If it wasn’t for the commotion coming from the car park, she would have assumed that there were no more than twenty or so people in the retail park that morning. Had it not been for the car alarm that caught the attention of the guy who was recommending a few of the local drinking holes, nobody in the shop would have survived. “LOCK THE DOOR,” he yelled, startling the seven other customers standing within the confines of the shop. He sprinted to the till, calling out, “the key for the door, where is it? Where is it?” The cashier, hands shaking, pulled out a ring of keys, flinching as he snatched them from her on his way past, heading for the door which slid open before he could reach it. Three teenagers, tripping over one another, came belting into the building, the third of which was streaming blood from his shoulder. “Get back, get away, I’m bit, I’ve been bitten, they’re coming, those zombie sons of bitches are coming!”
The keys met the lock, and the doors closed, locking the twelve strangers in together.
They all stood at the glass doors, staring in disbelief at the scene that was presented to them.
All save one.
The moment that the guy she had been talking to, pushed her out of the way to lock the door, she had seen what was happening and began to act. The closet rack to her was full of coats, looking to see how well it was attached to the floor, she began to pull at it in an attempt to move it. To no avail.
She groaned in panicked frustration and turned her attention to the wall hangers instead, which came off with little resistance. She hurried it, along with all of the clothes which were still attached, over to the door where she dumped the clothes against the door and shoved the metal pole into the hands of the closest person. Seeing what she was attempting to do, the guy dropped the keys on the till counter top and followed her back to the wall.
“Here, let me help,” he said, grabbing one of the racks and passing it to he her. She nodded and headed back to the group, passing the rail to someone and heading back to take the next that he offered.
“Bob,” she said as she approached. He looked confused, “actually it’s Domonic.” She shook her head, “no, I’m Bob.” Under other circumstances he might have laughed, as it was he simply nodded and handed her another clothe laden rail.
They continued this way for a few minutes before the others started to get the hint and cover the windows.
In under five minutes the windows were completely covered and each person had a metal stick clasped tight in their hands. All except the last boy who had entered the shop, who was now sitting slouched against the counter.
“We need to move him,” said Bob in hushed tones to Dominic, “if this is anything like what we’re expecting, he won’t be himself for very much longer.”
Dominic nodded and crouched down beside the boy, “hey, I’m Dominic, how are you feeling kid?” “Don’t patronise me,” he snapped back, “I have a name, it’s Connor, and I do realise what’a going on, what’s gonna happen to me.” He sighed heavily, “just get on and do it, make it quick will ya?”
Dominic shot a look at Bob, “no, we’re not going to kill you, just…” Connor cut her off, “You have to! I’m a danger to every one in here if you don’t! You have to do it NOW!” his voice was shrill and verging on hysterical, causing everyone to crowd around them.
Opposing cries of, “yes, you have to kill him, do it now!” and “you can’t, he’s just a boy, you’ll be making a huge mistake!” as well as the confused cries clamouring for an explanation. The voices rose up until Bob could barely hear herself think, she found her voice commanding their attention, “ENOUGH!”
The silence was sudden and compliant as though they were all wanting someone to make the descision for them. “OK,” she started, “first off, let’s stop with the talk of killing Connor, we don’t know the specifics of what’s going on, for all we know he might not turn into one of those things, or it could wear off after a few days, or it could be permanent. Until we know for sure, nobody is killing anyone, got it?” Turning her head she addressed the more confused of the bunch, “what they’re referring to is the fact that those “people””, she used her fingers to emphasise air-quotes, “are now zombies and it is very likely that anyone bitten by them will become infected and will, in just as likely an event, turn into that which bit them.”
She came to crouch down by where Connor was slouched, “for now, we need too move you to somewhere safe,” turning to the cashier she asked, “Matilda,” she tead off her name tag, “is there a room we can lock from the outside at all?”
“There’s a disabled toilet next to the staff room, the key’s on the chain there” her voice was shaking but she nodded to where Dominic had dropped them, which he now picked up again.
“Could there be anyone back there?” Bob asked helping Connor to his feet. “The manager,” she replied, “I’m not sure though, he might still be at lunch, he doesn’t always let me know when he gets back.”
Nodding to her, Bob took Connor by the arm, “OK, we’re gonna get you safe, come on.” Dominic went a few steps ahead of them and Connor’s two friends followed a few paces behind. A door next to the changing rooms lead to a metal stair case which rose up two stories along the back wall of the building. The five of them made their way tentavely up the stairs and through the empty door frame that stood at the top.
The first door they came to was for the staff room, then the disabled toilet, the men’s, the women’s, an office and finally the stock room.
“Ok, in you go,” said Bob, opening the door to the small, clean room, “if you need anything, just shout,” she turned to the boy’s friends, “if you two want to stay up here, we’ll bring some chairs out of the staff room, one for Connor to, but you must not, under any circumstances, open this door. If he is still himself this time tomorrow we’ll let him out.”
“Wait,” said one of the boys, “do you really think we’re gonna be stuck here that long?”
“I hope not,” was the only reply that she had, “but we need to expect the best and plan for the worst, which means we take every precaution. Speaking of which,” she nodded towards the office, “we need to check on our manager, did Matilda tell you what his name is?”
Dominic shook his head, “no, but just wait a sec until we’ve got Connor here under lock and key.” He swung the keychain round his wrist, catching the keys in his hand. They patiently waited for Connor’s friends, Joe and Martin, to drag out a few chairs, putting one into the room with Connor who was looking like he wouldn’t be able to stand much longer as it was. They came out allowing Dominic to lock the door after them, sending Connor looks that tried to be encouraging but came across as the faces of two terrified teenage boys.
Dominic and Bob crossed the short distance to the office door. The blank mdf door clearly needed a new coat of paint as when he knocked, Dominic’s hand came away with a few flecks of crumbling paint.
They knocked again and waited. No sound could be heard from within, Bob raised her clothes rail and nodded to Dominic who twisted the handle and flung the door wide open.
The office was basic, the small square room featured one desk, laiden with computer, printer, scanner, piles of paper and a collection of plastic stamps, ink pads, staplers, hole-punches, not to mention thee empty mugs each complete with tea-spoon and a small pile of tea bags. The only other items in the room were a knackered filing cabinet and a swivel chair that was badly in need of a thorough reupholster. No manager.
Sighing and exchanging relieved looks, the two investigators turned and relaxed their arms, allowing their makeshift weapons to hang down by their sides. “Before we relax completely,” said Bob, “we need to check these other rooms, and then get back downstairs, it’ll be safer to stay as a group.”
“Staff room’s clear,” spoke up Martin, “there weren’t any cupboards or anything that they could hide in. Just a table, these chairs and a couple a sofas.” Looking to Dominic, who nodded in agreement, Bob moved to the door of the girls’ bathroom, “well, let’s get started then shall we?”
There came a loud thud from behind the door of the men’s toilets. Each person leapt back to get as far away from it as possible, they waited. Another thud followed then another and another, each consecutive bang getting louder and more violent.
Thinking quickly, Bob sprinted to the other side of the door, holding up her hand to indicate that Dominic should stay we’re he was, then beckoned Martin over to her. He froze and shook his head jerkily. Desmond covered the distance to her side without hesitation.
“He’s got to go one way or another,” she said in a low voice that the other two could hear, “when he does, the two behind him need to restrain him, we’ll try to put him in the office, get the key ready.”
Dominic pulled them out of his pocket and latched them to the belt of his jeans. “Ready?” he waited for nods from each person, Martin shrunk back but was able to give a slight nod. The four of them stood, ready, metal rails poised in defence, “watch out for his mouth,” Dominic shifted his weight from foot to foot, “one bite is all it takes.”
The cheap wood of the door was beginning to give under the repetitive beating and shards of it started to splinter outwards. Before long a hand, split skin, snapped bones an spurting blood broke through and caught. The force with which it was pulled back again was enough for the door to swing open slightly, enough for the room’s occupant to catch it’s other hand on the edge of and pull the rest of its body through the small gap. That it was incapable of opening an unlocked door simply because it swung in the wrong direction was a relief that would have to be considered later.
The face that greeted them was vacant and only a little pale, had it not been for the blood red that was now the only colour seen between the eyelids, and the badly mangled hands, there was little physical evidence of what had become of the person that now stood between them, swaying from side to side as it eyed them each in turn.
As quickly as it had made its way through the door, it’s expression turned vicious, it’s hands raised up, fingers curled, reaching for its victim. Martin recoiled as it lunged straight for him, falling to the floor as his assialant made to sprint down the corridor.
It never made it beyond a few feet as, with a cry, Bob brought her clothes rail down onto the back of its head, scraping off a large chunk of flesh but failing to fell the flailing corpse. She recovered her footing immediately and swung the metal rod into the side of the face which was now turning towards her. The bar was blunt and yet it managed to knock the jaw loose, creating a gaping hole in its face. Without pausing, she thrust the bar up through this new orephis, straight into the soft receptive sponge of a brain.
It’s face drooped once more into a vacant stare as the body beneath it fell to the ground in a crumpled mess. Having let go of the, now inextricably embedded, clothes rail, Bob took a step back, her face pale and eyes aghast. She clenched her hands into fists to stop them from trembling, but only succeeded in causing her arms to start.
The four of them stood, staring at the sight before them.
The name badge that sat upon the poor man’s chest revealed a name. His eyes, that had just moments ago been blood red, now began to pale, leaving only bloodshot blue in its wake. Were it not for the mangled hand and clothes rail impaled in his chin giving way to a steadily expanding pool of blood, he appeared completely human.
Dominic was the first to break the silence. “We need to move him.”
Bob, forcing her expression into one of patient calm, shook her head, “no.”
The others looked at her, eyebrows raised.
“We need to finish checking these rooms.” She tilted her head towards the former manager, with a concerted effort to hide the shock and new found quake in her voice, “he’s not a danger any more, but there may be others that are.” Dominic nodded, and turned and entered the lady’s toilets, whilst the boys remained where they stood, retaining dubious looks on their faces. Bob stood at the door, stepping aside as he remerged.
The four of them advanced towards the stock-room door. Bob reached out to push the door open, pausing to turn to the boys, “you two should stay with your friend.”
Martin readily agreed and hurried back to sit with his chair as far away from the dead body but as near to the disabled toilet’s door as possible. Desmond hesitated, “I can help.” His voice was stead however his eyes betrayed his fear.
“It’s highly unlikely there’ll be anything in here,” she paused to find the right words to keep him away without belittling his courage, “your friend probably doesn’t have much time left,” she placed a hand on his shoulder, “you should be with him.”
Joe’s eyes darted back and forth between where Martin was sitting talking quietly to the door and where Bob’s hand rested against the door. “Right, yeah,” he raised his voice as he walked away, “I’m coming Conner.”
Dominic cast an impressed smile towards Bob, “you have a knack.”
“For telling people what they need to hear in a difficult situation,” he followed her through the swinging door to find a short dimly lit corridor, “you a counsellor or nurse or something?”
She smiled dryly and shook her head, “child-minder, there’s a ‘take-a-breath’ process that I use.” She raised her clothes rail into a defensive position, motioning for him to do the same. “No matter how challenging just take deep, slow, steady breaths.” She saw him raise an eyebrow, “I realise how basic that sounds, but it works, so think what you like.”
They turned the corner to be met by a maze of shelves and rails, “Stick together,” she made her way down one side of the room, pausing to scour each isle, “to be honest,” she continued, “I didn’t really expect it to work in this sort of situation, and yet…” She trailed off as her voice recaptured a slight tremor…
“You must be a stronger than you realised.” Dominic’s voice was kind, it caught Bob off guard. She turned to face him, “just well practiced I think. I suppose we’ll all be finding out just how strong we are in the near future.” She continued the search.
They reached the back of the room without incident. Tucked away in the far corner, a vending machine hummed loudly away to itself.
“We should take note of what’s in there,” Dominic pointed out, “it might be a good idea to pool and ration whatever food we can find in the building.” Bob smiled, impressed, “just what I was thinking, great minds, I suppose. We should…”
A shout from the door cut her off.
“Hey! HEY! Where are you?”
With a swift glance to one another, the pair of them took off back towards the door.
“Here, we’re here. What is it, what’s happened?”
Desmond stood at the door, his face distraught, “I think it’s happened! I think he’s dead!”
“Connor, but he’s barely been bitten even five minutes,” Bob was the first to reach him.
“He went quiet, like a few seconds ago.” A few tears had escaped, “we can hear him moaning.”
Bob held his shoulder, “We’ll find out together, it’s likely he’s just in a bit of pain,” her brow furrowed, “there’s no way the infection’s spread this fast.”
The three of them reached Edward just in time to hear a low but unmistakable gravely moan.
“Back away from the door.” Dominic pulled Edward to his feet, the teen had been knelt on the ground, sobbing at the door.
Just as though as their voices had been heard, the moaning stopped. In the following silence, there wasn’t a single one of them that couldn’t feel their hearts beating in their throat.
It was soft but everyone heard it.
Followed by another, and then another, steadily getting louder and faster.
Thuds were rejoined by a moan that soon became a gurgling growl.
It seemed that, with each failed attempt at breaking free from his confinement, what was left of Connor was gaining strength and vicious temperament.
With heads bowed, the four individuals stood silently, absorbing the onset of despair.