"How long have we got?" Biggs barked, doing a quick count of his remaining bullets. I exchanged a long look with Emma. I knew she was thinking of all the people we'd worked with every day, just as I was. Was it possible that they were all dead - or one of these creatures?
Jim raise a brow. "Five minutes if we're lucky. The stairs were proving a bit of an obstacle but I wouldn't count on that stopping them for long."
"Right." Biggs turned to look at all of us. "Considering the loss of communication, we have to assume most of the hospital is lost. We need to concentrate on getting out of here alive now."
"If we get to the roof, there's a ladder on the side we can use to get down." Emma spoke up eagerly. There were nods all around.
"Okay, let's head to the elevator." Biggs snapped.
I snorted. "Oh I don't think so." He turned to glare at me but I met his eyes defiantly. "Think about it. We have no way of stopping the elevator from stopping at any of the above floors. If the upper floors are lost, as you put it, we could find ourselves being delivered straight into the arms of those monsters." Just the thought of it caused a shiver to run down my spine.
Jim grinned appreciatively at me. "She's got a point there, Biggs."
Biggs grunted a reluctant acknowledgement. "Stairs it is, then. Let's go!"
As our small group headed in the opposite direction to the ER, I couldn't help glancing nervously over my shoulder. The thought of being trapped in these narrow halls with those creatures made me feel sick. I blocked the thought and focused on where we were going. The hallway was really only wide enough for three people walking side by side. Biggs and Jim were cautiously leading the way followed by Emma, Ken and me. Behind us, the injured man was being assisted by another officer while B1 and his mate were keeping a close eye on the corridor behind us.
Up ahead, I could see the surgical wards looming. Biggs and Jim slowed down as we approached the doors and brought their weapons up. Biggs nodded at Jim, who slid along the edge of the wall and carefully peered around the wall. I held my breath as he pulled back again.
"Looks clear. Five patients lying in bed. "
Biggs nodded. "Move on, folks."
"Wait!" I grabbed his arm. "We can't just leave them here! They're sitting ducks."
The sudden compassion in his eyes made my heart contract. "There's nothing we can do for them. They can't get out of bed and we can't protect them. Our ammunition won't last five minutes in a confined space like that."
Emma suggested. "If we lock the doors..."
Biggs glanced at her. "You know those doors weren't designed to withstand significant pressure, like a horde of dead people pressing on it."
"It will at least give them a chance." I said grimly.
"Well, you'd better hurry!" yelled B1. "Here come the fucking zombies!" I jerked around to see a mass of dark figures appear at the top of the far stairs. They dragged, stumbled , lurched and fumbled over the steps. It occurred to me that it would have been an amusing sight in normal circumstances. Then the momentary humor fled as the creatures appeared to catch sight of us. Like a locust plague, the mass of torn figures surged down the hall towards us.
The others bolted down the hall. "Come on, Lori!" Emma called desperately over her shoulder as I hesitated.
"Damn it!" I grabbed the doors and pulled them shut, flicking the lock. I sent up a quick prayer that the ...zombies ...were too stupid to work out how to work the lock and then ran after the others.
Oh God. Another ward. A quick look behind me turned my guts to water as I saw the horde was catching up. The pressure of the zombies pouring up the stairs seemed to be forcing the front ones to move faster. Some fell and were trampled, but not enough to stem the flow. I knew I didn't have time to lock all the doors and to my shame, I kept running past the wards. I starting screaming over and over "Lock down! Lock down!" in the hope that any remaining staff or able patients would lock the doors. I knew that the doors wouldn't withstand a determined onslaught by the zombies but with their current focus on us, maybe it would be enough.
I caught a glimpse of a startled nurse standing at the door to the Oncology ward. "Lock the doors!" I yelled at her. "Lock down!" I don't know if she listened to me. I hoped she did. Nurses are trained to react quickly and ask questions later.
Ahead of me, the group slowed as we reached a T-junction. The fact that we had seen no sign of the zombies so far filled me with hope that we might make it to the roof without trouble; that maybe the problem wasn't even widespread and that there was a perfectly legitimate problem with the phones. However, the sight that greeted us as we turned the corner dashed that hope as if it had never been. Blood pooled on the floor and dripped down the walls. Sheets lay scattered on the floor of the ward across from us. I caught a glimpse of a bloodstained mattress hanging off a bed. The complete absence of movement or sound made the scene surreal.
The stairs waited temptingly at the end of this suddenly endless corridor. Behind us, the sussurating moans of the zombie horde brought an image of a pine forest I had grown up near; the sound the wind made as it blew through the tops of the trees. Haunting. Mournful. Unstoppable. I shivered.
Beside me, B1's mate (B2, I nicknamed him immediately) looked over his shoulder anxiously. "What should we do?"
Before anyone could answer, slow moving figures started emerging from the wards ahead of us. By the pyjamas they wore, they were - had once been - patients. Now they stared at us with empty, implaccable eyes and the ugly pallor of the dead. I barely noticed the gaping wounds that marked their bodies as they moved towards us.
We backed into a tight circle, trying to keep an eye on both sides of the corridor. "Any ideas would be welcome, guys." I joked, trying to calm my panicked breathing. I could hear Emma sobbing quietly behind me.
"Nothing for it but to shoot our way through this group, I reckon." Jim said dryly, nodding at the figures ahead of us. "A handful of them, a handful of us. Seems a fair fight."
B1 emitted a high pitched laugh. "Oh yeah, real fair. Except the only thing that puts them down is a bullet in the brain!"
The wounded young man suddenly spoke up for the first time since he'd received his injuries. "Someone take my gun." He held it out towards us. "My arm is...burning. I, I don't think I can shoot." I noted with alarm the flush in his cheeks. Ken stepped forward and took the gun, checking it in a surprisingly professional manner. "Let's do it."
"Wait!" I cried. Crossing the hall, I opened the janitor's cupboard and pulled out a broom. Holding it at an angle, I snapped it with my foot and handed one half to a startle Emma. I quickly removed the broom head and smiled grimly as I wielded the jagged piece of wood like a dagger. "Now I'm ready."