Why am I the kicker? I’m always the bloody kicker.
I sigh and contemplate the lock: pretty heavy duty, probably a security lock, definitely bump resistant. The wood around it is in good condition too, considering how long ago
it’d last been maintained. What I wouldn’t give for a Thor’s hammer about now. Not that they made entry any safer, but they did mean you had something heavy to hand if things went south.
Maybe I should’ve listened to Alburn and given this place a wide berth. The old man’s about as far from superstitious as you can get. After five years running security on the supply routes, he’s seen everything possibly imagined, but even I’d noticed his face pale when I’d outlined my plan.
‘Some places are best left unexplored,’ was all he’d said by way of an explanation.
I give the rifle a tug to check it’s secure and take a deep breath. My focus is on the door. Without turning my head, I nod to Alburn. He squeezes my shoulder in response.
The wooden frame splinters and breaks beneath the heel of my DM. The lock surround buckles and disengages with a disorientating crack. I’m already through before the door reaches the apex of its swing, rifle leading, heading right. I don’t need to look to know the old man’s at my heels.
I spot two of them, see sinewy muscles tighten under their paper-thin flesh as they coil to attack. They’re fast; the camouflage already causing them to flicker and fade from view. I put two rounds in each before I lose sight of them, before they have a chance to move. Alburn does the same on my left and I hear three fall to the concrete with wet thuds.
‘Clear,’ I shout, my voice echoes.
The room is vast, much bigger than I’d expected it to be, and it’s empty. The whole place has been cleared out. Even the ubiquitous ceiling-high, steel shelving units have been ripped from the floor, presumably salvaged in the early years of the crisis. The bent and twisted fixings which dot the concrete at regular intervals are the only evidence they ever existed. I curse under my breath. If they’re gone, any supplies would be too.
Alburn toes a creature’s body. ‘Clear,’ he confirms.
They’re already dissolving into congealed pools of rancid gore. I grimace, but can’t stop myself stooping low to watch them rot. Something about them seems off, more off than usual.
‘Do they look skinnier to you?’ I ask.
He hawks and spits on the nearest corpse.
‘They all look like shit to me,’ he says before adding, ‘fuckers probably got themselves locked in here, starved half to death.’
‘Come on,’ I say. ‘Let’s get this over with.’
We find another security door at the rear. The kind that’s made up of laminating steel sheets between wood panels. No chance of kicking this one down. Its surface is marred with deep gouges, claw marks. Some deep enough to scratch the metal beneath. Something must be inside and something the Shiners wanted pretty bad. At least, I hope there is. This was the last door: the cold store. That’s what the plans say. I wasn’t holding my breath.
I probably should have.
The smell hits me as soon as I walk through; a sinister, decaying atrocity that assaults my senses. A mixture of coppery blood, voided bowels and burning tyres. But, however bad the smell is, it’s nothing compared to the sight. It takes all I am not to rush outside and empty the contents of my stomach into the shrubs.
There are hundreds of them: men, women and children. Their broken bodies tossed and scattered around like toys. I take a step forward and feel my boot sink into an ichor that was once someone’s head. Bile touches the back of my throat once again.
‘Fuck me,’ Alburn says with a whistle. ‘Shiners did a number on these poor sods.’
I shake my head.
‘This isn’t Shiners,’ I trail my flashlight’s beam across the horrifying tableau. ‘Decomp varies. Some have been dead a lot longer than others.’ I highlight a few where white bone is showing through what’s left of their desiccated flesh and others who are…fresher. ‘No defensive wounds either.’
I notice a single cylindrical wound in the hairline of one the corpses. Its edges show a familiar dark charring. The same wound marks them all.
There’s a click and I feel the cold touch of a muzzle beneath my ear.
‘Sorry kid,’ he says, his voice little more than a whisper. ‘Shit, I did say not to come here.’
‘But…?’ My brain refuses to focus and I can’t get the words out. My mind screams at me: he’s your number two, the one who has your back no matter what. I open my mouth to say this but the best I manage is: ‘What the fu—?’
His finger tightens on the trigger.
I don’t register the shot.