Darkness plunged the prison cell into a box of stark, uneasy shadows. An external security light switched on, throwing a sickly yellow pattern through the bars and over a group of four prison officers sharing a common silence. It was the youngest of the group who broke the icy stillness with a fearful cry.
“Why us then, hell’s teeth, – WHY – WHY?”
“Keep quiet you fool, they’ll hear you,” hissed Danny Chard, senior officer of the group.
He gripped the young officer’s shoulders and hurled him backwards onto the lower bunk bed. As he fell back his head battered against the metal frame of the upper bunk and he shrieked out in pain.
The officers froze, afraid to even breathe heavily, looking anxiously towards the closed cell door.
They could hear the shuffling gait of the zombie horde dragging their lifeless shells aimlessly along the galleries outside. The hollow groaning of an unnatural hunger filled the remaining, uninfected with a helpless terror.
When the zombie plague erupted within their walls its ferocity took the D hall prison staff completely by surprise, pouncing from one body to the next, like a sickening chain of bloodlust tag. As it tore across the prison hall, Chard was on the second floor landing. While others stood gaping in a state of shock he bundled a few of the officers into the nearest cell. He slammed the door behind him, locking them all in, saving them from being torn apart or becoming a soldier of the living-dead army. Inside they were met by the strong smell of stale urine hanging in the air, an eye-watering cloud of bitter ammonia, although the stench of the rotting dead lingering outside was far greater.
The young officer, Iain Caine, clutched his head, trying to stem the blood flow from his injury and rolled over the urine soaked mattress to face the wall. It was his first day as a prison officer, a virgin screw witnessing prisoners and staff, bitten, mauled and instantly transformed into hellish creatures. It was a vision that screamed in his brain. Not a first day that he could ever envision or could prepare for, not that any other officer would for that matter.
It was a sight he couldn’t un-see and a waking nightmare he was trying hard to forget, but failing miserably.
“Sorry I was so rough lad,” said Chard, leaning on the bunk bed, “but hey, we’ve survived and we’re damn lucky to be alive.”
“Lucky,” snapped Caine, turning back to face him, “you call this lucky? Don’t you see, we’re trapped, they can’t get at us and we can’t get out, doesn’t that say to you that we’re going to die – one bloody way or another?”
Caine rolled back toward the wall and pulled his knees up into a foetal position, hoping he could escape this thing by ignoring it and praying that, maybe, it would just go away by itself?
Chard shook his head and threw his peaked cap onto the top bunk. He turned to the other two officers he had ushered in, Hawkins and Baker, both normally reliable under pressure, but this event could hardly be described as normal. They were seated on the floor beneath the barred window, shell-shocked and silent. Both were in shirt sleeves, heavily stained, but thankfully, not with their own blood.
They both shrugged, as if ready to surrender themselves to the inevitable.
Chard moved across to the cell door and leaned against it, pressing his ear to the cold wood.
He could hear the scraping sound of a hundred or so inmates and officers, who were now un-dead monsters, staggering around the ground floor and upper galleries. Occasionally one would bump its shambling body against the cell door and he would hold his breath until the thing moved away.
Chard was a big man, of height and girth and his broad shoulders carried the chrome pips of his rank on the epaulettes of a light blue shirt. Spanning the width of the doorway he dipped his 6ft 2inch height to be level with the spy hole, but the slide was down and blocked any vision of the hell that stalked his prison hall.
It was probably better that he couldn’t see the monstrous, charnel house parade that now outnumbered the living.
He was about to move away from the doorway when he heard a strange sound spiking out amongst the incessant groaning.
It was a musical sound that filtered up, echoing, from the ground floor to their second floor cell.
The television room that had been abandoned when the devil marched in was still playing to itself.
He recognised the strident sounds of an old movie and its rousing musical score and turned to the two seated officers.
“You guys ever seen the movie, ‘ZULU’?”
“Sure,” said Hawkins, the bearded one of the solemn pair. His companion, Baker, nodded, but looked perplexed.
“Boss,” piped up Baker, “if we’re going to kill time with a sodding movie quiz then count me out, I’m not really in the mood.”
“No quiz,” said Chard, moving across and seating himself in a chair beside them, “but you remember when the Zulus were breaking into the hospital area, you remember what the British soldiers did?”
“Shoot ‘em?” said Baker.
“Yeah, sure, but they also dug their way out through the wall into the next room! There’s two cells between us and the corner of the building and then – y’know what’s on the corner?”
“The fire escape!” said Hawkins, excitedly.
“Exactly” he said, standing back; “now how about breaking this chair up, the metal legs will do for digging. There’s only a couple of layers of brick and plaster in these connecting walls so they should be easy to get through.”
Hawkins and Baker leaped up, energised by the promise of escape. They quickly broke the metal legs from its welded frame and began eagerly pummelling the wall. Chard stayed by the door raising a hand to cease their action whenever he heard a movement close by. A blanket was laid across the floor to reduce some of the noise from the falling rubble.
Caine began weeping and mumbling into the blanket he’d buried his face into, shutting out the savage world.
They chiselled at the wall, breaking away the thick plaster, one strike swiftly following the other with plaster dust slowly clouding the air. It coated their faces and hair as they worked; producing some brief fits of coughing. The bricks soon fell away and a hole soon appeared and they struck more vigorously, steadily widening with each blow. They eventually stopped when they created a gap wide enough for even Chard’s huge bulk to squeeze through.
Hawkins eagerly stooped down towards the darkness beyond the jagged porthole and suddenly heard a terrifying growl!
He immediately jerked backwards just as the bloated face of a creature from hell thrust its head into view! Its mouth was torn open from ear to ear, exposing rows of barred, broken teeth like a battle-worn shark’s, dark maw.
It’s wild, blood-shot eyes bulged and swelled, threatening to explode. It snapped and spat, desperate to reach them, hissing and screeching like nothing they’d ever heard before.
They were all frozen in shock horror, until Danny Chard burst forward from the doorway and tore the chair leg from Baker’s fist. He lifted it high above his head and brought it down, spearing the zombie’s skull from temple to ear. The sickening crunch as the metal bar punched through the exposed head was enough to cause each man to recoil in revulsion. Barring the stomach heaving of Caine’s vomiting, the eggshell crack sound punched the cell into a full stop of silence.
As the flaring light in the zombie’s eyes flickered and went out, its head sagged onto the edge of the hole and the group quickly found the remnants of their courage again.
Chard extracted the bar by resting a boot on its face and Hawkins kicked it back into the other cell. After a cautious glance, making sure there were no more lurking dangers, they bundled their way through, dragging the unwilling Caine with them.
They immediately set to work on the next hole breaking through even faster than before, but were far more wary of finding another hungry occupant this time. They exposed the final hole in the last cell through to the fire escape just at the moment when Caine turned!
A sudden, howling savagery gripped him in a whirling frenzy and he leaped at them, shedding tears of blood with a fiery glow staining his bulging eyes.
Chard left him pinned to the wall, pierced through his face, right between the eyes and only paused to look back when they were stood in the safety of the fire escape staircase.
Caine’s un-dead body was still wriggling like a macabre, dancing puppet dangling against the wall.
Chard realised Caine’s blow to the head must have become infected with zombie blood when they dragged him through the hole, another sad casualty of the deadly plague. A gut punch of guilt hit Chard, but he knew that the mindless creature the boy had become could well have been one or all of them, without his actions. When they exited the fire escape into the yard outside, they found flame throwers were sweeping over the building, creating a huge funeral pyre by the Army’s guaranteed cure to the zombie menace.
Chard looked up as the flames took hold, curling around the cell block roof. The jail contained the outbreak but the plague was still out there waiting to return and he wasn’t about to let it back in – not on his watch!