As I plunged my stake through the eye of an old lady, I experienced a moment of pure surrealism. How did a day that started out with porridge and babies become about fighting for my life? How could I, who had never killed anything bigger than a cockroach, be driving a stake through another human being? Reality came crashing back as the old woman collapsed at my feet, only to reveal another creature behind her. As its blood-stained hands reached hungrily for me. I screamed involuntarily and scrambled backwards into Jim's broad back. Swinging around quickly, he immediately assessed the situation and shot the zombie charging me as casually as if he were playing a carnival game. The zombie went down like a piece of lumber, giving me a few precious seconds to regroup.
Emma cried out and I saw that one of the creatures had grabbed her by the hair. Her eyes were wide with terror as she clutched her stake and struggled to turn around. Without thinking, I jumped over the fallen zombie and launched myself at the creature. We crashed to the ground in a tangle of limbs. With desperate strength, I forced its head away from me while I struggled to sit up. Releasing my hold suddenly, I grabbed my stake with both hands and plunged it with all my might through the eye of the zombie as its teeth bared in anticipation. Blood and viscous goo splattered over my hands as the body stilled under me.
"How are we going?!" Biggs yelled as he blew a hole through the head of another zombie. Around his feet lay a growing circle of bodies. It felt like we'd been struggling with these zombies for hours but it must have only been a few seconds. Jim coolly responded. "Almost clear on this side." A few feet away, B1 and B2 surged forward, blasting zombies with gusto, as Ken followed closely behind, supporting the injured boy with one arm.
Glancing back, I saw the first of the zombie horde coming around the corner. A young woman in shorts, most of her left thigh and chest missing, ambled towards us. Oh God, a toddler stumbled beside her, both arms chewed off. A woman in a nurse's uniform, her face so chewed that I couldn't tell if I knew her or not, followed. In another thirty seconds or so, the horde would be upon us.
"Guys!" I yelled in warning, my heart thumping so hard that I fleetingly wondered if there was a limit to how much terror a heart could bear.
"Out of bullets!" B1 called out as he flipped his gun around and viciously pistol whipped a zombie away from him.
"Move it!" Biggs yelled. I scrambled to my feet and saw the way ahead was clear. A few zombies continued to amble out of the wards towards us but we could make it past, if we were quick.
Grabbing Emma's hand, I raced down the hall towards the stairwell, dodging the outstretched arms of the remaining zombies. From the corner of my eye, I saw Ken and B1 pick up the injured boy and follow us. I could hear Emma's laboured breathing as we ran determinedly. Finally, the stairs beckoned just a few feet away. A quick look over my shoulder showed the boys close behind - and immediately behind them, the pressing horde.
Emma and I reached the stairs and paused to let Ken and B1 through first with the injured man. As we turned to follow them up, a scream rent the air. I jerked around to see B2 being dragged into the horde. Teeth descended upon him and started tearing chunks of flesh from his body. He screamed again in agony and terror.
"Do something!" Emma shouted desperately. Wordless, Jim turned around and took careful aim. A shot rang out and B2's cries abruptly stopped. As Emma stared at Jim, aghast, he shoved her up the stairs. "Go." We turned and ran up the stairs as the zombies reached for us.
To our relief, the stairs slowed the horde's implacable onslaught, allowing us time to reach the next floor safely.
"Which way now?" B1 puffed. The young officer was looking pale and spaced out as he hung limply between Ken and B1.
I nodded to the right. We hurried quickly but cautiously down the hallway. There was no sign of violence but the heavy silence was forbidding. As we reached a corner, I pointed to the right and whispered. "There it is." Midway down the hallway, I could see the stairwell to the roof.
As we quietly moved off, I suddenly noted where we were and stopped in my tracks. The others paused and looked at me quizzically. I felt sick to my stomach as I realised what I was going to do. "I'm sorry, guys. I have to check on the children's ward. If there's a chance that any of them are still alive..." I tried to swallow the lump of fear in my throat. "I'll catch up with you as soon as I can."
Trembling, I clutched my stake hard and headed down the left hallway. My brain screamed at me to turn around and I wanted to, God knows, but I just couldn't live with myself if I left helpless children to the mercy of those monsters making their way up the stairs.
"Shit." I heard quietly behind me, and turned to see first, Jim, and then Biggs and Emma hurrying after me. "Let's make this quick."
B1 looked at us incredulously. "Are you kidding me?" He tried to whisper harshly. "We haven't got time for this!"
I nodded. "I know." Turning, I trotted quickly down the hall without waiting to see who was following. This was my mission and I could not blame any of them for not coming.
As I neared the entrance to the children's ward, I slowed and strained my ears for any sign of movement within. Nothing. I felt Jim's breath in my ear. He nodded at Biggs who swung past with his weapon at ready. My heart sank as he sucked in his breath quickly. I followed him as he slowly entered the ward. To my surprise, I saw the whole group was with me, even though B1 was glaring at me furiously.
My heart broke. Bed sheets lay bloody and tangled on the beds and strewn across the floor. A sob escaped my lips as I saw a broken, torn body lying in a cot. Its head had been ripped off its little body.
"Okay, can we go now?" B1 whispered too loudly. I nodded wordlessly. As I turned to go, I heard something. A rustle. I held my hand up abruptly as I strained to hear it again. There! In the bathroom.
"It's one of them!" B1 said, raising his gun. The men lined up their weapons as I ran forward and pulled at the door. It was locked but there is always a reverse lock for staff access. I flicked it and pulled open the door. There, huddled in the bathtub, was a girl, about 10 years old. Her eyes flew up to mine in terror as she scrabbled back against the smooth edge of the bath.
I flew forward to soothe her. "It's okay! See, I'm normal, like you." I stuck my stake in my belt, grabbed her hand and pressed it against my warm cheek. "See?"
The fear dissipated from her eyes as she searched my face. Then, she flung herself at me and buried her face in my neck.
"Can we go now?" B1 demanded edgily. I picked the girl up in my arms and we headed for the doors.
"Too late." Jim murmured, flinging up a hand to halt us. He peered around the corner and pulled back quickly. "They're here."