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."