Thursday, September 5, 2013

When There's No More Room in Hell 3 by Luke Duffy Chapter 1

When There's No More Room In Hell 3 by Luke Duffy

The world is dead.

The army of walking corpses have conquered all before them and only small pockets of humanity remain.

As the cities slowly crumble, the survivors are facing their first winter in the new order while an immense horde of festering un-dead surrounds their walls, threatening their continued safety.

While Steve and Marcus struggle to keep their small band alive, a new threat looms over the horizon; a danger that no one could have perceived, and more devastating than the 'dead plague'.

Chapter 1

Stu saw the flash of light from the bomb and so did the others. Even the immense crowd of dead that swarmed and surrounded their vehicles stopped to gaze up at the dazzling white light and the fiery ball that rose up on the horizon. They were mesmerised by it, and every one of them seemed to forget about the five living people inside the two Range Rovers that they were so desperate to get at just moments before.
Stu reached for his radio. "Jim, you seeing what I'm seeing?"
Jim's voice came through in his earpiece, gravelly and little more than a whisper. "Yeah, someone dropped a goddamn atom bomb," he said slowly, stating the obvious.
"No, Jim," Stu replied, "apart from the bomb, look around you."
Stu nodded to Hussein at his side and gestured to the sea of bodies that now stood motionless around them.
"They're too busy watching the pretty lights, Jim. If we try to move the vehicles, we might grab their attention again, so we need to debus and make a run for it."
Jim's voice was more animated now. "Fuck, you serious, man?"
"Just a few seconds ago, we couldn’t move because there were so many of them. We still won't be able to move now unless we go on foot. It's either that, or we die here once they’ve had enough of watching the giant pretty mushroom."
They were trapped in a street with the dead converging on all sides. Despite the power of the engines, the two off-road vehicles were bogged down due to the sheer number of bodies pressing against them. Their wheels lost traction in the organic swamp below, as putrefied flesh and bone churned up under the tyres. They became stuck in an ocean of gaunt dead faces with no possibility of escape.
The two Range Rovers had taken a beating for twenty minutes as the horde pressed in and assaulted the vehicles. Their endless attacks rocked the machines from side to side, tossing the occupants around like survivors of a shipwreck, clinging to a raft on a rough sea. Skeletal faces and emaciated, withered hands pounded at the windows, their howls and moans rising to a crescendo, attracting more dead to the scene by the minute.
Stu and the others believed that they were finished and would not be able to hold out for much longer. The vehicles were going nowhere and they did not have the ammunition to fight their way out of their predicament. They watched in horror as the windows were cracked and the doors slowly buckled and splintered. It was only a matter of moments before they would shatter the glass, leaving them defenceless against the thousands of flesh-hungry creatures.
Then, the bright white light appeared, bathing the whole area and making everything look as though they were in an old sepia photograph. As Stu and the others shielded their eyes from the intense glow, the mass of reanimated bodies around them stopped. They turned and stared up into the sky, completely forgetting their lust for living flesh.
The area had fallen into stillness and silence.
"It's now or never, Jim," Stu informed him. "We need to move before they get bored of looking at the bomb and realise we're still sitting here like a pair of giant lunch boxes."
"Roger that." Jim's voice sounded less than sure of the decision, but he obviously realised that Stu was right. "Where do we go?"
Stu looked around him. Thousands of grey, black, and brown, grotesque statues surrounded them, their faces turned up to the sky. He had no idea of where to go. He searched desperately, looking for even the slightest glimmer of hope to head for.
The street was lined with buildings, shops, businesses, and even bars. He looked past Hussein then back to his right. He saw an area where the dead were less densely packed. Beyond them, he saw the large leaded and colourful windows of a pub. Above the door, he read the name, 'The Nelson', a building named in honour of the 'Hero of Trafalgar', Admiral Lord Nelson.
"Get out on the right, slowly and quietly, and head for the 'Nelson' pub," he instructed calmly over the radio.
Cringing to himself and praying that the doors would not creak and groan as they opened, Stu grasped the handle. He turned to Hussein and nodded, placing his forefinger against his lips, instructing his friend to remain silent. The locking mechanism clicked quietly and he began to push the door outwards.
An emaciated and misshapen figure was standing close by, only allowing him to open the door a foot or so. With his assault vest and weapons, he would not be able to squeeze through without becoming snagged or making a noise. He winced and began gently, and very slowly, pushing the door a little further.
The steel delicately made contact with the figure's back. Stu held his breath and gingerly began to press the door further still. He could feel the weight of the creature against it as he increased the gap between the door and the frame. The figure on the other side of the glass did not turn at the sudden pressure from behind. It merely shuffled its feet forward a little, its eyes glued to the heavens.
Stu breathed a silent sigh of relief.
He clutched his pistol in one hand, letting his rifle hang by his side, attached to the sling. At such close quarters, with so many of the dead surrounding them, the pistol would be much easier to wield. With the other hand, he gripped the doorframe as he carefully stepped out into the street, his toes touching the floor first, and then rolling on to the ball of his foot, and then his heel to avoid making any noise.
He stood still for a moment and looked around him. The natural light of the day was fading fast, but it was replaced by the artificial glow of the nuclear bomb that exploded in the far distance.
He could see Jim and the others doing the same, slowly emerging from the death traps that the two vehicles had become. Surrounding him, the dead stood motionless. He had never been so close to them without being attacked, and now a morbid curiosity caused him to hesitate as he studied the hundreds of rotting corpses that refused to remain dead.
Their stench was enough to make him want to hold his breath until he was far away from them. The air was thick with insects of all kinds, as they buzzed and crawled from one body to the next, nesting and feeding in the rotting flesh. Their clothing hung from their bodies, filthy, torn, and shredded. Trousers were frayed and shirts ripped to shreds and hanging open as they slowly dissolved into nothing. Some had lost their shoes, exposing their rotting feet, and the flesh slowly eroding from their bones as they continued to shuffle and scrape along the hard roads and pavements. A number of the dead were even naked, either having reanimated that way, or the clothing had been torn from them over the months.
There were all manner of injuries amongst them, but it was hard to guess what caused many of their deaths. Most of the bodies were missing a limb, or eye, even jawbones. Many looked to have exploded from within due to the build-up of gasses as the internal organs decayed. Cavernous holes where the abdomen used to be were framed by grey white ribs jutting outwards. Some still had the remains of their innards hanging from their stomach; green and blue, fetid intestines that swayed like pendulums between their legs as they walked.
The one thing that most of them had in common, Stu noticed, was that they were all drying out. They had gone through the stages where the body breaks down and the fluids and bacteria eat and putrefy the flesh. Now many of them were turning to parched husks, their extremities were brittle and easily damaged. Many had missing fingers and hands.
All of them stood, transfixed on the horizon and the glowing sky in the distance. The street was on a hill, and standing close to the top of the rise it was easy to see over the hundreds of rooftops of the town and view the giant geyser of smoke, ash and fire that stood proudly on the distant skyline.
Stu turned to Hussein and motioned for him to follow. Treading carefully, he and the others navigated their way through the decaying statues that stood motionless all around them.
Stan had his eyes almost shut. His face was screwed into a grimace; terror gripped him like a mechanical claw that refused to let go. He was scared of looking at the figures around him for fear of making eye contact and alerting them to their escape. He hunched his shoulders high in an attempt to make himself as narrow as possible, so as not to brush against any of the dead as he passed.
He regretted volunteering for the mission. He knew that he was not cut out for it and that Kieran, his much tougher and stronger friend, could handle it emotionally and physically. Just inches ahead of him, Stan stared at the broad shoulders of Kieran as he slowly made his way through. He wished he could be more like him, smart and cool under pressure. 'Fearless,' Stan thought.
They were almost there. Just a few more metres and they would be in the doorway of the pub. Stan fought against the urge to sprint the last few paces. His legs threatened to take on a mind of their own and began driving forward as fast as they could. He battled with his nerves and instincts, forcing his feet to continue moving at their slow and deliberate pace.
Jim reached the doorway first, closely followed by Stu. Without making any sudden movements, they pressed themselves up close to the building. Jim slowly reached to his left and grabbed hold of the handle to the door. Stu watched Jim's hand, sweat pouring down his forehead as the suspense and anticipation clawed at him.
Will the door open? If it doesn’t, we're well and truly in the shit,' Stu thought to himself.
He turned and looked back at the progress of Hussein and Kieran. Both of them were now at the curb, and Stan was closely tucked in behind the bulk of his friend like a child seeking protection from the shadow of its father.
Behind him, Stu felt a warm draft and sensed a change in air pressure as Jim opened the door to the pub. An overwhelming sense of relief rose up inside him, as he knew that their escape was now possible.
Hussein was just a metre away from him now, and Kieran would reach safety immediately after him.
Stu quickly eyed the dark interior of the pub from the doorway. Nothing moved. He nodded to Jim and indicated that they were to move inside. Stu took one last glance, to check on the progress of the others.
They were so close now.
The blood suddenly froze in his veins. Just behind and to the left of Stan, no more than an arm's reach, a figure stared back at him. Stu blinked, clearing his vision to make sure that he had not been mistaken.
It stood there, glaring at him with dead and unblinking eyes. In another time and place, Stu could be forgiven for thinking that maybe it was a grotesque sculpture, or a street artist pretending to be a statue, but it was not. It was a reanimated corpse that watched him, unlike the others still staring up to the sky, completely mesmerised by the sudden appearance of the atomic cloud and oblivious to the five living men in close proximity.
Panic flashed through his mind. In a split second, he considered numerous options. Should he shoot it, call to the others to run? Maybe he should attempt to kill it quietly before it alerted the crowd to their presence. Should they continue silently in the hope that they did not register in the creature's mind?
Before he could complete his appreciation of the situation, the body made the decision for him. It took a staggering step forward, reaching its hand out and barely missing Stan's back as it lunged. It let out a long and frustrated sounding moan as it clutched its fingers on thin air and stumbled after them.
Heads, hundreds of them, turned silently and stared in the direction of the noise. Their eyes fell on the creeping men that were attempting to escape their trap.
Stu raised his pistol, screaming to Hussein, Kieran and Stan at the same time to alert them that they had been detected.
"Run, fucking run, they know we're here," he howled at them.
The barrel of his pistol erupted with a flash of light and a deafening bang in the otherwise still air, rang out, and echoed through the street. More heads turned. He fired two more shots in quick succession. The first, hit the creature in the shoulder as it staggered after Stan and the others, reaching out for him with its bony fingers. The round hit its rotting flesh, punching through and blasting out through its back, but did nothing to deter it or slow it down. The second shot smashed a hole through its cheek, drilling clear to the other side; the vacuum caused by the bullet dragged its brains through the hole in its wake.
The body crumpled to the floor, as Stu began firing into other faces that lurched towards them.
Hussein bounded up the small steps into the doorway, turned, and raising his rifle, began to pour fire in to the crowd, as they all seemed to come back to life. The whole area erupted into a crescendo as the weapons fired, men screamed, and the dead wailed.
Kieran jumped into the doorway and passed Stu and Hussein. He came to a stop, almost colliding with Jim; having returned from the darkness inside the building and checking that the area was clear.
"This way, son," Jim said, waving Kieran forward, "keep quiet and move to the rear door."
Kieran did as he was told. He began to stalk through the gloom, his shoulders hunched and his trembling hands gripping his rifle tight. He could vaguely make out a lighter area in the darkness directly ahead of him. He presumed it to be the rear of the pub and headed towards it. He could see nothing in his immediate vicinity. His legs bumped into chairs and tables, and his feet crunched on broken glass on numerous occasions as he made his way forward.
At the doorway behind him, the firing continued. Stan was now inside and all four of them were trying desperately to barricade the door. Jim was shouting orders to grab tables and gambling machines, and anything else that could help stem the tide of rotting flesh that now began to hammer at the outside.
Kieran heard the sound of the heavy furniture being dragged and the voices of men shouting out as they bashed themselves in the darkness.
He reached another doorway. It was open and led into the lounge area to the rear of the pub. He peered in, afraid to expose himself before he knew that it was safe. Nothing stirred in the shadowy room. He stepped forward, hoping to find the rear doors that would probably lead out onto a patio area.
Dozens of cold dead faces stared back at him from beyond the glass, and there were hundreds more behind them. Shoulder to shoulder, they stood there, packed in tightly to one another. When they saw Kieran move, they exploded with excitement. In unison, they began pounding away at the large panes of glass standing between them and the flesh that they so longingly desired.
Kieran froze on the spot. He stared back at them, vaguely registering the noise that they made, only seeing their grotesque faces, and dead, staring eyes. He did not even hear the sounds of the pounding feet approaching from behind him.
"Kieran," Stu called into the darkness, his voice full of panic. "Where the fuck are you, Kieran?"
Kieran snapped out of his shock when he heard his name being screamed. "Here, in the back room," he replied. "Here, follow my voice."
Stu appeared out of the gloom, crashing into the doorframe as he bounded into the lounge area. Jim, Hussein, and Stan were close behind, all of them sweating and panting.
Kieran turned to them, the wide windows and countless bodies pressing up against them, framing his silhouette as he stood with his back to the glass and the faint light that managed to shine through.
"We're surrounded, Stu," he said, "we aren't getting out this way."
A loud crash from the front of the building heralded the arrival of the dead and the collapse of the hasty barricade. The sound of splintering wood and the screech of moving furniture as it was pushed aside, assaulted Stu's nerves. His brain raced, trying to think of a solution.
"Here," Jim shouted as he pulled open a door that they had not noticed, and disappeared inside.
The rest of them followed. A set of stairs led upwards to the first floor of the building and to the rooms where the landlord and their family would have lived. Stu pulled the door closed behind him, hoping that none of the dead had noticed them as they fled.
At the top of the stairs, they were met by a long landing with doors leading off into numerous rooms. It was dark and the five of them struggled to see along the corridor to the far end.
"Where do we go now?" Jim whispered, close to Stu's ear.
Stu did not answer. Instead, he began to creep along the passageway, his rifle in one hand, braced against his shoulder, while his other hand fumbled in one of the pouches of his assault vest, searching for his small torch.
A narrow beam of light penetrated the gloom from behind him, Jim obviously having realised what Stu needed. The shaft of light illuminated the far end of the long hallway and the door that stood there, spattered with bloodied handprints.
"Well, we're not going in that room," Stu whispered back over his shoulder.
Together they tiptoed along to the first door. A sudden crash from below echoed up the narrow staircase. It was followed by the sounds of fists beating against the door leading to the narrow stairway.
"That door won't hold for long," Stan whispered, to no one in particular.
Stu and Jim positioned themselves on either side of the entrance to the closest room. Jim could see Stu silently counting backwards from three, using the fingers of his left hand to count down before they charged in through the door.
Jim nodded, bracing himself with his rifle locked into his shoulder and his eyes fixed on the entrance.
"Now," Stu hissed as he raised his boot and thrust a heavy kick at the wood around the locking mechanism.
The door swung open, crashing against the interior wall. Without waiting, he bounded into the room, his torchlight sweeping the floor and the corners, searching for any hidden threat.
"Clear," Jim whispered loudly.
"Everyone, get in here," Stu said urgently in a low voice.
Hussein, Kieran and Stan entered the room, quietly closing the door behind them. They were in a large open space that Stu took to be the master bedroom. At both ends, tall heavy wardrobes stood against the walls, with a sprawling king size bed in the centre directly under the window.
Jim moved forward and peered down at the rear garden of the pub. It was packed, wall to wall, with shuffling corpses as they all made their way into the building. More were coming in from the street behind them.
"Well, we aren't getting out this way, either," Jim grumbled.
They stood, side by side, at the foot of the bed, staring at the door. Stu could feel his heart hammering against his ribcage. His palms sweated profusely as he gripped the rifle tighter in his hands.
Quickly and quietly, he slipped off the magazine, checked the top rounds and pushed down on the spring. The spring depressed only slightly, confirming that the magazine was full, and then he pushed it back into his rifle. His right index finger pushed against the safety catch, switching it from 'safe' to 'fire.’
In his mind, Stu kept on reminding himself, 'Save the last round, save the last round.'
He glanced across at Jim. They shared a moment of eye contact; a faint, almost undetectable smile creased Jim's face. They both knew that they were about to die.
The echoing footsteps and long drawn out moans of the creatures as they made their way up the stairs were like a brass band in Hussein's ears. They were getting closer. He pictured them stupidly trampling up the steps, many of them just mindlessly following the body in front. Nevertheless, as soon as the door was forced open, exposing the living men, every one of them would suddenly realise why they were there.

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