Joe was angry for reasons he couldn’t justify. The scene that had been caused in the strangers room made him feel like a little kid who couldn’t do anything without the approval of his parents. A small part of him however told him to stop being so selfish; he couldn’t go wandering off – especially in times like these – and not expect his parents to be worried about him.
It had been a little over a day, judging by the dull light that shone through the smallest gap in the hotel doors, since Joe had ventured off to speak to Cancer. His parents had been keeping a close eye on their son but short of keeping him on a leash, they couldn’t account for him twenty four hours a day. Joe figured at some point he’d try and sneak off again, to converse with the outcast everyone was so wary of.
The group were gathered in the hotel lobby. Thick boards of wood and stacks of chairs piled up against the entrance meant nobody could see them from outside. They kept the door to the basement locked but not barricaded; there was an emergency escape route down there should an event cause for it. Many of the hotel rooms had been rummaged for supplies, bedding and whatnot, and piled into the first floor rooms. The stranger was on the floor above them. They knew where everyone was and they were all familiar with what to do in case of an attack, but whilst this knowledge retained in their minds, they themselves were not capable of dealing with the onslaught; they were becoming too relaxed. There hadn’t been an incident in such a while that Joe in particular was beginning to feel like things were looking up.
They should have been better prepared.
Joe had been pacing for quite some time now, not listening to what the others were saying. His mother had been throwing frantic looks over at him, she had approached him a couple of times but he shrugged off her worries and she had initially left him to it, figuring he’d come around. When he showed no signs of doing so, she decided to try again.
‘Joe, sweetie, tell me what’s the matter.’
‘Why did you have to make such a scene before? I’m not a kid anymore mum, I can make my own decisions,’ the words came out in an exasperated flurry.
She sighed. ‘You know why we did Joe, he’s dangerous, he’s-‘
Someone clearing their throat behind them brought the conversation to an abrupt halt. Rob and the rest of the group were stood there, waiting for the tiff to end.
Joe scowled in defeat whilst Mrs Hartness plastered on a polite smile.
‘Would you like to join the group discussion?’
Joe’s father came to stand beside his family.
‘What did we miss?’ his mother said.
‘We’ve ultimately decided at the moment to stay.’
‘I didn’t know there was talk of leaving?’ Joe cut in. His father shot him a warning look.
Rob’s eyes flickered over towards the annoyed teenager and he coughed awkwardly. ‘We did want to make sure that you guys were okay with this? I mean, you have been here a while. Why don’t you join the rest of the discussion so we can talk tactics and teamwork and all that crap?’
‘I’ll be back in a sec,’ Joe told his mum. She gave him a concerned look but didn’t press further. Maybe she figured her son wasn’t dumb enough to make the same mistake twice. Joe wasn’t sure he’d agree with this, but he had no set destination in mind; he just wanted to wander.
As he rounded the corner onto the winding corridor that led to one of the alleyway exits of the hotel, he almost tripped over someone crouched low on the floor, rummaging through their backpack. The stranger, Cancer, glanced up at Joe. He was looking remarkably better than he did last time; his eyes weren’t so blood shot and he didn’t look as tense.
‘Oh, hello again.’ Joe greeted.
‘Alright?’ Cancer grunted in reply.
‘You’re heading out?’
‘Yup,’ he sheathed a massive hunting knife. ‘Need anything?’
Joe shook his head wordlessly, eyes still fixed on the knife. He wondered if he could ever one day carry weapons like that. For the time being, he was too terrified. It was stupid and reckless, but he was worried that he’d do more harm to himself than anyone else. It sounded silly, but the other reason was that if Joe ever had to defend himself, or kill one of those things… it just made it all the more real. It was a ridiculous notion; it had already been a little over two months since the whole ordeal began, but so far Joe hadn’t had to actually fight anything. His parents and the others in the group were more than capable.
A loud banging coming from the other end of the corridor made them both look up. The group had barricaded all the exits and Joe knew that the one further down was the one that led out onto a back alley. A cacophony of gut-wrenching groans and snarls penetrated the walls and struck them with an unease they hadn’t felt in a while. All of Joe’s courage, if he had any in the first place, flooded out of him right there and then and was replaced with an ice cold fear.
Cancer was looking relatively composed, as if he was used to this happening. Why couldn’t Joe be like that? Instead, he was stood shaking, debating with whether to run and tell the others or stay and ignore it.
‘Can they get in?’
Cancer shrugged. ‘I dunno. If the other group did their job properly, then no they can’t.’
Joe wasn’t convinced and was seconds away from fleeing when there was an almighty crash, a shatter of glass and the sound of desperate corpses dragging themselves through whatever entrance they had managed to break. Letting out a panicked yelp, he sprinted in the opposite direction, waving his arms like a madman. Everyone seemed to turn at once, like one entity, registered the shock and fear on the teenager’s face and leapt into action.
‘They’re breaking in!’
Chris muttered a foul curse and grabbed his gun. Jed started yelling out instructions at everyone and Joe shamelessly dived for the space beneath the massive reception desk. His mother called out his name and he stuck out his hand to let her know he was okay; he was just being a coward. He stole a quick glance over the top of the desk and watched his mum and dad join the others by the corridor. Carol was stashing herself away in a corner, clutching a knife shakily. She shouldn’t corner herself, it’ll make it easier for her to get attacked, Joe thought.
He didn’t have time to say anything though as they flooded into the lobby. Cancer and Chris had positioned themselves in front of the others, so they could control the flow, but there seemed to be so many of them.
Joe didn’t think they stood a chance in hell.