Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tales of the Dead Tropics - chapter 9

Time to go.   My legs were shaking so much, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to take another step, let alone run.  Taking a deep breath, I bit the bullet and charged  around the corner,  focusing on the nearest ambulance. It was parked haphazardly in the driveway only about thirty feet away, but it felt like a mile.  The zombie chewing on a hand turned to stare at me as I raced past him.  I hurtled over the scattered body parts and past the dozen or so zombies standing around. My peripheral vision picked up hands reaching for me on the right.  Squealing, I dodged left and almost ran straight into the arms of a blood-spattered nurse. Her glassy eyes looked at me with indifference even as her hands clutched hungrily at me.  I shoved her away and darted around, my heart pounding hard enough to burst.  A sharp left, a twist around, dodge right, straight run...only ten feet to go.  I was almost there!

No, no, no!  Pale, stumbling figures spilled from either side of the ambulance to form an unwitting, deadly barricade before me.  Slowing, I looked around me and saw a wall of stumbling bodies closing in on me on all sides.  Desperately, I looked for something that could help me.  My eyes fell on a nearby trolley lying against a pillar.  Reaching over, I pulled it in front of me.  With a snarl of pure adrenaline, I pushed the trolley before me like a snow plow, knocking zombies over, left and right,  and pinning several against the side of the ambulance.
As the zombies pulled themselves to their feet and fumbled with the trolley, I wrenched the door of the ambulance open and clambered inside, closing the door quickly behind me.  With trembling fingers, I fumbled for the keys but, to my dismay, they weren't in the ignition.  Where are they?!  Desperately, I searched the floor but it was useless.  The keys weren't in the ambulance. 

I sat up to see grey arms reached through the window.  Gasping,  I scrabbled over the seats and fumbled with the handle of the left door.  As I pushed it open, cold hands pulled me out onto the gravel. A circle of dead, impassive faces stared down at me.  Screaming, I kicked out with every ounce of strength I possessed and felt sudden, wonderful, freedom as the creature holding me lost its grip on me.   In complete, mindless panic, I jumped to my feet, shoved my way past a young girl and bolted for the next ambulance.

Please let this one have keys, I prayed.  It was parked over the curb and had obviously been abandoned hastily.  Zombies converged on me in every direction except the curb side upon which the ambulance was perched.  A hedge ran along the curb blocking the creatures, giving me a tiny  opportunity to escape.  When I reached the ambulance,  I wrenched the passenger door open - and froze in a moment of sickening dread.  A zombie sat before me on the passenger side.  He turned his head and looked at me with dark, soulless eyes.  His lips peeled back from his teeth and he launched himself at me.  I cried out and jumped back, knowing it was too late.  Only, to my desperate relief, the creature did not reach me.  He fell heavily onto the pavement before me, the bloody stumps that remained of his legs scrabbling futilely at the ground.  Still, he reached up for me.  I leapt over him and scrambled into the driver's seat.  Please, please, please. 

I don't think any sound ever sounded sweeter to me in my entire life than the jingle of car keys that greeted me as I fumbled with the ignition.  With a cry of pure joy, I turned the engine over and threw the ambulance into reverse.  Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a face coming through the window at me. A grey-haired man, with torn flesh where his features once were, launched himself at my throat.  Screaming, I wrenched my head to the left and pressed down hard on the accelerator.  The head disappeared abruptly from the window as the car screeched backwards. 

Shaking with adrenaline, I braked hard as I watched the man slowly sit up. With a surge of pure malevolence, I put my foot down hard on the accelerator and sent my wheels right over his head, relishing the sound of his head exploding.  Take that, you bastard. 

With sheer vindictive pleasure, I tore through the crowd of zombies before me as I headed for the alleyway.  They flew to the side or fell beneath my wheels with eerie silence.  Women, men, some nurses whose faces I knew well - I rejoiced as each one fell beneath my wheels. 

Jim jumped out as I pulled up.  Pulling the back doors open, the others piled quickly into the back of the ambulance.  I watched the approaching zombies through my rear view mirrors and couldn't restrain myself from yelling pointlessly.  "Hurry up!"

With a slam of the doors, Jim hurried around and jumped into the passenger seat. 

With a squeal of wheels, I roared away from the hospital - and towards my daughter.  Jim looked at me and I saw a hint of admiration in his eyes.  "Good job." 
Emma slid the window behind me open, as the vehicle surged forward.  "Oh Lori, you were fantastic!"
The adrenaline that had fueled me was draining now, leaving me feeling shaky.  "Thanks, guys.  All in a day's work, really."  I know I sounded distracted as my thoughts turned to my oldest child.  How would I find her? I didn't have my mobile with me. I didn't allow myself to think for a moment that she wasn't okay.  She had to be.

"So, where are we going?"  Jim's gravelly voice interrupted my thoughts. I glanced at him defiantly.  "Central.  I'm getting my daughter." 
A long pause and then he nodded.  "Do you know where to find her?"
I laughed a little hysterically.  "Not a clue!"
"You need to find a mobile.  Then you can contact her." Emma said quietly from behind me.   I nodded.  But where would I get one?

"My God." I heard Ken say softly.  I blinked and saw what he was seeing.  All along the esplanade, zombies moved towards us.  Hundreds gathered along the green strip.  In the cafes and shops that bordered the other side of the street, blood and flesh splattered the pavement, tables and chairs.  Even as we watched, fresh bodies rose to join the walking dead.
"How far has it spread?" Ken wondered aloud.  I couldn't answer as fear for my daughter clenched my gut into a knot. 

Turning the corner, I saw the creatures staggering down the road towards the business district.  To my amazement, I saw people, real people, still wandering the streets.  My heart flared with hope.  Maybe this madness hadn't reached Michele yet.  Maybe I would be in time.

Ahead, a young girl with a backpack turned towards the car.   Long brown hair fell over her chest but it did not hide the gaping hole where her breasts once were or the glazed eyes.  Deliberately, I swung the car over and drove the car at her. 
"What are you doing?"  Emma gasped.  Whatever it takes, I thought.   The girl stood motionless as the car powered towards her.  At the last moment, I twitched the steering wheel so that the the car only clipped the girl.  Spinning, she flew several feet.  Braking hard, I jumped out of the car and ran back to her.  She lay faced upwards, the bloody hole in her chest mocking me as I knelt beside her.  I pulled out my stake, waiting...Sure enough, her eyes opened and focused on me with the mindless stare I had become familiar with.

"Sorry." I whispered, feeling a momentary ache for the girl she had once been, for the loss her parents had suffered.  Before she could react, I plunged my stake through her eye with an ease that should have troubled me, but didn't.  As he body stilled, I pulled her backpack off and rummaged roughly through it.  My hands closed over a familiar shape and I pulled out a mobile phone.  I sent up a fervent prayer of thanks as I ran back to the car.

Dialling Michele's number, I sent the car squealing forward again.  It rang once, twice, three times.  Pick up! 
"Hello, mum."  My daughter's familiar, faintly mortified, voice coursed through my body like red wine.
"Are you okay?  Where are you?"  I yelled as I drove through a red light.  Vaguely I was aware of a car crash on my right.
"Um, sure, I'm fine."  Michele sounded surprised and wary.  "Why, what's going on?"
I took a deep breath and tried to talk normally.  "Is everything okay at the shops?  Any trouble?"  People running on my left.  A sudden scream.  I blocked them out as I focused on getting to the large shopping centre which was looming in the distance.
"Everything's fine.  Oh, there is something going on in the food hall.  Anna and I were just heading over to see what all the fuss was about."
"No!" I screamed, my heart in my mouth.  "You run the other way right now, do you hear?!  Meet me in the downstairs carpark if you can get there safely."
Michele sounded scared now.  "Mum, what's going on?!"
I took another deep breath.  "Bad people, Michele.  Bad people."
I heard a sharp intake of breath.  "Okay, we leaving now.  Come quick, mum, please."
"I'm three minutes away, baby."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tales of the Dead Tropics - chapter 8

A whimper escaped my lips as I tried to block the horrific images that flooded my head.  Six feet from the ground, I let go of the rope and stumbled a few   feet before regaining my balance. Jessie rushed forward and clutched my skirt anxiously.  Wrapping an arm around her thin shoulders, I looked around at the others.   Silent tears poured down Emma's face as Ken moved up beside her and gripped her hand tightly. B1 watched the road but I could see him flinching at each scream.  Even impassive Jim looked grim.  None of us said anything as we listened to the screams fade and finally cease.   

B1 murmured "then there were five" - he paused as he glanced at Jessie "and a half..."
A line formed between Jim's bushy brows as he came close to frowning. "Shut up, Roy."
B1 shuffled his feet.  "Just saying..."
I couldn't speak, tears choking my throat.  Biggs had been loud, short tempered and bossy but he'd also been brave and honorable, and ultimately, had sacrificed himself for us.

"I don't know how much more of this I can take." Emma's voice trembled.  How much more could any of us take, I wondered.  How much fear, pain, death can any person bear before they break?  It felt like I had been drowning in a sea of terror for an eternity.  Even greater than my desperate desire to live was the unbearable fear for my children.  It wrapped, like heavy chains, ever tighter around my heart with each passing minute.  Were they safe, were they afraid, were they crying for me somewhere? 
Ken started to speak, stopped and cleared his throat. "So what do we do now?  We can't hide out in this lane forever."   
Jim nodded. "We need to work on getting a vehicle and finding a safe location."  He looked around at us.  "Any chance one of you has a car handy?"
"I was late this morning so I'm parked just across the road." I offered dryly, " but I don't think it will help us, seeing the car keys are in the ER staff room."
Jim sighed.  "Okay, let's see what the situation is out front."

Cautiously, we moved down the alley, keeping as close to the wall as possible.  Every excruciating step of the way, I kept expecting to see the monsters blocking the lane. As we neared the front, Jim waved at us to stop.  He inched forward carefully and peered around the edge of the wall for a few seconds.  Pulling back, Jim looked at us impassively.  "Well, there's good news and there's bad news."
B1 (Roy, I corrected myself) snorted quietly.  "This whole day has been bad news!" 
Jim ignored him and continued. "There are about fifty or sixty zombies milling in front of the ER."
"I really hope that wasn't the good news." Ken responded drily as he removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes tiredly.
Jim allowed himself a little smile in response.  "There are four ambulances pulled up at the front.  I'm guessing, with all the chaos this morning, that at least one of them ..."
"still has the keys in them!" Emma finished excitedly.

I pushed forward.  "I want to take a look myself."  A plan that would allow me to get to my kids was forming but I needed more data.  Just as Jim had said, the hospital entrance was full of dull-eyed zombies shambling aimlessly.  Two ambulances were stopped randomly in the driveway while another two were parked on the side.   A trolley lay overturned, and scattered on the ground were pieces of a body. Or bodies. A zombie stood nearby, gnawing on a hand.  I tried to block out the scene as I calculated the difficulty of getting to the nearest ambulance.  It was clear that we would have to go right through the zombie horde.  Shiiiiitte.

I met Jim's deadpan expression as I drew back slowly.  "What do you think, ma'am?"
"Piece of cake." Even to me, my voice sounded strangled.
His lips quirked momentarily before resuming its expressionless state.  "Our options appear pretty limited.  We can head down the other way and hope to find a car there or we can make a run for one of these ambulances."
"Jesus!" Roy exclaimed incredulously, if softly. "How is that even an option!  We try the other way, of course!"

I shook my head determinedly, holding Jim's bland gaze.  "We know that zombies are pretty slow moving.  True, if we all tried to run through that crowd, the chances are that most of us wouldn't make it.  But one or two fast people could dodge them and make it to the ambulances and then pick up the others.  Theoretically."
"Theoretically." Jim agreed.  "So, who's a fast runner?"
"Shit, not me!" Roy replied vehemently.  "Like hell I'm going to run towards any frigging zombies!  You're crazy!"  He looked around him for support.  "Am I right?  It's lunacy!"
Emma rolled her eyes but her normally rosy complexion had paled considerably.  "You really think we have a chance?"

I swallowed hard and nodded.  I couldn't believe I was even contemplating running through a crowd of zombies but I knew that I had to be the one behind the wheel of a car.  It was the only way I could be sure of being able to find Michele.  What if the others didn't want go rescue her?  What if they had families of their own they wanted to help?  I had to be in control of the car so I could make the call.

Putting up a shaky hand, I said "I'm not the fastest runner around but I am pretty good at dodging and weaving." I smiled weakly. "Years of playing touch footy with the guys."
Emma looked petrified.  "Are you sure, Lori?" 
No!  "I've got as good a chance as any of you.  Maybe better."
The contemplative way Jim was looking at me made me feel a little uncomfortable, as if he could read my mind and see the completely selfish reasons I had for volunteering. 
"Okay." He nodded slowly.  "You're only going to get one shot at this, ma'am.  If they manage to surround you..."
I bobbed my head jerkily.  "I know."  I could feel sweat dripping down my spine and my breath quickening. 

A movement to my side caught my eye and I was mortified to realise that I had forgotten about Jessie.  Kneeling, I took her hands in mine and tried to smile confidently.   "I'm going to be back with the car in a few minutes, Jessie.  You wait with these guys and be ready to jump into the back of the ambulance as soon as I pull up.  Alright?"
Her solemn brown eyes took in my whole face.  I had the unnerving feeling that she thought it was the last time she would see me.  She nodded and squeezed my hands.  "You have to run really fast, okay?"
I grinned.  "Like my butt is on fire!" She grinned back at me and then moved over to join Emma and Ken.

I stood up and took a deep breath.  "Okay, let's do this."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tales of the Dead Tropics - chapter 7


"Shit, shit shit!"  B1 glowered malevolently at me and unceremoniously shook the unconscious boy off him.  Ken carefully laid the lad down on the floor.  "Maybe the doors will be strong enough to withstand them."
Biggs shrugged.  "Not much choice at this point."  B1 turned to glare at me pointedly.
"We have to hide." The little girl suddenly spoke up, her voice shaky.  "If they can't see us, they can't find us."

We turned to look at her for a long moment and then we all moved quickly.  Jim quietly shut and locked the doors while Ken dragged the young man out of sight.  Although I knew that the bathroom would make a better hiding spot, I baulked at not being able to see what was going on.  Instead, I pressed myself and the young girl against the wall beside the door, as did the others

I held my breath as the moans and shuffling neared us.  A little hand slipped into mine.  I glanced down to see the little girl's eyes were shut tightly as she gripped my hand.  Squeezing back lightly, I tried to calm my breathing. 
Go by, go by, go by.  I begged silently.  A body banged against the door.  Emma gasped audibly.  From the corner of my eye, I saw Biggs' hand instinctively reach up and cover her mouth.  I held my breath, waiting to see if she had been heard.  Endless seconds passed.  There was no change in the intensity of the noises in the hall.  Slowly, I released my breath, daring to hope that we might make it.

Then, unbelievably, a yell erupted from within the room.  Frantically, my eyes sought the source.  It was B1!  He was struggling to kick Jack away from him.  Blood poured from his calf and I realised, with dread, that the young man was gone.  In his place knelt a vacant eyed, slack jawed monster with blood dripping down his chin.  B1 shot us a desperate look, half apology and half horror.  "Get him off me before I off him!"  As everyone froze, I strode over and, placing a foot in the young man's chest, pushed him over.  As he reared up, teeth bared like an animal, I pulled out my stake and drove it through his eye with deliberation.  I flinched as gunk shot up and splattered across my cheek.

"What the hell?!"  B1 exclaimed.  I shot him a miserable, defiant look as I stood up and tried to wipe the mess off my face. 
"He'd turned.  He was one of them.  Couldn't you see that?"

Before he could reply, a flurry of bangs commenced against the doors.  They bulged open and through the gap between the doors, we could hear the undulating moans and eager growls of the zombies as they gathered around our room.
"Guess that means our cover's blown."  Jim commented drily, popping a gum in his mouth.

"What are we going to do?" Emma said, her face ashen as her eyes darted to the slowly widening gap between the doors.
"I'm thinking."  Biggs snapped, his grey eyes searching the room. 
"Maybe we can lock ourselves in the bathroom." The little girl whispered as she made her way to my side again.  I knelt down so I could meet her brown eyes.  "It's a good idea,... what's your name?"
"Jessie."  She said it so quietly, I could barely hear her. 
"Jessie,  we would probably be safe in there but we'd also be trapped with no way out. We won't be able to get food or help."  She nodded but I don't think she really understood.

As I looked around for inspiration, my eyes fell on a cursing B1 as he tried to stem the flow of blood from his leg with the corner of a sheet.
 "We can make a sheet rope and climb down the side of the building!"  I offered excitedly.
The others looked at me and then at each other.  Biggs permitted himself a grim smile.  "Unless anyone else has a better idea...?"

Swiftly, we gathered all the sheets in the room, bloody or not.  As we knotted the sheets together,  we kept an anxious eye of the doors which already seemed to be at bursting point.
"Hurry."  Biggs muttered through gritted teeth.  No one responded to the self-evident statement.  Within minutes,  we tied on the last of the sheets.
"I think it should be long enough."  Emma declared.  "We're only three floors up."
"Only." grumbled B1 as he limped over to the window and pushed it open.  We gathered the thick rope of sheets and carried it to the window.

For the first time since this disaster began, I had the chance to see what was happening in the outside world and it devastated me in a way nothing else had today.

Up to now, I had managed to convince myself that this ...plague...was isolated to this hospital, that we would get out and be able to establish a quarantine.  Above all, I had managed to persuade myself that my family was still safe.  That belief shattered with a single glimpse through the window.

Across the road, I could see people running.  Not the usual joggers and young people playing ball which were a normal sight on the esplanade, but desperate people running for their lives as a hundred, two hundred of the zombie creatures poured into the picturesque park.  Mothers ran with toddlers in their arms.  Backpackers batted at arms that grabbed at them.  Children, chubby faced babes, stood in the middle of the beautiful lawn and cried miserably as pitiless figures encircled them.  I sobbed in despair and fell back from the window.  Those poor people. Michele. My babies. 

B1 glanced at me cursorily as he threw the rope through the window.  Biggs tied the other end off to a bed post and then nodded at Jim.  "You'd better go first.  Try and keep the area clear."  Jim nodded and swung his leg over the sill. 

Emma touched my arm and brought me back to the present.  "Are you okay?"  She rolled her eyes, acknowledging the stupidity of the question in our present situation.  I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, nodding.  I had to stay focused if I wanted to get out of here and find my children.  Nothing else mattered.  The press of a small body against mine reminded me of another responsibility I had taken on, and I resolved fiercely to keep Jessie safe, too.

The sound of a nail hitting the floor brought our eyes jerking back to the doors.  "Shit, shit, shit!"  B1 yelled.  "I'm getting out of here!  He grabbed the rope and clambered out.  As another nail flew out, Biggs grimaced.  "He's an idiot but I think he has the right idea, folks." He waved his hand.  "Women and children first, of course." 

Another place, another time, I might have argued with him but not today.  After Emma tentatively swung herself over the windowsill, I grabbed Jessie and sat her on the ledge.  She squealed and clung to me.  "No, Jessie." I said firmly.  "This is no different than climbing the rope at the playground.  Just climb down as if you were showing off to your friends at the gym or something."  She swallowed and nodded, and turning around, started clambering down the rope as if it were a beanstalk.  I stifled an involuntary laugh and followed her, although with a lot less agility.  My arms immediately started screaming in complaint as my legs scrabbled to get a grip on the rope. 

Glancing below, I saw Jim had reached the pavement safely.  His descent did not seem to have attracted any unwanted attention, thankfully., allowing him to pull out his weapon and stand guard in the alley.  Above me, Ken paused on the windowsill; I guess he was worried that the rope wouldn't bear the weight of more than 3 people at a time. 

Thump!  My eyes met Ken's aghast eyes as the doors finally burst open under the pressure of the horde.  From within the room, I heard Biggs curse loudly and start firing wildly.  Pulling out his gun, Ken began shooting shakily into the crowd.
"Get the hell out, boy!"  Biggs yelled.  Ken hesitated, then swung his other leg over the ledge and started clambering down the rope.  I shook myself out of my momentary paralysis and kept moving downwards as the sounds of battle flowed over me like boiling oil.  Biggs' furious yells and curses floated over the moans of the zombies as he fired shot after futile shot. Then the shooting stopped and the screaming started.