I don’t know who fired the last bullet, but it was soon all over. A heavy silence, far worse than the one before rang throughout the air. It was the kind of silence that might occur after something terrible has happened; the moment when people take a second to catch their breaths and their brains try to make sense of what has gone on. For us, something awful had occurred. Carol wasn’t screaming anymore, she had lapsed into total shock. Alicia was making little noises, like someone gasping for breath after being underwater.
I looked over to the car that David had been driving and saw blood on the window. I pulled Alicia out of the car and handed her over to Eloise, who held onto her. I knew what I would see, so I don’t know why I forced myself to look.
Carol sat rigid; staring at the body slumped against the seat, the head lolling unnaturally.
In that instance I felt the most tremendous amount of guilt and grief for Alicia. No child should ever have to witness that. I heaved a sigh and turned to face Cancer, who for once looked like he didn’t know what to do. His eyes darted from the little girl to her dead father.
I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know what to do. None of us did.
‘Oh God,’ David whispered, coming to stand beside me. He touched Carol’s arm lightly who flinched.
‘Carol, come out of the car.’
She nodded shakily, her face as white as a sheet.
Clambering over the seats, Carol practically fell out of the car. David caught her and held her upright. ‘Go sit down in Eloise’s car.’ His voice was calm and steady; it was what we all needed. I was still frozen on the spot, staring at Richard. There was a red stain on his shirt and I wondered if his death had been quick. Had he died protecting Alicia? What were his last thoughts? His eyes were still open, staring with shock and fear at whatever was in front of him.
Without thinking, I climbed back in the car and shut his eyes, mostly out of respect.
‘Sorry this happened to you Richard,’ I murmured. ‘We’ll take good care of Alicia, I promise.’
It just felt like the right thing to do, to say a few words.
The bodies of the men who had shot at us still lay strewn across the concrete; blood littered their clothes and decorated the pavement. The zombies were getting closer, obviously drawn in by the sounds of gunfire. The real question was what the hell we were going to do with Richard’s body. When Tammy died, we didn’t have time for a funeral because the hospital was crawling with the dead, but maybe we would have a bit more time here?
I glanced over at Alicia, who had her face buried in Eloise’s jumper. Her shoulders were shaking.
Cancer and I shared a look. Neither of us had the slightest clue what to do.
David was giving Carol some water and then went over to whisper a few words in Eloise’s ear, who nodded. He came over to us and we crowded round him, out of Alicia’s range of hearing.
‘We should bury him.’
‘I agree, but where and when?’
‘We need to find some place. One of these fields perhaps?’
‘Yeah like we’d have enough time before those undead bastards reach us,’ Cancer muttered, nodding his head in the direction of the figures in the fields.
‘Could we drive him to a place further ahead?’ I suggested uncertainly.
‘We can’t really have a dead body in the boot of the car,’ David countered. ‘Especially if Alicia’s in there.’
‘Well Alicia can ride with Eloise, Cancer and Carol. I’ll come in the car with you if you like. Do we have any tarpaulin or anything to wrap him in?’
David looked around. ‘Not that I know of. Can we find some material around here?’
‘What about that?’ Cancer suggested. We followed his line of sight and I noticed for the first time a massive sheet that had been attached to the side of the building with large black letters scrawled on: NOT SAFE: DEAD INSIDE.
‘Jesus!’ I recoiled, pulling my gun out. ‘There’s zombies in there?!’
‘Possibly,’ Cancer shrugged, utterly unfazed. ‘I shouldn’t think we have much to worry about though; they would have come out by now.’
I didn’t relax. How did we not notice it before?! Sure, we were stood at in a slightly different place to when we had arrived but it seemed unlikely that we wouldn’t see a massive sheet hanging from the windows. I wanted to get out of there immediately but it seemed as though David and Cancer had other plans as they began to approach the sheet.
‘How are you gonna get it down?’ I whispered after them, back into quiet mode. ‘It also seems a little unfair taking away the warning of zombies. What if more people come along and go inside?’
‘Do we have any other choice?’ Cancer replied.
No, the truth was, we didn’t.
I kept my gun trained on the door of the building, waiting for hordes to pile out and devour us all. I was waiting in vain though; the door remained firmly shut. Cancer grabbed one of the plastic boxes that store fruits and vegetables in and turned it upside down. Mouldy apples and pears rolled across the gravel. He did the same with a few more boxes until he had built a mini tower. Cancer was a tall guy, probably a few inches taller than David and he only just managed to grab the corner of the sheet, even standing on top of all these boxes. He gave it a tug and it came away loosely. Whoever had attached it had obviously done so hastily.
He bunched the sheet up and tossed it over to David.
I walked over to Alicia, who was still with Eloise. I jerked my head in the direction of the car and Eloise scooped the little girl up in her arms and put her in the backseat, right next to Carol. I didn’t know if this was the best idea, considering the state that the woman was in. I wasn’t about to say anything though; I didn’t want Alicia to see her father’s body again.
I helped Cancer and David pull Richard out of the car and we laid the sheet out flat on the ground. Wrapping him up was a gruesome and horrible task. The body was already stiffening and his skin was cooling to the touch. Cancer grabbed a rope from the boot of the car and secured the sheet in place. We put the body in the boot of the car and I instinctively wiped my hands on my jeans. Like it’d do much good.
‘Okay, first plan: find somewhere to bury Richard.’ David and Cancer nodded. Cancer headed over to Eloise’s vehicle and I sat in the passenger seat beside David.
In a matter of seconds, we were back on the road, leaving the bodies of the thugs for the hungry zombies who had reached us just as we pulled away.