The Police Range Rover was slewed across the junction, its occupants staring at the wall of dead people marching toward them. They had been called to an incident further down Deansgate, closer to the Town Hall. But, the carnage at this end of the street had brought them up short.
As they watched, the shambling corpses started climbing over a car that had tried to reverse away, hit another vehicle, and stalled. The driver, terrified, had opened the door, then splayed out of it because she had forgotten to release her seat belt. As she tried to pull herself back in and break free, the mass of bodies swelled around and over the car, and the leading zombies fell on her.
Seeing a human being killed by having lumps of flesh torn off them had frozen the two officers. They were on the firearms squad, had been subject to a barrage of psychological tests to ensure they could be trusted with weapons. They thought they were tough. But this was beyond their expectations and limits.
“We should turn around. We can get away.” David Wilson had only been in the Armed Response Vehicle for a month. A surprisingly calm month, too, for Manchester, with only one shout where they had even thought of getting the carbines from the safe in the boot. He had yet to fire a single round outside the range. He didn’t want this to be his first time.
“We can’t do that. They’re killing people.” Stephanie Anderson had the rank and experience in the vehicle. She’d been in an ARV for most of the last four years. She had never fired at anyone either, but had twice talked armed suspects down. Locker room myth had it that her locked steady stance and unwavering stare had made her first armed criminal wet himself before he dropped his gun. Whatever this was that they faced, she would see it off. Or mow it down, if she had to.
“And then those people are getting up and killing more people. It’s fucking zombies! Just like in a film. Have you never seen a zombie film? Running away and hiding until the army comes in is the only way out.” Wilson pointed at a body that was doing just what he had described.
“We have guns. If we have to shoot all those…. people in the head to keep them from killing more, then that’s what we have to do.” Anderson had the key to the carbine safe out. She was reaching for the button that released the boot.
“Ah fuck. You always wanted to be a hero, didn’t you.”
“No chance. I’ve just played Left 4 Dead too many times. There’s guys out there without guns getting people to safety. We just keep whatever those…. things…. are away from them for as long as possible.”
“They’re getting closer. You get the big guns, I’ll see if any of them understand a threat.” Wilson opened his door and slid from his seat. He unclipped the holster, high on the front of his bullet proof vest, and pulled out his Glock 17. Stepping away from the vehicle, he raised the gun, clasping his left hand under his right to brace it. His finger rested outside the trigger guard as he pointed the gun at the nearest member of the gory crowd. “Armed Police! Stop right there! Hands where I can see them!”
The woman kept on coming toward him. Not a single one of the shuffling figures faltered. None of them even acknowledged hearing his voice. His finger slipped inside the guard, pressing the trigger and putting pressure on it. The woman took another step.
Wilson pulled the trigger. He knew just how much pressure was needed, and, as it got closer, had to keep himself from wincing in anticipation.
The hammer clicked on an empty chamber.
“Shit! Shit, shit, shit!” Wilson took quick steps backwards, until he bumped into the side of the Range Rover, then reached down to pull the slide.
It was agreed policy in their Armed Response Vehicle that they never drove around with a round in the chamber. They had to actively take their handguns from ‘safe’ to ‘live’. It would give them pause, when they rolled up on a scene, make them take time to think about what they might have to do. Wilson had forgotten to chamber a round before getting out of the vehicle.
The slide clicked back into place, and the gun was live. Wilson raised it quickly, braced with his left hand, and fired a shot at the gory woman closing on him. It was perfectly placed in her central mass, a stopping shot.
The ghoulish woman rocked back as the bullet hit her chest, her upper body swaying as the projectile deformed and punched a larger hole out the back of her ribcage. But she didn’t register the wound, beyond swaying back and forth for a moment. She took another step, and Wilson fired again.
Outstretched hands were level with Wilson’s gun hand now. In a moment, they would close over his arm, or around his throat, and that would be the end. He pulled the trigger again, twice in quick succession. The woman jerked backwards a little, but didn’t fall. He could see right through her chest, but she wasn’t dead. Fingers closed on his sleeve.
There was a bang, off to Wilson’s right. Actually three bangs, so close together they registered as a single sound. The woman’s head split, the right hand side bursting open and shooting red and grey matter over the road and the man beside her. Here eyes, somehow, were still intact. The pale hint of thought that had been in them faded away, and she crumpled to the ground.
“Zombies, remember! Shoot them in the head!” Anderson shouted. She fired two more three round bursts from the carbine, and another two bodies dropped.
Wilson walked back along the side of the Range Rover toward Anderson, sliding along the body panels, he was pressed so far back. His training had failed him. He could place multiple rounds in the central body mass, and not just from the close range he’d engaged the woman at, but had been taught to avoid head shots as risky. Now he had to turn all that training over.
There was another small group of zombies angling toward them. The mass seemed to be veering off to the left, toward the foyer of Beetham Tower. Anderson was watching Wilson, making sure he had digested the instruction she had fed him. He raised the pistol, braced against the side of the Range Rover, and fired at the approaching group.
The bearded, hunched man at the front of the group stopped shambling forward. There was a red hole where his right eye had been, and his brains now covered the face of the man behind him. The bearded man tumbled forward, and the bloodied man stepped over him.
Anderson joined in with Wilson’s next few shots. She had gone to single shots, rather than the three shot bursts she had previously used. There were a lot of these creatures, they were going to need to conserve their ammunition to keep up with them.
The mass of shuffling bodies had almost passed them by now. Anderson swung around and ran to the other side of the vehicle, to make sure they weren’t being flanked.
“Where are they going?” Wilson asked. His gun was pointed at the crowd, but he hadn’t picked out an individual to target. As soon as one turned toward them, he’d take them out.
“Into the tower? They’re crowding the entrance, looks like.”
Taking the risk of holstering his gun, Wilson opened the driver’s door of the Range Rover and stepped up onto the sill so he could get a better view. “Yeah, they’re pressed right up to the glass. Looks like it’s locked, though, and there’s a few guys inside finding stuff for barricades. Hold on, another group has set off down the street.”
“Nine, ten. Not as many as are at the doors, anyway.”
“Okay.” Anderson came back round to Wilson’s side. She had the second carbine from the safe, and the satchel they carried extra clips in. “Here. I’ve got every round in there. They didn’t give us enough for this sort of shit, though. Make every shot count. We’ll clear the group by the doors, then we can worry about the others.”
Wilson checked the MP5 that Anderson had given him, making sure there was around chambered and it was ready to fire. He never wanted to make that mistake again. The stock was adjusted to his preferred length, after several sessions at the range, and, when he butted it up against his shoulder, everything was in comfortable and easy reach.
He swung the gun around. The ring sights were set up for close quarters, so were ideal for what they were going into. “I’m good.” he told Anderson.
“Okay. You’re right, I’m left. We can almost cover one eighty then. Whatever you do, don’t let them flank us. On three. One.”
Side by side, they walked around the Range Rover and headed toward the tower. They went slowly, slightly faster than the crowd they were following. Every few steps, they swung their guns out to their designated side, scanning for late arriving zombies.
When they reached the pavement, the crowd of undead were all on the forecourt before the tower’s entrance, The ones at the glass were pressed against it, held there by the mass of bodies behind them. Those at the back of the scrum kept trying to climb over it, but invariably lost their footing and tumbled backwards.
Separating the pavement from the forecourt was a low wall, just three bricks high. Anderson and Wilson stopped by it. “What do you think?” Anderson asked.
“It’ll slow them if we have to retreat.” Wilson said.
“Yeah. The red jacket. I’ll take them and work left. You go right. When you’re ready.”
Wilson fired first. His shot took off the right ear of his target, but the mass of bodies meant it then went through the head of the ghoul in front. His second shot took down his target.
They worked outward to the edges of the grisly crowd, then back in, targeting the next row. Then they had a problem. Only a few of the zombies were dropping away when shot. Most of them were held in place, arms, and even legs, locked between the bodies in front.
Wilson stopped to check how many rounds he had left. Anderson spotted a head pushed up out of the crowd. Her shot was perfect, going through the skull and bursting it messily. But the round carried on, with more than enough power to smash through the glass of the tower entrance.
The glass was flexing under the pressure of so many bodies, and found a release in the bullet hole. Jagged lines leapt from it to the edges of the pane. Then the lines started joining up, and the glass soon gave way.
The crowd surged forward, tumbling over each other as they washed into the foyer. Anybody putting up barricades would have been knocked over and fallen upon.
Anderson couldn’t see passed the pile of bodies, so she couldn’t guess how many deaths she had accidentally caused. “Shit!” she cried, before leaping the low wall and running toward the mess.
Wilson couldn’t believe the rash move, and watched as Anderson clambered over the fallen bodies. A hand reached out of the gore and grabbed Anderson’s ankle. Now, Wilson was able to react. He ran toward the bodies, knowing he couldn’t get there in time.
Anderson tumbled forward, right into the open embrace and greedy teeth of an animated corpse. It bit into her cheek as she tried to push away. Struggling her gun around, she found the eye socket of another zombie that was struggling toward her. She pulled the trigger, and shot a hole through the skull. The body fell forward, the wound catching the barrel of the gun and trapping it inside the skull.
Anderson fired again and again, trying to do enough damage to free the gun. There was a click, she was out of bullets. She struggled to get her pistol out, but the zombie that had bitten her cheek had found her throat, and blackness was already closing in.
Wilson stepped more carefully over the body pile. When he saw movement, he stepped back, found a head, and fired at it. He destroyed three zombies this way, then ran out of bullets. Anderson had all the clips in the satchel. He had to reach her to reload. Hooking the MP5’s sling over his shoulder, he drew his Glock.
Anderson had stopped struggling. Wilson knew she was dead. He grabbed her shoulder, and lifted her enough that he could shoot the corpse under her, which had torn her throat out by now.
The carpet of bodies and gore around Wilson was moving, as the corpses that were still animated struggled out from under the ones he and Anderson had shot. He grasped the shoulder of her uniform, fighting the urge to shake it and demand she got up.
A thin man, who had looked cadaverous even before being killed, pulled the top half of his body from the carnage. Looking around, he saw Wilson, warm and tasty, not so far away. He reached out an arm, red with blood, trying to grasp at the food. Unable to reach, he did manage to get hold of another corpse, this one dead for good, and pulled himself further out of the hole. Oblivious in his shock and grief, Wilson just waited to be eaten.
Anderson’s body shook, and started to writhe. Wilson’s grip on her shoulder was strong enough that he held on to it, and the whole of his body jerked violently.
He looked down at her, shocked. Surely she was dead. He had seen the wound, albeit briefly, before looking away, horrified. Anderson twisted around, struggling to face him, and he saw it again. The torn skin of her cheek and, more importantly, the gaping hole in her throat. She made a wet hissing sound, the ragged skin around the throat hole flapping, and her mouth opened wide to bare bloodstained teeth. Her eyes were open, and staring at Wilson, but there was only hunger animating them.
Wilson’s pistol came up, the barrel butting violently between Anderson’s eyes. He pulled the trigger with a reflexive jerk. The gases from the explosion did even more damage than the bullet they followed, almost obliterating her head.
The action had broken Wilson out of his shock. He felt the movement all about him. Looking round, he saw the skinny man reaching out of the corpses. Wilson shot him just above the eyeline, and he slumped forward.
Another head had appeared on the opposite side of Anderson’s corpse. Wilson reached across, and fired down into the skull from close range. The slide locked back, he was out of bullets.
Instead of reloading immediately, Wilson struggled to find the plastic catch on the satchel full of magazines around Anderson’s shoulder. He released it, and pulled the blood soaked bag out of the body pile.
Wilson took a couple of steps back, and checked there weren’t any moving bodies too close by. Now he reloaded the Glock, checking to be sure there was a round in the chamber this time, and holstered it. Then, the satchel went around his shoulder, and he pulled a fresh magazine from it. With the MP5 loaded, he was ready to get back to destroying zombies.
Few of the bloodied corpses that were pulling themselves from the body pile were turning toward Wilson. They were heading into the building, where there were more people to feed on. Wilson braced the gun against his shoulder, and cleared his way with a couple of quick shots. He was going to take down every last fucking zombie in the building and save the occupants.
It was what Anderson would have wanted.
Two streets away, Glenn led a small band of zombies toward the two black towers. He was back to following his hunger, far beyond understanding why.
They were walking down the canyon between the tall brick walls of the exhibition centre and Great Northern complexes. This street was only really used for access to the car parks under the two big buildings, and, beyond the entrances, was almost blocked by tables overflowing from in front of restaurants.
There were still diners at some of those tables. They had been carrying on with their meals, despite the sounds of chaos from Deansgate and Albert Square. But now there were gunshots coming from the other direction, they were all starting to move. They didn’t know which direction would be safest, perhaps that earlier chaos in the other direction was tied to the sound of shooting. A few made decisive moves, and would make it to safety, but many more milled about in confusion.
Glenn and his followers fell about these dawdlers eagerly. Food, and more members for his gang.