As we raced down the fenced walkway towards the hall, the zombies rapidly filled in the space behind us. Urging the stocky little boy to find an extra burst of speed, I kept an anxious eye on the rapidly diminishing gap. I marvelled at how much faster the zombies seemed to move as a pack. It seemed the momentum of many bodies carried them forward as rapidly - and as inexorable - as a lava flow travelling downhill. I shivered involuntarily as an image of the zombies flowing over me like lava absorbing a rock flashed across my mind. It had been too close.
On the other side of the lattice fence, zombies dotted the garden that ran the length of the walkway. They lurched instinctively forward as they spied us. I veered over to the wall as one reached over the hip-high barrier. The boy was still sticking close to me with Emma and Lucas bringing up the rear. As more and more zombies moved to the fence, moaning and pawing at us, we had to slow down to make sure we got past them safely. Unfortunately, a glance behind me showed, that allowed the zombies behind us to get ever closer. "Lori..!" Emma called nervously, looking over her shoulder.
"I know, I know!" Just ahead, the path opened onto a grassy stretch. The hall was only a short run from there. We could get the kid to safety and then circle the school back to our vehicle.
Seconds later, I knew that plan was blown to hell as dead-eyed kids stumbled onto the walkway ahead of me.
"Hell!" I stopped and looked at the others, feeling my heart pounding in my chest. Fifty or more zombies already blocked the walkway on our left and now the right side was rapidly filling up. And in front of us...
"Follow me!" I yelled, stopping to give the boy a hard stare. He gulped and nodded vigorously. Finding a good-sized space between the zombies lining the fence, I jumped lightly over and immediately beckoned to the boy. "Come on!" Terrified but obedient, he hurdled over the lattice awkwardly, falling on his knees. With the cricket bat, I whacked a zombie that staggered too close as Emma and Lucas joined us. We could make it, I realised excitedly. This stretch only had a few zombies. The majority, thank god, seemed to be stuck in the walkway trying to work out how to reach us!
Wordlessly, the three of us formed a blockade around the boy and held our cricket bats in readiness as we dodged and weaved our way past the zombies in the garden. Once past them, it was a clear run to the large hall. The doors flung open as we neared it, a woman beckoning to us urgently. I slowed and stepped aside to let the boy pass me. "Go!" I said, gesturing to the open doors. Wordlessly, he darted forward into the teacher's waiting arms.
"I hope you have a Plan B." Lucas said, trying hard to maintain his composure. He and Emma were staring in horrified fascination at the mass of bodies heading in our direction. There must have been a hundred at least, pouring out from both ends of the school. Young and old, they all had a single goal. Us. "Yeah." I murmured, tearing my eyes away from the sight of a dead girl in her bloodstained uniform. So young. So inhuman.
"What is it?"
Options being pretty limited, we chose to head across the oval. With all the zombies, it seemed, on our heels, there was nothing stopping us getting to the ambulance that way. I hoped.
"I wish I'd gone to gym more often." Emma gasped as she jogged beside me. It was a sentiment I echoed. I felt completely burned out and yet the adrenaline continued to pump through my body.
"Almost there." I panted. I could see the copse of trees blocking my view of the ambulance some fifty feet away and felt relief flooding my body. We were going to make it. The zombies were falling behind.
"Look!" Lucas yelled as he pointed to our left. Oh no no. Pouring across the car parks were more zombies, probably from the estate across the road. I did some quick estimates of the distance to the car. It was going to be close. Without another word, I raced for the road, Lucas and Emma close behind. I sprinted with every last bit of reserved energy in my body, acutely aware of the wall of bodies closing in on my left.
We burst through the trees to the road and the ambulance waiting on the other side. Except it wasn't.
We stopped, stunned, for precious seconds as we looked at the space that the vehicle had occupied.
"Come on." Lucas tugged my arm until I moved forward again. He led us across the street and down into the gully that ran the length of the road. Silently we raced towards a storm drain. I felt numb. Where had Roy gone with the children. Why had he abandoned us? Did he leave because he felt the kids were in danger?
When we arrived at the storm drain, Lucas grabbed the grate covering it and with a jerk, removed it. The sound brought me back to the present. As far as I knew, the kids were safe. Us, on the other hand...
"Looks like you've done this before." Emma murmured suspiciously to her brother.
He glanced at us as he stepped aside with the grate. "Nah. Everyone know it's where the smokers hang out."
The lumbering sounds of heavy feet at the top of the gully told us we were out of time. I clambered into the drain with Emma and we pressed our backs against the curved wall as Lucas climbed in. Quietly, he pulled the grate back into position.
We held our breath as bodies began stumbling and falling into the gully. Thump! One fell so close to us that I could see every detail of the raw wound that marred the left side of his head. The young adult male pushed himself to his knees and then linked his fingers through the grate to pull himself up. I tensed, sending up an urgent prayer to the gods above for the grate to stay in place. Emma clutched my hand convulsively. As he stood up, his face pressed against the grate. It was dark in the drain but I had no idea if it was dark enough to hide us from the monster. I stopped breathing as I saw his dark, cold eyes seemingly looking straight at me. For a long minute, he pressed against the grate before, finally, moving away.
I slowly released the breath I had been holding. Emma loosened her grip on my hand but I was so terrified of attracting attention that I daren't even turn my head to look at her.
More and more zombies gathered in the gulch. Soon it was so thick with bodies that they stood shoulder to shoulder- men, women, the elderly and the students. The air filled with the sound of their moans.
We sat there, unmoving, for an interminable time. At least it felt like forever, although it turned out to be only about thirty minutes. The creatures milled, no doubt trying to locate the warm human bodies they knew were here somewhere. I breathed as shallowly as I could, petrified that they would hear me. Sometimes they wandered right up to the grate, appearing to be peering inside. Any second, I expected them to realise we were here and drag us out. Each time one came near, my heart hammered so violently against my chest, I feared that it was audible.
Finally, the zombies, one by one, shambled off. The sound of sirens in the distance suggested there were other targets attracting their attention now. As the last of the zombies disappeared from sight, the drain reverberated with the sound of all three of us taking our first deep breath in half an hour.
Lucas cleared his throat. "You know, I thought zombies would be a lot more fun than this."
I laughed as I ran my hand shakily through my hair. "Stick with us, kid. We really know how to show you a good time." I caught Emma's eye and she grinned weakly in response. The relief of having escaped with our lives was exhilarating. I doubted any drug could match the natural high we were all feeling at that moment.
For several minutes, we sat quietly in the dark, relishing the feeling of just being alive. Outside, we could hear ambulances, fire engines and police sirens constantly. They seemed to be coming from all directions.
"I'm guessing the authorities know about the zombies now." I said wryly.