When we reached the hospital, Mark drove us to the back of the main building where Angel hopped out with her rifle and pulled herself onto one of the large bins. Mark leaned across Rich and called out to her.
'Want anything from the shop?'
She looked back as she placed her boot on a window sill, 'Yorkie.' She answered before climbing up the side of the four story building by a gutter and series of protruding window ledges.
We carried on to the hospital main entrance and stopped. I picked up my crowbar and held it ready. Crowbars are essential to get through locked doors in an hurry, but no matter how much of a rush you're in, or how many ravenous Hosts are chasing you, never forget to expect there to be more on the other side of any door. Everything is a military operation and every event is planned for; because when you're taken by surprise, the wrong move can be made in panic. As terrifying a concept as that is, it's a strangely adaptable lifestyle.
Angel signalled to us from the roof to let us know that all was clear and ready for us to make our move. Mark pushed a round into the chamber of his gun.
'Right then ladies, you all know the drill. Don't fuck it up.' He said as he bolted the round in.
We exited the car and I prized open the deactivated automatic glass doors that lead straight to the hospital reception. Ford helped to pull the heavy panels apart and Mark scanned the inside with a blue LED torch before stepping in. We chose a blue light instead of a regular torch because for some reason, Hosts don't react much to the dim aura of the blue light. I suspect their eyesight has been debilitated by the effects of the parasite, and are less responsive to certain dull colours.
We moved vigilantly towards the small shop near the reception and guys disappeared through a door behind the counter. I stood by the shop entrance, watching over the silenced waiting area. Stale brown patches of dried blood blotted the cold floor, a streak of it lead round the corner as though someone had been violently dragged through the hospital. I remember seeing that trail the last time we were here. Mark, Rich and Ford emerged from the stock room with boxes of various foods including Yorkie. We put them by the main door and Mark picked up his radio.
'Ok Angel, we got the food, we're gonna head up to the second floor now.'
'Right then, don't take too long, it's starting to rain out 'ere.' She replied.
We always fear heavy rainfall because it reduces visibility and dramatically impairs your hearing; the distinguished sound of the Hosts' strained walk is often their giveaway.
We marched to the stairwell and headed for the second floor; we cleared the ground and first floors in previous trips, but now needed more medical supplies and had no choice but to get them from a floor that we had never been on before and so of course we had no idea what state it would be in. Mark was the first to go through the door to the second floor corridor and ushered us in with him. The void rectilinear space disappeared into silent gloom either at end.
There was a small stock room opposite that had bandages, dressings and stitches but we also needed antibiotics and such, so our scavenge wasn't over. We tip-toed down the corridor, guns at the ready, following the sombre illumination of the dull torch beam that gently flooded the otherwise pitch black hallway with an azure veil that I found more eerie than the darkness. Not far along we came across an intriguing structure made from overturned gurneys, mattresses, chairs and tables. It looked like a desperate attempt at a barricade that had collapsed under pressure that had come from our side, as the fallen objects seemed to trail the way we were going; a dark reminder of what we could be facing.
'This could be a bad sign, so be ready.' Mark whispered before moving through the failed barricade.
I awkwardly stepped over and between the various components and the four of us moved onwards in reticence. We soon became aware of a faint tapping sound that at first seemed to drift in the air but as we got closer to the source, the sound became harsher and more defined. Around the next corner we found a pair of double doors along the left wall that rattled rhythmically. I looked at Rich and he returned my gaze with an uncomfortable stare that indicated his concern. Mark looked back at the two of us.
'We have to deal with this I'm afraid,' he said. He put his ear to the door and listened before continuing, 'there's definitely one in there.'
Ford approached the door with an infectious confidence.
'I'll open the door, everyone be ready.'
We aimed at the door, and Mark nodded at Ford, who took a deep breath and kicked the door open in a swift move that knocked a female Host that had been feeding on the other side to the ground. Another Host burst out and lunged at Mark. He held it back by jamming the end of his rifle into the crook of its neck. The Host continued to struggle against the barrel until Mark fired a round into its raw flesh. The force of the bullet pushed the Host backwards, revealing the hole in its neck that stretched as his head fell back. He landed on the rotten corpse that the female Host had been eating. I shot her as she was still negotiating the strategy of standing up and she fell limp next to the two other bodies. The person she had been feeding on was a mere carcass, hollowed out and eviscerated, leaving only shreds of sinew and gristle that coated the battered bones of the ribcage that were broken and collapsed into a dark mass of pulp that I can only assume were once lungs.
'Lovely!' Mark exclaimed joyfully as he inspected it.
More Hosts were in hospital beds, strapped down. All were dead except for one, a girl that gazed vacuously into nothing from the bloody sheets, the husk of her laboured breathing mimicking the pulsing of her chest that was ribbed as though her skin had sunken into the groves of her ribcage. Weak and starving, her shoulder blades protruded like razors and her cheeks were sullen and skeletal. I was about to shoot her when the sound of Angel's voice startled me.
'Guys, we've got a situation. Those Hosts are headed this way.'
I looked out of the window and down to the road to see the procession we witnessed earlier making its way towards the hospital.
'Good God.' Ford uttered.
Mark picked up the radio and held it to his lips.
'Ok, don't do anything to draw attention to yourself, they'll probably just keep going.'
We watched anxiously as the crowd grew from the darkness and got closer to the hospital driveway. I could feel the beat of my heart in my throat like a lump that I couldn't shift, and when they began to turn into the driveway and head for the hospital main entrance, I wasn't in the least bit surprised, but I was terrified.
'Fuck!' Mark shouted.
He suddenly took off down the corridor; we followed in keen pursuit and charged down the stairs hoping to get to the ground floor so that we could exit through the fire escape. As we reached the door at the bottom of the stairwell there was an almighty crash. We peered into the ground floor reception and could see the Hosts had shattered the glass doors and were squeezing through in a stampede. We sprinted towards the fire exit but were stopped dead by the sound of more Hosts banging on the other side.
'FUCK IT! Change of plan. BACK TO THE STAIRS! GO GO GO!' Mark yelled.
As we turned around, we could see the Hosts were nearly blocking our path back to the stairs but we managed to get through and ran back up.
'There in, we're coming up to you.' Mark huffed into the radio. 'We'll get to the roof and see what the ground situation is, we can climb down from there but if we can't reach the car, we might have a difficult situation on our hands.'
Just as we reached the second floor, we heard the Hosts reach the base of the stairs and begin to make there way up. Their distorted screeches spurred me on to the next level where another herd of speeding Hosts exploded through the third floor door and poured into the stairwell ahead of us. The barrage of salivating ghouls spilled towards us with such excitement that some of them were pushed over the banisters by the force of the crowd and sent hurtling down through the shaft in the centre of the spiralling staircase. We had no choice but to go back, Hosts were coming at us from above and below so we were forced to retreat to the second floor. We weren't sure what move to make until I decided to go with the only plan I could think of. I opened the stock room door and hastened Mark, Ford and Rich inside.
'Hide in here; if they don't know you're here, they will go straight past. I'll lead them away, when it's clear, get back to the car and I'll meet you there…but don't wait too long for me.' I instructed.
'What?!' Ford protested.
'Are you sure about this Pete?' Mark asked between breaths.
I flinched at the sudden cry from the stairwell. 'I'll have to be.' I slammed the door shut and heard the guys barricading it.
I went back to the stairs and leaned over the banister at the oncoming assault.
'COME ON YOU CUNTS!' I screamed down to them before leading them onto the second floor corridor.
Once I was sure that they were following me, I kept running, through the fallen barricade, past the room with the tied down girl and onwards into unknown territory. What the fuck are you doing?
I reached a door that blocked my path, so I pulled out my crowbar, looking back to see if they were catching up with me, and levered the door open without a second thought. As the door opened, a solitary Host met me on the other side, gripped my arm and wrapped his teeth around the sleeve of my combat jacket. I felt my forearm crunch as the muscle compressed and shifted under the tremendous power of his vice-like jaws. How could I forget my own rule? I yelled out as the vibration of my arm rupturing sent me into a frenzy of panic. I slammed the top of his head with the crowbar, his skin split under his grey hair and he let me go. I pushed him to the floor and pounded his face in rage. I heard the crack of his skull and with one last hit, his round head folded inwards under the metal bar, pulling his facial features in with it, leaving him disfigured and contorted like a deflated balloon. My hot arm throbbed. I wonder if my jacket was enough to protect me from the parasite. The other Hosts emerged round the corner and were encouraged by the sight of me as they seemed to speed up. The hallway was long and straight and I could see no door that could lead to a possible escape route, so I continued running. I had no idea where I was going, I could feel the inevitability of running into a dead end creeping up on me, and dread began to turn to acceptance. I few yards further, and there it was. End of the line.
Shit. I've really fucked this one up.