I breathed a sigh of relief. In the silence of the suburbs, the bike was attracting a lot more attention than was comfortable. More and more zombies lined the road as we passed, like a bizarre ticker tape parade. They fell in behind us, slowly building a horde in our wake. I hoped that didn't spell trouble for us on the way back.
The shopping centre loomed ahead. Mike brought the bike to a stop beside an open field that separated the road from the shopping centre. At my inquiring look, he jerked his head to the zombies behind us. "A quieter approach might be in order." I agreed, throwing a nervous glance at the distant zombie pack as I climbed off the bike. Mike removed his backpack and rearranged his weapons. Along with his rifle slung over his shoulder, he had a cleaver strapped between his shoulder blades and a stiletto knife tucked in his belt. I felt suddenly naked in comparison, with just my parang and pistol tucked in my waistband.
We marched through the long grass, heading for the back of the shopping center. A quick glance behind me showed that our zombie fans were still following us. Fortunately, I guessed that it would take at least fifteen minutes for them to reach the centre. Plenty of time for us to get in and out, I thought without conviction. While I prayed that it would be a quick and easy task, past experience suggested otherwise.
We decided on entering via the side entrance. Mike grabbed the door handle and quietly pulled it open. The silence emanating from the building was oppressive. The corridor ahead was dark, but I could see the lights in the supermarket just ahead. Taking a deep breath, I slipped first through the doorway. Hugging the wall, I walked softly down the corridor. Up ahead, there was an open area around which the shops were grouped. The pharmacy was on the left of that open area while the supermarket lay on the right. Straight across were some small shops and the toilet.
As we reached the end of the corridor, I paused. Blood splattered the smooth, creamy floors of the open area, from one end to the other. I could see the legs of a body lying behind a bench. A zombie wandered into view. It was a woman, long dark hair, wearing a uniform. I restrained a gasp as she turned sideways, exposing her torso. The flesh had been removed, exposing her ribs. Another zombie staggered out of the post office. Her face had been ripped off, causing her to bang into a bin and, hands forward, feel her way past. Mike tapped my shoulder and pointed at the supermarket. Through the gloom, I could count at least thirty shoppers and workers milling around the shop. And those were just the ones I could see.
There was nothing for it, I realised, but to make a dash for it. I waited until the zombie in the middle was walking in the opposite direction and then slipped quickly into the nearby pharmacy, heading straight for the counter. Hunkering down behind it, I took a moment to catch my breath and allow my heartbeat to slow, watching Mike as he joined me.
Kneeling, Mike carefully peered over the counter top. He held up four fingers. Four zombies in the shop. Sliding past him, I scurried towards the prescriptions counter. I would find the supplies I needed in the shelves behind it. As I reached the end of the counter, I peered cautiously around the edge - and found myself staring into the dead eyes of a zombie. It moaned and grabbed at me. Squeaking in surprise, I jerked backwards. The zombie, once an obese middle-aged woman, placed its arms on the floor and dragged its torso closer to me. The lower part of her body had been devoured, I realised with revulsion. It ended just below her pelvis, nothing but naked bone and shredded flesh. Pale blue eyes fixed on me, she slid even closer. Wishing I'd brought my stake, I pulled out my parang but Mike slipped past me, grabbed her by the hair and drove the stiletto knife through her eye. Instantly, her body stilled.
Catching his eye, I gave a shaky nod of appreciation. Returning my parang to my belt, I followed him up two steps and into the back of the pharmacy. Shelves of medication lined the walls. Trying to stay low, I started poring through the supplies, looking for the broad spectrum antibiotics I needed. Mike disappeared, scouting out the rest of the room, I presumed. The antibiotics weren't hard to find, thankfully, and I removed my backpack and started filling it, first with a good supply of antibiotics and, then, with a few other essentials that I thought might come in handy if this quarantine lasted much longer.
I heard a small thud from the back of the room. I hoped it was Mike. Silently putting my backpack on again and moving forward, I rounded the centre shelves and saw Mike standing over a body wearing a white coat. What was the pharmacist, I guessed. Blood dripped from the stiletto in Mike's hand. Looking up, he directed a querying look at me. I nodded. Got everything. We can go now.
I guess we weren't as quiet as we'd hoped. Two zombies blocked the opening to the back room. A young dark-haired woman called Mandy, according to her name tag, dragged her battered body toward me. Just behind her, an older woman who appeared to be another chemist, reached out her remaining arm for Mike. By mutual agreement, we pulled out our hatchets and stepped forward. My heart hammered as I swung my parang at Mandy's neck. It sliced three quarters of the way through her neck, causing her head to loll grotesquely on her shoulder. Still, her arms groped for me. Revolted, I stood on tiptoes and, swinging my hatchet overhead like an axe, I finished lopping her head off. It hit the tiled floor with a thud that rang in my ears.
Turning to Mike, I saw he had already despatched the other zombie. Cool and composed, he wiped clean his cleaver and jerked his smooth head at the opening. Let's go. No arguments there. We hurried out of the compounding room onto the sales floor. Two more of the creatures were waiting for us. I evaded one easily but in its eagerness to grab me, it knocked a stand down. The reverberating crash as the stand hit the tiled floor made me cringe. Oh, that was not good. I sent a desperately apologetic look to Mike. He shrugged fatalistically and moved to the entrance of the pharmacy. The central area of the shopping centre was filling with zombies. To get to the side exit again, we would have to fight our way through a dozen zombies with more pouring out of the supermarket by the second.
I looked to Mike for a cue as to what we should do next. "Let's try the other entrance." He murmured. We turned and headed to the opening on the other side of the pharmacy, again dodging the two zombies. Disappointment. Get used to it. I thought as I bypassed one of them, a female zombie. She moaned, hands grasping at the space I had just filled. But pouring through the other opening were more zombies. Oh shit. Turning around, I saw the other entrance was now blocked with zombies. Heart racing, I looked at Mike. He grinned crookedly. "Not so boring now, eh, Lori?"
With a war cry that came from the gut, he charged forward and, wielding the cleaver like a sword, hacked left and right ferociously. Heads rolled as he fought with the smoothness and grace of a samurai warrior. I could only spare a second to admire his style before I had to swing into action. Swallowing the panic I felt, I swung my parang above my head and severed two hands blocking the path before me. Stepping to the side, I sheared off the head of a child before leaping over his body as he collapsed at my feet. With a hard kick, I shoved a woman in my path backwards as I buried my parang into the neck of a teen boy. As I pulled it free, two hands latched onto my neck. With a cry of terror, I twisted around and found myself looking into the young face of a teen girl. I knocked her hands away and kicked her in the stomach, trying to create some space. Over her head, I saw the centre was now full of zombies, all heading for us. If I didn't get out in the next few minutes, it was all over.
Swapping my parang into my left hand, I tugged out the gun with trembling hands and placed it against the girl's head as she rushed at me again. I pulled the trigger, splattering her brains across the blank faces of the zombies behind her. Turning, I shot at the heads closest to me. Bang, bang, bang. At this distance, style and technique didn't matter so much. Ahead of me, Mike sliced another creature down and, breathing heavily, turned to smile at me. The way to the sliding doors at the entrance to the shopping centre was clear.
We raced towards the sliding doors with zombies pouring out of the shops on either side of us. I didn't have to look behind to know we had a significant number of zombies on our tail as well. Gasping for breath, I fought to keep pace with Mike's long legs. We burst through the sliding doors into the car park. Throughout the car park, zombies turned to face us.
"Around the side." Mike breathed, grabbing my hand. I staggered briefly as he pulled me into a run. On my right, I saw a crowd of zombies forming as they poured from between the vehicles in the car park. Suddenly, Mike veered as a dead man stumbled out of a video store we were passing. I glimpsed several figures behind the man. Rounding the corner, we stopped dead. The zombie horde from the suburbs filled the park between us and the motorcycle. Looking behind us, a huge crowd was surging towards us.
Dropping my hand, Mike swung his rifle around. Automatically, I clutched my pistol tightly. "What's the plan?" I asked, my voice trembling as I fought to control my panic. Mike coolly calculated the distance between us and the approaching zombies in the field.
"We cut diagonally across the field to the road and swing around behind them to the bike. We're still probably going to have to shoot our way out, though, so keep your gun handy."
I nodded, waving my weapons. Mike set off at a fast clip across the field. As I followed, the left end of the horde swung around towards us. Shit, shit, they're going to cut us off before we get to the road. Halfway across the field, the farthest end of the horde, a dozen or so zombies, intercepted us. Mike swung his rifle up and starting shooting on the run. A zombie lurched backwards as a bullet slammed into his chest. Mike aimed again and took off the top of his head. I stopped briefly to take aim at a girl six feet away. She looked at me blankly as I pointed my weapon at her face and blew it off. Taking off at a run again, I evaded an elderly woman and then shot at an old man in my path, missing completely. He opened his mouth wide as he lumbered at me. I ran up to him, planting my gun in his mouth, and pressed the trigger. As he collapsed at my feet, I leapt over his body and swung my parang at a young girl who appeared on my left. She staggered back as the parang connected with her skull and then limped forward again. Leaving her behind, I chased after Mike as he blasted a path through the field. Despairingly, I saw the space between him and the road filling with zombies. For every zombie Mike and I put down, another two took their place.
Suddenly, from behind us on our left, came the guttural sound of a heavy duty engine. Do my incredulous delight, an army humvee roared across the field toward us. Mike drew me close as the squat vehicle rumbled past us with about a foot to spare. Coming to a stop between us and the horde, a soldier in a turret laid into the zombies with a machine gun and a cry of enthusiasm. "Take that, you bastards!" A door opened and a figure wearing camouflage gear waved at us. "Get in! Run, run!" I ran like my ass was on fire. I clambered into the vehicle, heart pounding, followed by Mike. As he slammed the door shut, the vehicle charged forward, ploughing through the zombie horde as it headed across the field.