensure there were no more of the creatures hanging around then got started with setting their plastic explosive charges in strategic places around the space. The aim was to take out a central section of the ceiling and drop this into the crater, effectively sealing it. And if that failed, the Air Force could deal with it. Breach just hoped if they did have to rely on the boys in the sky, they’d at least let them get out before they pulled the trigger this time.

The job was done within four minutes, and Breach gave the command to clear the room. As the team moved back towards the staircase, White had already started his ascent back up to the hallway. He wanted to get the casualty ready for transport, and didn’t want to be stuck doing this with the ground moving. He knew, as always, that Mason would have used far too much C4. He liked big bangs.

He dabbed at the thin cut on his lip that he’d got trying to twist one of the trigger wires in his teeth, wiping the tiny trail of blood away. As he exited the doorway into the main hall the woman on the ground had begun to stir, groaning as she sat propped up against a large marble planter. He leant his weapon up against the side of the planter and placed a hand under the woman’s chin to lift it up, whilst brushing the hair away from her face. He froze when he saw her face, a greenish complexion, mouth half open releasing a groaning noise, her gums faded to grey. But the eyes, they were black as night. He was looking right at them, not sure anymore if anyone was looking back at him. Then she pounced, a violent lunge of unexpected strength and he was forced onto his back, reaching out for his gun as he fell but it was too far away. He tried to grab at the firearm secured at his waist, but the teeth had already sunk into his neck. She pulled away, chunks of torn flesh hanging from her mouth. He raised a hand to his throat to try to stem the bleeding, pushing himself back across the floor in shock. She paused for a moment, the black eyes staring right at him. He thought he saw a tiny glimmer of orange light right before she lunged at him again, teeth and nails bared ready to tear at his flesh again.

“What the hell was that?” said Hood, turning to aim his gun into the stairway, in response to the screams from above.

“Sounded like White,” said Mason. “Maybe there are more upstairs.”

“We need to hurry this along,” ordered Breach. “Secure the hall and get these charges blown. Stone, you’ve got point.”

“Roger,” responded Stone, without hesitation, leading the group back into the stairway.

They stopped as the ground shook again, and the temperature rocketed. Breach turned to see the crater in the ground spewing more lava out, splashing up the sides of the room. And within the lava, he could see shapes. Humanlike.

“That can’t be possible,” he said, watching as several shapes formed and started to walk out of the crater, and towards them. More of the creatures they’d taken out upstairs. A lot more.

Mason was the first to open fire, followed by Stone and Hood. Breach stepped to one side, pressing the button on his radio again. “White. White, come in. Report, dammit.”

Nothing.

“Shit,” he then raised his gun and fired into the crater too, all of them realising quickly that double taps to the chest were only slowing the targets, headshots were the only way to drop them properly.

Empty casings bounced off the floor as the four of them fired relentlessly into the masses of creatures that were climbing out of the crater. Then Stone fell.

Hood was right beside him when it happened, and he hadn’t seen any of the creatures get to him. Turning round he saw White standing right in front of him on the stairs, but it wasn’t White anymore. He was one of those things now, and its gun was still pointing towards the motionless Stone lay prone on the floor. It turned his gaze towards Hood, and he looked straight into the deep black eyes and knew his friend was no longer in there. He raised his rifle before the creature had time to raise its weapon and slammed three rounds into the centre of the forehead, the back of the skull exploding across the wall behind. The gun fell to the floor, and then the disfigured corpse crashed to the side.

 

“Oh crap,” said Hood, as he heard the beeping and saw the solid red light on White’s belt. “His charges have been triggered,” he shouted, as he turned to push the others out of the way as White’s charges went off, setting off the ones directly above in the ceiling.

The first charge exploded, ripping a hole into the concrete, and setting off a chain reaction as each subsequent charge was daisy chained in. There was no way they were getting back out via the stairway, so Breach gestured for the parking garage on the other side, but they’d have to take a high path to get there. Maybe there would be a way out through there. But the explosions came too fast and they found themselves moving down, and closer to the edge of the crater. More creatures continued to climb out of the crater, and they knew they were in a helpless situation.

As the final charges blew, they were running only feet away from the edge of the burning crater. The mass of concrete overhead came down initially in relatively small foot wide blocks, easy to dodge, but now with the whole structure weakened the concrete gave way and it felt as though the whole building was collapsing in on them. At this point they stopped running, as though accepting their fate, and looked up.

As the ceiling crashed down, the crater mirrored the violence of the moment and flared up one last time, a vertical pillar of fire rising up into the falling mass of concrete. The last thing the three remaining members of Bravo Five Niner felt was excruciating heat and a flash of searing white light, then nothing.

Chapter Thirty Nine

Sophie and Gemma stood waiting for the zombies to finish forming and step away from the gate, taking that final step over the black metallic edge firmly embedded in the ground. For the first time Sophie noticed that the symbols engraved into the raised surrounding edge of the gate changed as she stared at them. Undecipherable to her, she assumed that somebody with a higher security clearance knew by now what the symbols meant. In her mind, if they could understand the symbols, maybe they could control the gates.

Gemma kept the sight aimed at the fat zombie, his features becoming clearer in the heat haze. She was sure it was grinning back at her.

They both held their positions, aware that emptying their clips into the mass of creatures before they stepped out from the gate would be a waste of ammo.

A quick count would have revealed about fifty freshly formed corpses almost ready to attack. They both instinctively took a couple of steps back.

The first few appeared from the heat haze, stepping over the outer ring, to be cut down as they were met with automatic gun fire; putrid blood and bone fragments spraying into the air. Ready to open fire on the second wave, they were forced to turn their gaze away from the crater as the flash of light consumed the room. Trying to shield their eyes enough to get a glimpse of what was happening, Gemma reached across to pull Sophie to one side as a car sized block of concrete rolled across the lobby floor, splashing lava and starting several small fires in its wake.

The edge of the gate groaned, and shifted across the floor, increasing in diameter and consuming more of the floor space. The heat from the lava hit them hard, giving the sensation of their skin burning. Raising her hand to her face, Gemma found her skin cold to the touch, but she felt warm.

As the gate expanded, it swallowed up the last of the vertical pillars still standing that was holding up one half of the first floor walkway.

The loss of support caused the walkway to groan, all the weight being shifted onto the wall brackets that were not up to the job. To the initial sounds of metal snapping, a short roar accompanied the walkway crashing to the ground, sending shards of glass spraying across the room. The debris that landed on the walkway twisted and buckled as the creatures fought to shift it out of their way, tearing pieces out of it and throwing them to the side.

“They’re growing stronger,” shouted Sophie.

“Yeah, I know,” replied Sophie. “Are you ready? This could be our last stand.”

“I’ve got nothing better to do.”

Taking final aim with their rifles, they steadied ready to open fire on the next group of zombies about to step out of the gate, but were cut short.

They watched, as what appeared to be three soldiers clambered over the wreckage of the fallen walkway and opened fire on the zombies below, cutting them to pieces. They seemed fresh to the action, not like they’d just endured twenty four hours of hell. Wherever they came from, they were welcome.

No sooner had they dropped the creatures before them, enjoying a strong vantage point above and behind the wave of zombies stepping out from the gate, did more start to form in the haze. But with this temporary lull in the killing, and the pause to reload, they had chance to check their surroundings.

They hadn’t yet noticed the two dishevelled females standing on the lobby floor a short distance from them.

“Ahem,” Sophie cleared her throat loudly, and intentionally, enough for them to hear, forcing a look in their direction.

From Bravo Five Niner’s point of view, they were now in a different location, looking down on a clearly well decorated female soldier, tired and filthy from battle, and another woman who Mason thought looked like a hairdresser that had been in a car crash. She was clearly a beautiful woman, but the look was somewhat flawed by the red hair covered in dried blood and what might be intestines down her top. She knew how to hold a gun in a threatening way though.

Breach was the first to question the recent turn of events, “What the hell? Where are we?”

“Holts Farm. Ground Zero,” shouted out Sophie.

“Ground Zero for what?” demanded Breach, jumping down from his concrete high horse, taking care not to land on the lava bubbling below him, followed my Mason.

“Look around you gentlemen,” smirked Sophie. “How on earth did you end up in here?” she asked.

“Identify yourself,” demanded Breach.

“I beg your pardon,” snapped Sophie, anger in her voice.

“He said identify yourself, soldier,” jumped in Hood. “I believe he out ranks you,” looking at the markings on Sophie’s jacket, but then he hesitated. “Wait, those markings aren’t…”

“American,” Sophie stopped him. “Unlike yours. Congratulations. As I said, how the hell did you end up in here?” she turned her gaze back to Breach.

“Your uniform. I don’t recognise it. What branch of the military are you?” asked Breach, confusion sliding across his face.

Their two completely separate conversations broke apart as Hood nearly lost his footing on the concrete platform, turning round to where the banging and screaming noise was coming from.

“What the hell is that?” he yelled, as he caught sight of Azimuth’s legs swinging wildly, kicking the odd straggler zombie across the floor in the process. He opened fire at his target, emptying the magazine before his comrades had chance to complete their reload and climb back up next to him. Sophie waited until he’d finished to interject.

“You’re wasting your time,” she yelled up. “You can’t hurt him. Not much anyway.”

“Him? What is that thing?” questioned Mason, his booming voice resonating in the wide open space. Both Sophie and Gemma were quite taken aback by it, an almost inhuman sound. Mason recognised the look they gave him; he was used to it.

“That, is a Gilmore,” said Sophie, a smug grin on her face.

“They are…..ridiculously strong,” added Gemma. “Sent here from Hell, you can’t hurt them much whilst they are awake. But when they go to sleep, then you can shoot them and make them bleed.”

“That one’s called Azimuth. Gemma here killed his brother, Tombstone, we think,” continued Sophie.

Gemma raised her hand to acknowledge the accolade, only then realising the contradiction. She was claiming a victory for the killing, but how could that be when he wasn’t asleep at the time. Shit.

She looked to Sophie, whose face reflected this realisation at the same time. So he must have gone back into the gate, meaning he could come back at any point. The chances were he’d be considerably angrier seeing as though Gemma blew him up.

Silence made them look back at their new guests, who were looking between each other, and shrugging a lot.

“I think we broke them,” whispered Gemma.

“They’re American, it wouldn’t take much,” replied Sophie, deliberately within earshot, seeking to create a reaction. She wanted to test them.

“How can that be? They shouldn’t bloody be here,” said Gemma.

“And yet here they are.”

“Then where the hell did they come from? I don’t get it.”

“There is something else about the gates that I haven’t told you yet, only because it’s been a theory. I think their arrival has just confirmed the theory though,” a faint smile tweaked at the side of Sophie’s mouth, as though she was pleased about something, but trying not to look too excited.

“Keep it simple, please,” pleaded Gemma.

“The gates don’t just link different geographical points physically, but through time as well,” whispered Sophie, involuntarily shrinking her head back into her shoulders as though she was expecting Gemma to slap her across the head.

“Shit,” shouted Gemma, slamming her heel into the ground and turning to walk a few steps behind Sophie. She hid her face from the new arrivals as she took deep breaths, trying to compose herself.

Her hands were shaking.

Breach turned back to Sophie, staring dead at her. She smiled back. He climbed back down from his perch, and approached, now exhibiting less arrogance.

“I am Sergeant Andrew Breach of the US Army, specialist in search and rescue,” straightening his back, and finishing with a subtle heel tap. He was struggling to compose himself as he was well aware he knew less than the woman standing before him right now. He didn’t like being the one in the room that wasn’t in the know.

“You have no idea where you are or what’s going on, do you? Sergeant Andrew Breach of the US Army,” replied Sophie. She was enjoying this.

He relaxed his position, “I’m afraid not, ma’am.”

“Whoa, please don’t call me ma’am. Sophie will do.”

“Apologies, please,” he gestured for her to continue.

“You’re a soldier, yet you seem to be completely unaware of your surroundings or what you’re fighting.”

By now every military arm in the world knew of this phenomenon, information sharing across each government department ensuring this. As soon as each department knew this was a widespread problem, they began working together to resolve the problem. They were all in the loop, it was the patsies on the street that knew nothing and provided the lab rats for these little experiments.

“We were called to a potential terrorist threat in an abandoned bank in Hartford. We’d cleared the building, floor by floor, then met…..resistance, in the basement.”

On a normal day this information would be highly classified and Breach would only disclose this to his own superiors, but this was anything but a normal day.

“Hartford? What, in Cheshire?” joined in Gemma, remembering train platform signs on a long journey from a few years back.

“No, Connecticut,” said Sophie.

Breach and Gemma both looked at her, as she turned and walked a few steps away, then looked back at them.

“Sophie, how would you know that?” asked Gemma.

“Sergeant Breach. What date is it?” asked Sophie.

“Sophie, are you okay?” queried Gemma.

Sophie raised a hand to stop her. “Just humour me please. Sergeant Breach, what date is it?”

“April the twelth.”

“Shit,” Sophie shook her head, and did another small circuit on the blood stained carpet behind her.

Breach was about to speak, but Sophie cut him short to ask him again how he ended up in this location. He replayed their last moments in the bank for her, and she let out a deep exhale of breath when he reached the part about the white light.

“Sophie. Sophie, talk to me. What is it?” asked Gemma.

“Just outside of Koganei, in Japan, one of the craters opened up on April the fourteenth. After four days of the military throwing everything they had at it, it closed by itself, leaving the physical hallmarks of a meteor impact. Going back in over the following days, whilst carrying out tests on the surrounding area, they found time distortions within a four mile perimeter of the crater.”

“What do you mean, time distortions?” asked Hood, himself intrigued by his current predicament.

“Scientific instruments, that would normally be synchronised to within billionths of a second, were minutes, and sometimes hours out. The lead investigator hypothesized this was due to some influence imposed by the gate, but no-one has managed to repeat the tests since, as each gate seems to exhibit different characteristics.”

“In what way?” asked Breach.

“Size, heat intensity, density of creatures released. There’s a lot of variation. No two are the same,” Sophie sneaked a look behind Breach’s head, and he turned round to check behind him. They still had some time before the next group of zombies was ready to attack. Coming through in numbers seemed to slow them down.

“What does this have to do with Breach and his team?” asked Gemma.

“Sergeant Breach,” said Sophie, almost to announce some fancy award.

“Yes?”

“Today’s date, where we currently stand, is the twenty-fifth of July.”

No-one said a word. They all had to take varying lengths of time to get their head round this piece of information. Gemma moved a few steps away from Breach in case he threw up. He looked like he was going to throw up.

“You might feel better if you just throw up now Andy,” she said encouragingly, nodding to him. He took the advice but didn’t feel any better.

“You see we believe these gates may actually be a portal through not only space, to wherever these creatures are being sent from to attack us, but also capable of manipulating time.”

“So you can use that thing behind us to travel through time?” asked Hood, not in the mood for bullshit.

“We can’t control the gates, not yet we can’t anyway, but we believe they are capable of that,” continued Sophie.

She half raised her arms by her side, expecting a further round of questions. What she got was the sound of a gunshot as Hood drew his sidearm and popped an ambitious zombie in the left temple just feet behind Mason.

“Son of a bitch,” exclaimed Mason, brushing brains off his shoulder.

“Breach, you buying this?” asked Hood, not convinced.

“Yeah. I am,” he replied, not taking his eyes off Sophie’s satisfied face for one second. “What are you so happy about?” he asked.

“Because you’ve just opened this whole thing right up for us,” said Sophie, continuing quickly. “We thought up to now that these gates were one way, things could only come out, but not go in. Gemma proved that theory wrong yesterday when she sent Tombstone back down the hole, but we still need to figure out how that worked. And these things can cross timelines. You’ve just jumped nearly three months into your future, maybe we can go back and change the course of what’s happening. We also now know that the gates are linked, with you jumping from your location to ours. So if we can find a way to damage or destroy one, then we just might get a chain reaction that affects them all. This is massive.”

“That doesn’t explain how they got into the gate though,” said Gemma. “You said earlier that we couldn’t go into the gate, only the creatures seemed to be able to do that.”

“Yeah, we need to understand how you went through the gate at your side. What did you do to get into it?” asked Sophie.

“We didn’t go into it,” snapped Hood. “We were forced in when the building above us started to collapse. We fell in as a load of those things tried to climb out,” pointing towards the mangled bodies of zombies scattered across the ground.

“So when the gate’s fully open, when the zombies are coming through, it’s possible to get inside?” queried Gemma, looking towards Sophie.

“That would seem to be the case, but that wasn’t possible in the early days. We tried that and it didn’t work, people just got burnt alive jumping into the lava. Something’s changed,” said Sophie.

Breach collapsed on his arse at this point. Gemma took great pleasure in inviting him to tuck his head between his knees and take deep breaths.

“What about you Hood?” asked Sophie, picking out the nametag on his jacket. “You seem pretty calm considering what I’ve just told you.”

He looked down at Gemma, before responding, “I’m okay. I’ll throw up later.”

“How many of these, gates as you call them, are there?” boomed Mason.

“Across the world, hundreds by now,” responded Sophie. “Their occurrence started off slowly, but picked up a lot over the last few weeks. There isn’t a province in the world not affected by now.”

“How contained are they?” continued Mason.

“Again, they were contained well. But in the last twenty days or so, everything has changed. The world outside has gone to shit. Less zombies are coming through this gate, but more gates are clearly forming. We’ve even got one in the car park now. And the creatures coming through are getting bigger, a lot bigger,” she gestured towards the great feet swinging about from the west corridor.

“Is that the first one of them you’ve seen?” he asked, looking towards the behemoth.

“He’s the third,” she said. “We think Gemma blew up the first one and shot the second through the eye. I’m waiting to see what she’s got in store for this one.

Mason looked at Gemma. He acknowledged in his mind how deceiving someone’s appearance could be.

Gemma smirked, then continued for her. “That thing over there is a Gilmore, we’ve not quite figured out what that means yet though,” pointing at Azimuth’s struggling feet.

“Don’t you think we should do something about that?” asked Hood, sarcasm clear in his voice.

“He’s actually pretty well stuck in there at the moment, so leave him be. You’re better leaving him and hoping he goes back to sleep, then you can do something about him,” said Sophie.

“What do you mean?” asked Breach, wiping what he hoped would be the last of the bile from his mouth.

“When they’re awake, you’re just wasting bullets against them. Asleep, we think you can hurt them. And don’t ask, because I don’t know.”

“And do you think he’s going to go to sleep any time soon?” asked Hood.

“Do I look like a damn nanny?” snapped Sophie.

“Mason, if you don’t mind,” said Gemma, pointing to the zombie that he hadn’t notice materialise by his feet. He acknowledged her request with a single bullet to the top of its head. Gemma was sure she heard a pained groan from Azimuth.

“When the zombies first appeared, they were quite harmless,” continued Sophie. “They would only attack when they smelled fresh blood, until then you could walk around them freely. After a while their senses seemed to develop, and then they went for anything with a pulse. That’s changed now too, and we seem to be getting some of the older ones through the gates, meaning they must be jumping in and out in different places. The threat is evolving, and unless we do too, we’re all going to turn into those things.”

“If you get bit,” joined in Gemma, remembering every word of Sophie’s sales pitch from yesterday, “you’ve got thirty seconds max before you turn into one of them. For added torture, you get to keep a little bit of your personality for the first few minutes of being a zombie. Pretty messed up, huh?”

“Damn” whispered Mason the best he could.

“Sophie, Azimuth is going to work himself free at some point, and we’re in trouble when he does,” said Gemma. “We need to get set up ready to hit him with something big and hopefully slow him down. Sitting round and waiting for him to go to sleep is a pretty dumbass plan.”

“Agreed,” nodded Sophie. “We’re going to need more of the canisters then, I know where some are.”

“Is there more ammunition by any chance, because if more things keep coming out of that gate, we’re going to need it?” asked Hood.

“Enough for us to defend ourselves for a while, but if we don’t get out today, then it’s probably game over,” said Sophie. “You just better hope the bullets we have fit your guns, or you’re going hand-to-hand gentlemen.”

“What the hell have you led us into this time boss?” Hood shot Breach an angry stare. The steely look in Breach’s eyes told Hood to back down. Hood knew better than to push this.

“So where’s the next stash then, you said there was more hidden?” asked Gemma.

“Last one is the first floor, a room at the back of the screen to that side,” she said, pointing to what was left of the walkway above them. “But with Azimuth ripping the corridor to pieces, I don’t know if we’ll still be able to get across that room.”

“Well with those stairs out we’re going to have to climb up,” said Hood, pointing his rifle towards the gap where a staircase used to be, now lay smashed across the floor.

“Are there more on the second floor?” asked Gemma, looking further up, raising a hand to her brow to shield her eyes from the bright rays of sun shining through the hole in the roof. “Son of a bitch.”

“What?” asked Sophie, looking up to where Gemma’s gaze was focussed. “Oh, that’s taking the piss.”

“I forgot there was a yellow team,” said Gemma.

“Yeah, so did I. I missed where they went on the initial attack yesterday. They must have been up there the whole time.”

The two of them stood in the middle of the lobby floor, looking straight up to the walkway on the second floor. On the top of the walkway, looking down at them, stood four individuals in yellow shirts and blouses. None of them had smug looks on their faces, if anything they looked terrified. This somewhat pleased Gemma, as she would have struggled to retain her composure if they were proud of hiding out up there for the last twenty four hours. She actually pitied them, having witnessed everything from their vantage point, with no understanding of what they were seeing.

“I really don’t think I can be bothered explaining all this again to anyone else,” signed Sophie.

“You might not need to,” said Gemma. “In a minute we’re going to drag them into this, they might not be here for much longer.”

“That’s cold,” boomed Mason, climbing down from the concrete block.

“Not counting the poultry up there and Sophie, we started out with sixteen yesterday,” snapped Gemma. “We’re down to less than half already. It’s not cold. It’s the reality of the shit storm we’re in.”

Mason didn’t respond, just nodding to acknowledge the woman before him had been through a lot, and he didn’t want to provoke a reaction from someone covered in zombie guts that had just switched weapons, the sub machine gun now slung over her shoulder. She cocked the heavy barrel of the shotgun to emphasise her point.

“Does that work?” asked Breach, pointing towards the lift shaft in the centre of the room.

“That’s fried,” Hood had already considered this, but the damage to the roof had evidently ripped out the wiring conduit at the top of the open glass shaft. The lift was going nowhere.

“They disabled that long ago anyway. It should have an access ladder up the inside of the shaft though, we can use that to get between floors,” said Sophie, walking towards the lift doors.

“Mason, isn’t it?” she asked politely.

“Yeah.”

“Would you mind?” she pointed towards the doors and Mason obliged, slinging his assault rifle over one shoulder and prising the doors open with his hands. He expected less resistance but something had destroyed the hydraulics in the door, making Mason feel like he was moving the building around the doors and not the other way round.

“Find something to peg the doors,” said Hood.

“No,” said Gemma. “Let the doors close behind us, give them less options to get to us. If they want to attack, they’re going to have to go up the walls. Makes it easier for us to defend our position.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” submitted Hood. “What branch of the army are you then?”

“I’m not,” she replied, walking up to the open lift shaft. “I’m a hairdresser.”

As Mason held the lift door open, Breach reached inside with his rifle and scanned the inside of the shaft for threats.

“Clear,” he confirmed, gesturing to the others to start the climb behind him as he stepped inside and onto the ladder.

“Can you see where the elevator is?” asked Sophie.

“It looks like it’s in the roof,” responded Breach.

“Good. It’s locked in the safety position, for when access is required to the shaft for maintenance. Even without electrics the brakes should keep it locked there,” informed Sophie.

“Roger,” confirmed Breach, continuing his climb.

It wasn’t far to reach the first floor, only three flights of short stairs would have covered it, but with the staircase out of action this would be their only way up. Breach pulled himself up onto the ledge, drawing his pistol and aiming at the thin gap between the doors. Hood climbed up behind him, waited for the confirmation nod from his senior officer and squeezed his fingers into the gap, straining on his arms to force the doors apart. He wheezed as he struggled to separate the plates of metal, ashamed that Mason had made it look so easy with the first door. His grunts echoed off the inside of the shaft.

“You okay up there Nancy?” joked Sophie.

“Fuck off,” snapped Hood.

Gemma tried to hide a snigger.

Breach smirked, but once he was satisfied that the floor was clear, he dodged under Hood’s right arm and onto the floor. Scanning the one remaining end of the floor and satisfied there was no immediate threat, he holstered the firearm and grabbed a metal dustbin from beside the door, wedging it sideways in between the doors, to Hood’s relief. The redness slowly faded from his face.

Breach and Hood moved across the side of the walkway that was still standing, taking care to even out the weight as they realised the earlier collapse had also weakened this side. Gemma climbed through the pegged door, re-armed herself with the shotgun she’d stowed in the shoulder strap and covered the door as Sophie joined them. A metallic bang signalled Mason allowing the door below to slam shut, and he quickly joined them on the first floor landing. He too switched to a pistol, resembling a child’s toy in the man’s massive hands.

“Sophie, which screen?” asked Gemma.

“Eight,” she replied. “Through the doors at the end of the walkway, then turn right. The room we need is in the far corner, next to the raised stage.”

Breach approached the doors first, Hood mirroring his approach from the other side of the walkway. Mason held back near the lift shaft, providing cover from a distance. Feeling the tremors through the soles of his boots he sneaked a look over the side railing at the gate busy cooking up a new batch of creatures to throw at them. Sophie moved along the left side of the walkway, ten feet behind Hood, grabbing on to the handrail as another tremor from the gate erupted lava up into the air, splashing some onto the carpet on the walkway; the first bit of carpet they’d seen not stained with blood in a while. The force of the eruption fired the concrete and walkway wreckage into the air, smashing against the underside of where they were walking, the flex in the metal felt through their feet. Debris smashed into the front of the building, the thick metal panelling holding the force of the impacts but the glass façade encased inside shattered. Satisfied she wasn’t going to be sprayed in the face with lava, Sophie leant over the edge, then froze.

“Gemma,” she said coldly.

“Yeah?”

“Look.”

Gemma let go of the handrail on the opposite side of the walkway and joined Sophie, looking over the edge to where Sophie was pointing her rifle.

“Shit,” said Gemma, her face flushing white.

Directly below them, staring up at Gemma and Sophie, were the two young girls they had seen holding hands in the car park not long ago. The younger one was still holding the little teddy bear in her hand. Their black eyes staring up at them, Gemma felt the chill cut through her body.

“Makes it harder to kill them like that doesn’t it?” said Sophie.

“Yeah, but it’s still got to happen at some point,” replied Gemma. “It’s them or us,” she sounded resolute, but was hoping somebody else was going to put them out of their misery.

“Hey, you two finished messing about?” snapped Breach, from the far end of the walkway. “Let’s go.”

Sophie and Gemma ran up to the doors they had stopped next to, Breach carefully reaching his head up to the shoulder height window to take a peek inside, cautious of what may lie on the other side. Gemma strode straight past him, barging the door open with her shoulder and keeping her shotgun out in front of her. If anything tried to jump out on her, she was going to take its head off. She checked the way to the left was clear, then switched to the right and kicked the fire door into the screen open, reaching back onto her belt to grab the torch she’d secured there. All the lights in this room were out, and there were evidently no switches by the door.

Breach had been left crouching at the double doors, his jaw dropped in embarrassment. Looking at Hood, he was taken aback by this turn of events too.

“Wow,” said Hood, following through the door as Sophie barged past him too.

Breach turned to Mason, expecting some kind of ageless wisdom, like he usually provided at times like this. He just shrugged.

Torches pointing out the way, Gemma and Sophie made their way past the stud wall bordering the four feet wide open top corridor then swung round to check for threats in the expanse of the room.

What would up to about twenty minutes ago have been quite a well fitted out screening room was now a scrapheap. Rows of chairs had disappeared into the floor as the structure had collapsed from below, and it was evident that the wall between this and the next screen had buckled as the floor had given way. The creaking noises suggested it wouldn’t take much for the rest of the room to cave in, bringing the floor above down with it. Through the wreckage they could hear Azimuth’s laboured breathing, pushing against the debris on top of him with each breath.

As for other undead threats, the room was clear.

Hood rushed past the back of them, clipping his torch onto the underside of his rifle. He would have preferred to use his night scope, but with the two women swinging their torches round he didn’t fancy torching his eyeballs. Going straight for the door in the corner that Sophie had previously identified, he tried the handle to find it was locked. Taking three steps back, he raised his rifle and put two bullets just below the handle, smashing the lock. He kicked the door open, rushing into the room as light spilled out, yelling as he ran in. “Get down!”

Gemma rushed in behind him, dropping her torch and thrusting her now free hand under the barrel of Hood’s rifle and lifting it up to point at the ceiling. A single silenced shot ripped into the ceiling.

“No!” she yelled.

Chapter Forty

Wanda had led all the way through the ducting, its narrow width allowing no opportunity for Danny to take the lead. He didn’t want to though, from here he wasn’t going to run into trouble first, and Wanda had a nice backside. He’d brushed against said backside a few times, accidentally of course, but he didn’t know Wanda was ready to discharge a loaded weapon in an enclosed space if this was to continue.

“Anything?” asked Danny.

“Do you not think I would have told you if I’d found a way out of this damn thing yet?” snapped Wanda.

It was the fifth time he’d asked and he got the same response each time. Nerves were strained as they’d jumped every time they’d heard gunfire or explosions from elsewhere in the building, the only consolation being that every gunshot confirmed there were still others alive in there with them.

They had completely lost their bearings, only aware they had now moved up from the ground floor thanks to some vertical sections of venting they’d climbed up by wedging their backs against the metalwork and shuffling their way up. Each time they had found an access grate, it was into a pitch black area, which neither one of them wanted to venture into. They’d each seen others grab torches from the stronghold room, but neither one of them thought to grab one themselves, only realising their own stupidity later. All they’d had to work off was the faint glow of a knackered old marker lighting system in the venting, probably installed to aid maintenance. Every time it flickered off they froze, counting in their heads, fearing this time it may not turn back on.

They were now crawling their way along another horizontal section, had passed a few more grates the same as all the others, when Wanda let out a scream. The section she’d just crawled into dropped about a foot, forcing her to push against the top panelling to stop herself from slipping. She thought the fall was done, then about twenty feet away from her the venting opened up completely and dropped away from its moorings, sending Wanda tumbling down the sloped tunnel. Danny had lunged forward to grab at her legs to arrest her fall, but only managed a stroke of his fingertips at her heel. He watched helplessly as she disappeared into the blackness ahead.

“Wanda? Wanda?” he yelled out. Nothing.

“Wanda?” he yelled louder.

“Stop screaming you big girl, you’ll wake the dead,” she laughed, her face appearing at the end of the metal tunnel.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah it’s fine, come on down,” she replied, disappearing out of view.

Danny crawled forward, trying his weight tentatively on the edge of the venting that she had just slid down. He was aware of the extra pounds he had on Wanda, and was worried if it could hold his weight, now that it was already weakened. Four or five crawl steps in, he felt comfortable it wasn’t going to move any further. He jerked in the pipe as he heard the scream of what he was sure were zombies from behind him. He struggled to turn to sneak a look behind, terrified of what he’d see coming through the pipework, but nothing. The venting was clear as far as he could see, but the screams continued, and seemed to grow nearer.

“Danny, what are you doing?” snapped Wanda, her shrill voice echoing off the metal walls. “Hurry up and get in here.”

“Sshh, I can hear some of them behind me,” he whispered. He continued looking into the dim light, unsure of how the noise was getting louder but he couldn’t yet see anything. Then he felt sick as the idea they could be in the room with Wanda hit him, spawned by seeing the base of the venting flexing as someone, or something, pushed against it. The flex continued as far down as he could see, whilst the groaning and screams grew louder. He turned slowly back to Wanda, not wanting the venting to swing about too much.

“Wanda, don’t move,” he whispered, panic set across his face.

“What is it?” she asked, lowering her voice, unaware of what he’d seen.

Then he heard the bolts snap, and the venting dropped.

Wanda waited until he’d finished trashing the room like an out of control bull, the din of metal canisters being knocked about like bowling pins echoing off the metal walls. When he was done, she flicked the light switch on. Danny raised his arms to instinctively protect his face as the screams continued, waiting for teeth to bite into his flesh.

“What the hell are you doing?” she snapped.

He lowered his hands, opening his eyes slowly, looking up at Wanda standing a few feet away from him, hands on hips as though chiding a baby. He leant his head to one side to peer around Wanda. His heart beat slowed as he realised the only section of venting that was in the room with them was the last part of the bit they’d just slid down. The zombies he feared were in the next room along, and he wanted to keep it that way. Looking round the room, he spotted a metal baseball bat on a shelf and grabbed it, using it to smash the dropped section of venting flat against the wall, essentially blocking off access into the next room. He leant the bat against the floor, resting his weight on it to get his breath back.

“Whoa, now we’re talking,” said Wanda, impressed as she walked round the room checking out the latest supply of weapons on offer.

There were less guns than in the last room, a lot more ammo, but now they had hand-to-hand weapons for the first time. Axes, swords, bats, clubs, knives, hammers – anything you could think of to swing at or stab an enemy with. Two shelves were stacked with varying lengths of rope, but only a few feet in length, never enough to climb down from the roof with. Clever. An unlocked metal storage box on a lone bench contained lighters and flares. A few large crates under the shelving went unnoticed for now.

“Hey Danny, do me a favour,” said Wanda.

“What?” he replied, looking round the room wide eyed, imagining the damage he could do with this stuff.

“Don’t try re-loading any guns whilst we’re in here,” she answered, poking under some sheets in the corner of the room.

“Oh will you please let that go, that was an accident,” he snapped, turning to look behind him where she was looking.

“Ah, okay,” he said, as Wanda pulled the cloth sheet away from the wall, revealing racking floor to ceiling filled with red explosive canisters. There were at least a hundred.

“We could easily blow every single one of those things up with that many,” he said, excitement tingling in his stomach.

“Yeah, but we could also destroy most of the building, and kill all of us at the same time. You remember what happened with Caron,” definitely phrased more as a reminder than a question.

“Yeah, we need to be more careful. We need to think our way out of here.

Guided by what Sophie and Gemma had showed them earlier they grabbed the ammunition they thought was right for their guns, then picked out a couple of sturdy hand weapons each. Danny retained the metal bat and grabbed a two foot machete, concern washing across Wanda’s face as she saw how he brandished it. She moved away to the other end of the room, keen to not lose her head, and grabbed a hockey stick and some nun-chucks. She put those back down straight after giving them an experimental swing and jarring her elbow as they smashed off the edge of a metal shelf.

Danny tried to hide the snigger, but he was also concerned she’d hurt herself. Setting the machete down he stepped to her side and put a hand under her elbow to support it as she tried to shake some life back into her arm.

“You okay?” he asked, standing by her side.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she whispered, hiding her face, the faintest of smiles forming.

Right hand still under her elbow, he raised his left and placed it gently on her opposite shoulder. She leant into his touch slightly, as though caressing it. Her smile widened. He leant down slowly, with the intention of kissing her lightly on the side of her neck. As her hair brushed against the side of his face his heart beat quickened. There was no sweet smell of perfume as he’d normally expect this close to a woman, they were both filthy, stinking of sweat, but he didn’t care. She knew exactly where he was, feeling his breath on her neck, and she waited.

Chapter Forty One

They jumped to the sound of two gunshots from outside the room and stepped back as the door almost came off its hinges.

“Get down,” yelled the man in combat gear as he barged into the room, assault rifle held high.

Danny and Wanda instinctively stepped away from each other and raised their hands in surrender, Wanda wincing as her elbow cracked.

“No!” yelled Gemma, running into the room behind the man and pushing his gun out of the way as he pulled the trigger.

Danny and Wanda ducked as concrete dust rained down from the ceiling above them.

“They’re with us,” shouted Gemma, one hand still on Hood’s rifle, preventing him from lowering the barrel and taking aim again. He pushed against her but was surprised at the strength in her resistance. He held the rifle in both hands, and she was holding him off with just the one. He nodded to confirm he understood, and she removed her hand. He wasn’t going to take his eyes off her.

“How the hell did you get in here?” asked Gemma, turning to Danny and Wanda.

“The venting,” said Danny. “We climbed back into it through the downstairs bathroom and ended up here. I think it goes all round the building.”

“It does,” added Sophie, joining them in the room. “As long as you’re not claustrophobic any one of us could climb through there to get to most parts of the building.”

“And outside?” asked Danny hopefully.

“No, sadly not,” finished Sophie.

“Gemma, who the hell are these guys?” asked Wanda, now looking at the solemn faces of Hood in the middle of the room, and Breach and Mason by the door.

“They’re our American reinforcements,” she replied. “They came through the gate.”

“American?” remarked Danny. “How?”

“Yeah, it turns out the gates not only throw out zombies and big green giants, but you can use them to travel through time and space now as well. Cool, huh?”

“Gemma, what the hell?” Wanda was seeing her friend change before her eyes. She wasn’t the girl she came in here with anymore. She hardly recognised her now.

“I don’t know Wanda. I don’t know what to tell you.”

“What happened to the vent in here?” asked Breach, looking at a long section lying across the floor and a piece that had been beaten flat into the wall.

“That’s where we fell into the room,” answered Danny. “There are zombies in the next room, a lot I think, and I sealed that part shut in case they figured out how to get into the pipework.

“Sophie, what’s next door?” asked Gemma.

“Just a service corridor that runs behind the screens, I don’t understand how zombies could have got in there though, they’ve never managed it before. And there’s no direct access from the gate.”

The screams and groans from the next room grew louder, then Sophie cursed Danny and threw a handful of torn cloth at him. “Clean that up will you, for Christ’s sake.”

“What?” shrugged Danny.

“Shit, Danny your arm,” said Wanda, as she noticed the blood running down from his shoulder. It had already soaked into his shirt sleeve.

“Damn, I hadn’t noticed,” said Danny, embarrassed. He took the cloth Sophie had thrown at him and used it to wipe away the blood. It looked like it had stopped bleeding for now, but the blood was fresh and the scent would be in the air. The zombies next door had clearly locked onto it.

Gemma walked to under the blocked grate, dragging a plastic bottle crate and stepping onto it. Danny had done such a bad job of sealing the opening that she could see clearly into the venting, and the base of the metalwork still flexing under pressure from something pushing upwards. The levels of groaning signalled the sheer number of monsters merely feet away from them.

“What do you think Gemma?” asked Breach, accepting that they were going to have to work together to see this one out.

“We need to avoid that corridor for sure,” she said. “There’s a lot in there. More than we can handle in an enclosed space.”

She jumped back down off the crate, scratching at the back of her head.

“Sophie, how many more rooms are there like this in here?” asked Wanda.

“This is the last one,” she replied. “This is the last of the weapons now.”

“Why are the rooms so different?” asked Danny. “The other had tons of guns and ammo, this one’s only got a few guns and mainly ammo and a load of things for beating the shit out of the dead.”

“They are laid out to best resemble what may be encountered in the event of an all-out attack. In the early days guns and ammo would be in ready supply as these would be supplied by the military, as well as the stocks held by specialist local law enforcement agencies,” she realised Breach was gearing up to ask a question so she held her pause for breath to a minimum. “After that’s all exhausted, people will have to start arming themselves with whatever’s available. There are also supplies in the room allowing for modification of weapons, nails in bats, things like that. Go on Breach.”

“What the hell were you up to in here?” asked Breach, eager to know why they appeared to be locked in a facility with an active gate to Hell and rooms pre-loaded with weapons.

“Oh, you’re going to like this,” snapped Wanda. “Tell him Sophie.”

Sophie looked at Wanda with disdain, and she received the same look back. She told the new arrivals about the history of the facility, but the short version this time. She really did hate herself that little bit more each time she had to recount it.

“There really is no point in you looking at me like that,” she snapped at Hood when she’d finished.

“Your government has been doing exactly the same thing, as was every other. We’re all a part of the same messed-up conspiracy.”

“Sorry to burst your bubble honey, but we’re not doing this back in the States,” offered Hood. “Our first gate only opened up today. We haven’t been throwing any civilians in to see what happens. For perhaps the first time in our country’s chequered history, our hands are clean.”

“Hood,” said Breach, quietly but firmly.

“Boss?”

“That was nearly three months ago. Look around you, this is exactly the kind of shit our government would do. If the Brits are doing it, you can bet your arse we’re a part of it too.”

Hood nodded his agreement, in a form of submission to both Breach and Sophie.

“Boss, we’re in a different time here,” joined in Mason. “Maybe there is still a US government standing, someone we can reach out to.”

“Sorry gigantor,” said Sophie. “We need to get out of this building first, then we can start thinking about a reunion.”

Mason wanted to continue, but Breach raised a hand to stop him. He was acutely aware of their lack of time.

“We can discuss the finer points of our predicament if we get out of here,” said Breach.

“Gemma!” shouted Wanda, rushing to her side to try to steady her as she crashed into a stack of canisters, sending them rolling across the floor, Mason lifting his foot slightly to halt one. She was out cold.

“What’s happening to her?” asked Breach, leaning over as Wanda tried to shake her back awake.

“It’s a long story,” said Sophie, crouching down by Gemma’s side. She picked up Gemma’s right arm to rest it on her chest, so she could get nearer, then noticed the swelling in the arteries in her arm and around her neck. They bulged as she breathed in and out, the skin taking on a greenish hue around where the blood flowed through her body. Her eyelids flickered and she panted as she worked through whatever was going on in her head.

Chapter Forty Two

She was back in the lava field she felt she’d seen before. But this time she was standing somewhere different, further down in the valley of fire. The heat was more intense than other times, making her eyes wince in pain. Not far to her right she made out a figure, humanlike, slowly coming into focus. They were standing just like her, looking around as though trying to get their bearings. It looked like a man.

To her left another figure came into view, the same distance away as the other. This was a woman, hair down to her shoulders, the body shape unmistakeable. She too looked around her as though she was in unfamiliar surroundings.

As the heat dissipated the violence of the reactions in the lava before them died down, and the bubbling ceased.

Gemma could make out the body shape of six people with her. More features became clearer as the heat haze faded. They all stood in a large circle, seven points around the perimeter. There were four men, the woman standing to her left, and on the far side a young girl, maybe only eleven or twelve years of age. Gemma tried to call out to the girl, to tell her that it was going to be alright, but no sound came out. She could gesture and wave her arms, but could not step forward, or make herself heard. It was clear the others in the circle had the same affliction, more confusion than panic set across their faces.

In the centre of the circle the lava began to ripple, as though a stone had been thrown into a lake. The waves of lava spread out to the edges of the circle, lapping at their feet, but there was no burning, no pain. The orange glow at the centre faded away to a pool of white, and from that pool another figure blended into view. A man in black, tall and heavy built. His head hung low, his face hidden by the hood of the long cloak he wore. The cloak gaped at the front from the hilt of the giant sword at his side. He raised his head slowly, along with his right arm, and began to speak. She could hear what he was saying, but did not recognise the words. It sounded like some kind of ancient language, vaguely familiar. As he continued with the chant, white lines spread out from the pool of light and reflected from the outer edge of the circle, writing patterns in the lava. When they were finished the circle was divided into sections, each filled with a symbol, none of which seemed to be repeated anywhere else. There was no pattern.

Whatever he was saying, it was in a cycle – she recognised the repetition in the sounds. Four lines, she thought. His face still hidden, he paused, and looked around him. Turning slowly, he took moments to look at each of them stood before him. He nodded, as though signifying his approval.

“It has begun.”

It was the same voice she’d heard since she was six years old, and again it caused her to shudder.

“It has begun,” he repeated.

“Tombstone,” Gemma said to herself. “One of the seven.”

Chapter Forty Three

“Gemma,” said Wanda, relieved when she opened her eyes. “Thank God.”

Gemma reached out her hand, and Hood grabbed hold to lift her back to her feet.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she said, rubbing at the back of her head.

“What happened this time Gemma?” asked Sophie. “Anything that can help us in here?”

“I’m not sure,” she said. “You remember when we spoke to Tombstone?”

“Before you blew him up?” interrupted Danny sarcastically.

Gemma gave him a look that ensured he wouldn’t be repeating that comment.

“Go on Gemma,” said Sophie.

“When he called me Neela,” she continued. “One of the seven.”

“Yeah. Have you seen something to do with that?”

“Yeah. I think I’ve just seen the other six.”

“Damn. Do you know what it means?”

“Not yet, but in hindsight I should have got more information from Tombstone before I sent him back down there.”

“Do you think Azimuth would know the same things as Tombstone?” asked Sophie.

“I don’t know,” said Gemma. “But I doubt we could get him to calm down enough to speak to us.”

“Maybe we need to give him some incentive then.”

“What are you thinking?”

“We’re hoping he’s going to go to sleep at some point, so we can hurt him right?”

“Yeah.”

“Rather than kill him, let’s just threaten to blow a few limbs off and see if he wants to talk then.”

“It’s worth a try,” said Gemma, looking at the ample supply of canisters they had to work with.

“Can I just stop everyone for a minute and draw attention to the huge elephant in the room, that nobody has seen fit to explain to us,” said Hood firmly.

Gemma exhaled, as she knew he was talking about her.

“For whatever reason I have visions, I have done since I was six. Up to two days ago they never made any sense, but now they seem to be linked to what’s going on here in some way. And somehow, the first one of the Gilmore beasts downstairs we came across said he knew who I was and referred to me as someone called Neela. Any questions?”

“Nah, I’m good,” said Hood, shaking his head and turning away.

“Gemma?” asked Wanda.

“Yeah?”

“What about Lisa? We were supposed to be getting her some meds, and instead we’re all over the place.”

“You’re right,” said Gemma. “We need to get those meds to Lisa as soon as we can. I’m not leaving her in here.”

“They’re in the camera room,” said Sophie. “At the moment, the only way into that room is past Azimuth, and I’m pretty sure he’s lay against the door at the moment, and he’s covered in rubble. We need to deal with him before we can help Lisa. I’m sorry.”

“Hey, we all want to get out of this building right. We can just pile all the canisters up against the doors and blow the lot. No problem,” said Hood triumphantly.

“It won’t work,” said Sophie. “The facility is reinforced to prevent the creatures from escaping. The best you’ll be able to do is blow the outer brick skin off the walls, but you won’t get through the steel, no matter how many explosives you use. It’s too thick.”

“But the West exit you mentioned,” asked Wanda. “Is that still an option?”

“What’s that?” asked Breach.

“The West corridor has the weakest part of the structure, as we used the rail tracks to bring in supplies and take out..…things,” said Sophie. “We can deal with Azimuth, then get past him to access that corridor and with these canisters blow the security gate and get out. But until we get past Azimuth we won’t know if it’s even possible to get out that way, he caused a lot of damage when he pulled the ceiling in on himself.”

“Sounds simple enough” said Hood. “Let’s get on it.”

“Hey Sophie,” boomed Mason, quietly soaking up all the information up to now. “What do you want to do about the squad of nancies on the second floor? Their stairwell looks intact.”

“Christ I forgot about them,” said Sophie.

“Who?” asked Danny.

“The yellow team,” said Gemma. “They’ve been hiding upstairs the whole time. We spotted them watching us earlier.”

“Damn I forgot about them,” said Danny. “That takes the piss, we’re all fighting to survive and they’ve been hiding out up there.”

“They’re part of the control group for the tests,” said Sophie, really wishing she hadn’t opened her mouth.

“Oh great, go on, what now?” asked Breach.

“In each set of tests, there is always a team that cannot fend for themselves. This is mirrored in the general populous. One of the assessments was to see if stronger groups would help out the weak, or leave them to die.”

“And what have previous test groups done?” asked Breach, already sure he knew the answer.

“In each scenario, left them to die.”

“Damn,” said Danny.

Breach dropped his head.

“I’m not ready to do that,” said Gemma. “Mason, do you think you can convince them to get down here?”

“I can try,” he said, as he cocked his shotgun and left the room.

“I wouldn’t say no to him,” said Wanda, watching him walk out.

Danny, suddenly feeling quite threatened, cleared his throat intentionally loud. Wanda rewarded this with a quick wink.

“Right, get what you think you can carry or use, and let’s go,” said Gemma.

No-one bothered to argue as they picked their way through the weapons on offer, Danny and Wanda copying them as they now realised that some of the strapping they’d dismissed hanging on the wall were actually shoulder and thigh holsters they could use for many of the hand weapons and firearms.

At the bottom of one of the wide metal cabinets Gemma spotted a large wooden box and lifted the lid slightly with her foot, a smile forming. Given the size of the thing, she’d save that for a last resort.

Chapter Forty Four

Mason made his way up the stairs to the second floor. All that remained were the steps and some loose hanging sections of metal railing that glass panels had previously been held in. All the events of the past couple of days had taken their toll on the aesthetics of the building. He stepped onto the walkway and looked both ways to find that the yellow team had clearly decided to go and find somewhere to hide.

“Christ, I don’t have time for this,” he said, heading left to try the screens at that end first. He held his rifle out in front of him as he walked, switching to full auto in case anything none human popped its head up.

The door groaned as he pushed it open with his shoulder, entering the corridor muzzle first. He realised the electrics were completely out in this part of the building as even the fire exit lights were out, so pulled down his night vision goggles and moved slowly into the screen to the left. He’d spotted the gas lights dotted around the building before stepping into this area, and had no idea why they’d be here. Despite his unique ability to shake windows with his voice, Mason was surprisingly quiet on his feet, not making a sound as he swept the first screen to find it was empty. Retreating to the small corridor he moved to the opposite screen, again squeezing the barrel of his rifle through the door before his own body. A couple of minutes later he’d cleared this room and was heading back out the door when he heard a faint sob.

Did he shout for them to come out of hiding, or did he go with the softly-softly approach? A bullet from his pistol in the ceiling answered that question.

A scream from the back corner of the screen, high up in the rows, gave away their position. The four of them popped up from behind the seats, arms raised, as though facing a firing squad.

“Follow me,” boomed Mason, raising his night vision goggles and clicking his torch on to light the way down the steps for their walk of shame.

None of them hesitated in following his orders.

Mason was standing on the walkway, leaning against the railings, both hands supporting his assault rifle as the yellow team walked out one-by-one, heads held low. They lined up as though waiting a punishment from a headmaster.

“So, you four have spent the whole time hiding up here then?” he asked, not expecting an answer from any of them. He was not disappointed in the response.

“So I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of pretty scary things, huh? People dying, monsters attacking people, explosions, gunfire, pretty bad.”

Jane nodded.

“Well Jane, Molly, Stan and Alex. It’s time for you to pull your thumbs out of your asses and get down there to get yourselves armed and start helping out,” his tone of voice confirmed this was not a negotiation. “Civilisation has clearly gone to shit, so nobody’s going to help you. You need to do it for yourselves.”

With still little reaction from any of them, he let his rifle drop down by his side, and he drew his pistol. This resulted in Jane, Molly, Stan and Alex running down the stairs – quickly.

Mason walked back down the stairs slowly to the first floor, assault rifle held in both hands once again, with a big grin across his face.

Chapter Forty Five

“Ah good, reinforcements,” said Danny sarcastically, walking out onto the first floor walkway for the first time, acknowledging the yellow team that had now joined them.

Danny was joined by the other two members of Bravo Five Niner, Gemma, Sophie and Wanda, none of whom looked impressed at what they’d seen walk down the stairs. Between them they’d brought out about a dozen canisters too, keen to introduce Azimuth to some of their toys.

“Come with me, I’ll get you set up,” said Danny, eager to get weapons into their hands. He knew they needed all the help they could get, no matter how much they lacked potential. “Wanda, do you mind?” he asked, gesturing for her to join him, partly for him enjoying her company, as well as to keep her away from the Mason mountain.

“Yeah sure,” she said, happy to spend more time with him.

They led the yellow team into the screen and then into the weapons room, as the others watched on as though witnessing the last walk. Hood unintentionally dropped his head as though the inevitable had already happened.

Once the doors had swung shut behind them, Sophie turned to Gemma, “Jesus, they don’t stand a chance. Look at them, they’re terrified.”

“True, but so did we a day ago. Besides they stand a better chance with us than on their own.”

“But you also need to worry about how much they slow you down,” added Breach. “That makes you more vulnerable if you’re having to look out for them too. It’s a sad truth, but you have to consider these things sometimes.”

“That’s not going to happen,” said Gemma.

“It better not,” said Hood. “They need to play their part. I’m not losing my head because one of them falls apart.”

“We really need to hurry this along,” shouted Breach, looking over the walkway to the gate below.

“Damn, somebody’s learning,” said Sophie, looking at the mass of zombies forming below them. Whilst they’d been busy the gate had grown wider, the constant tremors shaking the building becoming so familiar that they hadn’t noticed until now. There were at least a hundred within the boundaries of the gate, with more forming in the gaps. The gate was being loaded for an all-out attack.

“What do you mean, somebody?” asked Breach.

“There’s some kind of intelligence behind this,” replied Sophie. “They clearly aren’t freaks of nature, somebody is controlling the gates. And they appear to really want us dead.”

They all now understood Danny’s eagerness to get them kitted out when they re-joined them on the walkway.

Gemma struggled to hide her amusement when she turned to see what he’d done with them. Between the four of them, they seemed to be carrying every single one of the weapons that were left in the room, Alex had five different swords sticking out of the combination of shoulder and back harnesses he’d been manhandled into alone. They’d also clearly been forced into carrying two canisters each as well. Danny had drawn the line with responsibility for his actions though and had ironically not entrusted any of them with firearms.

“Hey, Gemma.”

Gemma turned round to find where the shout had come from, but couldn’t locate the source.

“Gemma, up here.”

She walked to the edge of the walkway and looked up to see Steve hanging over the edge of the collapsed roof above them.

“What’s going on down there? Lisa’s getting pretty bad, she really needs some meds soon.”

“We’re working on it, things have gotten a little more complicated down here.”

“Who the hell’s that?” shouted Steve, spotting someone in a yellow shirt carrying a set of nun-chucks.

“It’s a long story, we’ll explain later,” she was glad he hadn’t spotted any of the Americans yet, that would take even longer to explain. “Just take care of Lisa, we’ll get to you as soon as we can.”

“Okay, please hurry,” and then he vanished from view.

Chapter Forty Six

“Err, Gemma,” shouted out Sophie.

“Yeah,” she said, joining Sophie at the railing overlooking the main lobby.

“I hope you’re ready for a fight.”

“Damn,” said Gemma, looking down into the mass of zombies now assembled in the lobby. Many had stepped over the platform encircling the gate and were waiting, watching their prey. With more space cleared, the gate had begun to churn out the next wave.

“The longer we wait, the harder it will be to do anything about them,” shouted Breach above the din of the boiling lava below. “We need to attack now.”

“There’s too many,” said Hood. “With the ammo and other weapons we have available, if they all attack at once, we’re screwed. We need to thin them out first.”

“Agreed,” said Sophie, switching her own rifle to single shot and taking aim.

“As soon as we open fire, Azimuth may flip out. That may allow him to get free. If that happens, we have a serious problem,” said Gemma. “We need to get set up before that happens and ready to drop him. Mason?” she called out, once again turning to the man mountain that was most likely able to fulfil her request.

“Ma’am?” responded Mason.

Her facial response caused him to quickly backtrack.

“My apologies, Gemma,” he nodded for her to continue.

“Do you think you can throw a canister down that corridor alongside Azimuth?”

He looked at her as though she was taking the mick, then picked up a canister and walked to the edge of the walkway.

“Not too far, we need to be able to shoot it from up here,” Gemma commanded.

“Roger,” boomed Mason.

He hung over the edge, took a couple of experimental swings to gauge the distance, then let the canister loose. He aimed low and direct to minimise the bounce, unsure of how strong the metal casing was. It bounced once, hit the underside of Azimuth’s stationary left foot then rolled to the edge of the corridor. Not right next to Azimuth, but close enough to cause some pain, he hoped.

“Boss,” said Mason, his voice lower than usual.

“Yeah?” replied Breach.

“That giant green thing isn’t moving,” said Mason.

“If he’s out you need to do it now Gemma,” screamed Sophie, trying to decide which zombies to shoot at first as they began circling the room, as though picking out their attack routes. There was definite intelligence in their movements.

Gemma raised her rifle and took aim, looking for the canister Mason had thrown next to Azimuth for her, but she couldn’t locate it. The mass of zombies congregating near the corridor blocked her view, and she had no clean shot. Not bothering to wait for agreement from the others, she opened fire, taking out individual targets with headshots, hoping the next dropped body would reveal the canister, but she couldn’t find it.

“Shit!” she yelled, turning to join the others looking over the walkway. Again she was the first to open fire, and the rest followed.

The yellow team had already begun their silent climb back up to their second floor hiding place, hoping they could wait this attack out until rescue came. They were hopelessly outnumbered.

Gemma looked directly below her to the young girl and her sister, who was still holding the ragged teddy bear. She felt the sickness rise again as their black eyes bore into her. Then the younger of the girls raised a hand and pointed it directly at Gemma. After she let out the piercing scream, the attack began.

Chapter Forty Seven

The sound of the gunfire was deafening as they opened fire on the mass of zombies below them. A few were slow to react and easy to achieve head shots on for those accustomed to firearms, being picked off one by one. Danny and Wanda however had adopted a hit-and-hope mind-set and were just firing indiscriminately into the crowd, pulling off the odd lucky shot.

The walls and floor were covered in pock marks within seconds from the bullets that missed their intended targets, plaster and tile dust mixing with the spray of blood and bone fragments in the air. At first the zombies had tried to climb the walls to reach the walkway and they were ready for that, picking them off once they’d almost climbed high enough to clamber over the railing. But with the ever growing pile of bodies on the floor some had found that they could now jump high enough to get hold of the edge of the walkway and had started pulling themselves up. They were being attacked from all angles, and they knew they couldn’t hold this position. Gemma was also aware that they wouldn’t get a long enough gap to get a clear shot on the canister next to Azimuth, they’d need to clear more of the zombies first. With more coming through the gate as they continued firing, the immensity of this task dawned on her.

“Hold the walkway,” she screamed, as she slung the rifle over her shoulder and ran back into the screen they’d just left.

“Where the hell is she going?” yelled Hood, furious that she’d tucked tail and ran.

“Gemma, where are you going?” shouted Sophie.

“Just hold the walkway,” she shouted back. “Do not move on without me,” then she disappeared through the double doors.

“Jesus Christ, this is just like being back in Kandahar, eh boss?” yelled Hood.

“Yeah, but I don’t remember anyone climbing walls out there. Crap,” he yelled as he took one out that had caught him off guard, managing to swing the butt of his rifle up and connect with the bottom of its chin as it launched at him unseen from round the side of the lift shaft, snapping its neck right back.

“We’re not going to be able to stay here much longer,” yelled Hood. “We need to move to higher ground.”

“We’re not going anywhere, not without Gemma,” shouted Sophie, above the din of the continuous gunfire.

“We never leave a man behind, but what’s so important about that woman?” yelled Breach, moving nearer to Sophie’s side.

“I don’t know yet. But I need her alive,” her rifle magazine clicked empty, and without hesitation she span it round and used the heavy stock to cave in the head of a zombie that had the distinct misfortune of popping its head up over the railing directly in front of her. Pulling another magazine from the strapping on her back, she reloaded the rifle and swung it back round, nailing two perfect head shots on the two zombies that had taken their chances on the back wall. “One soldier to another, I need her alive. Do you understand?”

Breach nodded, pushed her to one side, and struck the approaching zombie with a solid kick to the groin, crushing the pelvic girdle in one movement. The zombie crouched forward, offering its head to Breach, who obliged by grabbing either side of the jaw and twisting the head violently to one side to a satisfyingly loud crack.

“Well she better hurry the hell up, we can’t hold this position for long.”

“Come on Gemma, what are you doing?” Sophie whispered in her own head.

 

Gemma had nearly finished up in the second armoury room and after some fumbling about had managed to attach the mobile steam generator pipe to the valve at the base of the weapon and clipped it onto the waist of what was left of her skirt. Lifting the weapon from the ground, she wondered if maybe she should have sent one of the Americans back in here to get it, now realising how heavy it actually was when fully loaded. With one hand holding the trigger handle and the other supporting the copper plated barrel handle, she strained to straighten her back against the weight of the gun and the ammunition. She told herself it would be easier to carry once she’d fired it a few times, which would side-track her from rushing back to the others.

Making her way back across the wrecked screening room she felt the debris shift as she stepped on top of it. She could hear Azimuth’s heavy breathing and once she’d climbed with difficulty over the remains of the first few rows of seats she found herself standing on one end of the steel lintel that had pierced his shoulder and pinned him down. He’d gone to sleep, and she could see the flesh healing slowly around the wound, pushing the lintel to the side and out of the wound as it did so. She took a small jump on the lintel, pushing it tight into his shoulder. He winced in pain, but did not wake. It wouldn’t be long before he’d recovered from his injury.

She hopped off the lintel and moved further across the debris to find a solid vantage point directly above his head. Lining the end of the barrel up to the green flesh just above his eyes, she steadied herself, took a deep breath, and squeezed the trigger.

“Shit!”

 

The number of zombies made it impossible to prevent them all from reaching the walkway, so Mason had let his rifle swing by his side and switched to his pistol, going for single head shots to drop the attackers. He’d been in some pretty bad situations with his team before, but he knew this was the worst. They were outnumbered massively. Two zombies blindsided him, jumping onto his back and knocking him to the ground. He fell against the railings and just managed to grab a hold of the edge before he fell over to the lobby floor below. With his back turned and one arm tied up securing himself he had no means of defence, the thick padding on the back of his jacket being the only defence from the first bites.

Hood spotted his team mate go down and rushed to his aid, letting down his own guard in the process. The unseen zombie that had crawled onto the walkway at floor level grabbed at his feet, tripping him as he rushed to help Mason. He rolled to the side and managed to flip over quickly enough to fire two shots between the sneaky bastard’s eyes, but he was not quick enough to help Mason.

If it wasn’t for Sophie spotting his predicament and firing a shot each into the back of Mason’s attackers’ heads, they’d be another man down already. Danny and Wanda had already run out of ammo and again forgotten how to reload, now using the heavy butts of their weapons to smash the skulls of the zombies in as they tried to climb over the railing. Danny tried to pull Wanda back a step to protect her seeing she was growing tired quickly and struggling to raise the gun for each subsequent strike.

With Mason free of what he felt was a cowardly attack from behind, he pulled on the edge of the walkway to drag himself back in but stopped as he saw Azimuth out of the corner of his eye. His legs were shaking violently as if he was having some kind of fit. “What the hell?” he said to himself.

“What’s that sound?” asked Sophie.

“Is that gunfire?” asked Hood.

“I’m not sure. It came from in there,” she said, pointing back towards the screening room Gemma had ran into.

After a few seconds, time they couldn’t spare with the ongoing assault, the doors swung open.

“Christ, get down!” yelled Sophie.

Mason and Hood had spotted Gemma come through the doors and had hit the deck before Sophie had finished yelling the instruction.

Breach was a split second further behind, dropping to the ground behind a pile of zombies, using them as a temporary shield.

Wanda hit the floor as quickly as the rest of them, reaching back up to grab hold of Danny’s belt and drag him down next to her. He would have lost his head if she’d hesitated.

Gemma took a few steps further into the walkway, turned to face the handful of zombies trying to climb over the guardrail, and squeezed the heavy trigger of the six barrelled gatling gun. Discharging at more than fifty rounds per second, the weapon tore the closest zombies into a cloud of blood and bone fragments. Gemma stepped further towards the guardrail, leaning forward as she went as the kickback from the gun tried to lift her backwards off her feet. She swung it to her right and dislodged a group of zombies trying to clamber up the wall, as well as half of the wall.

Releasing the trigger for a second to give her finger a momentary rest, and the shoulder joint that felt like it was being vibrated out of its socket, she took aim at the main lobby area and opened fire again. The zombies knew what was up and had gone from blind rage in trying to get at their human prey and switched to self-preservation mode. They fell over each other as they fought to escape the line of bullets cutting across the room, tearing bodies to pieces. Head shots didn’t really matter right now, every single round was removing limbs. In the panic, some of the zombies turned on others, throwing them in the path of the gunfire to buy themselves more time. Seeing the mangled body of the zombie that used to be Pete in the corridor earlier now made sense.

With more than half of the zombies ripped to pieces, Gemma ran out of ammo. She stood holding the gun, finger still pulled tight against the trigger, the whirring from the empty barrels cutting through the air. Smoke trailed from the suppressor, mixing with the cloud of red in the lobby. They knew what they were all breathing in.

“Wow, that was amazing!” screamed Danny, jumping back to his feet.

“Oh my God,” said Wanda, rising next to Danny.

Sophie clambered back to her feet and stood beside Gemma, placing her hand on Gemma’s right and gently pulling against her finger to get her to release the trigger. A loud click signified she’d done this, and the whirring quickly stopped.

Hood got back to his feet, seriously impressed with what he’d seen, and nodded his approval at Mason, who acknowledged with the same gesture.

“Where in the hell did you find a steam powered gatling gun?” asked Breach, noticing the contraption with the pressure valve secured at her waist.

“It was in the cupboard,” said Gemma, dropping the gun to the ground to a large metallic crash. Her face was blank, no expression.

“Whoa, don’t leave it there,” said Danny. “We should keep hold of that thing.”

“No more bullets,” said Gemma. “That’s the lot.”

“Damn. Such a waste,” he said.

“Did you notice what some of those zombies did?” asked Gemma, looking towards Sophie.

“Yeah, I did. They really are turning on each other. I have no answer for that right now though.

“Damn. We need to fall back,” called out Breach, looking over the walkway. “They’re regrouping. We’ll have to hold them from the second floor.”

Nobody needed to hear this suggestion twice as they backed up to the stairs whilst resuming fire on the next group of attackers brave enough to stick their heads up over the edge of the walkway. The ammunition was running out fast. There was still more in the room at the back of the screen here, but it looked like they were going to lose this floor.

“Breach, look,” shouted Sophie, pointing towards where the walkway on this floor connected to the massive concrete and steel pillar running up the centre of the building, host to the lift shaft they’d climbed up. The retaining bolts were straining under the weight of the walkway as most at the other end had been damaged when Gemma had blown Tombstone up, the brackets were twisting and groaning under the pressure, the sound of the metal under stress audible even above the gunfire. They both took aim and fired at what was left of the brackets, blowing them out of their concrete moorings. The walkway dropped away at the centre of the room first, followed by the other end, crushing a large group of zombies underneath. About ten of them were on the walkway when it fell, knocking them off their feet, and as they climbed back up, they stared directly at Gemma. Gemma didn’t wait to see if they’d taken up any sentient thought though, grabbing a canister from the bottom step and throwing it directly at them.

“Shit,” shouted Breach, as he turned and bolted up the double flight of stairs.

As the gunshot rang out and the explosion followed the staircase shook violently, shattering what glass panels were left in it and causing Breach to lose his footing. His trigger finger was caught in his rifle, preventing him from dropping the gun, meaning he had to try to arrest his fall with the single hand. Grabbing a hold of the handrail as he tumbled over the edge, he felt his shoulder pull violently out of the socket as all his weight rested on the one hand. He’d only dislocated the same shoulder three months before, and this time the pain was even worse, sending searing heat through the side of his body. He felt his grip on the rail loosen as his arm weakened, wincing with pain as his shoulder twisted further. As his hand finally lost the last of its grip on the rail he closed his eyes, waiting for the drop to end. He hoped he’d land badly enough for a fatal injury so he wouldn’t have to become one of those things. He hoped one of his team wouldn’t have to put a bullet in his head like they’d done to White.

His shoulder pierced with white hot pain again as his whole body weight rested on it one further time, the tight grip on his wrist making him open his eyes. Gemma was staring straight down at him, the strain of his weight evident as veins popped in her neck, both hands gripped tightly on his lower arm. She let out a scream as she pulled hard and dragged him back onto the staircase, Breach collapsing on his back a couple of steps lower than her.

“Hey, come on you two, stop messing around,” shouted down Hood from the next flight up, oblivious to his boss’s close call.

“You okay?” Gemma sat up and kicked at Breach’s leg.

“Yeah, I owe you one,” said Breach gratefully.

“Well now’s a good time to repay that then,” she said, swinging her rifle back around from her shoulder and opening fire at the two zombies that had just rounded the corner next to them.

Breach jumped to his feet, throwing the rifle back over his shoulder and drawing his pistol. He knew he couldn’t use the rifle accurately one-handed so this was his best option.

The sound of gunfire continued on the second floor, but the danger seemed less imminent once it became obvious that there was a limit to how high the zombies could climb before gravity took over and they started to fall back down from the wall. But some were persistent, and were taking advantage of numerous cracks in the walls to secure hand and foot holds to assist their climb. Weapons being switched from full auto to single shot signified that they were really low on ammo and needed a break, but it looked unlikely they’d have one soon.

Breach stepped onto the second floor walkway and dropped to one knee, just in Mason’s line of sight.

“Boss, you okay?” he shouted.

“Damn shoulder again,” he replied. Breach dropped to the floor and rolled onto his back, arm outstretched towards Mason. “Do it,” he commanded.

Mason nodded and stepped forward, crouched down next to Breach, secured his feet either side of his shoulder and took firm hold of his arm.

“On three,” he said.

Breach nodded.

“One, two…”

Crunch.

“Son of a bitch,” screamed Breach.

“You’re welcome,” smiled Mason, getting back to his feet and reassuringly slapping Breach on his good shoulder.

Hood had stationed himself at the top of the stairs and was taking care of the odd zombie that dared to poke its head round the corner. Their numbers were definitely dwindling though.

“Gemma, we can’t go much longer,” shouted Sophie, looking over her shoulder to check she was listening in between taking pot shots at climbing zombies.

“I know, we need to take that shot on Azimuth and try to clear that corridor but we can’t get the angle from up here. We need to be on the first floor,” replied Sophie.

“Or the ground,” said Gemma.

“Great, how are you going to get past them to do that? There’s still a lot down there if you hadn’t noticed.”

“I’ve got an idea. Mason,” she yelled.

“Yeah?” he boomed above the gunfire.

“Fancy coming for a little trip with me?” she asked, walking over to the lift doors and winking at him.

“Damn right,” he said, as he realised what she was thinking.

“Are you insane?” shouted Sophie, grabbing Gemma’s arm.

“Since I came in here, yes,” said Gemma.

“That’s not funny,” said Sophie, tightening her grip on Gemma’s arm.

“If we don’t deal with Azimuth now, then when he gets back to full strength I don’t think we’ll be able to hold him off. We need to put him out of action, and get out of this damn building.”

“Be careful.”

“I won’t,” she smiled as she stepped to one side and let Mason wrench the lift doors open. She turned back round to look at Sophie again before she stepped into the open shaft to catch her checking out Mason’s rump. Sophie realised she’d been busted and pretended her gun was jammed, messing with the magazine. Gemma climbed into the shaft first, jumping across to the side to get hold of the ladder, followed by Mason as the doors slammed shut behind them.

Chapter Forty Eight

On the first floor, in the metal lined room behind the screen, everything was still. The shelves were mostly empty and just two wooden boxes of ammunition remained on a side table. But the screams and groans from the next room were louder than ever, the sounds of trapped animals, desperate to escape their cage. The sound of hands slamming and scratching against the metal venting pipework echoed across the room. Then there was an abrupt metallic sound as the venting collapsed, followed by the frenzied clawing of nails on metal. The venting in adjoining rooms creaked under the added pressure of extra weight. Throughout the ravaged building, wherever there was a ventilation grate connected to the air conditioning system, savage cries rang out and hung in the air.

Chapter Forty Nine

“Hey boss, looks like we’re through the worst,” shouted Hood, as he’d not had to shoot any more zombies for maybe thirty seconds on the stairway.

“Yeah, I think they’ve stopped coming through the gate,” shouted back Breach. “Maybe they’re running out of monsters to throw at us.”

“I don’t think so,” yelled Danny. “Look at them, they’re still eyeing us up. They’re waiting for something again.”

“Shit, what is it this time?” said Breach aloud.

The zombies that were left had congregated on the ground floor, staring straight up at them, teeth bared. But they had halted their attack, for now.

“What’s that?” asked Wanda, pointing towards the edge of the gate far below.

From this distance it wasn’t clear what was now making its appearance, but it was big.

Breach raised his rifle and looked through his scope to get a closer look at what was coming next.

“Shit,” he said.

“What is it?” asked Danny. “What can you see?”

“Hood,” he yelled out.

Satisfied that the stairs would remain clear for a moment, Hood answered his boss’s call and joined him next to the walkway.

“What do you make of that?” asked Breach, not taking his eye of the scope.

Hood took aim and a second later gave his assessment, “Shit.”

“Brilliant,” said Wanda.

Far below them the creature had finished forming and stepped out from the gate, roaming around the lobby floor, fire still licking at its limbs as it assessed its surroundings.

“Hey guys, what’s taking so long?” shouted a voice from the opening in the roof.

Danny raised a hand to his brow to shield his eyes from the sun and just about made out the shape of Tony. He’d forgotten about the others seeking refuge elsewhere in the building.

“We’re having a ton of problems down here at the moment,” shouted Danny.

“Well you need to hurry up, Lisa isn’t…..what the hell is that?” screamed Tony as he spotted the creature stalking around in the lobby. “Never mind,” he shouted as it appeared to look up to stare directly at him.

Tony was gone.

Hood took careful aim and fired one shot directly at the creature’s head, which appeared to serve no purpose but to piss it off. The provocation was enough to cause it to back up a few steps, push most of its weight onto its hind legs and let out a deafening scream from its huge teeth laden mouth.

From this angle they were able to see exactly what they were facing, twenty feet head to base of spine and the same again for the tail of pure muscle and foot long claws on each of its four paws.

With the scream the hidden trail of spikes along its spine stood on end, yellow and white sparks of electricity surging between them. Its spine lit up as the electrical charge travelled the full length of its body, turning the air between its teeth to plasma in a bright blue glow.

It appeared to be some kind of unholy amalgamation of different creatures, packaged into the perfect killing machine, and it clearly had its sights set on them. In an effortless motion it jumped up on to the remains of the first floor walkway, its massive claws smashing a hole into the glass lift shaft as it grabbed for a secure hold. Another scream echoed off the interior walls of the building as it reached up to grab at the second floor walkway, only for its climb to be halted as Breach and Hood opened fire. The bullets thudded into the flesh on its skull, seeming to be swallowed up. There were blood spatters, but nothing like when you’d put this kind of firepower into an animal normally. It thrashed from side to side, but it didn’t retreat. Instead, it ducked below their feet and disappeared under the walkway.

“Shit, it’s underneath us,” shouted Hood, backing away from the edge, swinging his rifle from side to side ready for it to pop back up on either side.

Breach used the split second reprieve to drop another empty magazine to the floor and reload. In his experienced hands the whole action took a fraction of a second, but to him it felt like an eternity. Relieved he was ready to fend off the next attack, he followed Hood’s actions and swept the walkway with the barrel of his rifle for the creature.

“Where is it?” whispered Wanda.

The doors at the East end of the walkway smashed open and out ran members of the yellow team, screaming and waving an array of bludgeoning tools around their heads.

They ran to the centre of the walkway and all tried to hide behind Sophie and Danny.

“What the hell now?” yelled Hood.

“They’re in there, we didn’t see them coming,” stammered Maggie.

“I don’t get how,” said Sophie. “They didn’t get by us.”

“They fell through the air conditioning vent in the ceiling. They landed right on top of us,” she screamed again as the screen room doors swung open once more and out stepped Alex, or what used to be Alex. Blood soaked into his shirt and the flesh of his throat hanging loose over the top of his shoulder, he stumbled along the walkway. He paused for a second to eye up his prey, appeared to smile, then waved one arm ahead. Five more zombies ran out from the doors, rounded Alex and closed down on those standing on the walkway. As Breach and Hood took aim and opened fire, dropping those at the front instantly, the three remaining members of yellow team backed up further towards the other end of the walkway.

Hood’s rifle clicked on empty again with one of the attackers only feet from him and moving fast. He swung the butt of the rifle up quickly, expecting to make an easy job of snapping the creature’s neck but his blow just missed the side of the skull. Used to hand-to-hand combat, Hood let the rifle swing by his side and drew the telescopic hardened steel truncheon from his thigh as he swung back around and took a swing at the back of the zombie’s head. It would have been an easy kill, but Hood lost his balance, putting too much weight into the swing as the zombie dodged to the side, avoiding the attack again. Lunging forward a few steps to steady himself, Hood found himself with his back to the zombie and partly crouched, a position he knew the danger of, but got no chance to defend himself as he felt the teeth grip onto the fabric on his right shoulder. Only the Kevlar pads under his camouflage jacket spared him his immediate demise, the putrid stench of rotting flesh seeping into his nostrils, as the zombie dug its nails into his arm and back, trying to secure a firmer hold. Hood was strong, and knew his way out of a hold, but he was drawing a blank. In a moment of panic, all the counter attacks he could think of required him to get his bare hands near the zombie’s face, and he rightly feared getting bitten.

The grunting noise from his attacker suddenly stopped, and the grip on his arm released a little. He took the chance and snapped himself upright, swinging his arms straight up and pushing the zombie off his back. The zombie stood next to him, motionless. Some of Hood’s jacket hung from its teeth, its black eyes staring into nothing. Spotting the unmistakeable carving on the handgrip, Hood snatched at Breach’s hunting knife sticking out of the top of the zombie’s skull and sliced it across the soft skin at the base of the neck, severing the spinal cord. The zombie wobbled on its feet, but did not go down. Hood tossed Breach the knife, then retrieved his truncheon from the floor. He took a couple of steps run up for extra momentum and swung the heavily modified weighted end into the zombie’s left temple, tearing off the side of the skull and leaving a blood spatter across the ceiling high above them.

The undead Alex stood motionless on the blood stained carpet, staring at his foes, corners of the mouth still upturned as though attempting a disfigured smile.

“I’ve had enough of this,” said Sophie, raising her gun and firing a single shot to the forehead, spraying blood across the far doors.

The rest of the yellow team were still backing across the walkway, huddled together as though this would afford them more protection. Sophie turned to look at them, and felt as though the next moments jumped into slow motion for her. She’d already lowered her gun hand back down after shooting Alex and had to raise it again, but couldn’t do this quickly enough, or voice the warning in time.

“Move,” she tried to yell, but it was too late.

Jane was the nearest to her, and she was the one who got covered in most of the blood. She heard the slicing sound behind her, and turned to see a massive grey claw protruding from Maggie’s stomach, blood dripping off the tip onto the carpet. Maggie’s feet lifted slowly off the floor as the creature raised her impaled body, revealing itself from its hiding place at the side of the lift shaft. It shook its claw from side to side, swinging her body around like a rag doll. She was still alive, just, and mustered the best attempt at a scream she could, but it just came out as a whimper. Blood gushed from her mouth with every movement. The creature, satisfied with its kill, then slung the broken body over the side of the walkway, falling down two flights to the lobby floor below. The damp crushing sound confirmed what happened to the body at the bottom, and the feeding frenzy from the newer zombies on that level began.

Chapter Fifty

“I’m guessing this is quite different to your normal mission then Mason?” asked Gemma, trying to break the silence of their downwards climb. The lift shaft was quite well insulated from the sound on the outside, gunshots only travelling as muffled sound waves.

“I’m seen some pretty crazy shit over the years,” he boomed, his voice destroying the silence. “But nothing like this before.”

“You think you’ve still got anyone to get home to after this, if we get out?” she asked.

“I’m not married. I have a sister in New Orleans though, not seen her for a few years, but I’d like to check in on her. What about you?”

“Just my mum. We live together in Stoke. I hope she got somewhere safe when it all kicked off.”

“I’m sure she did,” said Mason. Both of them knew at this moment in time there was a strong likelihood neither of them would get their wishes.

Their familiarisation exercise was interrupted when the glass wall of the lift shaft behind them smashed, firing tiny shards towards them. Mason assumed it was a stray bullet until Gemma looked behind her and cursed.

Mason turned to see the underside of a massive four legged creature climbing up the outside of the shaft, the glass creaking with each footstep it took.

“Christ, what now?” he sounded out.

“Not seen one of them before,” she yelled. “And we thought Azimuth was our biggest problem!”

“We really need to deal with him,” he said, hurrying his descent.

“Agreed. I need some information out of him first though,“ said Gemma.

“You’re gonna have to be quick. Now he’s obviously not the last of the bigger things to come out of that gate, we need to finish him before we’re completely overwhelmed.”

Gemma reached the bottom step of the ladder, turned and then jumped across to the ledge on the opposite side. She swung her rifle back round off her shoulder and set herself up ready to take a shot when Mason was ready. She cursed in her mind that she would have to make this shot left handed. For a brief second she joked to herself that maybe that skill was to come in a later vision.

“Damn,” she muttered to herself.

“What?” Mason looked down at her crouched next to his leg, ready to pop her head outside.

“Nothing, you ready?” she asked, locking the butt of the rifle into her shoulder.

Mason pushed his hands together and began to prise the ground floor lift doors open for the second time.

Chapter Fifty One

Stan and Jane didn’t want to stick around to be the next to get flung over the side, darting the quickest anyone had seen them move yet. Stan rolled across the floor and found himself in the somewhat safer position of having Hood between him and the creature. Jane bolted for the stairs that Hood had now left unguarded.

As Hood and Breach emptied their magazines into the head of the creature, seemingly to little noticeable effect, Jane disappeared down the stairs. Checking behind her as she ran, she nearly missed half of the walkway missing, just realising in time to secure a single hand on the rail as she fell. Flinging her primary weapon of choice, a hockey stick, to one side, she managed to get the second hand on the rail and swing herself back up.

Two zombies below, that had unfortunately for them got caught up in the walkway fall, thrashed about at the thought of a fresh meal dropping down to them. Their legs were pinned under the pile of rubble, their attempts to free themselves ripping at flesh and exposing bones and vertebrae in the process. Jane looked down at them in disgust, then retrieved the stick. Realising now there was no easy way to get down to the ground floor, and seeing that this was clearly not a good idea anyway, she weighed up her other options, quickly.

She recalled the room on this floor they’d got the weapons from, but had no intention of going through the dark screen on her own to get there. Her only other option was the double doors behind her, locked shut with a chain through the metal handles on either door and secured with a substantial padlock. Even she could see the weak point was the wooden doors, which she swung the stick at with considerable force. A few swings had knocked the handle on the right loose, but not enough to pull it from the door yet. The sound of on-going gunfire from above drowned out anything else going on besides the noise of the door being attacked.

With the end of the stick smashed to bits and of no further use she threw it behind her, pausing for a second as she heard it bounce off the head of one of the trapped zombies below. Reaching behind her, she unsheathed the second weapon she’d selected, and on assessing it again wondered why she hadn’t used this in the first place. Brandishing the two foot long metal pipe, with a chunky clasp locked on to one end, she clumsily rested it against the loose door handle to line up her aim, lifted it high above her head ready to swing and almost toppled over as she struggled with the weight. A step from side-to-side got her back in to her original starting position and she swung down towards the door, ripping the handle off and managing a couple of sparks in the process.

She never got chance to raise the pipe again in defence as the zombies spilled out onto the walkway. If she’d have taken the time to check for any sounds from behind the door before she knocked it open, she would have heard them scratching to get out from the other side. Two of them took her straight to ground, their teeth tearing at the flesh on her neck. She could hear the sound of the blood gurgling in her own throat as her eyes slowly closed. The two zombies still trapped under the collapsed walkway listened on in disappointment as their prey was taken by others.

Jane re-opened her eyes, but this time everything before her had a greenish and hazy hue. Looking up she watched two zombies climb off her and circle her ravaged body, sniffing at the air. She stumbled to her feet, grabbing at her head as the dizziness took control for a second. Looking round she spotted a metal pipe on the floor beside her feet. She picked it up, examining it closely as she sniffed at the metal: it looked familiar. She felt the urge to sniff at the air like those around her. She felt nothing but the hunger. A need to feed rose within her and she knew only one thing would satisfy this hunger. Grunting to get the attention of those before her, she sprinted back up the stairs, brandishing the heavy metal pipe, teeth bared and ready to eat.

Chapter Fifty Two

Breach and Hood emptied their magazines at the same time, both realising with this predicament they couldn’t cover the other whilst either one re-loaded. They both knew their position was untenable, given what they’d seen this thing do, and allowed their rifles to swing from their straps as each reached for a blade. At such close quarters each knew they stood better chance of survival with the knives than with their handguns, a quick glance behind Hood saw Sophie struggling with the trigger on her rifle, cursing as she saw the threat before them. And so far their bullets had achieved poor accuracy as the creature always seemed to know where the next one would go, either avoiding them completely or only suffering minor flesh wounds. The need to dodge out of the way of the constantly whipping tale didn’t help. It was pure muscle, smashing holes out of everything it made contact with, but the massive barbs on the enlarged section at the tip of the tail were especially dangerous: strong, sharp and with electrical charges surging between them. Breach saw them distort one of the steel beams in the roof above them; he didn’t want that happening to his head.

The creature sniffed at them both, switching its head to focus from one to the other, as though picking out which one would die first. Breach lunged forward with his blade, hoping to inflict the first injury, but it predictably dodged out of the way, snapping at his arm with a mouth filled with razor sharp teeth, static leaping across to his blade making his hand go numb for a moment. Breach got a whiff of its breath as it exhaled at him. It smelled of dead flesh.

The creature backed up and raised a front paw to protect its head as Danny stepped forward, both hands secured on the pistol he’d drawn from Sophie’s waist, firing directly at it. They knew he was hurting it at such close quarters, as it winced and groaned in pain, but it was distracted. As Danny ran out of bullets, the creature turned its head to the side and sniffed at the air again. Hood took advantage of this drop in concentration to get in a well-aimed slice at the raised paw, taking one of the four claws off its exposed limb. Surprised he’d inflicted that amount of damage, he swung his arm straight back up, hoping to do the same again as Breach followed suit. The creature’s reaction was blindingly fast, swinging the injured paw violently out and knocking them both off their feet. It struggled to put its full weight back down on the injured limb as it pulled itself over the handrail to secure a strong vantage point over the lobby below. Focusing downward as though it had sensed a new threat, it leapt over the edge, twisting the metal handrail as it went, the sound of claws hitting the floor far below. The scream it released on the way down caused Danny to raise the gun to cover his ears, with Wanda ducking out of the way as he did so.

Hood and Breach jumped back to their feet, re-sheathing the knives and locking full magazines back into their rifles, then peering back over the edge. Neither one got a chance to fire any rounds off as they saw the tail of the creature disappear into the corridor that Azimuth was trapped in.

“At least we know we can hurt this one too,” said Danny, walking to the edge, examining the claw he’d picked up from the floor. It was heavy, with a purplish tint, and the tip was razor sharp, as they’d seen.

“Let me see that,” said Breach, reaching out to take it.

Danny offered it towards him, then grunted and dropped it, grabbing at his fingers.

Breach tried to grab it as it fell, he too dropping it again as soon as he felt the intense heat from the claw. As it hit the floor smoke poured off it as it set light to the carpet around it, Breach stamping the small flames out. The claw seemed to crack and separate, orange veins running through it, before it turned a deep burnt black.

“What the hell?” asked Sophie, kicking at the circle of burnt carpet. The concrete underneath crumbled as that too hadn’t stood up to the heat.

Before anyone could offer up any suggestions they were interrupted from the screams behind. By now Sophie had dealt with the issue with her rifle and was the first to open fire on the zombies that had appeared from the staircase. From where she stood she only had a clear angle on one at the back, shooting at either of the front runners would have potentially put others at risk of collateral fire. She therefore could do nothing about the leader of the attack, the zombie formerly known as Jane, as it pounced at Stan, standing next to the handrail. No one else got the chance to react and try to help him as the force of the attack forced him and the zombie over the top of the twisted rail. Wanda raised her hands to her face in shock as the thought of going out that way seemed even worse than being eaten, moving her hands over her ears as she heard the sound of bones crunching as they hit the ground below.

Breach had time to swing the butt of his rifle round, managing a fatal blow to the face of the third zombie. As it hit the floor he swung the rifle back around and fired two shots into the skull to be sure.

Danny took the initiative and grabbed the scruff of the neck of a zombie that had stepped onto the walkway at high speed, capitalised on its momentum and ran it towards the opposite side of the walkway, launching it over the handrail. It groaned in disappointment as it disappeared over the edge.

Wanda readied herself for her first close quarters kill, taking aim at the head of a zombie rushing her. If it wasn’t for Hood grabbing at the creature and snapping its neck from behind she would have found quite quickly that she had no ammo left and would have been screwed.

Chapter Fifty Three

As Mason forced the lift doors far enough apart, Gemma stepped one foot outside into the lobby, then took aim.

“Shit.”

“What?” asked Mason, struggling to hold the doors.

Gemma swept the rifle from side-to-side, desperately searching for the canister, but it wasn’t there.

“The canister’s gone. It was right there,” she screamed.

“Gemma.”

“Where the hell is it?” she continued to search, but nothing.

The scream and sudden crunching noise of someone hitting the ground caused Gemma to swing the rifle round to the front of the lobby.

“What the hell is that?” she asked, looking at the massive creature strutting across the lobby on all fours, favouring one of its front paws.

“I don’t know, but it’s got your canister,” he said.

“Mason, get ready to shut the door.”

“Roger,” he said, realising her intentions without any clarification needed.

As soon as she fired the shot she dropped back inside the lift shaft and Mason released the doors as the ground shook once again. Rather than be pleased with her shot, Gemma couldn’t help think they had encountered another creature they couldn’t kill. She needed to know. She nodded her wish to Mason, and he acknowledged this by stepping back up to the doors and prising them open once more. The burning in his chest made him wince in pain, and sweat burned his eyes as he strained against the heavy machinery.

Gemma’s fear turned to relief as she saw the front barricade of the lobby had been decorated with the entrails of the creature. The feeling of success quickly went as she realised that they now had no canister next to Azimuth to detonate, and she knew Mason couldn’t keep it up with these doors much longer.

Mason wanted to try and stop her but he could only muster the energy to secure the doors, he had none left for speaking. Gemma stepped out of the shaft and out onto the lobby floor, right in to open ground.

“Hey,” she yelled at the top of her voice, looking directly above them. “Is anyone left up there?”

“Yeah,” Mason was relieved to hear the voice of his commanding officer, but he couldn’t join in the conversation.

“Nice move, taking out that big bastard,” shouted Sophie. “I take it that was you?”

“Yeah, but we have another problem now. That was the canister for Azimuth. I need another one, they’re all on the floor above and I don’t think Mason can make it back up again. These lift doors are killing him.”

Mason wanted to interject at this point, to save his reputation, but he had nothing left in the tank.

“We’ll sort it,” shouted Breach. “Give us a minute.”

“Thanks. Bang on the lift doors when you’re done,” she shouted back up, before disappearing back in to the lift shaft, much to Mason’s relief.

Chapter Fifty Four

“Hood, Sophie, on me,” commanded Breach, heading down the stairs. Neither one argued.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs and stepping back on to the first floor walkway, Breach and Sophie confirmed there was no immediate threat before running to the canisters they’d left on this level earlier.

Hood paused on the bottom step as he heard two zombies arguing between themselves over something below. Looking down he saw the amusement in two being trapped under a pile of concrete, tearing their own bodies to pieces trying to free themselves. Rather than take the chance they would get to him later due to sheer luck, he put a bullet in each one’s heads. Walking across the walkway to join the other two who had already picked up a canister each, the building shook again under the force of another tremor.

“Oh shit, you’ve got to be kidding me,” said Hood, leaning over the side to examine the gate. “Christ boss, there’s more of those things coming through again, we need to hurry this along.”

“What does it look like I’m doing,” snapped Breach, swinging his arm over the side and bouncing a canister into the corridor alongside a still stationary Azimuth.

As he picked up another one, Sophie stopped him. ”Wait, hang on. Gemma said she wants to try to get some information out of the Gilmore.”

“What, are you kidding me?” shouted Hood. “The longer that thing is alive, the longer it poses a threat. We don’t yet know what it’s capable of, and it’s blocking our exit. If we don’t blow it up now, we might not get another chance. Do you understand?”

“We really struggled with the last creature they threw at us,” interrupted Breach. “We might not fare so well with the next one. We’re killing that thing. Now help, or stand aside.”

Sophie took a step back, but knew they were right. They were risking them all dying in here on the remote chance that Azimuth would know something, not even knowing if he’d be willing to give that information up. He was obviously different to Tombstone. Gemma played a bigger part in all this than she realised but she was going to have to wait for answers.

She declared her position by grabbing another canister and hurling it over the edge. With all of them now secured down below, they made their way back along the walkway and to the stairs. Hood and Sophie went straight up the stairs but Breach went over to the right to smash the butt of his rifle against the lift doors. As he brought the weapon down against the door, one of the latest arrivals threw itself up onto the walkway from the collapsed section, grabbing at Breach’s left boot as he flew. Breach heard, but didn’t spot, the zombie coming and couldn’t move his leg quickly enough. He kicked at its head with his right foot, crushing and mangling its skull as he stamped down. He watched as the lifeless corpse slid back down over the edge, crashing into the rubble below.

He didn’t hear anything, or feel any pain. Just the warm sensation as the blood ran down his neck. He turned to look at his reflection in the lift doors: tired, dirty, blood soaking into his jacket. The creature had its arms wrapped around him, the head buried deep into the soft flesh at the side of his skull. Its head thrashed about as it ate. Breach dropped the rifle, drew the pistol from his side and fired into the zombie gripped onto his shoulder. As the body crumpled to the floor he stepped forward and banged with the base of the handle on the doors three times. He looked down at the watch strapped to his left wrist, turned in to face him. Thirty seconds wasn’t long at all. He wasn’t going to put a bullet in his own head, that wasn’t his style. He looked to the far end of the walkway, to the part of the building that was about to be demolished, and ran towards it.

“No…..” screamed Hood, as he saw Breach run, spotting the blood on his neck and jacket. He’d come back down when he heard the gunshot, but was too far back to stop him.

Breach reached the end of the walkway, and threw himself over the side, crashing into the pile of canisters. He landed awkwardly, shattering his left knee in the fall. He didn’t feel any pain though. He had one final mission to complete and he wouldn’t fail. Lying prone on the floor, he raised his pistol to the nearest canister just three feet away and pulled the trigger.

Chapter Fifty Five

On hearing the single bang against the door above, Gemma turned to Mason, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” he said, climbing back to his feet and re-taking his position in front of the heavy doors.

Again wincing in pain and wheezing from the exertion, he forced the doors open once more.

Gemma was ready to pop out and take aim to the side, she hadn’t thought to check directly ahead for any threats, and she regretted the second she emerged.

“Down,” yelled Mason, as the two zombies lunged at Mason, standing completely un-defendable in the opening.

Gemma was knocked off her feet, causing her to fall back inside the lift shaft, as the zombies bit into Mason’s outstretched arms. She felt sick in her stomach as she realised the two attackers this time were the two young girls that had been haunting her all day. The ones she couldn’t save.

The doors slammed shut as Mason collapsed backwards, crushing the older girl between them as the younger retained her grip on him, continuing to bite down on his arm. Mason’s arms and legs flailed about wildly as he fought to push the attacker away, but he was far too drained. The kicking prevented Gemma from getting her rifle into position to be any use in the constricted space, so she dropped this in favour of the pistol on her belt. As she raised it in front of her and took aim at the younger zombie, she paused her attack and turned her head to face Gemma. She wasn’t going to make this easy for her, and Gemma found herself looking into the eyes of this young girl. They were black as night, illuminated for a second with an orange glow as she pulled the trigger, shattering the skull up the shaft wall behind her. Someone continued to bang on the doors up above.

“Jesus Christ, give me a chance,” she thought to herself.

She swung the pistol round to point in the face of the one stuck in the doors just as it managed to wriggle its way free, leaving its bottom half jammed in the doors as the upper half of the torso spilled onto the floor, a trail of intestines still connecting the two. The smell of rotting organs was more putrid than normal in the enclosed space of the lift shaft, making her raise her free hand to her mouth to try to contain the rising nausea. Satisfied she wasn’t bringing anything up, she climbed back to her feet, looking down with pity at the mangled corpse struggling on the floor. It was no longer a clear threat given its position and Gemma almost felt some pity towards it. Rather than waste another bullet Gemma leant down and drew the carbon fibre handled hunting knife from Mason’s thigh strap, turning the handle in her hand as she leant down above the creature. She placed one hand on the back of the head, holding it still with little resistance, and rested the tip of the blade just below the base of the skull. With one solid movement, she plunged the blade into the nape of its neck, severing the spinal cord. The struggling ceased instantly.

Standing back up, she wiped the dark blood from the blade on the remains of her skirt, then slid the knife into a gap on her gun belt as the lift shaft rocked, as was the ground, to the shockwave of a violent explosion just outside the shaft. She knew exactly what it was, and cursed that they’d likely just destroyed her chance to get more information out of the Gilmore, and possibly her only opportunity to find out what was happening to her.

She jumped back to a recess at the side of the shaft, raising her hands above her head to shield herself from the debris falling from above. This explosion had rocked the building more than any of the others, rays of sunlight shining down from above as the roof ruptured far above from the stresses. Gemma felt the side of the shaft lean to one side as she tried to shield herself from the shower of metal, concrete and glass, the noise deafening as debris bounced off the insides of the shaft on the way down, smashing out some sections of the glass walls higher up on the way.

Apart from the ground to first floor sections, the shaft was now completely opened up to access, no walls remaining above this point. When the noise had stopped, she carefully leaned back out from the recess, checking above for any further danger, before stepping out.

The groaning noise turned her gaze to Mason, lay on his back, with the younger zombie splayed across his body. She had taken most of the damage from what had fallen down, but a chunk of concrete with two foot long lengths of protruding rebar had smashed into Mason, piercing his gut and pinning him down.

She moved around the shaft, keeping her legs out of reach of his giant arms in case he reached out without warning, but it was almost as if he had no awareness of his surroundings. Now standing over his head, she looked down to see if there was any sign of life left in his eyes, but there was none. Mason was gone. Instinctively she re-drew her pistol.

She paused, thinking about her next move, unsure if she should do this or let one of his team take the final step. As the thoughts ran through her head, two huge hands, clad in black gloves, reached up and grabbed hold of her gun hand. She didn’t have time to avoid it. Continuing to gaze down she realised the look in Mason’s eyes had changed. They weren’t deep black as they were a second ago, but a mix of colour. Blue and black swirled across the tiny orbs as though locked in a battle to take control. Mason groaned as he pulled Gemma’s hand directly over his head, then it hit her.

“Strong minds last longer,” she said to herself, recalling what Sophie had told them.

Mason was fighting the change, but knew the inevitable. He wanted Gemma to end it before he became one of those things. He never wanted to feel helpless in his own body. She ignored the bang on the door from above; she was lost in this moment.

The gunshot echoed in the lower metal lined section of lift shaft as the sound of metal on metal came from above. Somebody was trying to open the doors.

She re-holstered the pistol, took a moment to compose herself, then stepped back onto the ladder. She could feel the tears fighting to come to the surface, but they would have to wait for now. She felt that if she allowed them to start now, she wouldn’t be able to stop.

Chapter Fifty Six

Hood stood at the bottom of the stairs, frozen, as he watched his commanding officer, his best friend for seven years, surrender his own life in favour of the rest of them. He knew Breach so well, that this is the way he would go out one day, but he wasn’t ready for it.

As Breach disappeared over the side of the railing, he just waited, knowing he would carry out his last actions. There was nothing he could do.

The sound of the explosion was preceded by a high pitched ‘ting’ sound – the bullet hitting a canister, and then all hell hit at once. Hood was blown off his feet from the force of the blast, landing on his back at the bottom step.

The building felt as though it was swaying from side to side. Looking up, he wasn’t sure at first the top walkway would hold, watching it shift and feeling the stress in the structure as concrete cracked and steel groaned above. Fire tore up the walls at the side of the lobby, shattering what few tiles were left and blackening the brickwork. There seemed to be a microsecond pause when it had all finished and silence fell in Hood’s world. Then the far end of the walkway dropped, tearing out sections of the wall and doors as it fell, leaving a gaping hole at the entrance to the two far screens. This movement forced the end of the walkway that he was resting on to shift back several feet, pushing into the central lift shaft and making that twist. Metal snapping and bending above made Hood roll back onto the stairs, hoping they’d at least hold for a moment, as debris fell from above.

As dust filled the air, he looked up at the thin rays of light breaking through the new holes in the roof, wishing he was anywhere but here right now.

“Hood. Hood, you okay?” shouted a female voice from above, almost sounding muffled. He was close to the explosion, and then caught up in the subsequent collapse. His eardrums had taken a battering and he struggled to refocus his vision, blinking erratically.

“Hood, look at me,” shouted Sophie, cupping her hands either side of his head, the blood from his ears trickling through her fingers.

He looked straight up, made sense of her questioning if he was okay, and gently nodded. He managed to lift an arm and point it towards the lift doors, just muttering “Mason”, as he lost consciousness.

“Damn, Gemma,” she said, gently resting his head back down on the step.

Grabbing a length of steel pole from the floor she jammed it into the gap between the doors, at first just misshaping the edges of them. A gunshot from behind the doors made her pause for a moment. With a couple more determined strikes she’d deformed the doors enough to force the bar through the gap and by pulling to the side was managing to open them a few inches. Danny joined her, finding a section of pipe himself, and pulling on the doors from the other side. Dropping the pipes to the floor, they both pulled with what little they had left on the doors and with the gap in between them enough to squeeze into, Danny nodded at Sophie and she picked her pipe back up and pinned it between the doors just above head height. With Danny straining to hold the doors, she grabbed the other pipe and inserted that one at ground level. It was a little shorter than the other pipe, causing the doors to stress and contort as they tried to re-close themselves, but it would hold for now.

Sophie stuck her head into the shaft, and almost took a hand to the face as Gemma reached out from the ladder to be pulled across. Sophie looked her in the eye, nodded, and grabbed hold of her hand, steadying her as she hopped back onto the walkway.

Gemma didn’t say a word, but just stared towards the far end of the walkway, to the wreckage that Azimuth would now be under.

“Gemma, I’m sorry,” said Sophie. “We had no choice, we couldn’t hold anything off any longer. We’re nearly out of ammo and there’s not many of us left.”

“Sophie.”

“Yeah?”

“I get it. It’s okay.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

With a few slaps to the face from a really impatient Wanda, Hood was wide awake again on the steps. He’d come back around in time to see Gemma step back out of the shaft. It didn’t take him long to realise she was the only one coming back out.

Wanda steadied him as he struggled back to his feet, groaning as he forced his spine straight, feeling the vertebrae re-align as he moved. He limped, rifle hanging from one hand, over to the doors. He paused to steady himself against the door for a second, then looked down into the shaft.

Gemma turned round to see Hood standing next to the open shaft, a dishevelled broken man looking to the floor below.

“Hood,” she called out.

“What did you do?” he growled.

“I had no choice,” she said, stepping closer. Sophie tried to stop her with a hand on the shoulder, but she brushed it off.

“You killed Mason,” he shouted, moving his hand on the rifle to achieve a firmer grip. Gemma spotted this movement, but didn’t think he’d use it.

“He wasn’t your friend anymore,” she pleaded. “He’d already turned. Look next to him, they got into the shaft.”

“And how is it that he got bitten, but you escaped unharmed?” the anger in his voice grew, the rifle trembling in his hand.

“Hood, leave it…..” started Sophie.

“You stay out of this,” he shouted, still looking at the broken body of his friend.

“Hood, he was the closest to the door,” she continued, but he’d heard enough.

He swung the barrel of the rifle round behind him, no intent to pull the trigger yet, but his earlier change of grip got the full weight of the weapon into the swing.

Gemma was caught off guard and didn’t spot the swing quickly enough to avoid the blow to the head – luckily his aim wasn’t that great right now. She was more pissed than shocked as she rose quickly and planted the heel of her right foot firmly in Hood’s gut, knocking him back into the wall. He dropped the rifle and threw a quick left jab followed by a right hook, both of which Gemma had anticipated and parried out of the way with ease. As the missed hook left Hood’s right side undefended Gemma swung an overhand left of her own, connecting with his earlobe, and tearing the flesh around his ear. Blood spurted out and onto the carpet. Hood span his body out of Gemma’s reach, raising a hand to cup his ear as he felt the skin tear.

“Hood, you need to stop,” shouted Sophie, Danny grabbing her to pull her back as Hood lashed out with his left hand, narrowly missing her face.

He again tried a straight left jab, but Gemma dropped her head enough to allow the punch to sail overhead, stepped forward and slammed a left uppercut into his ribcage as his body turned. He winced and dropped his head in pain as he felt a rib snap and press into his lung, an overhand right then splitting the skin above his eyebrow.

“Damn,” said Wanda out loud, marvelling in the ass kicking she was witnessing her friend dole out.

Hood went for the cheap shot by pulling the knife from his belt, but again Gemma saw this coming and gripped his wrist with both hands as he lunged at her. She forced his arms high then landed a heavy side kick to his ribs, the distraction making it easy to twist the knife out of his hand. He backed up, refusing to raise his hands in surrender, waiting for her to attack him with the knife. But she let it drop, blade first, allowing it to dig into the carpet as it landed. He looked down at the discarded weapon, confused, and not paying attention to her advance. She took three steps forward and then unleashed a high right kick, her shin smashing into his chest and foot crushing one side of his neck. With him refusing to back down, she knew she had to get him to the ground, and dealt with this by jumping up onto his shoulder, wrapping her legs around him and throwing him over to the ground, locking him in an armbar as they hit the ground. He groaned in pain as the twisting motion put pressure onto the wounds she’d inflicted. Looking into her eyes he knew he had no choice but to submit to her now, or have his shoulder ripped in half. His mind was made up when he hesitated too long and she pulled back on his arm, hyper-extending the joint.

“Okay, okay,” he screamed out, tapping on her leg with his one free hand.

Gemma held her grip, taking a moment to decide if his gesture was genuine. He clearly wanted out of the hold, and she knew he didn’t have the strength to pull out. Satisfied he was done, she released his arm and rolled to the side to rise to her feet before he could.

She stood to face Sophie, confusion on her face. Sophie knew each one of the people in here from their profiles, but Gemma just kept on throwing curve balls. Something was very wrong here, and Gemma was reacting to her new found skills differently. She was no longer taken aback by them, now seeming to embrace them instead.

“No,” screamed Wanda, spotting Hood rise to his feet and rearm himself with his pistol. In one defiant movement he swung the gun round to point at Gemma’s back, the intention clear in his face. He didn’t fire straight away, instead holding his arm out straight, barrel aimed at the back of her head. He cocked the trigger to tell her what was coming.

Sophie, hidden from Hood’s view with Gemma standing between them, reached for the pistol holstered at her waist but Gemma subtly shook her head. She turned round slowly, arms held down by her side. No flinching, and no signs of submission. She looked him right in the eye.

Disturbed by her tenacity, he shook the gun in her face, angered further by the absence of any reaction. He’d seen all sorts of crazy look in people’s eyes before, but he was freaked out right now.

“Hood, put the gun down,” ordered Sophie. Stepping out from behind Gemma, she had now drawn her pistol and had it aimed at his chest.

“Stay out of this soldier,” he demanded. “This is between me and her.”

“What are you going to do Hood?” asked Gemma calmly.

“All of my team are dead, because of those things. And you killed Mason,” he shouted.

“Mason had turned, I had to do it,” she continued.

“No way, there’s no way they would have got to him. There’s something wrong with you. You shouldn’t have killed him,” the gun waved erratically in his hand, but always still pointed in Gemma’s face.

“I had no choice. He had already turned,” repeating herself. She knew he couldn’t be reasoned with.

“That was not your decision to make. My team, I should have been the one.”

“Hood, it’s done now. There’s nothing any of us can do about it,” said Sophie, waving her left hand to the side to try to gesture to Danny to back off, who blatantly had been trying to move closer to Hood’s position. Surprisingly Hood hadn’t seen him coming, being too pre-occupied with Gemma. Danny ignored, or missed, the warning though and lunged at Hood, grabbing at both arms and pushing upwards. The first bullet went into the ceiling, spraying concrete dust into the air. Hood may have been exhausted, but he still had more natural strength than Danny, overpowering him easily and slamming an elbow into the side of his neck. Danny crouched in pain, but refused to let go, continuing to wrestle with him from a vulnerable position. The gun went off for a second time, splicing some of Gemma’s red hair as it skimmed past the side of her neck, as she stepped forward to help Danny. A third shot rang out as she dug her fingertips into the soft flesh above his collarbone. Distracted by the pain, Hood loosened his grip on the pistol allowing Danny to wrest it from his hand.

Hood raised his hands in submission, angered at his own weakness as Gemma backed away again. Danny turned the gun in his hand and covered Hood with it, backing up enough to be out of his reach.

Hood began to laugh – a deep laugh from within, arching his back as he looked up. Then he just stopped, and stared at Gemma. He’d clearly cracked. Recognising this, Gemma readied herself for him to attack again, deciding if he did then this time she would put him down properly.

The opportunity never came.

Hood’s carotid artery was torn from his neck in one motion, spraying blood down his chest and across the floor.

In all the debris that was now strewn across the lobby, the last zombie that had been wandering around aimlessly had gone un-noticed, no sense of direction until Gemma had given Hood a few new wounds. When Gemma first drew blood from the cut behind Hood’s ear, the scent had quickly wandered across the lobby, attracting the creature. With a mangled leg damaged in the explosion it had been slowed down, taking until now to climb the wreckage at the side of the lift shaft and putting it in an elevated position over where Hood was standing. He was easy pickings.

Rather than waste a bullet, Sophie holstered her pistol and caved the zombie’s head in with the butt of her rifle.

Gemma was less strategic, and put a bullet right between Hood’s eyes before he had time to turn, watching him drop to his knees then collapse face first to the floor.

“Wanda,” shouted Danny, rushing to her side.

She was lay on the floor, trying to prop herself up with one hand on the rail, with the other clutched over a large blood patch on her white shirt. Nobody had seen where Hood’s third shot had gone, until now. It had entered just under her left breast, but had not come out the other side.

Danny wrapped her in his arms as he tried to comfort her whilst Gemma supported her head. Sophie ripped a small pack from Hood’s waist, opened it and pulled out a roll of gauze. After unrolling it she handed it to Gemma. “Here, use this,” she said.

Gemma scrunched the roll up and lifted Wanda’s top to get to the wound, but as she did she realised the severity of the injury. It was not a clean entry point, instead the skin around the bullet hole had torn open, leaving a three inch wide tear in her flesh. As Wanda breathed in, she drew blood into her lung, the movement in her body causing a flood of red from the wound. The gauze was soaked through the second Gemma put it against the wound.

“Dammit,” she sobbed. “I can’t stop the bleeding. We need to get her to a hospital.”

Sophie leant down for a closer look, assuming her first aid training would finally come to some use, but she knew there was no chance of survival from this wound. She would bleed out in seconds. She put a hand on Gemma’s shoulder in support, which Gemma shrugged off.

“There must be something we can do,” cried out Danny, holding Wanda in his arms still.

“I’m sorry,” said Sophie.

Wanda raised her bloodied hand to Gemma’s face, stroking at her cheek, wiping away the fresh tear. Gemma clasped at her hand, kissing the palm. She closed her eyes, squeezing down on the outstretched hand. When she opened them, Wanda had closed hers.

“Wanda, no, please baby, stay with me,” she screamed, gently slapping at her face with her free hand.

Her body fell limp in Danny’s arms, who squeezed tighter onto her, not yet ready to let go. He buried his face against her shoulder, trying to hide his emotions.

Gemma dropped down to Wanda’s side, still holding her hand, and just stared dead ahead. She looked broken and defeated.

“Gemma,” said Sophie. “Gemma?”

“There’s no hope,” she said. “We’re all going to die in here.”

“No we’re not,” said Sophie. “We’ve come this far, we can still do this.”

“Are you serious?” shouted Danny. “No matter what we do, more of those things keep coming. It’s over.”

Gemma raised Wanda’s hand to her face, placing a long kiss on her bloodied palm. She stroked her own cheek with the fingers before gently lowering it back to Wanda’s side.

Climbing to her feet, Gemma took in a deep breath. Trying to fight back the urge to cry, she looked up at the blue sky with a long exhale. Hands on hips, she wandered over to the other side of the unstable platform they were perched on, and collapsed to the ground, her back resting against the twisted railings.

The scene was familiar to Sophie, the same point she’d seen each group before reach, but they’d all done it much sooner. That time when those few remaining had witnessed the atrocities before them and they had finally given in. Despair now controlling their emotions, they had no fight left in them. She’d witnessed these last few get so much further, even with the escalation of the attacks. Sure they’d had some outside help, but with the unreal changes she’d seen in Gemma and the raw potential in her abilities, she thought maybe this time it would be different. She needed it to be, because there was no backup to come in and clean up the mess afterwards. The situation was desperate, and she knew with everyone else giving up she wasn’t getting out on her own.

Chapter Fifty Seven

Following the last big explosion, Tony and Steve feared there was just the three of them left, trapped in the small metal room. They hadn’t heard any of the subsequent gunshots signifying there was still life in the building, to them the outside world had gone silent.

“We haven’t heard anything else for a while man,” said Steve. “Do you think they’re all dead?”

“I don’t know. It could be over, nothing left to kill.”

“Then they’d have come back for us surely, not just leave us up here. They all know Lisa is in a bad way, they wouldn’t just leave her like this,” said Steve.

“Yeah, maybe you’re right. I’m gonna go and take another look,” said Tony, climbing to his feet.

“Be careful man.”

“I will,” he said, tapping his hand on Steve’s shoulder as he walked back to the ladder.

Steve squinted as the bright daylight broke back through once Tony had cleared the hatch.

“You okay?” he shouted, as he heard the din of crashing metal from the roof followed by the familiar sound of Tony cursing.

“Tony, Tony, you alright?” he shouted, making Lisa stir as he moved.

“Yeah, quit mithering,” Tony shouted back.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. This roof is knackered, they’ve blown that much stuff up the whole building is ready to collapse.”

“Be careful.”

“Yeah, right,” shouted back Tony sarcastically, like he was just planning to run across the weakened structure.

Getting back to the last spot he’d shouted for an update from, he hardly recognised the inside of the building anymore. Only one walkway now stood, and that looked precarious. The floor was littered with debris and bodies, and somebody had sprayed something all over the front wall. The smell of rotten and burnt flesh hung in the air. It looked unlikely there would be anyone left.

“Hey, Tony,” shouted up Sophie, as she caught his head peering over the edge of the precipice.

“What the hell happened down there?” he yelled, looking round at the destruction.

“How’s Lisa doing?” she asked.

“Not good. She’s not getting any worse, but she needs meds soon. Steve is freaking out up here. You got into that room yet?”

“We’re…..working on it,” she said.

“Is it safe for us to come back out yet?”

“Not by the door, I think that’s a no go now. Let us get the meds then we’ll work on a way of getting you back down here. Don’t go far, we need to be able to shout you.”

“Okay, hurry up though.”

After updating Steve through the hatch, who swore about the lack of progress, Tony set himself back down on a stable section of roof, within earshot of anyone shouting from the lobby. He raised a hand above his brow to shield his eyes from the sun as he tried to make out the shape of the city skyline in the distance. Smoke hung over the city.

“Damn,” he said to himself, realising there was probably nowhere untouched by this.

Chapter Fifty Eight

Satisfied that she’d made as loud as possible a point of Lisa’s condition, Sophie tapped at Gemma’s foot with her boot.

“You hear that?” she said. “Lisa’s not getting any worse, but she still needs our help.”

“Don’t you dare try that crap with me,” snapped Gemma, the anger clear in her voice. “I’ve already watched two of my friends die in here.”

“I know, but if you sit here idly you’re condemning a third to a painful death.”

Gemma shot Sophie a piercing stare. The average person would have taken a step back at this moment.

“Do you know what septicaemia does to a person? What the infection does at it spreads through their bloodstream?”

“Stop,” snapped Gemma.

“She will know she is dying, and she will be in the most terrible pain. That is unless her body has started to shut itself down and rendered her unconscious again.”

“Stop.”

“Probably for the best really. I wouldn’t want to be awake for what she’s going to be feeling.”

Gemma launched herself onto her feet and at Sophie, drawing the knife from Sophie’s waist on the way and placing it under her chin.

“I said stop,” she said firmly, her face only inches from Sophie’s.

“I will when you pull yourself together,” said Sophie, not flinching a muscle, satisfied the taunting had produced the desired results.

Sophie stared into Gemma’s eyes. She’d seen that look before, and it frightened her a little.

“Now let’s get down into that room,” she continued, pointing towards the wreckage. “We need to get those meds for Lisa, then we can get out of here.”

After a couple of seconds, Gemma lowered the knife, spinning the blade round in her hand and offering it handle first back to Sophie. As she took the weapon, Gemma winked at her.

“Don’t ever push me like that again,” she said.

“Agreed,” said Sophie, wiping under her chin. Pulling her hand away she expected to see blood on her fingers, but there was none. “Even in a moment of fury, she kept her control,” she thought to herself.

“Where’s the camera room?” asked Gemma.

“Under that lot,” said Sophie, nodding towards the wreckage.

“Great, this could take a while.”

“I think it’s blocked, but it’s worth a look anyway. But with the collapse, we may be able to get in through the ceiling, that room wasn’t reinforced.”

“So everything in there could be destroyed already?” asked Gemma.

“It’s possible, but it’s the only hope your friend has got,” replied Sophie. “Let’s go,”

Gemma followed Sophie as she walked down the collapsed walkway, both of them scanning around them with their pistols.

“Don’t take too long,” Gemma whispered to Danny, still not ready to let go of Wanda. He nodded in response, knowing he couldn’t sit with her forever.

As Sophie reached the bottom of the walkway, she knew the chances of getting into the camera room from the ground floor were remote. A passageway had now been cleared through one side of the corridor, but the wall along the right side had collapsed under the weight of the floor above. She knew looking at the wreckage though that there was a chance of getting into there from the screen above.

“What’s down that end?” asked Gemma, pointing down the passageway through the debris.

“That’s where we need to go when we’re ready to get out. That leads to the West barricade that we can blow to get out onto the rail tracks. That is if we can get hold of any more canisters though.”

“We left quite a few in the storage room on the first floor, it looks like we have to go back up that way anyway to get at those meds,” offered Gemma.

Sophie turned and started to walk back up the walkway, cursing to herself as checking her weapon confirmed she only had two rounds left. There were still more in storage, fine as long as they didn’t get attacked again before rearming.

“Whoa,” shouted out Gemma, a few yards behind Sophie on the walkway. Sophie hadn’t felt it as much, but the floor had definitely moved. She turned round to look at Gemma, who had already turned to look back down the corridor. The floor rose and fell again as some of the debris rolled down to the ground.

“Son of a bitch,” said Gemma, holstering her pistol and swinging the rifle back round off her shoulder.

“What is it?” asked Sophie, backing up out of a desire to ensure her own survival.

“Azimuth,” said Gemma, following in Sophie’s footsteps. “Damn thing is still alive.”

“Christ, that doesn’t give us much time,” said Sophie. “We need to move, now.”

“Danny, shift your arse,” shouted Gemma, climbing up the twisted metal and piles of rubble at the side of the walkway, followed by Sophie. “Azimuth isn’t dead.”

“Dammit,” said Danny, who had done his best with his goodbyes to Wanda and was rechecking his weapons. He was trying to look like business as usual, but inside, he was dying.

“If he gets back up, hold him off,” shouted Gemma.

“What?” screamed Danny in a high pitched voice, not realising she was taking the mick.

“Just try and distract him or something,” she yelled, disappearing into a gap in the wall.

“Brilliant,” he said to himself. He stood at the top of the walkway, a bent metal pipe in one hand, hockey stick in the other, watching the floor move up and down as Azimuth slowly recovered.

Chapter Fifty Nine

The floor creaked and groaned underneath them as Gemma and Sophie trod carefully, trying to make their way across the wreckage of screen eight. Light from the armoury at the far side of the room flickered, illuminating patches of the room as it went off and on, just enough for them to avoid the holes in the floor, and eventually for Sophie to locate the camera room beneath. The hole into the room was just large enough for her to squeeze through, but Gemma would not be able to follow due to her ample chest, something Sophie found amusing as she caught Gemma frown after looking at the hole then down at her own chest.

“Cover me,” said Sophie, crouching down next to the hole and swinging her legs inside. With one swift movement she dropped inside and on hitting the ground quickly drew the pistol back from her waist and scanned the room for threats. At the same time Gemma had leant in at the best angle she could manage and provided further backup with her rifle. The room appeared clear, a couple of monitors still flickering, bathing the room momentarily in green light. Their feeds dead, whatever cameras they were hooked up to were now out of action.

“Where are the meds?” asked Gemma.

“Through there,” said Sophie, pointing to a door at the side of the wall of monitors.

“Go ahead,” said Gemma, her rifle aimed at the door.

Sophie had to re-holster her pistol in order to spin the locking wheel in the centre of the door, pegging her legs against the base of the door frame as she pulled on the wheel to swing the door open.

She let go of the wheel and ducked into the recess behind the door as the shots rang out from behind, Gemma dropping the two zombies that were waiting right behind the door. The empty cartridges pinged off the concrete floor as the echoes of gunfire resonated across the walls. Sophie checked herself for bullet holes as the pace at which Gemma had fired and bearing in mind where she was stood had put her in the firing line. Satisfied she hadn’t been hit, she popped her round the door to see the two creatures spread out on the floor.

“Why the hell would you have two of them locked in there in the first place?” asked Gemma.

“We didn’t, they got in through there,” replied Sophie, pointing towards the wall at the back of the room beyond, or lack of wall. One of the explosions had brought down the back end of the room, which Gemma could not see from her position, but could make out the rubble on the ground in the flickering green light.

Sophie stepped inside the room and retrieved a briefcase sized green metal box from a shelf. Stepping back through the unlocked door, she paused for a moment.

“What is it?” asked Gemma. “Come on, let’s go.”

“Hang on, give me a minute,” she said, turning and going back into the small room. After a few seconds of listening to Sophie rummage around in the room, banging boxes about, she lost patience.

“Sophie, hurry the hell up. We’ve got to go,” she yelled.

“I’m coming,” she said, emerging from the room again, with another smaller tin tucked under her arm.

“What’s that?” asked Gemma.

“Something that might help with Lisa,” she replied. “Here,” she reached up with the two items for Gemma to take from her. Gemma set them down on the ground then reached her arm back into the hole for Sophie to grab hold of.

“Come on,” she said.

“Wait.”

“For Christ’s sake, what now?” snapped Gemma.

“I can hear something.”

“Well that usually ends with something bad, so get up here.”

Sophie stood directly below Gemma, her outstretched hand only inches above her head, but her gaze was focussed into the small room. The green light flickered, each time illuminating an empty room, a dusty haze from the damaged concrete hanging in the air. Then the monitors went down, and stayed down. The room went black.

“Crap,” said Sophie, reaching up to grab hold of Gemma’s arm. “Get me out of here.”

Gemma tried to pull her up with the one hand, realising with the floor twisting under her feet she couldn’t sustain her balance, and changed her stance so she could stand on both feet and then pull her up with both hands. This change took a few seconds to accomplish, and in that delay the monitors flickered back on.

Sophie smelt it before she saw it. The putrid smell of rotting flesh on its breath inches from her face made her want to vomit. As the light returned to the room she found herself staring into the black eyes of one of the zombies as it sniffed at her face, seeking out something to satisfy its developing hunger. Sophie wanted to call out to Gemma to hurry up but knew the sudden noise could trigger a violent reaction. She wasn’t sure if it knew she was right there, no-one knew what they could see, but she held her breath to avoid any detection. Gemma was taking her time to pull her back up as whenever she shifted her feet the floor moved, each flex in the metalwork bringing twisting and creaking noises that disturbed the zombie’s rudimentary train of thought.

Sophie saw the outline of more appear one by one in the room behind – there were now three more walking in her direction. Gemma hadn’t looked back down yet so had no idea of the predicament she was subjecting her to.

As the hands on her wrist finally gripped tighter she felt relieved, but by this point the zombie’s face was rubbing against her cheek. The tongue licked up under her chin and across her mouth; it felt like a wet slimy sponge, green pus running across her lips. She had to fight the urge to kick out, to push him away. The desire to vomit was even stronger, her cheeks puffing out as she held back the bile.

The creature stepped forward and continued to sniff at the air, as though it had just lost track of what it was seeking. It lifted its head to look up just in time to see the metal pipe thrusting down into its skull, spraying the remains of its brains onto the floor behind. Collapsing to both knees, the zombie fell forward onto another body, impaled on a chair leg.

Sophie dropped to all fours in the screen above, releasing the limited contents of her stomach. Her body’s reaction to the encounter was so violent that it stripped the lining from her throat, orange bile mixing with blood on the ground.

It didn’t take long for the scent of fresh blood to make it to the three zombies in the room below, making them thrash wildly as they tried to pinpoint its origin. Within seconds they were leaping up, scrabbling at the floor next to Gemma’s feet. She didn’t want to waste bullets on them, being in an elevated position gave her an advantage, instead tearing off another loose section of metal from a row of uprooted seats and taking pot shots at the next one to stick its head out of the hole.

“Sophie, get your arse up,” she yelled. “Get in there and get us more ammo.”

Sophie stumbled back to her feet and ran to the store room, knowing they all desperately needed to rearm.

As she sprinted into the room the light flickered on again just as she entered. She dropped to the floor, sliding on her backside into canisters in the corner. She scrambled to her feet, her boots slipping on the dark liquid on the floor, aiding her escape from the room by grabbing at the shelving to help her back up. As she exited the room, another group of zombies followed close behind, hungry for fresh meat and Sophie had just given them the scent.

Gemma’s attention was drawn towards the doorway once Sophie had knocked some of the canisters over and anticipating what was coming she’d already rushed over ready to defend their position. As Sophie ducked and rolled out of the way, grabbing at one of the many pieces of metal debris littering the floor, Gemma swung with her makeshift weapon, tearing the top of the head off the lead zombie. A quick down swing tore out the knee of the second, sending it crashing to the floor. As it thrashed to get back to its feet, a swing from Sophie crushed the back of its skull, spraying rotten brain matter across the floor. With two zombies left, both intent on getting to the one they’d locked onto the scent of, it left Gemma free to attack from behind.

Sophie swung the pipe up, smashing the jaw of one of them, however doing little to slow it down due to its size. As its compatriot’s skull caved in by its side thanks to a vicious side swing from Gemma, Sophie rolled to the side again and smashed out one of its knees, leaving it teetering on the edge of balance. It momentarily forgot about its quarry as it tried helplessly to right itself, giving Gemma enough time to place one last vertical strike, ripping off the back of its skull and exposing the top of the spinal column. As the creature collapsed onto its knees, no change in the soulless expression on its face, Sophie slammed the base of her boot into its face, taking apart what little was left of the skull.

“Was that all of them in there?” asked Gemma.

“I think so,” replied Sophie. “Should be clear to go back in now.”

“Keep an eye on those ones for a minute,” said Gemma, gesturing towards the hole in the floor over the camera room.

“I’ve got them,” said Sophie, stamping on the hand of one that was getting a little confident. One of the fingers remained on the floor as its owner fell back inside the hole.

Gemma sprinted to the store room, but slowed down in time to go through the door, remembering Sophie’s crash into there a moment ago. The cause of her slip was plain to see: one of the canisters had ruptured and leaked its black contents all across the floor. She stepped around the outside of the puddle, grabbed a big black bag from a shelf and threw what ammo was left into it. As she pulled the bag back off the worktop one of the straps got caught on the half open lock of a long wooden crate behind it, dragging it to the floor. The crate lid tore off its hinges revealing the contents, which Gemma wasn’t quite sure of the purpose of, but picked it up nonetheless, along with the barbed spools of wire that had fallen from the crate. With all this her hands were too full to carry the length of rope that was tied in a loop on the wall, but knew she would be coming back for that.

She exited the room and walked over to Sophie, dropping the bag of ammo on the floor beside her.

“What the hell is that?” asked Sophie, pointing towards the metal contraption slung over Gemma’s shoulder.

“I don’t know, but it looks useful,” she said, turning to walk back to the store room again.

“Now where are you going?” shouted Sophie, searching through the bag for the ammo she needed.

“We need rope,” Gemma shouted behind her.

Gemma walked back into the room, grabbed the rope from the wall, then as she turned to exit again her eye caught the canisters in the corner of the room, remembering they were going to need more to blast their way out. “Crap.”

The sound of Sophie firing her rifle on full auto into the hole was barely audible over the banging of Gemma hurling canisters one by one out of the door. She knew by now they could be manhandled somewhat before going off so wasn’t worried about a few dents anymore.

Chapter Sixty

Danny stood at the top of the walkway, hoping they’d hurry up and get back. He knew he had no chance of holding Azimuth off by himself and with the beast’s breathing growing stronger, he hadn’t noticed how loud the tapping of his foot on the floor had become.

Every time the debris rose again, he repositioned his hands on the pipe and hockey stick.

“Hey.”

Danny didn’t quite hear this right the first time, pirouetting round on the spot to check for signs of attack.

“Hey.”

The second time he knew it had come from behind, spinning back round to look towards all the smashed cabinets that had once been used to sell popcorn and drinks from.

“Down here.”

Finally he spotted the origin of the voice, and smirked as he saw a set of fingers waving from behind a cupboard door. Someone had at some point hidden inside there and when it all kicked off got stuck inside. It could only be one person.

“Reggie?”

“Yeah, get me out man.”

“What the hell, you’ve been in there the whole time?” asked Danny, jumping down off the edge of the walkway and heading towards him.

“I’ve been in here since Tony told me to hide last night,” shouted Reggie. “There was no way I was coming out with all this shit going on. I think I might have pissed myself in here. Is it over?”

“Not by a long shot,” said Danny, ripping the door off the cupboard to reveal Reggie tucked inside. The smell of urine with a hint of human faeces hit him in the face, making him scrunch his face up. Anyone with feeling below the waist would have found being in there that long a crippling experience. This was no longer an issue for Reggie.

Their conversation was cut short by the sound of gunfire from where the other two had gone. Danny left Reggie hanging half out of the cupboard and climbed up the walkway and into the recess in the wall he’d seen them go through, knowing everyone had been short of ammo so if they were using the rifles again then they must have got to more. He didn’t want to be the only one pinning his survival on hockey sticks.

“Hey Danny, don’t forget about me. I want out too,” yelled Reggie behind him.

Danny waved a hand in the air to signify his agreement, or to say goodbye. Reggie wasn’t sure which, so decided to drag himself back into the cupboard and prop the door up over him, hoping this would spare him another attack.

Chapter Sixty One

Sophie watched as Gemma finished chucking canisters out of the corner room, resulting in about ten scattered across the screen floor.

“Right, let’s get these downstairs and rigged then get Lisa sorted,” said Gemma.

“Agreed,” said Sophie, still trying to figure out how Gemma had changed so much from her file to the person standing in front of her reloading her weapons.

They both turned the barrels of their rifles to the noise at the far end of the room as Danny fell through the rubble into the screen, his pistol bouncing away from him, arms raised above his head.

“Whoa,” he shouted. “Don’t shoot.”

They pulled their rifles back and finished stocking up on ammo, as Danny walked over and grabbed what he thought he needed, corrected by Sophie as he picked up the wrong bullets for not the first time. She smiled at him as he nodded his thanks.

“So what’s the plan?” asked Danny.

“We need to get those canisters ready at the end of the west corridor. I think I saw a passageway through the rubble past Azimuth,” said Sophie. “Then find a way of getting the others down from the roof.”

“This should do that,” said Gemma, kicking at the rope she’d pulled from the store room.

“Where’d you get that?” asked Danny, looking towards the metal contraption on the floor besides Gemma’s feet.

“In the store room,” she said. “Not sure what it does though.”

“It’s a harpoon gun,” he said. “My dad had one like that when he used to go spearfishing, but that’s customised. Look, it fires the same cable twice, barbs at either end of the wires grip onto different targets. Do you mind?”

“Go ahead,” she said, passing it to him. “Sounds like it’d be better in your hands.”

“Just don’t go pointing it at anyone’s head,” said Sophie.

“You’ve gotta let that go,” he said.

“Right, we ready?” asked Gemma, carrying her weapons, the bag of ammo, and a canister.

The other two followed, each struggling with their own loads now they were carrying a canister each too.

Back on the walkway they realised they had little time to complete their tasks, Azimuth’s breathing had grown stronger and it wouldn’t be long before he’d regain consciousness. The way the floor above had collapsed also meant he’d now be able to get to his feet again, a possibility neither of them relished. Given how much they’d done to him whilst he’d not been in the position to fight back, he wasn’t going to go easy on them.

“Danny, can you deal with our escape route, get all the canisters into the far end of that corridor for when we’re ready?” asked Sophie, pointing down the side of Azimuth’s heaving body.

“Yeah, I got this,” he said, swinging the harpoon gun over his shoulder and running into the corridor with the first two canisters.

Gemma had already started her climb back up to the second floor, unravelling one end of the rope as she went.

“Tony, Tony,” she yelled as she got to the top step.

“Yeah, I’m here,” he yelled. He’d stuck to his word and waited right on the edge of the roof.

“Grab this, and tie it off somewhere secure up there, the three of you are going to be climbing down it,” she yelled, hurling the rope up above her.

“Got it,” he shouted, as he caught it and ran back to the hatch.

“Steve, it’s time to go,” he yelled into the hatch.

“What about Lisa?” shouted back Steve.

“I’ll help you, get her to the ladder and I’ll pull her up.”

Steve had been sat for so long with Lisa on his knee that his legs had turned to jelly. He tried to shake the numbness away before inserting his arms under hers and lifting her to her feet. He took almost her entire weight as she had barely the strength to open her eyes at this point. At the ladder Tony had leant down ready to grab hold of her, but Steve didn’t have the strength to lift her high enough. They needed another way.

“I can’t lift her man. I’ve got no leverage,” shouted Steve.

“Hang on a minute,” shouted Tony. He ran back to where he’d dropped the rope, and tied one end securely around the thick pipework of the nearest air conditioning unit remaining on the roof. He felt it was the most secure thing available.

“Here, tie this round her waist,” throwing the other end of the rope into the room.

After what took unnecessarily long due to Steve’s concern for Lisa’s safety, the rope was finally tied round her waist. This seemed like a good idea until Tony got her near the top of the ladder, continuing to pull without seeing exactly where she was, and smacking her head off the inside of the hatch, drawing blood from above her right eye. Apart from a little groan, Lisa didn’t react. Steve was less than complimentary with his words though.

“Sorry man,” shouted Tony. “Can you straighten her up?”

“Yeah, I’ve got it. Pull now,” Steve shouted. “Slowly. Be careful.”

Tony managed to pull Lisa up enough for her to fall back onto the roof, allowing him to let go of the rope which had ripped skin from his palms and drawn blood.

Steve clambered out of the hatch, no concern for his friend, going straight to mop the blood from Lisa’s brow.

“We haven’t got time to mess about,” said Tony. “We need to lower her inside there,” pointing towards the edge of the massive hole in the roof.

“No way, she’s not going over the edge,” shouted Steve, getting in Tony’s face.

“Hey, calm down. It’s the only way to get her back inside.”

“No, we can use the rope to lower all of us down the side of the building. We can get out that way,” said Steve, walking towards the edge to check the drop. For a moment he’d forgotten about the mass of zombies wandering aimlessly around in the car park. Bits of bodies of those that had stepped on various booby traps during the night littered the ground.

“Behave man. That rope is less than a quarter of the length we need. If you want to break your legs and lie there waiting for those things to attack you, then be my guest, but me and her are going down this way,” yelled Tony.

Steve knew not to argue with Tony when he got this pissed, taking a moment to concede defeat, then nodding his agreement.

Tony finished undoing the rope and then retied it, this time with Lisa in the middle rather than at the end, intending to use the length hanging underneath to steady her descent from below.

Steve was quite impressed with his friend when he realised what he’d done.

“Gemma, you still there?” yelled Tony over the edge.

“Yeah, we’re here,” she yelled back, Sophie standing by her side. “Are you letting Lisa down first?”

“Yeah, she’s coming now,” yelled Steve, trying to sound like he had a part in the plan.

They rested her on the edge of the roof frame, Tony taking the strain of the rope in his hands as Steve tried to manoeuvre her carefully over the edge. Tony winced in pain as her weight pulled on the rope, tearing at the damaged flesh on his palms. He watched the rope slowly slip away from him, a trail of red soaking into the fibres.

“Easy, easy,” repeated Steve, looking over the edge but offering no physical support to his friend.

“Gemma, can you reach the rope yet?” he yelled.

“Not yet, just a little further,” she replied, one hand steadying herself on the edge of the handrail whilst the other reached out into the void over the lobby below.

“Guys, we need to hurry this up,” shouted Sophie, looking over the edge of the walkway to the gate two floors below. The lava within was bubbling more violently again and the tremors were spreading through the heavily weakened structure of the building. The walkway they were standing on seemed to be taking the brunt of the movement. The groan of stressed metal filled the air as what remained of the lift shaft twisted in the middle of the room, bolts snapping signifying it wasn’t going to stay there much longer.

Lisa picked this moment to wake up. She was initially confused why Steve was staring down at her, surrounded by sky. When she turned to see what was around her, and realised she was dangling from the roof by a thin rope, she had a meltdown. She thrashed about wildly, desperate screams echoing off the inside of the building, the extra movement in the rope tearing at Tony’s grip.

As the end of the rope swung only inches out of Gemma’s reach, Tony gritted his teeth to fight back the pain of having his hands ripped to shreds. He could feel the flesh tearing, the burning sensation forcing him to release his grip, his fingers crippled so he could no longer control them.

“Got it,” shouted Gemma, as Lisa suddenly dropped. Gemma saw the rapid descent, pulled the rope in and wrapped it around both hands. Realising if Lisa fell all the way she was likely to get pulled over the edge, she dropped to the ground and pinned her legs against the handrail, bracing herself to take the weight of her friend.

Tony rolled to one side, clutching his arms close to his chest, his hands burning. If he hadn’t, the pipe that had snapped from the air conditioning unit under the sudden strain would have taken the back of his head off. Instead it sailed past him and caught Steve on the arm as he knelt at the edge, watching helplessly as his new girlfriend fell away from him. He fell back, writhing in agony, his arm flailing about loosely after the pipe had obliterated the bones in his elbow.

Sophie knew Lisa was in free fall, having seen the rope suddenly fall slack as Gemma grabbed hold of it, lunging forward to grab hold so Gemma wouldn’t take all the weight. Between them they managed to stop her plummeting to the ground below, but the sudden arrest in her descent caused the rope to swing round and send her crashing into the underside of the walkway, knocking her back out. If she hadn’t incurred any injuries being manhandled out of the hatch, she definitely had some now.

They both climbed to their feet, pulling the rope hand over hand until Gemma took the weight long enough for Sophie to grab hold and tip Lisa over the handrail and onto the walkway. Gemma dumped the rope and quickly checked on Lisa to see what state she was in. The infection had taken its toll, her head was burning and her hands trembled as Gemma wiped her hand across her brow, looking worried at the blood coming from the cut above her eye.

“We need to get these into her quickly,” said Sophie, opening the first metal box and preparing a syringe.

“How much of that stuff can she take?” asked Gemma.

“I’m going to give her the maximum dose I can without risk of causing organ damage, but it’s this one we need to be careful with,” she said, opening the smaller tin and pulling out a pre-prepared syringe wrapped in a plastic packet.

“What’s that?” asked Gemma, looking at the nondescript packaging.

“Pure adrenaline, give her enough of this she should be able to walk her way out of here. Too much, she’ll be dead in an hour.”

“Damn, be careful.”

“I will, what the hell are those girls screaming about up there?”

From here it was clear they were both in distress, but not how.

“Hey Tony, Steve, what’s going on up there? You ready to come down now?” shouted Gemma.

“Yeah,” shouted Tony. “But I’m not sure how we’re going to get down.”

“What do you mean? I’ll just throw the rope back up.”

“I’ve ripped my hands to shreds. And I think Steve’s broken his arm. We’re not climbing down any ropes.”

“Shit.”

“What’s going on?” asked Sophie, just as she finished administering the second syringe, hoping she’d got the dosage for the adrenaline right. She’d know in a couple of minutes.

“We’re going to have to find another way down for those two, the rope isn’t an option for either one of them right now,” said Gemma.

“Damn, I’m out of ideas. And what the hell is Danny doing down there?”

Both of them were keenly aware of all the banging and shouting from far below but had been too busy to see what was happening. Looking over the side of the rail, they realised they’d maybe left Danny on his own for too long.

“What the hell is he doing?” asked Gemma.

“Oh, that’s just nasty,” said Sophie after a pause.

Chapter Sixty Two

Danny had little left in the tank by the time he climbed out of the hole with the last two canisters. His legs were spent, and his calf muscles had seized up as every time he passed by Azimuth a sudden movement in the rubble caused him to tense up. He’d considered putting a bullet in the behemoth’s head more than once.

As he set off into the corridor for the last time, Azimuth finally awoke. His arms and legs swung around wildly, as he fought to turn onto his front and get back to his feet. The damage in the structure overhead made this appear worryingly easy, urging Danny to drop the canisters and load the first cable into his harpoon gun. Whilst talking to himself for the last few moments he’d worked out in his head what he was going to do if he had to face Azimuth on his own. He didn’t have much confidence in his own plan though.

It seemed to only take Azimuth a couple of seconds to right himself and focus on Danny standing in front of him, debris falling from the beast’s shoulders. With the harpoon loaded, Danny set off across the lobby. The first lack of foresight in his plan came when he encountered the next wave of zombies that had climbed out of the gate unnoticed whilst he’d been busy. Luckily for him, they seemed a little disorientated, and he was able to easily dodge them.

With the multiple sources of noise in the building, the brainless undead were spoilt for choice as to where to go and let him pass without incident. Two of them were crushed underfoot as Azimuth chased Danny across the lobby. Being heavy and stocky in build Azimuth had little manoeuvrability, struggling to react quickly to Danny’s movements, a weakness that Danny used to his advantage. Finding himself behind the beast after rounding the lift shaft, he aimed and fired the weapon for the first time. The massive steel barb sailing past Azimuth’s head then pulling back and wrapping the wire round his neck as Danny fired the other end into the wall.

He disappeared back round the lift shaft whilst loading another cable into his new favourite weapon as Azimuth swung round, grabbing at the cable, grunting his confusion as to where it had come from. As he struggled to push his chunky fingers underneath it to try to release it from his neck, the opposite end pulled against the wall. It wouldn’t hold for long.

Danny re-appeared from the other side of the lift shaft and this time fired a low shot, wrapping the cable around Azimuth’s ankle and the securing end to the wall at the front of the lobby. With these two now secured, it was starting to pull Azimuth off balance, and Danny’s plan became clear. He had six cables to start with. With four now left, he felt confident with speed on his side he’d be able to pin him down. The third and fourth shots tied his arms up and the fifth snapped his free leg out from underneath him, Azimuth was now down on one knee and fighting against the high tensile cables criss-crossed across the lobby. Danny strutted smugly in front of him, loading the sixth and final cable. Azimuth had paused in his struggle, his big yellow eyes focussed on the tiny creature before him that had managed to bring him to his knees. Danny did not know what he was thinking, or the limitations of his intelligence, but the anger and contempt aimed at him right now was undeniable.

He raised the harpoon again and took aim. He had no idea if Azimuth had the body parts where he was aiming to make this last shot worthwhile, but things had gotten personal. With the end of the harpoon aimed directly at Azimuth’s crotch, Danny pulled the trigger.

With one end of the cable secured to the beast, Danny fired the other to a far wall, wanting it to be pulled as tightly as possible. The scream from Azimuth confirmed he did indeed have genitals, although possibly for not much longer.

Danny stood triumphant in the middle of the lobby, his prize before him.

Chapter Sixty Three

“Hey Danny,” shouted down Gemma.

“Yeah,” he shouted back up, smug grin on his face as he turned to face them.

“Nice work,” she shouted. “Nice work.”

“Thank you,” he replied, taking a bow.

They watched helplessly as Azimuth’s pure rage allowed him to fight against his bonds, the walls securing him imploding as he used his brute strength to tear the barbs from them. Danny didn’t even get chance to move as Azimuth lunged at him from behind, knocking him from his feet as he crashed into the base of the lift shaft. A cloud of concrete dust hid what happened next but the entire lift shaft dropped down a few metres, then the top broke away from its moorings and fell against the side of the high lobby walls, ripping out more of the roof as it fell. The falling wreckage broke the steel beams at one end of the top walkway causing that end to collapse. Sophie pulled Lisa back away from the edge as the adrenaline started to kick in and she fought to release herself from her grip.

Gemma wasn’t so lucky and fell back with the walkway, only just managing to get her hands on the edge as she fell. A twisted mess of concrete and steel crashed below her as she pulled herself back up. As she rested on her elbows, she fell back again, relying on her hand grip to stop her fall as her eyes flickered.

 

She was standing in the field of lava again, but this time from a different vantage point. She looked ahead at a familiar image fading into view and found herself staring back, at herself. She watched as the bed came into view, a small child curled up on top of it, trying to hide her face. The man in black walked past Gemma, paying her no attention, and approached the bed.

 

“Hide,” she screamed, looking up into Sophie’s eyes as she leant over the edge, arm outstretched to help her back up.

“I think it’s a little late for that, don’t you?” asked Sophie.

“He’s going to get her,” Gemma screamed.

“What are you talking about?” shouted Sophie, looking at Gemma as she blinked rapidly and her eyes rolled back.

 

He was standing at the foot of the bed, a sphere of light opening up high behind the child. As it grew, the image became clearer. The man turned to face Gemma, whispering an ancient tongue she did not understand. She wanted to move, to protect the child, but she was frozen.

He turned his back to Gemma, and aimed his gaze at the forming image, forcing her to focus on his line of sight.

“Oh my God,” she said to herself, looking into the sphere. It was a window, looking into the remains of the cinema they were trapped in. And at the top of the window, she could see Sophie pulling her back onto the walkway.

The man stepped around the bed, leaving the girl huddled up, knees tucked tight to her chest. The window grew larger as he approached. Only then did she realise she was looking out from the gate.

Chapter Sixty Four

“Gemma, Gemma,” shouted Sophie in her face as she lay on the ground, a suddenly very awake looking Lisa peering over her shoulder.

Gemma’s eyes snapped open. “We need to go, he’s coming,” she blurted out, jumping back to her feet.

“What? Who’s coming?” snapped Sophie.

“The man from my dreams. I’ve just seen him in the gate, he’s coming out.”

“Shit,” said Sophie. “We need to get the others off the roof first.”

“It looks like they’ve figured that out for themselves,” said Lisa, looking like a crack head at a rave, bouncing from one leg to the other, as she pointed behind Gemma.

Turning round, they caught Steve jumping from what was left of the roof onto the top of the lift shaft, now resting at an angle against the wall and allowing a reasonably safe descent to ground level. Tony was already a few meters ahead of him.

“Let’s go,” said Sophie, leaping down the first few steps of the stairway, hoping in her mind it still had some strength left in it.

“Hey honey, you okay?” asked Gemma, placing a hand on Lisa’s shoulder as she passed by. “We thought we’d lost you back there.”

“Yeah, I feel great,” she replied, running to keep up with Sophie. “Ready to take on the world.”

Gemma shook her head in dismay seeing Lisa disappear down the stairs, hoping the adrenaline held out until they got back outside.

Sophie passed Tony and Steve on their descent as she rounded the stairs at the first level and continued on down. The dust cloud had begun to clear in the lobby as she reached ground level, revealing Azimuth once again pinned beneath more wreckage. He was fighting to free himself, the cables still wrapped around his limbs weighing him down as the anchor points were tangled up in the twisted metal. Just in front of his head lay Danny, himself pinned under a large section of concrete and steel. It was a miracle he was still alive, but was obviously not long for this world. She kneeled down beside him, resting a hand on his chest, blood pouring from his mouth as he exhaled sharply.

“Bastard thing just won’t die,” he managed.

“It was a good try though Danny. You did well.”

“You need to go,” he said, his breathing heavily laboured.

Sophie recognised the signs of a collapsed lung as well as other internal injuries. In a pointless attempt to comfort him that he saw straight through, she offered empty promises. “Hang in there. We’ll get you out.”

“Just go,” he struggled to say, then winked. “I’ll buy you some time.”

She noticed he was holding his pistol in his left hand. Following the line of his arm, it was pointed at a canister pinned under Azimuth’s chin.

“Danny,” shouted Tony, running to his friend’s side. “Help me lift this off him,” he demanded, inserting his bloodied hands under the concrete slab pinning Danny’s legs.

Sophie put a hand on his shoulder and tried to pull him back, but he resisted and continued with his struggle.

“Tony, you’ve got to let him go,” said Sophie. “We can’t move him, not without causing more injuries. He’s accepting this.”

“There must be a way,” Tony screamed.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

Danny raised his free hand and rested it on Tony’s arm as though to tell him it was okay. Tony lowered his head and began to sob, everything finally beginning to catch up with him.

Gemma caught this farewell from the remains of the first floor balcony, and even though she’d grown fond of Danny in their experience, she was more pre-occupied with the gate. She shot Danny a sympathetic smile, knowing he was going no further, but she turned her head away before she had chance to see him try to smile back.

The tremors had grown in their intensity again and smoke now billowed from the crater, the shapes of more zombies forming in the heat haze. He would be here soon.

Dispensing of the last flight of stairs in seconds, she ran straight past the group saying their goodbye to Danny and into the far corridor. Sophie spotted her and nodded at Lisa to pull Steve away from Danny, which she did. She pulled Tony away herself, taking him by the hand. She gave one last nod of acknowledgement to Danny as they went. He smiled back at her.

He couldn’t turn his head far enough to see if they had made it safely into the corridor, instead trying to listen for the footsteps to fade out completely over the sounds of the tremors.

He was acutely aware of Azimuth’s attempts to free himself, that now appeared to have been successful. He felt the wreckage around him shift as the great hulk of a monster came closer, his heavy breathing bringing the smell of his rotten breath nearer.

“Well this was a great idea,” Danny said out loud.

He lifted his head up and looked straight into the eyes of Azimuth, only inches separating their faces. As Azimuth raised his head, opening his huge mouth wide open, ready to take a bite out of Danny’s exposed torso, he turned his eyes to the side to ensure his arm was still aimed in the correct place, then pulled the trigger.

Chapter Sixty Five

Gemma ran into the corridor, vaulting over the wreckage, hoping that Danny had managed to get enough of the canisters in place. She rounded the corner halfway along and stopped, sighing with relief, as she saw eight of them lined up neatly against the far wall. One shot was all that now stood behind them and the outside world.

She waited until Sophie had joined them before taking any action, checking her weapons to ensure they were fully loaded.

“How confident are you this will work?” Gemma asked.

“Without doubt,” replied Sophie. “It’s the supply entrance, and built weaker than the rest of the building as a failsafe. Trust me.”

“What are we facing when we get out there?” Gemma continued.

“The rail tracks will be over to the left. Head straight to them and we’ll miss the mines, veer off in any other direction and you won’t need to worry about a zombie getting to you. We need to move quickly though, I don’t think this building will stand for much longer once you blow the canisters.”

Sophie urged the others back into the main corridor, directing them to stand against the wall to shield them from the blast. With them out of the way, Gemma joined them, nearest to the exit and took aim around the corner.

“What’s that?” asked Lisa, looking to the far wall.

“What?” asked Tony.

“That noise. The metal banging,” she said.

“The venting,” said Sophie. “They’re in the vents.”

Gemma and Sophie aimed their rifles at the venting, following the source of the noise as it moved along the pipework. Then it started in another part of the corridor, and another.

“Shit, they’re all around us,” said Sophie. “Gemma, you need to hurry up and blow the canisters.”

Gemma didn’t hesitate and stepped back out from the corner wall, rifle still raised, then paused. As she took aim at one of the canisters, the full section of pipework dropped from the ceiling, and the zombies began to pour out. They’d been out of the gate for a while: experienced and aware of their intended target on hitting the ground. They stood between Gemma and her end goal, not an enviable place to be.

Behind her she felt a tremor as Danny pulled the trigger on his pistol, detonating the canister and taking his one last shot at Azimuth, the air blowing past her as the shockwave travelled down the wrecked corridor.

Gemma dropped to one knee, switched the rifle to full auto and opened fire at ankle height, dropping the zombies to the ground. There was no time to mess with accuracy, she needed volume to move them out of the way so she could blow the canisters, and when one of the rounds pierced through a rotten tibia it continued on until it ripped open a painted red bomb. Gemma ducked and rolled to the right, dodging out of the way of metal and bone fragments sailing through the air.

The rapid succession of explosions rocked the building, not giving them much time to escape before the whole thing came crashing down around them. Gemma looked down the corridor, waiting for the smoke to clear. She had to wait to see if their plan had worked.

With the first rays of light penetrating the darkness, she gave the thumbs up. She was the first to run for the exit, the others close behind. Sophie fired her rifle on full auto behind her as the screams of an irate Azimuth followed them down the corridor. The explosion had done little to hold him up, if anything it had made him more pissed off and determined to get at them. Grabbing a quick glance behind her, she saw the structure of the building collapse on top of him, but she knew that wouldn’t hold for long.

The sound of metal twisting filled the air again, and more zombies bailed around the corner behind them, chasing down their targets at high speed. They were lucky the venting system had held out this long.

Chapter Sixty Six

Nearing sunset outside, the light at the end of the corridor was piercingly bright, blinding them as they exited. Gemma held her head down and followed the directions given by Sophie, steering off to the left, shouting for the others to follow her voice. Tony missed this pointer and continued straight on, raising a hand to protect his eyes from the sun. Blinded, he didn’t see the railings blocking half of the walkway outside and ran straight into them, his body pirouetting through the air and crashing into the patch of grass a few feet below. He heard a loud click as he hit the ground.

Sophie had seen Tony go over the railing, and pushed against Steve and Lisa’s backs as they ran to move them away from danger, waiting for the explosions as the mines that he’d inevitably triggered would go off.

The initial bang was muffled, as Tony’s body absorbed most of the explosion, spraying limbs and blood into the air. The rest of the fifty foot length of land beside the building erupted in a vertical column of soil and body parts as a few straggler zombies were caught up in the aftermath.

Unaware of his friend’s demise, Steve continued to help Lisa along, trying his best to keep up with Gemma who seemed to have gained extra stamina from somewhere. Rounding a shoulder high group of bushes, she spotted the rail tracks a hundred yards away and continued on, checking behind her to see they were keeping up. She heard the mines go off, and seeing how many were still in pursuit she knew they’d likely lost Tony now too.

The question that had bothered her for a while of what they were going to do once they reached the rail tracks was finally answered. She stood next to the tracks, feeling the vibrations in the ground travel up through her feet. The fear of another gate attack disappeared as she heard the distinctive sound of a train horn from behind the hill.

With the others now finally waiting beside Gemma, they looked on relieved as the huge diesel engine rounded the corner, the horn still sounding.

“It’s a miracle,” said Lisa, squeezing her grip on Steve’s arm as she felt the effects of the adrenaline dissipate.

“Did you know the tracks would still be in use Sophie?” asked Gemma.

“No. That line runs from the army base on the other side of the hill.”

“I thought you said everyone in there was dead, or gone?” continued Gemma.

“There must have been some survivors,” shouted Sophie, running towards the train waving her arms. The horn continued to sound, but the train did not slow. “Shit, it’s not slowing down.”

“We’re going to have to jump on,” shouted Gemma.

“We need to hurry the hell up, look,” shouted Sophie, pointing towards the side of the smoking building behind them. The noise of the final explosion and the train had attracted the attention of many of the zombies that had come through the gate in the car park. With them being out in the real world since yesterday, given time for their senses to acclimatise to their environment, they were all out to attack anything still living. Hundreds of them flowed from round the side of the building, felling small trees in what were once ornately planted borders. The power of their feet stamping on the ground almost rivalled the vibrations created by the train. A couple of rows back, one of the zombies was carrying the red canister that Tony had accidentally rolled off the roof earlier that day.

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” shouted Steve.

“It’s our only chance. Start running,” shouted Gemma, as she sprinted alongside the tracks, waiting for a good opportunity to climb aboard. Looking behind, she spotted a flatbed three carriages back from the engine, and decided this was the safest and easiest option to climb aboard. With the train beside her she grabbed hold of one of the restraint straps criss-crossed along the carriage securing the load and hauled herself on-board. She immediately turned and held out a hand to grab Lisa’s that was held out behind her, dragging her onto the carriage. Steve had almost managed to secure himself, losing his footing where some sleepers were missing, only having one properly functioning arm being a serious handicap for him. He would have been dragged under the wheels if Sophie, unseen mounting the train ahead of Gemma, hadn’t dropped to the deck and grabbed hold of him. Just about managing to prevent him from falling, she was relieved when Gemma stepped over and helped to pull him up.

The four of them collapsed onto the deck of the carriage, breathing heavily as exhaustion seized the opportunity to take hold. Lisa began to laugh, hysteria now replacing the exhaustion – an emotion that quickly spread amongst the group with Steve following suit. Sophie looked across at Gemma, sitting up with her back leant against the tarpaulin covered load. She was sure she spotted the beginnings of a smile as she looked back at her. As they sat there they felt the hum of the diesel engine grow louder. Whoever was driving had the mutual desire to get out of here, and the speed increased. None of them would disagree with this.

The momentary elation in boarding the train made them all forget about the wave of zombies closing down on their escape route, and Sophie was the first to be snapped back to reality when one of the creatures appeared on the roof of the carriage behind them, teeth bared. She dropped onto her back, drew the pistol from her belt, and let loose the single round, taking the back of the zombie’s skull off. It was the first of many as Sophie and Gemma made quick work of the creatures that had managed to climb aboard the accelerating train, picking them off one by one as they appeared systematically over the carriage roof. They were getting low on ammo though, and they knew it.

Still not yet comfortably far enough behind them, they heard the crashing sound of the back of the cinema building collapsing, detonating more of the anti-personnel mines buried in the ground. Plumes of soil and rubble fired into the air, raining down around the building, patches of red appearing in the mist as unfortunate stragglers got caught up in the blasts.

The crashing was followed by an unmistakeably loud enraged scream.

“Oh this shit has got to stop,” said Gemma, as she peered around the edge of the carriage.

“This is never going to end,” said Sophie, following Gemma’s gaze to see Azimuth smash his way out of the back of the building and make a beeline for the train, his face blackened and charred on one side. He paid no attention to the few zombies wandering aimlessly as he crushed them underfoot. A thundering sound chased after them each time he planted his massive feet as he ran after the train. Deceptively quick in a straight line for his size, it wouldn’t be long before he caught them. Realising this, Gemma and Sophie opened fire at his legs, hoping to slow him enough to achieve a big enough gap between him and the train. Their efforts were wasted as he disappeared from view, moving to directly behind the train as he bounded along the tracks. The train had high carriages, and with the four of them currently camped on a flatbed they had no vantage point to see what was going on further back, prompting Gemma to climb onto the roof of the carriage behind them.

Once at the top of the ladder she stuck her head over the top and swore to herself. Ten or twelve carriages back Azimuth had managed to climb onto the train and was barrelling along the top of the carriages towards them. Every step he took made the carriages sway from side to side, a concertina effect travelling along the carriages as he went, de-stabilising the whole train. The most fragile sense of relief being that Azimuth’s presence seemed to freak out the zombies that were left aboard the train and they had started to bail out to avoid being in his destructive path.

Gemma climbed onto the roof, dropped to one knee and took aim with the rifle. With the centre of Azimuth’s forehead in her scope she opened fire. He raised a hand to shield his eyes from the gunfire, momentarily affecting his balance, just long enough for him to lose his footing and fall to one side, grabbing at the edge of the roof as he fell. The structure of the carriage just about took his weight, but the sudden shift dragged the back end of the train to one side, derailing the last few cars.

The train hardly slowed as the back three carriages bounced along behind, tearing up dirt and sleepers as they dug into the ground, the train still gaining speed. As they shot through an abandoned station, the loose carriages smashed into the end of the brick platform, tearing the couplings apart and sending the carriages rolling into the glass waiting room. A room full of seated zombies who appeared to be seated and waiting for a train watched in confusion as a carriage rolled on through, crushing them effortlessly. The tumbling carriages threw loose the last of the zombies hanging onto the train, the one that was proud of his canister refusing to let go of his prize as he was witnessed sailing high over the roof of the station. Sophie knew it was a waste of ammo, but couldn’t resist the temptation and put a single well placed bullet in the canister, tearing the zombie into a shower of burning body parts.

With the rear of the train now stabilised, Azimuth found it easier to climb back onto the roof and continue his pursuit.

“Gemma, how’s it looking?” shouted Sophie, climbing atop the load on the flatbed carriage.

“Not good, he’s still coming. Fast,” she shouted back, jumping back down off the roof. “We need to uncouple the carriages, it’s the only way to get away from him. She looked behind her to the connection between the carriages and cursed again, these two were built as one, no way of separating.

“We need to get up there, try to uncouple this one,” she shouted, pointing towards the carriage in front of them.

“Okay, let’s go,” shouted Sophie, turning to the other two and urging them to climb the ladder behind her. She cursed too as she stuck her head over the top, then disappeared from view. Steve went behind Lisa, resisting the urge to push her from behind with his hands as she climbed the ladder above him. The train was still accelerating, the force of the passing air almost knocking Lisa off the ladder, as she stuck her head up over the carriage. She gripped at the top rail, pulling herself close to the roof as Steve tried his best to support her from behind.

“Go,” he shouted. “I’ve got you.”

She kept low, grabbing hold of the indents in the roof as she went to steady herself, Steve close behind. Sophie had managed to steady herself, rested on one knee, rifle aimed at Azimuth to cover Gemma’s climb, but she was taking too long.

“Gemma,” she shouted.

No reply.

She edged closer to the end of the roof and repeated, “Gemma.”

“The coupling is jammed,” shouted Gemma from below. “I can’t move it.”

With Azimuth only three carriages back Sophie peered over the edge and saw Gemma struggling with the couplings below. She’d lifted the locking lever, but the knuckles wouldn’t separate. Taking a step back, Gemma fired her rifle at it, but it was stuck fast.

“Shit,” she screamed.

Leaning back she felt something shift on the covered load behind her. Lifting one corner of the tarp she realised the carriage was full of steel pipework, no use for fighting Azimuth with, but she knew she could use them against him. She pulled out the hunting knife she’d inherited from Mason and cut the ropes securing the tarp, then ran to the other end of the carriage, slicing ropes as she went. The force of the passing wind tore the tarp from the load, sending it flapping across the top of the rear carriages. Azimuth had a temporary fight with it as it wrapped itself around his torso, but doing little to slow him. There was, perhaps carelessly, just the one holding strap in the middle of the pipes securing the load. It wouldn’t take much to break.

With the knife stowed safely back in her belt, she set off back to the others. She looked up to see Sophie down on one knee, firing on full auto above Gemma’s head. She knew he was close, but not how close. As she took another step forward, trying to steady herself on the pipework as the train bounced along the tracks, the load shifted suddenly. Azimuth had jumped down onto the pipes, misshaping the top few, almost losing his balance in the process as they shifted underfoot. The carriage bounced and skipped the track for a distance, sending Gemma flying backwards into the carriage behind. After hitting the back of her head on the metal plating, she disappeared over the edge. The carriage shuddered slightly again on the tracks as it continued.

At the other end of the flatbed the reaction was more pronounced. As Azimuth had jumped down onto it, the front end had raised up, lifting the carriage in front sending Steve and Lisa rolling. Sophie had somehow kept her poise, letting her rifle fall at her side and grabbing a roof rail as she’d seen Gemma fall. As it slammed back down onto the tracks Lisa lost her balance and fell backwards on top of the pipes on the flatbed.

“Lisa,” screamed Steve, seeing that she was lying only yards from Azimuth.

Azimuth looked him straight in the eyes, seemingly flashed him a smile, then struggled slowly to get to a dazed Lisa lay before him as the pipes continued to shift under his weight.

Sophie knew she was in trouble, but Steve had other ideas. As she re-loaded her rifle, knowing it would only provide a temporary reprieve for Lisa, she felt Steve rush past her, screaming out his own version of a war cry. His commitment was admirable as he sailed through the air, aided by the tail wind. Landing awkwardly on the top pipe, he snapped his ankle and rolled out of control directly at his quarry. With his pistol in his one good hand, he had no way of controlling his roll, just hoping it would end in a position to defend Lisa. His wish was granted, but he knew he was screwed. He found himself lying between Azimuth’s legs, staring right up at the huge green beast. As he raised an arm high in the air, ready to pummel Steve’s broken body, Steve emptied the pistol into his face as Sophie fired from a distance. For the moment, Azimuth ignored the desire to defend himself and carried out his attack, smashing his fist down into Steve, crushing the top pipe and spraying blood across the flat bed. The sound of snapping bones made Lisa scream out in anguish as she’d seen her saviour crushed to death before her eyes.

Wasting no time, Azimuth bounded forward to get to Lisa before she could move out of the way, lunging and smashing a hand down on top of the pipes, trapping her leg in the mangled pipe. She fought to release herself, knowing she didn’t have long, as she heard the gunfire overhead from Sophie trying to deflect his attention, but he wasn’t interested.

Raising his arm to strike again, he brought it down and crushed the base of her spine, blood spurting from her mouth as she felt her organs squeezed tight inside. She hung limply from the stack of pipes, looking behind her waiting for the last strike to end it. She felt no pain, just exhaustion. Spotting something further behind Azimuth, the faintest of smiles formed on her pained face.

“Do it,” she mouthed, blood pouring from her mouth.

Twenty yards back, hanging by just one hand from the side of the carriage behind, was Gemma. With her pistol outstretched in front of her, the barrel was aimed at the single strap holding the pipes in place. As an unknowing Azimuth raised his arm again to strike, and Lisa closed her eyes, she fired.

The load shifted violently as the strap frayed halfway across, spinning round on the flatbed and throwing Lisa’s broken body to the side of the tracks. Gemma tried to raise her head up then dropped it again quickly as the pipes span round, Azimuth struggling to retain his balance as they rolled under his feet. Sophie aimed and fired one last volley at Azimuth’s feet, enough for them to buckle under him as he disappeared over the side of the carriage, metal pipes crashing into him as he flailed for a grip. His screams of anger and pain could be heard in the distance as he was left behind in the ditch at the side of the track.

Sophie let her rifle hang down again, descended the ladder and turned to see Gemma climbing back onto the carriage, blood seeping from a tear in the flesh on her back. She was on her feet by the time Sophie reached her, having taken care not to lose her footing on the debris left on the carriage floor.

“You okay?” Sophie asked.

“Yeah,” she said, reaching round to dab at the wound on her shoulder. “I’m okay.”

“They’re all gone,” said Sophie, looking round the train as the realisation of them being the only two to make it out alive hit home hard.

“I know,” replied Gemma solemnly, one hand clutching at the top of the wound on her back. The blood was congealing already.

“I’m sorry.”

Chapter Sixty Seven

Outside the wreckage of the cinema a few miles back down the track, the zombies had ceased their aimless wandering, now all facing in the same direction, looking down the tracks after their escaped prey. Heavy footsteps shook the ground as a Gilmore cleared a route through the rubble for it to fit its bulky torso through, joining the man in black beside the track as he followed the gaze of the zombies. A faint gust of wind made his cloak billow, revealing the carved hilt of the sword by his side. He didn’t say a word as Tombstone spoke.

“Tombstone will find her again master. Tombstone promise.”

The trees on the other side of the tracks were crushed mercilessly as an irate Azimuth stormed towards them, yelling wildly. His flesh wounds shone as they healed in the late sun as he approached. Tombstone hung his head and raised a hand in submission as Azimuth’s shouts seemed to be aimed at him, taking a couple of steps back.

The man raised a hand, palm forward, and Azimuth stopped, pain spreading across his face. Dropping to both knees, he lowered his head to the ground and raised out one hand across the floor towards the man. The man lowered his hand and turned to walk. After a momentary pause, both Gilmores and a small army of zombies followed him. After rounding the building and avoiding what was left of the incendiaries buried in the ground, he walked into the growing heat haze and turbulence of the gate at the front of the building, the rest following him in.

Chapter Sixty Eight

Deep inside the burning remains of the building, within the debris strewn main lobby, small fires burned as dust fell from the crumbling walls, the odd section of loose roof falling to the ground below as the structure twisted and weakened.

At the side of the lobby, in an area that once sold tasty snacks and liquid refreshments, was a small stack of waist high cabinets. The door of one of those cabinets moved slightly, as though something was pushing on it from inside. Four blackened and bloody fingers pushed their way out from behind the door, forcing it open slightly against the pile of rubble behind it.

“Hey guys. Guys. Is anyone getting me out of here?” shouted Reggie.

On the opposite side of the lobby, a few yards up the crumbling wall, trails of fire ran across the wall, burning symbols into the damaged concrete. The ground shook once again as the circle of fire formed on the wall and a gate to another world faded into view. An abandoned industrial building sat on the opposite side of the gate allowed this world to spectate on the fight going on in the other, a man and a woman tumbling on the ground trying to best each other, both bearing the signs of a tough battle. It appeared to be an even fight, until the woman span the man up to the edge of a high platform, planting a final kick in his chest that threw him backwards into the gate. He screamed in pain as the kick crushed his sternum, his body and voice pausing for a moment in mid-air as he transitioned from their world to this.

The shift complete, the momentum carried him further into the lobby until he landed on a pile of collapsed roof debris. He stared back into the gate, at the woman looking back at him, as he struggled to take his last few breaths. Satisfied the woman had done enough, she turned and walked away. The metal rebar protruding from his chest, anchored to a concrete block, dripped blood as he finally dropped his head.

Chapter Sixty Nine

Sophie climbed to the top of the ladder and stepped onto the roof of the carriage, getting used to standing against the power of the wind as the train hurtled along the tracks, seemingly out of control. It jerked from side to side as the wheels strained to keep the carriages upright as it twisted through fields littered with dead bodies and the walking dead. Gemma stood halfway along the carriage roof, watching the burning shells of cars pass by as they cleared a bridge over the motorway. Gunshots and screams rang out in the distance.

Standing together they looked ahead of the train, to the end of the line, as the city ahead burned.

Chapter Seventy – Alternate Ending

Nearing sunset outside, the light at the end of the corridor was piercingly bright, blinding them as they exited. Gemma held her head down and followed the directions given by Sophie, steering off to the left, shouting for the others to follow her voice. Tony missed this pointer and continued straight on, raising a hand to protect his eyes from the sun. Blinded, he didn’t see the railings blocking half of the walkway outside and ran straight into them, his body pirouetting through the air and crashing into the patch of grass a few feet below. He heard a loud click as he hit the ground.

Sophie had seen Tony go over the railing, and pushed against Steve and Lisa’s backs as they ran to move them away from danger, waiting for the explosions as the mines that he’d inevitably triggered would go off.

The initial bang was muffled, as Tony’s body absorbed most of the explosion, spraying limbs and blood into the air. The rest of the fifty foot length of land beside the building erupted in a vertical column of soil and body parts as a few straggler zombies were caught up in the aftermath.

Unaware of his friend’s demise, Steve continued to help Lisa along, trying his best to keep up with Gemma who seemed to have gained extra stamina from somewhere. Rounding a shoulder high group of bushes, she spotted the rail tracks a hundred yards away and continued on, checking behind her to see they were keeping up. She heard the mines go off, and seeing how many were still in pursuit she knew they’d likely lost Tony now too.

Gemma was the first to the tracks and as she looked to the left she spotted where the tracks snaked around the hillside that Sophie had pointed out hid the military site from view, then she froze. Above the track, a hundred yards away from her, trails of fire twisted through the air. The ground began to shake again as the outer circle of the gate formed in the air, the heat haze around it distorting the landscape in the background.

“You ever seen one like that before?” asked Gemma, sensing Sophie had stopped too and was standing beside her.

“No, that’s a first. They’ve always been in the ground,” said Sophie.

“Then what’s it going to send through?” asked Gemma, not the first time not expecting a response.

“Oh shit, move!” she commanded, as the outer ring of the gate flashed to confirm it was complete, and the unmistakeable features of a smokebox at the front of a massive black steam train surged through and continued along the track.

Amid the confusion of this even zombies scattered as the train barrelled along the track, at far too high a speed for the left corner it needed to negotiate. Nearing the back end of the building they’d fought so hard to escape from, Gemma and Sophie turned and looked back as the train jumped the tracks, disappearing into the mass of trees in the ditch crossing the back of the building.

“Big Bailey’s Circus?” said Sophie out loud, reading the livery on the side of one of the carriages as it sailed past them.

Gemma watched as one of the passenger carriages passed by, the open windows filled with a collection of clowns grinning back at them, the blood on their costumes visible from this distance.

“There is no way this can end well,” offered Sophie, as the dust cloud from the crash spread across the ground before them.

Shouts of pain and anger filled the air, but they couldn’t tell where they came from. Visibility was down to just feet, but enough for them to spot the first of the attackers spring from the cloud and aim right for them. They moved surprisingly quickly, but Gemma and Sophie were able to dispatch them easily with a swift kick at their heads.

“I’ve never seen a zombie dwarf before,” said Sophie.

“Somehow I doubt that’s not the worst of it,” said Gemma.

“Yep, run,” snapped Sophie as she turned and bailed back inside the building.

“Crap,” shouted Gemma, turning to follow Sophie, as she spotted the pack of lions emerge from the fading dust cloud, flesh trapped between their teeth as their own skin hung from their bodies. The outline of their torsos was distorted by the flames dancing along their spines and down to the singed tails.

 

Steve and Lisa had run across the remains of the minefield that Tony had cleared when they heard the first shouts following the crash. Escaping the dust cloud easily, they felt the relief as they found a gap in the wire mesh fence and crawled through into the next lot. Avoiding the end of the parking lot covered in debris from the crashed airship, they ran to a row of metal shipping containers and hid between two columns of three stacked neatly running along the side of a low warehouse. Relieved they’d finally made it out alive they took the opportunity to sneak the hug they’d both been waiting for. Their eyes closed as they savoured the embrace, they missed the sunlight flicker for a moment as something passed along the end of the passageway between the containers.

They were snapped out of their moment of happiness to the sound of metal scraping on metal. They looked to one end of the passageway, where the sound came from, and watched, but nothing. The sound came again, making them turn, as they watched a stack of three containers slide across the ground, sparks flicking off the edge of the base container, blocking one end of the passage. They ran for the opposite end, Lisa’s screams audible above the next sound of scraping metal as that end was closed off before them.

“Oh my God. What are we going to do?” she screamed.

“We need to climb out,” managed Steve, trying to jump up to get a grip at the top of a container. He could reach, but he couldn’t get his fingers into the tiny gap, just sliding back down to the ground. With a weak arm, he wouldn’t have been able to climb the nearly thirty feet to get out. Lisa tried to climb too, and with a weak lift from Steve she managed to get a little higher, but not much.

At one end of the blocked passage, one of the top containers slid off the top of the stack and crashed to the ground. The metal din echoed off the metal walls, travelling up and down the passage. Then another container fell, leaving only enough space for three more containers. And then a third fell.

“Here, try to get in the middle,” said Steve, hoping his reasoning was correct.

They huddled close together where the connection would be between the last two containers, hoping to dodge the next one to fall.

Hearing another container shift above them, Steve tried to pull Lisa closer to him, then the container hit the ground.

Lisa opened her eyes slowly. Her face was inches away from a large metal door. She looked down, at the two hands she held in hers, one of which had broken bones visible under the twisted flesh. The trembling started in her shoulders, running down her arms to her hands. A puddle of blood formed around her feet. She let the hands drop as the shaking made her tap them off the metal door, echoing off the inside of the empty container. She lifted her hands to her face, brushing her hair back behind her ears, then stopped as she heard the solid thud on the ground behind her.

She took a deep breath and turned slowly, not knowing what she was going to face. She could feel the last of the adrenaline drain from her body. Completing her turn, she was staring at the heavily built pectoral muscles of Brutus the Beefcake – according to his vest top – the travelling circus’ strongman. Looking up, high above, she stared at his massive domed bald head, and the eloquently curved moustache adorning his blood soaked face.

She closed her eyes as she felt his massive hands cup either side of her head. The last thing she felt was the hitherto unimaginable pain of having your skull crushed in a vice, the sound of her own bones splintering taking her to her grave.

 

Sophie led into the corridor, rounding the corner and heading back for the main lobby, with Gemma not far behind. The sound of the lions’ claws scraping against the partially tiled floor followed them all the way, pausing as they exited the corridor and ran into the scorched face of a particularly angry looking Azimuth. He took his gaze from the two human foes that had spent the last day trying to find different ways to kill him and focussed on the lions behind them. The escaped animals gave him the same level of interest.

Seizing the opportunity to escape, Gemma grabbed at Sophie’s arm and dragged her to the side, heading for the base of the collapsed lift shaft. The last explosion had torn one of the doors off, giving them easy access to the shaft. They climbed up past the first floor doors, still pulled close, to the top of the lined section of shaft and Gemma climbed over first, jumping onto the last of the walkway left here. As she leapt across the gap, her feet pushed against the fragile side of the lift shaft, breaking a steel panel loose which sliced into a cable pegged to the side of the shaft. Sophie climbed up behind her, steadying her hold at the same point as Gemma did, and as she prepared to leap, felt the vibration in the structure.

She looked up and watched the base of the lift plummet down towards her. As the shaft shook and moved away from Gemma’s position, she felt herself pulled backwards, struggling to retain her grip. Gemma reached out a hand to grab her as the lift flew past, burying itself in the ground floor. She was only a foot away from her hand, but couldn’t quite reach her. Sophie smiled at her, then the front half of her body folded forward and fell down in to the rubble below, entrails splashing across the concrete.

Gemma dropped back onto the walkway, holding her head in her hands. After all this, the damn lift got her, she screamed in her head.

She snapped back out of her despair to the sound of a lion’s roar on the floor below. She moved to the edge of the walkway, to see Azimuth standing in the middle of the lobby, three lions surrounding him. They took it in turns to lash at him with their sharp claws, but he moved surprisingly quickly for his size, swatting them away each time. One of the lions called to another, as though communicating some kind of plan, and it seemed to reciprocate. They grouped together, standing before Azimuth, and with his attention focussed on them as they dashed forward, for the moment he forgot about the third, which seized the opportunity and tore a chunk out of the back of a leg, ripping out the tendons. Dropping to one knee, the other two leapt at him, one going for the skin under his outstretched arm, and the other for the soft flesh around the neck.

Gemma and the rest had spent hours trying to hurt Azimuth, but these things made it look easy. She didn’t want to stick around to face them. Her plan to escape un-noticed was ruined when she tried to sneak back across the rubble to the way she came back in, the noise attracting the attention of one of the lions to her position. It growled its disagreement with her intentions, and she bolted and ran for the remainder of the stairwell, making for the second floor walkway. She heard the screams of Azimuth behind her as he fell to the attackers, a squealing noise reaching the second floor as it sounded as though he’d managed to hurt one before he succumbed to the attack.

Before she disappeared into one of the screening rooms, she turned to take one last look into the lobby down below. Azimuth lay on his side, blood pouring from multiple wounds across his body as two lions circled him, waiting to launch their final and fatal attack. The third lion lay at Azimuth’s side, its pulverised body splayed out across the debris. She actually felt some sympathy for him; it was a painful way to go out.

Gemma went through the doors and into the screen to the right, letting the door swing shut behind her. She’d lost all her weapons in their escape, and knew she wasn’t fighting her way out. She just hoped she could hide out until it was all over.

The venting hung loose from the ceiling, showing where a group of zombies had fallen into this room earlier to attack the yellow team whilst they were hiding.

The screen at the front illuminated, then went dark again, as the projector at the back of the room flicked on and off. Large black numbers appeared on the screen for split seconds then vanished again.

She sat herself down in a seat on the front row, setting herself for the main feature. Her body ached as she rested, finally allowing her to feel the pain from every wound she’d picked up over the last two days. The screen flicked on and off again, then went dark. All around her she could hear something scrambling around in the dark. Voices whispered around the room and sniggers tried to unnerve her.

Finally the screen snapped back on, counting from three, down to two, then to one, as she sat and watched the room full of clowns close in on her, teeth bared. Gonzo was clearly the leader of the pack, the others holding back slightly behind his position on point. As the screen went dark one last time, she didn’t make a sound.

 

Reggie lay in his little cupboard, shaking once again at the latest round of bloodshed he’d witnessed before him. The lions seemed to have gone, and the huge green beast in the middle of the room had stopped moving. His mind allowing him to believe it might finally be over, he let out a long gasp. It was loud enough to attract the attention of the creature crawling across the top of his cupboard, and it promptly bounced down before him. He spotted the fur through the gap in the top of the door, but didn’t know what it belonged to. He didn’t want to know.

The long fingers curled over the top of the door, securing a firm grip, then tore it from under the rubble and tossed it aside.

Reggie found himself staring up into the huge face of Brian, a two hundred plus pound orang-utan, and he didn’t look happy. His huge cheek flaps swung open to reveal the elongated canines stained with blood as he roared directly into Reggie’s face. Reggie’s eyes flickered as he tried to re-align his senses just in time for Brian to smash his head into the cupboard, biting into the last remaining human inhabitant of the Holts Farm cinema complex.

 

 

THE END

 

If you enjoyed reading Z Games then you can join my mailing list at http://www.warrenrogersbooks.com/.

You will receive news on other projects I am working on and maybe even some future freebies.

 

Books by Warren Rogers

Z GAMES

(available as a free download if you join my mailing list at http://www.warrenrogersbooks.com/)

Most people tend to die when they get their head stoved in, but Gemma just gets angrier each time, which comes in handy when the gates to Hell open up and the undead pour out looking for a fight.

It began with a zombie experience in the abandoned Holts Farm cinema complex, but when the props turn out to be the real deal the participants must fight to escape before they are all turned into the walking dead.

When one of the group: Gemma, starts to exhibit surprising new deadly skills, the others turn to her as she takes the fight to the undead, and whatever else Hell can throw at them.

 

HOMECOMING

Dealing with the aftermath of the failed Holts Farm experiment, Gemma and Sophie continue on their journey into Manchester and a city ravaged by the armies of the undead.

Gemma has her sights set on the man controlling the gates, whilst her and Sophie find themselves facing attacks from all sides, including the man that keeps killing her in her visions and a new threat that might just be a family of vampires.

But before dealing with all this Gemma needs to go and see her mother.

 

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank you for purchasing this book and taking the time to read my work.

If you enjoyed Z Games, then I would greatly appreciate if you would leave a review on the retailer website that you used to purchase the book, and I hope you’ll retain interest in my work for future books that I release.

 

There is a lot more to come from Z Games.

 

Follow me at;

 

Twitter: @WarrenGRogers

 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WarrenRogersBooks/

 

Website: http://www.warrenrogersbooks.com/

 

About the author

With a perhaps unhealthy obsession for zombies and a passion for all things steampunk, it was time to put some of my ideas together and present them to others.

The result – the Z Games novels – an expansive world where the standard rules of physics and normality no longer apply. Set in our near future, the reader can immerse themselves in this visionary world, and imagine how things could turn out for humanity if we continue along our current path.

 

Married for nearly 10 years and a father of 4, I’m in the lucky position where my amazing wife is supportive of me spending time on my writing (once the kids are in bed), and to boot my children keep asking how the stories are going and when they’ll be able to read one.

 

I hope you enjoy your Z Games experience as much as I have enjoyed creating it.

 

Warren Rogers


Z Games

Most people tend to die when they get their head stoved in, but Gemma just gets angrier each time, which comes in handy when the gates to Hell open up and the undead pour out looking for a fight. It began with a zombie experience in the abandoned Holts Farm cinema complex, but when the props turn out to be the real deal the participants must fight to escape before they are all turned into the walking dead. When one of the group: Gemma, starts to exhibit surprising new deadly skills, the others turn to her as she takes the fight to the undead, and whatever else Hell can throw at them.

  • Author: Warren Rogers
  • Published: 2016-07-11 22:05:31
  • Words: 89102
Z Games Z Games