Ambush and Fight Through in Tuz
Chubbs and I were in front, with Guy bringing up the rear. Toad and Brian stayed in the middle and we ran at the fastest pace they could manage. Brian was limping badly and I could hear him puffing and panting behind me, but he was covering the ground a lot quicker than I thought he would have done. Toad sprinted at his side, snorting and hacking up blood from his damaged nose and mouth.
A burst of machine gun fire from behind stopped us in our tracks. We all turned as one to face the road to our left, weapons in the shoulder and ready to fire. Guy had dropped to one knee and was pumping bursts of fire from his SAW in to the area at the top of the embankment, within the now thinning smoke. I saw bodies moving toward us from the road and together, Chubbs and I fired long bursts in to their direction.
“They’re coming across. They’re coming across toward you.” I could hear Andy shouting with panic in his voice over the radio to warn us and the rattle of gun fire from the other gun truck.
The attackers had decided to bring the fight to us and began to move from their side of the road in the hope of finishing us off with a frontal assault. They were met with a wall of fire from all five of our guns. I saw bodies topple over as rounds ripped through them and others, dropped to the tarmac, in the hope of getting below our deadly hail of bullets.
“Peel right, peel right.” I began to scream as I continued to fire.
Guy was the first to move, as he was on the extreme left. He jumped up from his fire position and ran behind us and placed himself at the far end of the line, on Chubbs’ right, taking up the fire again. Now it was the turn of Brian to move, then Toad, then me. We continued this movement, leap frogging behind each other, all the while, at least three men were static and suppressing the enemy while the others moved. We would carry this on until we either broke contact or, we reached the cover of the nearest building.
We were close now and on a level plain with the far side of the road. I could see the other half of the team in the distance further north from us; they were still pouring rounds in to the enemy positions and causing them to split their attention between us.
Across the road, I saw the flash and smoke from numerous machine guns and assault rifles as the insurgents tried to stop our retreat.
We continued to move toward cover. Rounds snapped and hissed in the air around us as the enemy fire tried desperately to stop us. Clouds of dust and shards of rock shot up in to the air all around as inaccurate fire thumped in to the ground at our feet.
Now and then, someone would scream, ‘magazine’ as his weapon ran dry and he would immediately get up and run, changing magazines on the move. If you weren’t firing, then it was pointless staying still.
Chubbs was the first to reach the buildings and he instantly took up a fire position from the cover of a wall and began firing long bursts in to the area of the road to cover the rest of us as we piled in beside him.
Sweat was dripping in to my eyes and I was breathing hard, my chest heaving and my legs shaking. We were ankle deep in the filth and detritus that ran between the houses and as my lungs fought to take in oxygen, I was vaguely aware of the fetid and putrid odours from around our feet that crept in to our nostrils.
I dropped the magazine from my weapon and slammed in a fresh one. Everyone around me was doing the same.
We were leaning against the wall of the house, keeping ourselves tight against the building. Chubbs continued to fire in the direction we had come, while the rest of us made a quick assessment of our situation. No one had thought past this part, and to be honest, I don’t think any of us had expected to make it as far as we had.
The wall of the building that we were against led in to the street to our immediate south, the street ran roughly east to west.
“Head for the street, then turn right and we’ll see if we can skirt around the far western side of Tuz and link back up with Den.” Brian decided.
He sent the same message to Den over his radio, but there was no reply or acknowledgment. They were either too busy or, they were out of range for our small handheld radios. It didn’t matter because we had no choice anyway. We had to move.
With a final long burst from Chubbs, we then moved toward the street. There were now buildings between us and our attackers and that gave us, at least a little, breathing space.
We turned the corner and headed west. People, with wide terrified eyes, peered out from behind their doors and garden walls. Children were snatched off the street by worried parents ahead of us and the street was soon empty as we charged along.
Guy was in front, his weapon in the shoulder and his knees bent, ready to spring should a threat appear ahead of us. I was slightly behind him and to his left, covering him as we moved. Chubbs jogged along at the back, his SAW in his arms and protecting our rear.
“Keep going straight. We’ll follow this road for as far as possible and hopefully hit the outskirts to the west and turn north.” Brian instructed us.
We were travelling fast, but not so fast that should something happen ahead of us, that we would run headlong in to it. We needed to gain some distance but, at the same time, we didn’t want to race in to possible trouble that was waiting for us.
Our eyes scanned every window and doorway as we made our way west. In the distance, and to our rear, we could still hear heavy gun fire from the direction of the road. We knew though, that the attackers would’ve realised that we had retreated back in to the built up area and as far as we were concerned, this was their backyard. They wouldn’t want to pass up the chance of trapping us and either killing us, or taking us captive. Either way, we would end up dead.
If they didn’t follow us up, or put in a block ahead of us, they would be allowing us to slip away.
Guy’s weapon burst to life to my right. The noise of the SAW rattled and echoed around in the tight confined space of the narrow street. I snapped my eyes away from the rooftop I had been scanning as I moved, just in time to see an Iraqi Policeman, crumple to the floor ahead of us. His AK47 clattered as it was dropped from his hands and he curled up, groaning and clutching at his abdomen. Brian fired a burst in to his head as we past him, ensuring there was no threat left behind us.
Around the bend and to our left, an IP pickup truck had gone static and the police were dismounting from inside, their weapons held at the ready. The moment we saw them, Guy, Brian and I all opened up. Toad also stepped forward and began to pump rounds in to the men and their vehicle.
The windows shattered and caved inward, the doors and hood bent and buckled as our weapons reduced the truck to a steaming and smoking perforated mass of twisted metal and men.
Those who had managed to get out of the vehicle were soon lay sprawled, or writhing on the ground as our rounds smashed in to them, the men that remained inside, jerked and screamed as they were shot full of holes.
We pushed on.
My lungs were burning and the muscles in my legs felt like they were being pumped full of syrup, rather than fast flowing oxygenated blood. Brian ripped the helmet he was still wearing from his head and tossed it to the floor. I had lost my helmet in the crash. Rarely did I wear one because they tended to trap heat and leave me feeling like my head was in a pressure cooker. But, for trips in to places like Mosul and Tuz, I always made a point of donning the Kevlar dome.
Our pace was slowing. With Brian and Toad being hurt and the weight of our kit, sustaining a rapid retreat on foot was always going to be unsustainable. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears and the sweat that dripped in to my eyes, blurred my vision. My mouth and throat felt like I had been eating sand, but we had no time to stop. We needed to push on and reach an area where we could gather what strength we had and make our next move.
Brian had his phone in his hand, desperately trying to get through to Den to inform him of our whereabouts, condition and intentions. I heard him shouting down the phone, struggling to be heard over the sound of gunfire on the other end, and his own heavy breathing.
“Den, Den we’re moving west. Yes, west. Once we hit the outskirts, we’ll turn north. Try and find a track that can meet us somewhere to the west of your position.” He paused for a moment while Den gave his reply.
He raised his hand to us, telling us to stop at the corner of a house. We huddled together, panting for breath and wiping the stinging sweat from our eyes, while Brian continued to speak to Den. Chubbs and Guy covered the approaches with their machine guns, while I began digging around in the pack on Brian’s back, looking for water.
I took a long gulp and immediately felt the fluid quench my parched throat and mouth. It was the best thing I had ever tasted. I held the bottle to Chubbs’ lips as he glugged the water and then did the same for Guy. I moved toward Brian to do the same again and Toad reached out for the bottle.
“Fuck off Toad. You’re going last on it. Look at the state of your mouth. You might have AIDS for all we know, and I’m not drinking from a bottle you’ve bled in to.” I winked at him and he did his best to grin back at me, blood and snot drooling from his nose and lips.
“Right,” Brian turned to us as he tucked his phone back in to his pocket, “Den says the Kiawah’s are inbound. They’ve already left the FOB and should be here pretty soon. Also, a ground call sign is en-route to help. We’re gonna push along and turn north. Den is gonna try and link up with us along the way.”
Even though we were far from being clear of the woods, I felt relieved that we weren’t left to our own devices and expected to pull ourselves out of the shit situation we were in. Just the knowledge of Kiawah helicopters coming to our aid was a comfort. As soon as they appeared, we could call them in close to our position to give us immediate air support.
Guy stepped out and continued to lead us north. We had travelled roughly a kilometre through the northern outskirts of the town and we knew that we would soon hit open country again, leaving us exposed in all directions.
We reached the outskirts. The buildings had steadily changed from being hard smooth walled houses, to bare breeze block shacks and then, mud huts on the far reaches. Beyond them there were fields and open desert, crisscrossed with narrow dirt roads and tracks.
Brian stopped us in the cover of a rickety looking shack that someone was using as a house. Though the locals must have been aware of what was happening on the road further to the east, they couldn’t have not heard our gunfire as we cut through the town toward them, they didn’t seem to be as concerned for their safety as the rest of the indigenous population was. They were curious about us, and even braved standing in their doorways and peering around corners at us. The adults whispered amongst themselves and the children smiled and even waved.
“Head for the road Guy, according to my GPS, there should be a track about four hundred metres up, running north east. I’ll try and get Den to meet us on that.”
Brian pointed in the direction we needed to head as he looked down to his GPS. I squinted, and in the distance, I saw what looked like it could be a raised road. It seemed a long way and I didn’t fancy the idea of having to fight our way towards it. But we had little choice.
Brian made a final phone call to Den, informing him of what we could see ahead of us and that he was to try and find a way on to the track to give us support and also, lift us out.
We all got water down us, glugging as if our lives depended on it, and our lives did. We were all suffering from dehydration, exhaustion and shock and we still had a ways to go.
We pushed out and headed in the direction of the track, away from the last of the mud huts on the outskirts of town. We travelled in an extended line, side by side, already prepared to turn and face the enemy should they follow us up.
We tried to follow the natural folds and dips in the ground as best we could to use them as some degree of cover, but we were still severely exposed from all around. We were now, pretty much, doubling back on ourselves, running parallel to the road that was roughly a kilometre to our right. As I looked across, I could just about make out the area where our wrecked gun truck must have been. There was smoke all around the road and I assumed that the vehicle had caught fire.
We continued to push ahead. I was becoming weaker. The adrenalin in my blood was starting to run short and I was now on my reserves. We had been fighting a running battle for what seemed like hours and there had been no let up. We were constantly moving and trying to get away from the threat. But, it seemed, they were always there, close on our heels.
The road was becoming more visible and recognisable now. At least once we made it there, we could use the rise of its embankment as cover while we could turn east on the other side, keeping us out of view and effective enemy fire.
A row of loud cracks made me spin on my heel, “Contact rear,” I screamed and at the same time, I brought my M4 up in to the aim.
The other four had done the exact same thing and we were now returning fire in to the buildings behind us. Everyone was getting as much fire down as they could in the direction of the enemy.
The idea is to return fire immediately, even if you haven’t identified the exact location of the firing point. As long as you can put rounds in to their general direction, you can at least make the firer duck, giving you the vital split second it takes to drop in to cover then pinpoint his location.
That’s the theory anyway.
What actually happened was, we all remained standing, in a line and poured all of the firepower we had in to the enemy. If I had been on the receiving end, I would’ve been digging in with my eyelids. We held our ground and continued to fire.
My weapon stopped.
“Magazine,” I yelled and dropped to one knee as I ejected it and replaced it with a full one.
I was back up within a second and firing once again. With the noise from the weight of fire we were putting down, I couldn’t tell if we were still being fired at. We were just focused on suppressing them to the extent that they would become demoralized and think twice about showing their faces in the light of day again, never mind returning fire.
“Luke, move.” Brian shouted to me from the right.
“Moving,” I hollered back and turned to run in the direction of the road and away from the town.
Brian, Toad and I ran for a few metres then, stopped and turned to face the threat again. It was our turn to fire.
“Move,” the three of us shouted in unison to Guy and Chubbs.
As we fired, they moved back in to line with us. Again, we were leap frogging and covering each other as we moved. Chubbs and Guy fired rapidly while the rest of us bounded back and we did the same for them. There was always ‘one foot on the ground’, meaning that no one was moving without fire support.
We were close to the road now and still firing and manoeuvring. Getting over the embankment would mean being exposed and sky lined as perfect targets. As we closed in on the rise, I realised that we were, in fact, still taking enemy fire. Their rounds were pounding in to the embankment, sending clouds of dust and sand in to the air around us. But with the weight of fire we returned on them, we couldn’t hear the report of their weapons or, the snap of their rounds as they passed by.
There was obviously more than one enemy firing point throwing rounds at us, and now we had a dilemma. How would we cross the road? To do so, we had to climb the embankment and we couldn’t do that without sustaining casualties. But we had to move.
WHEN THERE’S NO MORE ROOM IN HELL
The hospital had been closed off and a defensive perimeter was placed around it. Anyone who found themselves inside when the gates were closed soon realised that they were a permanent resident, for the time being at least.
The soldiers and police were to protect the people and patients inside and regardless of the injury or emergency, no one was allowed in or out of the perimeter. The hospital was in lockdown mode. The idea was that as soon as adequate transport and manpower, as well as a secure location became available, the hospital would be evacuated. But in the confusion, it seemed to have been forgotten.
For a whole week, the gates remained closed and a steadily increasing crowd of infected pushed and tried to force their way through the gates and barricades. Gunfire became a part of everyday life; the soldiers having to constantly fend off attacks or, to try and thin out the crowd and the weight against the perimeter walls.
People had stopped approaching the hospital in the hope of treatment and protection ever since the incident on the second day of the lockdown when the soldiers, becoming nervous and seeing a particularly rowdy crowd of people as a threat to the integrity of the safety barrier, had opened fire, killing three of them in the process. Now all that they could see was the slowly decaying mass of flesh that relentlessly pressed itself against the barricades.
The grounds were large and having also been a teaching hospital, there were more buildings than usually found in hospital complexes. Even though there were plenty of rooms and accommodation, with the number of soldiers and police, patients, doctors and nurses and the many people who had sought sanctuary there before the gates were closed, overcrowding had become a problem.
People fitted themselves in wherever they could and with the initial influx of people and lack of a cohesive chain of command and method of control and quarantine; it was inevitable that infected would slip through. Also, people dying from natural causes, with the main bulk of the police and army busy guarding the perimeter and wards, it was hard to police each individual group of people.
Outbreaks of the infected would spring up suddenly and soldiers would rush in to bring control back to that particular area. It was widely suspected that the troops took no chances, and any building that had an outbreak, was liquidated.
Still, the doctors and nurses of the hospital controlled the wards of patients and they maintained their oaths and cared for the sick and the dying. Even though they had seen time and time again what happened to a bite wound or anyone who died, they insisted that everybody deserved the utmost in care and treatment while they still lived.
Terry was a poor excuse for a man in society’s eyes, he always had an excuse and never failed to find time to sneak off from his ward duties to snooze or have a sly cigarette.
Being a porter wasn’t really a career choice, but more of a job he landed in. He had no interest in doing the best he could and was always looking forward to getting paid and getting to his local bar. He found it ironic that he was actually in a job that was all about caring and all he cared about was his next drink, which was something he never tried to hide.
The way the doctors and nurses treated him and looked at him, as he crossed paths with them in the halls and corridors of the hospital, was proof enough to him what type of person they all thought he was and he bitterly accepted it and believed it himself.
He had never been married and had very few friends. After he left home at the age of sixteen, he had pretty much cut himself off from what family he had and set about trudging through an existence that he neither asked for nor wanted. Life to him was a burden and it seemed to take forever.
Leaning against the wall by the fire exit, Terry was having a smoke break when the commotion in the hospital started. He ran his nicotine stained fingers through his greasy brown hair. His physical being showed the signs of a dishevelled, heavy drinking and chain smoking man who had long since given up on himself. The over sized porter uniform that hung from his skinny, narrow shoulders and reeked of stale smoke, the lines on his dry, haggard face, all showed an age far past his actual thirty eight years.
More from curiosity than concern, he flicked away the strained cigarette butt and pushed through the fire exit and followed the noise and commotion to its source. Screams, shouts and the sounds of crashing and banging had become the norm within the hospital.
The brightly lit corridors were packed with hysterical people; doctors, nurses and patients alike. He found himself pushing his scrawny frame through the bedlam. Screams seemed to fill the corridors and Terry soon realised that he was the only one heading in the direction of the commotion. People bumped into him, spinning him like a coin, yet he still headed in the direction from which they came.
He spotted a doctor rushing toward him.
“Doc, what’s going on?” He tried to grab him by the arm, but the man didn’t seem to have any intention of stopping and pulled away. Terry saw that he was terrified, and watched as he fled towards the exit, his lab coat flowing behind him as he burst through the door and into the sun light.
Not actually thinking why he was going against the rest of the crowd, or why his fight or flight instincts weren’t doing their normal flight behaviour in accordance to Terry’s nature, he found himself at the epicentre of the carnage.
A ward had been kept to one side for the infected and the dying, with the doctors hoping to be able to deal with the corpses before reanimation, but someone had dropped the ball. The doors had been battered down and corpses had rushed into the rest of the hospital, tearing through patients and staff alike.
He stood in an open area that had corridors leading to it, which further along, was the ‘Doomed Ward’ as they had begun to call it. The infected filled the corridor from one wall to the other and stalked their way along it toward Terry. He could see commotion further within the crowd as one or two faster moving corpses pushed and shoved, trying to reach the front of the column to get to the living first.
On realization of his situation, Terry turned to follow the panicking nurses and doctors only to find blood covered infected patients and hospital staff blocking his route back to safety as they poured up through a stairwell from a lower floor. He was cut off. Everything seemed to slow down for a split second and he found himself taking in what he was seeing and still not believing it was happening, or that it was possible.
The eyes of the infected where not that of wild people but of people in some kind of shock and if not for the blood and flesh hanging from their mouths and wounds, or splatter on their clothes, they wouldn’t have looked so threatening.
Terry came back to his senses as one of the bloodied figures lunged at him, side stepping the fat half-naked, gore covered female patient, he rushed for a set of double doors and burst through, hoping to be able to make it to the exit only to find more carnage and atrocities going on over the floors of the corridor. He ran past scenes of brutality that he would never have thought possible. Blood smeared the walls and floors, the screams of the infirm that had been left to their fate, clawing at his ears.
He reached a T-junction and glimpsed behind and saw that a large group was closing in on him. He turned to look if the corridors to the left and right were clear, when a sign to the right caught his eye.
Instantly, a sinking gut feeling hit him hard and he realized he had a choice to make. The sign said ‘Maternity Ward’, and he knew that just past the next doors and to the right, a room housed the incubators full of new born babies, defenseless against the barbaric atrocities that he had seen throughout the hospital.
His body was aching to just turn and run for the exit that was only fifty meters in the opposite direction and clear of any threat, but he knew he had to act, and there was no one else to take the brunt of what needed to be done.
Tears formed in the corners of his eyes as he contemplated his fate and the fate of the babies.
Terry mumbled in a nervous low shaking voice, “I can’t leave `em, God, I can’t leave them.”
He turned to the blood thirsty mob and screamed, “Fuck you, I’m not leaving them. You’ve gotta fight me first.”
With tears streaming down his face, he did not run but marched with purpose through the double doors, the ward was deserted of hospital staff. They had fled in blind panic and left the young babies to die. Terry felt disgust rise inside of him. They had spent years looking down on him and judging him as an arsehole, and now it was them who proved themselves to be the moral cowards.
He rushed along the corridor to where he knew the incubators would be. He turned and forced his way through a glass door to the right leading into a room full of peacefully sleeping infants, totally oblivious to their own agonising fate.
He stopped for a moment, and the sounds of the little babies gurgling, whimpering and snoring almost dropped him to his knees. In contrast to what he had just witnessed, the room was like an oasis of tranquillity in a sea of madness.
Pushing over a large set of metal shelves in front of the door, he knew it wouldn’t keep them out for long but he needed to stall them. He searched desperately with his eyes, pleading for an option of escape for him and the babies. Even if there was a route out, there must have been more than twenty full incubators in the room. There was no way he could save them all.
The now sweating and distraught porter started to push the incubator trolleys to the other side of the room as the first hands of the pale-blooded, vile-looking figures started to bang on the glass of the large viewing window and the door, pressing their faces against the panes and gnashing their teeth which clanked on the glass, making the hairs on Terry’s neck stand on end.
Terry stood his ground in the vain hope that the soldiers stationed at the hospital perimeter would come to his rescue. He could hear gun shots in the distance but they sounded like they were outside the main building. From the sound of things, the chaos had spread throughout the entire hospital complex.
Within a few minutes the glass door and the windows that spanned the length of the room were covered with the horrific faces of the infected. The thumping of fists on glass, of grinding teeth was unbearable to him and the babies who began to cry hysterically. Terry looked around; the babies somehow knew that there was danger.
“You fucking bastards,” Terry yelled with tears flowing down his cheeks. With all the children pushed into the corner he stood in front of them like a frantic goal keeper ready to take on whatever came his way.
He turned to try and comfort the little soft skinned babies speaking in a quiet soothing voice, “Okay, Terry will look after you, sssssshhhhhh. Terry won’t let them take you.”
At that moment, the once unreliable porter heard the cracking of the glass and the scraping of metal on tiles as the shelving slid across the floor and the door was forced open due to the sheer weight of the mass behind it.
He turned toward the crowd as they pushed their way inside, staggering into the room and heading for Terry and the babies. Wiping his face dry on the back of his hand, Terry whispered, “Come on then you bastards,” so as not to alarm the children or let them hear him swear. He almost laughed. So he wasn’t a complete arsehole after all.
The first blooded body staggered towards him and he hit it with full force in the mouth, knocking it to the floor. He grabbed a metal tray that sat on a table by the wall and pelted at the head of the next to reach him, knocking it to the floor and swinging for the next.
A yellowed wrinkled hand grabbed his arm and he pulled away just as the gaping black maw of what had once been a young woman bit into his hand, severing the skin on his fingers and almost stripping them to the bone. He screamed, feeling the teeth clamp over the fingers and sheer the skin from them as he pulled away. The pain was sharp at first, and then became a burning sensation as hot blood gushed from the wound, and trickled down to his fingertips.
A couple more of the creatures tumbled forward over the first that fell. He swung and thrashed with a ferocity that a wild tiger would be wary of, but the things just didn’t care and kept on the same steady pace and momentum. He spat and gasped as his tar laden lungs fought for air while his limbs used up every bit of oxygen he had until they began to burn with the build up of lactic acid. Kicking and punching, he tried to keep them at bay and away from the defenseless babies that wailed behind him.
His head spun and his mouth was dry, every part of his wiry frame burned and felt heavy with exhaustion, but he kept on going. Not even able to open his mouth, he knew his body was failing as the things kept biting and pulling at him. One of them alone didn’t seem much, but every time he knocked one down, another took its place, sinking its teeth into his flesh.
The burning crushing pain of their blunt teeth clamping down and breaking his skin was immense and unbearable. He felt broken and ready to lose his fight and so he turned and scooped up two of the nearest babies, forcing his way into the corner between the wall and the edge of a fixed wall unit. The gap was just big enough for him to wedge his shoulder in to and he pushed with all his remaining strength to make sure that he couldn’t be pulled free.
He felt his left shoulder dislocate. Even the pop and the agonising pain like a mini lightning bolt that shot through him wasn’t enough to deter him and force him to lose his grip on the baby in that arm. He was losing blood from the numerous bite wounds and he was weak and lightheaded, but he pushed harder, burying himself deeper in to the gap.
Face down and crying with panic and despair, and guilt for being unable to save the defenseless newborn children that wailed higher and harder as the first of the abominations set on them, devouring their soft fleshy torsos and limbs, he stared down at the two he had rescued. They stared back at him in silence, their faces just inches from his own, then he felt the hands tugging at his legs.
More teeth clamped down into his flesh. He screamed into the faces of the babies as chunks of skin and muscle were ripped from his lower limbs. He felt the fingers digging into his soft tissue and snapping the tendons and ligaments, tearing away at him. His body juddered and convulsed as he was torn apart. He screamed uncontrollably and his eyes and ears threatened to burst. The pain made him nauseous and he had to angle his head so as not to vomit over the babies in his arms.
He was close to passing out, and by now, as he lost more and more blood, the pain became a distant sensation like the echo of thunder hundreds of miles away. The sounds of the infected and screaming babies now seemed to be in another room as his senses began to fade. He couldn’t even scream anymore, and the pain; he seemed to accept, just as he had accepted his fate.
All the determination he had left was to hold onto the two little, once bundles of joy.
Terry’s vision started to fail and he couldn’t lift his head. All his limbs were numb and feeling too heavy to even move slightly as the fluids he needed to live flowed out of his exhausted, bloodied body. He slumped as the last of his life left him and his small frame and all of what weight it had, fell onto the two babies who were now alone and only had the body of their hero to protect them.
That seemed to be enough to save them, as the infected lost interest once there was nothing left to hold their attention or for them to eat, and they thinned out from the room in an unemotional search for more victims to tear apart and devour.
The babies had fallen silent in Terry’s dead arms. One had suffocated and died but had still escaped the terrible slaughter that the other babies had to endure. The other lay silent, falling in and out of sleep and staring up into Terry’s lifeless face.
Broken limbs and small bodies lay all over the floor in a tangled bloody mess, gnarled to the bone and unrecognisable as human forms. Gore, blood and shreds of internal organs mixed together in the mess and had been trodden and dragged about the room underfoot leaving a grizzly version of a modern art painting behind.
Terry’s body still lay wedged into the corner between the unit and the wall like a cork in a bottle. He had suffered numerous bites and gouges to his upper body, but for the most part, that area was still intact. His legs and pelvic area that had still been exposed were nothing but bloodied bone, his left leg completely gone below the knee, carried away from the scene and gnawed upon away from the hungry group.
His intestines and other internal organs had been dragged through the cavern created after his genitals and backside had been ripped away with hands reaching in past his pelvic bone as far as possible, to tear out the still warm and blood-filled organs from within.
A few hours later, Terry’s torn and bloodied shoulders twitched, his head moved slightly in a slow awkward circular motion like he was coming to after being clobbered unconscious, then his eyes flicked open.
Simon, the amateur Survivalist
Hiding in the woods and attempting to live off the land was not Simon’s greatest of ideas. In theory, while sitting in his underground bunker and surrounded with all the supplies he needed, it seemed like a good plan. He had done it on many occasions in the past. Back then, however, he had been well equipped for it and he had slightly more than a crowbar and a Swiss Army knife to help him survive.
Now, drenched to the bone, hungry and cold, he realised that he had been much better off below ground. At least there, he was safe.
During his escape, he had pretty much lost everything he needed to survive in the wild. The backpack had been filled with the equipment he needed to make a shelter, catch food and make fire to cook the food and keep warm. It also had extra clothing in it.
It was no use. He had attempted to rough it and beat the elements for three days with nothing more than a thin jacket and a small knife. He had failed miserably. He even felt ashamed of himself for failing. With all the experience and knowledge he had, he should have been more than capable.
He could almost hear his neighbours snickering and saying, “We told you so.” However, they were dead and he was still alive. At least he had managed to outlive them and he put that down to his interests.
After he had climbed the fence of his garden and narrowly escaped being eaten alive by the horde of diseased dead, he headed straight for the nature reserve. Its sprawling woods and open countryside provided the ideal location for a man to survive, away from the dangers of the built up areas.
Simon had dreamed of building himself a little cabin deep in the woods and living free and without worry. He gambled that he would rarely encounter the dead due to the remoteness of his hide out. Though there were numerous tracks that crisscrossed the reserve, he doubted that many of the walking corpses would be in the area.
He had seen enough of them to know their behaviour and during his time barricaded within his house, he had made the effort to study them as best he could. He had noticed that they moved in packs. Whether this was actual pack mentality, he could not be sure, but he suspected it was more to do with the fact that they were always attracted to noise and movement and if one of them were to go stumbling off, wailing and throwing its arms about, a crowd would soon follow it.
He also noted that they seemed to congregate in the urban areas. With the noise and amount of movement, even from themselves, Simon concluded that many of them were probably trapped within the cities, towns and housing estates due to their curiosity at the slightest noise.
In the urban areas there was glass, concrete, steel; all made plenty of noise when knocked or broken. A bin being toppled over or a window smashed, would probably attract hundreds of them, their movements and moans attracting more and creating a never ending circle of distraction as the crowds movements and noises kept them in the same place.
On the other hand, the sounds of wildlife, birds and rats probably echoed much more loudly now without the sound of man and his machines to drown them out of their hearing. Simon pictured hordes of the dead tearing through the streets, trying to catch pigeons and vermin.
Yes, he had hoped to be free from all of that, to be safe from the never-ending threat of the dead. Maybe even enjoy life to a degree. He would have been doing what he loved; living off the land, surrounded by the countryside he held so dear.
Now, after spending three long nights in a muddy ditch and his days traipsing through the trees in the hope of finding something that he could use as a starting point for his new life as a wild man, he was ready to admit defeat.
Whether he liked the idea or not he needed to head to the built up area again.
The thought made him shudder as a knot grew and tightened in his stomach. The dead terrified him. Just the sight of one of them in the distance always caused the panic to grow within him and the hairs on the back of his neck, stand on end. His heart rate would rise and his breathing would increase, and he had to fight with himself to maintain control of his nerves. So many times, while standing at the window in his house, he had been close to panic and ready to run out the door and to the bunker, and that was before everything had crumbled.
In his lifetime, he had watched many a horror movie and read countless graphic and gory horror novels and comics. Nothing in any of them came close to this. The closest thing that he could compare them to was vampires. Vampires, even though they were dead and they fed on the blood of the living, which in turn caused their victims to rise as one of the un-dead, were nothing like the monsters he saw now. To a degree, Vampires were beautiful, romantic and he himself had on occasion, as many other people had, fantasized about what it would be like to be one of them, to live forever and have the power to come and go at will and to be able to control people under your spell.
Simon considered that maybe the hordes of dead that now engulfed the world were, in fact, true vampires, and there was nothing beautiful or romantic about the rotting corpses that now staggered about the earth.
Maybe Bram Stoker got it completely wrong, or maybe he felt that to write a story about what a true vampire was like would have been too terrifying for the times?
Sitting on a fallen tree by the edge of a wood, Simon took some time to steel himself before he headed toward the house-lined streets of the town’s suburbs. It was early morning and he could still see his breath forming clouds of mist in front of him as he breathed. The log of the tree was covered in moss and damp from the morning due, but it made no difference to him, he was already wet and he sat shivering with his shoulders hunched, wishing he had never left his underground lair.
“You never appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone.” He grumbled to himself as he twiddled a small twig between his fingers. “Okay, let’s get on with it, Simon.”
He stood and slowly walked to the edge of the trees. The rustle of the leaves below his feet seemed amplified as he tried his hardest to be stealthy. His heart was racing and he dreaded stepping back out into the open. He could not shake the visions of hundreds of dead, standing on the dirt track, waiting for him to reappear.
He pushed the foliage aside and after a short moment of hesitation, he stepped out into the morning sun. He squinted in its brightness and looked along the dirt path to his left and right. There was no one in sight. To his front, a river flowed and the sounds of ducks and morning bird song were carried to him on the gentle breeze that blew in from the water. The sun felt good on his skin. Already, he could feel himself warming in its rays and the feelings of dread began to ebb from him.
He crossed the small footbridge that spanned the width of the river and once on the other side; he noticed the marked difference from wilderness to civilisation. The path was now tarmac and after three days of running about on dead leaves and soft soil, the sensation of hard ground below him made him feel strong and more nimble.
He was beginning to feel confident. He knew where he was heading and what he needed to do when he got there. The retail outlet park on the edge of town was where he needed to be. He had been there on many occasions in the old days. The outdoor activities store was there. It was where he had gone for the majority of his supplies for his trips into the wilderness in the past and he had made a mental list of the things he needed. He knew where everything was in the shop, so he hoped that he would not be there for too long. He could get in and out, head off into the wild again and begin his new life, this time, with everything he needed on his back.
His plan was to load up with all the kit and equipment he needed and head back for the nature reserve as quickly as possible. He had no desire to hang around, to go shopping. Shelter, food, clothing and tools were all available in the store. He just hoped the place had not been ransacked and now crawling with the dead.
Steadily, he walked along the streets, leaving the safety of the nature reserve behind him. He gripped his iron crowbar in his right hand, ready to swing at anything that came near. His body trembled slightly with each step, a mixture of nerves and fear thrown in with the effects of cold and hunger.
Within a mile, he was deep in the urban area. Buildings were on all sides, from houses and shops to office blocks and fuel stations. The place seemed deserted. Nothing stirred and the light wind that gusted along the street making its very own poignant sigh, made the place seem all the more eerie to him.
The signs of panic and struggle lay strewn all around him. Buildings burned to nothing more than blackened shells, cars crashed into walls or upturned on to their sides. Newspapers, bottles and even clothing drifted along the roads, carried on the gusts of air that was channelled along the empty streets.
There was no sign of the wandering un-dead.
Had they all moved on? Were they off chasing some unfortunate soul?
The absence of the dead unsettled him even more. The more time without sight or sound of them, the more he pictured them hiding, waiting in ambush for him.
He continually glanced at the buildings around him, their doors and windows, dark and uninviting. Curtains that twitched, he imagined them being manipulated by skeletal fingers as dead eyes watched his every move. The rustle of paper as it was caught by a gust of wind became the sound of a scraping foot being dragged by a bloated and maggot infested corpse as it stalked him.
He stopped and huddled in the shadow of a large overturned truck. He fought against his fear that continued to mount. He tried desperately to control his breathing and in turn, his pounding heart.
“It’s okay. Not far now,” he whispered in an attempt to calm himself down.
After a short break, he stepped off again, still clutching his iron crowbar tightly in his hands. He made swift progress through the detritus of the streets. Bodies lay scattered about him, stripped to the bone and left to rot in the sun while flies and other insects buzzed over their remains in black clouds. Birds and stray dogs fought over the scraps as rats scurried in the gutter. One thing he did notice about
the animals he saw, they all kept a watchful eye out for the dead, regardless of what they were doing.
However, Simon saw nothing of the walkers. It seemed like they had swept through the town like a swarm of locusts, consuming all before them and then carrying on to the next one.
As he travelled down an empty street in a housing estate, Simon caught a glimpse of something moving up ahead. It was a man, or woman, he could not be sure at that distance, but it was definitely human, and it looked alive.
It stepped out from a side street further along on the right and began to walk across the road. It did not stagger or shuffle like the dead did. There were no lurching movements or uncoordinated flailing arms. It walked with deliberation and purpose. It seemed to know where it was going and headed straight there, rather than just clumsily shuffling about in the street until something caught its attention like what was to be expected from one of the dead.
Simon felt his confidence surge. There was another living breathing person. The first he had seen in what seemed forever. He picked up his pace and hastened along the street toward the figure. He wanted to get a better look at them before he made his presence known. He wanted to be sure. If there was one thing that he had learned from all of this, it was to double check and be sure of things.
The distance between them lessened as Simon walked at a brisk pace, still nervous and on guard, wary of the houses that lined the street on both sides of him. He constantly glanced about him, his eyes scrutinising every corner or doorway. He could not shake the feeling that he was being watched.
The person at the other end of the street moved at a steadier pace. They did not seem to be in a rush. Whoever it was, they did not have a care in the world and just strolled along the street, enjoying the weather.
Simon began to question why someone could be moving about so casually, so indifferent to the new environment that was filled with danger. He was fifty metres away now and he could see the person more clearly. It was a man. He had crossed to the other side of the street, walking away from Simon and he feared that the man would be gone if he did not try to communicate with him soon.
Maybe the man was drunk, or somehow, completely unaware of the things that had happened over the past few months. At the very least, Simon felt that he should at least warn him and inform him of what was going on.
Simon went to call out, but before he spoke, he felt his own hand cover his mouth. He paused, turning his head in all directions, his eyes flitting from one window to the next, seeking out every dark corner, every shadowy alcove. For a long time he had been careful of the noise he made. He had spoken to no one for weeks and the only words he did speak had been to his self and always in a whisper. The idea of hollering to someone in the street was as alien to him as walking on the moon now.
He was sure there was no one and nothing around other than the man ahead of him. The adrenalin had kicked in and he could feel his stomach tighten. The hairs on his neck stood on end and his knees trembled as his heart surged the blood to his limbs, ready for flight. One more glance around him, and he was sure they were alone in the street. It was now or never and time to make contact with the man.
“Hey,” he hissed from behind a car that was parked at the side of the road. “Hello?”
The man continued to walk away from him, completely oblivious to his presence.
Simon feared that he would soon be gone if he did not make himself heard. He stepped out from behind the vehicle and in plain sight in the street. He began to jog along the road, carefully placing his feet with each step in order to keep the noise to a minimum.
He was closer now and he was sure that the man would hear him. Again, he glanced about the street around him, eyeing the doorways and windows with suspicion. A warm breeze was blowing from behind him toward the man and he was sure that his voice would be carried to his ears this time. He crouched slightly in the middle of the road, keeping a number of cars between him and the man ahead.
“Hey, you, over here,” he hissed again. Louder this time and more confident, but as he said the words, he bobbed back down below the roof of the car.
It was an automatic reaction and he realised that the man would not be able to see him if he stayed hidden. Slowly, he raised himself upright again and peered over the top of the vehicle.
The man had stopped in his tracks but did not turn and remained facing in the direction he had been travelling in.
“You, hello, behind you, over here,” Simon hissed again.
The man’s head tilted at the voice that he had heard. Slowly, the man’s head looked to the right, almost cautiously. Simon straightened to his full height, making himself visible in the street.
He took a few steps closer. “Hey, mate, behind you.”
The man spun on his heels and turned to face Simon.
Simon was about to speak again, but as the man turned around, his heart skipped a beat, his chin trembled, his stomach knotted and his knees threatened to give way underneath him.
“Fuck!” He stuttered.
The man glared at him. His mottled pale skin with its shiny green hue looked stretched across the bones of the skull beneath. The lips were curled back, exposing the yellowed and broken teeth that looked even longer due to the rotting and receding gums. The eyes, fixed and dilated, flat and lifeless like the eyes of a fish on a market stall, stared back at him, unblinking and focussed on him alone.
For a moment, both of them stood stock still, their feet bolted to the floor. Simon was in complete shock. The man before him was in fact, a walking corpse. His brain screamed out to him, to run, to get away from the form in front of him as fast as he could. Nevertheless, his body refused to budge. It had frozen to the spot.
His mind had already accepted the figure as a living person. It was ready to open conversation with it. He had been so convinced that it was not one of the un-dead that his brain had stalled at the sudden revelation.
The body opened its mouth, its black and bloated tongue falling to the side and sliding over its withered and cracked lips. A bone-chilling moan rasped from within it and it took a step forward, raising one of its hands, its bony claw like fingers outstretched and reaching towards Simon.
Simon staggered backward. That horrible sound that the dead made had shaken his body out of inaction. He was still reeling from the initial shock of realising that what he thought was a man, and a possible friend, was actually another of the walking corpses that would want nothing more than to tear him limb from limb.
“Fuck,” he mumbled again as he continued to step backward.
The creature let out another moan, longer and louder this time, as though calling to Simon to come to it.
Simon began to turn as the corpse let out another long wail, sounding more like a demand, as though its authority would convince Simon and he would turn back towards it. It began to move faster, its feet taking steady steps as it quickened its pace.
Simon whimpered at the thought of one of the dead being so close and being completely exposed in the open terrified him. He broke into a run and began to motor away from the advancing creature. It followed.
Peering over his shoulder, Simon saw the body also break into a run. It was not a sprinter, but it was definitely running. It chased him, keeping pace with him. A feeling of dread washed over him. The thing would not tire and would follow him until it caught up with him eventually. Simon knew that. He had seen plenty of footage about the dead on the news and read much on the internet. He had also seen it for himself from the safety of his bedroom window.
Pumping his legs harder, Simon was running flat out. He gulped air into his lungs and without realising it he had began to cry. The fear of the walking dead gripped him so powerfully he had lost control of his bodily functions. A dark patch appeared at the front of his trousers, his bladder having released its contents involuntarily. If he had had the luck to find food during his stay in the woods, he no doubt would have lost control of his bowels also and would be running with more stains at the rear.
He could hear the pounding feet of his pursuer behind him. He could feel its arms reaching for him as it clawed at the air separating them. Another long screeching moan and Simon became aware of more movement within the street. All around him, dark lumbering figures appeared. They staggered from the open doorways of houses and from the abandoned and overgrown gardens. They poured from alleyways and into the street, moaning and wailing as they reached out towards him as he passed them.
The rotting bodies of men, women and children were all around, some old and some young. Fat and thin, short and tall, some were fresh and others were badly decomposed. All types now crowded the road, all of them wanting Simon’s flesh and wailing loudly together as they laid eyes upon him.
The tears streamed down the cheeks of his as he ran. He whimpered as he pictured himself surrounded and with no way out. Now, he wished more than ever that he had stayed in the bunker. He would be bored, lonely even depressed, but he would be safe and not out in the open and being pursued by hordes of walking corpses.
There were hundreds of them. All of them emitting that dreadful and spine chilling sorrow filled moan. They all saw him and staggered after him. Only the one immediately behind him ran and for a split second, Simon thanked the Gods for that small mercy.
The noise of the dead carried along the street, rising in pitch and intensity. It echoed along the road, bouncing off the houses like a pinball and continuing along in front of him. More of them stepped out ahead of him. The groans and moans had reached fever pitch and Simon could no longer see a clear way out up ahead. They were everywhere he looked.
Thinking fast, he changed direction and headed to his right. He hurdled over a low wooden fence and ploughed through the front garden of a house. The running corpse was close on his heels and attempted to follow him but it floundered at the fence and tumbled to the ground. It landed face first on the concrete of the garden path, the crunch of the bone audible in Simon’s ears as the face of the corpse was smashed inward.
Without slowing his pace, Simon crashed through the side gate of the house that led to the rear garden. The gate collided loudly with the wall of the house as he passed through and swung shut behind him with a crash. He headed for the rear fence that he could now see at the far end of the overgrown garden. This time, he would not be able to hurdle the obstacle as he had done in the front garden. It was much too high and he would need to scale it using his hands and feet.
He felt the rough wood in his hands and the splinters that dug into his soft skin as he climbed but he did not slow. He heard the crash of the gate as the dead continued to follow him and began to pile into the garden behind him.
At the top of the fence, as he turned to drop on to the other side, he saw the mass of bodies that followed him. Their faces, dozens of them with hundreds more that were no doubt behind them, were fixed on him as they all stumbled in his wake. They pushed and jostled one another, all wanting to be at the front and to be the first to sink their teeth into his warm living flesh.
Simon dropped into the garden that backed on to the one he had run through and was now teeming with partially rotted corpses, snarling and growling at him through the fence, some attempting to climb the barrier to get at him.
He turned and headed for the front of the house. Like the one he had just passed through, this one also had a path that led up to a side gate. He walked slowly and with caution. He could not see what was in the street ahead of him and he wanted to be sure that he was not running straight into a horde of them before he moved. He fought his instincts that screamed at him to keep running.
A creaking sound behind him made him turn to look back at the fence he had just crossed. The weight of the mass behind it was causing it to lean inward. There were hundreds of bodies pushing against it and it would soon collapse.
Simon looked at the door to the rear of the house that was just a few metres away from him. It seemed intact and undamaged. Quickly, he peered through the window into the rear room of the house. Nothing stirred. It looked empty and abandoned.
A crack from the fence and Simon saw the whole structure crash to the ground. The dead spilled forward like a tidal wave toward him. They tripped and tumbled in the fallen fence, but still, they came, stepping on one another, crawling over sprawled bodies and trampling their fallen into the dirt as they advanced.
Simon grasped at the handle to the door and pushed. The door opened inward and he piled inside, falling to the floor and kicking the door shut behind him. He was in a kitchen. The place was untouched and he suspected that the house had been empty for a long time judging by the lack of furniture and appliances, even before the dead had started to rise to attack and eat the living.
The door leading out to the garden flew open behind him. A figure lunged into the doorway. Simon launched himself at it, catching it in the chest with his shoulder and sending it tumbling back into the garden. There were more of them close by, very close and Simon slammed the door shut again, this time, pressing his weight against it.
The dead crowded the doorway and began to pound against the timber frame and heavy plastic. Their thumps echoed in his ears and he gritted his teeth as he forced his body against the door, his feet struggling to grip the tiled floor below him. His legs juddered with each new assault from the outside. He knew he would not be able to hold on for long.
The handle turned and the door budged. His feet slipped and a gap appeared in the doorway. He turned and pushed against it, throwing all his weight onto it and managing only to gain a couple of inches. The dead forced their arms through the gap, reaching blindly into the interior of the house and grasping for the living flesh that they knew was inside.
Their smell and sound drifted through the open door and into the kitchen, filling the room with their lament and stench. Simon was in a panic. He screamed and howled as he tried desperately to force the door shut again. More and more bodies were pressing against it from outside and he was losing ground by the second.
The gap was now large enough for a couple of the dead to force their heads and shoulders through. They growled and snarled at Simon as he kicked at their faces, their hands clawing at his legs in an attempt to grasp him and pull him to the floor and out into the feeding frenzy in the garden.
Simon was crying uncontrollably now. He felt like he was fighting a losing battle, but he could not give up. He knew all too well, what would happen to him the second that the dead got in the house. It was hopeless though and he knew it. They would get him eventually and he was just stealing nothing more than a few more seconds of life before they consumed him.
“You bloody idiot!” An angry voice called out at him.
At first, Simon thought it had come from himself, then he realised there was someone else in the room with him.
Simon blinked. He stood, braced against the door and in complete shock staring back at a man in the doorway leading out from the kitchen. He was definitely a living human being, though bedraggled and looking not completely unlike the dead ghouls that hammered at the door behind him.
The shabby man stood, wide eyed and looking furious. His long beard was matted and tangled and the woollen hat that he wore on his head looked like he had never removed it in his whole life. Simon recognised him, but he could not remember where from and at that moment in time, he did not care.
“Help me,” he shouted, “I can’t hold them for much longer.”
The man disappeared from the doorway.
“Where are you going? Help me, for God’s sake.” Simon braced himself against another jolt, as the door was battered more ferociously at his back.
A moment later, the scruffy man reappeared. He charged toward Simon, hefting an axe above his head and screaming. Simon, with the dead at his back and a mad axe murderer at his front, winced and waited for the blow to finish him off. He screwed his eyes shut and sunk his head into his shoulders. A second later and he heard a sickening thud as the axe head smashed into soft flesh and crunched through bone.
Simon opened his eyes. The crazy man was close to him, leaning over him and struggling to free the axe from the head of a body that had managed to force most of its upper torso through the doorway. He began to kick at the corpse and shove it back through the door. Arms and hands continued to snatch at the two of them through the narrow opening, but with their combined weight, they were able to force the door shut. The man reached up, slammed the bolt across at the top of the door and then did the same for the bottom, securing it for the time being. Simon slumped to the floor, panting and exhausted and shaking with fright.
The man stepped back and viewed the door as the dead continued to pound against it. Nodding to himself, he grunted. “That should give us a head start at least.”
“What?” Simon looked up at him.
“Come on. We’re leaving.”
The man walked out of the room and left Simon, still sitting on the kitchen floor with his back to the door. Another crash from behind forced him into action. He scrambled to his feet and chased after the strange man into the interior of the house. He found him at the front door, peering through the frosted glass of the side window and clutching a plastic bag.
“What are you doing?” Simon’s voice was full of panic.
He continually checked over his shoulder, back in the direction of the kitchen. The noise of the door beginning to splinter was destroying what nerves he had left in him and threatened to turn him into a blubbering wreck.
The man calmly stood upright and peered into the eyes of Simon. He was considerably shorter but his nerves seemed to be made of steel.
“We’re leaving and I’m checking to see if the street is clear. What are you doing?”
The question caught Simon on the back foot and for a moment, he was lost for words. Here was this man, completely at ease with the situation and asking him what he was doing, as if arranging a day out and wanting to know his preference.
“I’m fucking coming with you,” Simon replied finally.
“Good.” The man nodded with a slight smile. “Okay then. Have you got all your belongings?” He asked peering around and past him as though expecting to see suitcases and other luggage.
Simon looked down at his hands and the iron bar he held. “You’re nuts, aren’t you. This is all I have.”
The sound of the kitchen door crashing open and the moan of the dead echoed through the house.
The man looked up at him, a warming smile on his face. “Okay, let’s get going. I’m David, by the way, but most people know me as Johnny.”