The moments that followed then were so important; they were the difference between life and death.
Joe crossed his fingers, sent a quick prayer up to anyone who may be listening and launched himself off the railing. Once he had landed, he held his breath and risked a glance below him. To his relief, the corpses were still shuffling, completely oblivious to the 130 pounds of food hanging just metres above them.
He made his way to the far end of the fire escape and began descending the ladder at a speed he didn’t think he was capable of. His feet barely touched one rung before they were on to the next. The only thing that stopped him from falling completely was the iron grip he kept on the sides. He was over halfway down when his foot gave way and he slipped, crashing to the floor. For a few seconds he was disorientated, staring up at the sky. It wasn’t until he heard the moans that he sprang into action. The zombie closest to him grabbed at Joe’s sleeve and pulled him backwards. Joe swung round, bringing the crowbar straight up through its chin. The thing’s head jerked and its grip fell from Joe’s wrist.
The others were converging and Joe decided that now was a really good time to get a move on. He darted round the corner, relieved to see it was empty, and sprinted towards the forest.
By the time he had arrived, he was out of breath and his glasses had steamed up. Tiny cracks littered the lenses like spider webs and the frames were slightly broken in one part. He’d really have to pick himself up a new pair of glasses.
It was just a short walk through the woods then he’d be on the outskirts of town right next to the large shopping store. The problem though was how many walkers was he going to come across before he reached the store?
Alright Joe, remain calm. Stick to the shadows and don’t make a sound. Following his own advice, Joe set off, picking his way through the fallen branches and crunchy leaves. He normally loved the woods; it was his place of solitude. Now though it seemed rife with danger.
A lone moan set his nerves on edge and began picking up the pace, keeping his sense on full alert.
He faced no danger though and soon enough he was standing outside the back entrance to the store. It was a huge building with many shops inside.
‘Perfect setting for Dawn of the Dead,’ Joe muttered. ‘Good thing I’m not in a movie. The nerdy loner is always the first to get killed.’ He grinned briefly to himself.
The place was relatively deserted but he knew that as soon as he entered the store, his life would immediately be in danger. It was just how things were these days. The door was unlocked, unsurprisingly, and Joe shuffled inside. The place smelled musty and looked even worse. Broken glass littered the floor and blood smeared the walls. Joe fought back the nausea that threatened to rise in his stomach.
A HMV store caught his interest and before he knew what he was doing, he was edging himself along the wall towards the entrance and ducking inside. The place lacked light, not dark enough that he couldn’t see what he was doing, but dark enough that it made him extra cautious. He picked up a DVD, smiling slightly. It was a film he had wanted to see before the apocalypse had hit. His mother said she’d buy it for his birthday. Obviously that wouldn’t be happening anytime soon. He thought about taking it when something coming from behind him caused him to nearly jump out of his own flesh.
‘Joe, what’re you doing?’
The familiar voice cut his nerves to shred and he whirled around, probably looking a little comical with the film clutched desperately to his chest and his eyes wide and panicked.
Cancer smirked a little, looking amused. ‘Sorry. Didn’t mean to make you jump.’
‘What are you doing here?’ Joe whooshed out a long breath of relief.
‘Making sure you’re not getting eaten alive. Why are you in here? Aren’t you meant to be gathering supplies?’ Cancer picked up a film and waved it in the air. ‘I don’t think DVD players are working anymore Joe.’
‘It’s my birthday,’ Joe confessed. ‘Sixteen today. So to answer your question, I’m here for nostalgia purposes only.’
‘Oh,’ Cancer looked surprised. ‘Well happy birthday, I guess. You been keeping a track of the days?’
‘Yeah,’ Joe shrugged sheepishly. ‘Time is precious to me.’
Something flitted across Cancer’s features for a split second, something Joe couldn’t identify in time before it was replaced with the same stoic, almost impassive features that Cancer wore like a mask.
‘You know what’s even more important to me? Surviving. We’re not gonna do that if we stay in here. We gotta get a move on.’
Joe put the film in his rucksack and followed Cancer back out into the store. He wasn’t looking where he was going and walked straight into Cancer when he stopped suddenly. Joe was immediately on full alert again.
‘What do you see?’ Joe whispered.
‘What? Oh nothing.’ Cancer turned round. ‘I just need to say… thank you.’
‘Thank you?’ Joe blinked in surprise.
‘Yeah,’ Cancer looked completely awkward and out of place. ‘You know, for saving my life earlier.’
‘Oh well no worries. Now we’re even,’ Joe grinned. ‘You saved me from that horde back at camp.’
Cancer grinned in response and Joe felt something warm settle in his stomach. He no longer felt loathing or apprehension for this mysterious man. He was beginning to feel a bond form, one he had never experienced before. The bond he may have felt if he had had a brother.