We ran through the maze of narrow passageways, moving as fast as Guy could. I desperately wanted to sprint, but we’d outrun him in seconds.
The numbers on my watch glowed; we only had another three minutes before Guy’s estimated lockdown time.
We turned the corner and I skidded to a stop.
My stomach twisted. The guard we'd secured to the door hung limply from the handle. I felt like I was going to be sick. Teeth marks marred his skin, and something had gnawed right through the bone of his lower leg. His eyes had rolled back in their sockets, and his face was so white it almost blended into the walls.
His neck was such a mess I couldn’t find anywhere to take a pulse. I could hear his heart, though, just.
This was our fault.
There was nothing we could do for him; he was already too far gone. We moved on, rushing toward the only other exit from the building. I couldn’t tear my eyes off the guard until Nicole yanked me around the corner.
There was so little time left.
As we neared our cell, screams echoed around the room. Crunching, slurping and sucking reached my ears. I dropped the bag from my shoulders, my sword still in my hand, and took a deep breath to prepare myself for what I was about to see.
“We don’t have time for this!” Briana buried her fingers in the fabric of my shirt and tried to yank me on. “Keep moving.”
She was right, but I ignored her. I already had one man’s death on my conscience. Nicole and Mouse followed my lead and drew their blades as I strode around the corner.
We came face to face with half a dozen of the creatures, or face to back. They spread around the room, faces buried in fresh wounds, feeding on the men we’d left behind. Disgust rolled through me and shame clawed at my chest.
I very nearly gagged. Were it not for my years of training, I would have. Two guards had been discarded to rot. One was well and truly dead, but still kept their interest. The last two moaned, trying to roll away from the scavengers.
I knew what to expect this time, and how to handle the creatures. I swung my blade through the first’s neck before it saw me coming; they were too interested in filling their stomachs.
With a reversed blade, I beheaded a second on the return swing. Another barreled straight for me and I ducked. Mouse hurdled over me, her blade outstretched.
Nicole didn’t hesitate to take care of a fourth, and Briana severed a fifth’s head with one of her axes. Within moments the creatures lay motionless beside their ‘food.’
“What are we going to do about them?” I swallowed back the bile welling in my throat. Without thinking I stepped closer to Mouse.
I tried not to pay attention at the men scattered around us, or the body parts. I attempted to shut myself off from the gruesome images around me, to think of something else. It didn’t work.
If we hadn’t tied them up, they’d be okay; they could have fought them off. I didn’t like our guards, but I wouldn’t wish this fate upon anyone.
“We leave them.” Briana kicked one of the bodies onto its back, staining the toe of her shoe red. “They treated us like trash—why should we help them?”
“We can’t leave them here. It’s because of us that they’re in this mess!” Her words shouldn’t have shocked me. I should be used to detachment by now.
“Come on,” Guy said. “Cut the bindings and close them in. Someone’ll release them when they’ve got the building under control.”
I cut the plastic cuffs that bound them—even the dead one. I couldn’t tell myself why.
The two who were still lucid rolled to their stomachs, attempting to stand. I forced myself not to look back as I walked to the door. I slammed it closed behind me and pushed the red button to lock it.
We reached the entrance to the garage without running into anyone or anything else. Guy’s key card opened the door and he led us to a battered old station wagon. I didn’t put my sword away and kept my gun close at hand as I listened for the telltale sounds of breathing.
With the packs, it was a tight squeeze, but we all fit in the car. Guy took the driver’s seat and I sat beside him. The others crowded into the back.
Guy twisted the key in the ignition and reversed out of the parking space. He sped between the rows of cars and up the ramp.
We pulled up to the huge roller doors and bright red lights set into the roof flashed. A siren blared in time with the lights, almost deafening our sensitive ears.
“They’ve sealed us in!” Guy’s voice mirrored the panic spread across his face.
“Have they initiated the lockdown procedure?” Mouse asked.
She shoved open her door and ran around to the driver’s side. “Have you got any screwdrivers?”
“In the glove box.” His confusion was obvious. Mouse’s reaction hadn’t reassured him, but it helped me. She knew what she was doing.
I jerked open the compartment and rummaged around for the screwdrivers. They were in a black plastic case, which I passed over to her. She selected one, undid the cover of the machine and jerked it away to peer at its inner workings. Her eyes brightened straight away.
“This is really old.” She plunged her hands into the back of the machine, fiddling with wires and screws. She stripped the casing from a wire with her teeth before wrapping it around another. A few more tweaks, and the light on the front of the device flashed green.
“Done and done.” Mouse sprinted back around the car and slid into her seat.
Guy rolled down his window and leaned out across the barrier to scan his card. We were so close. I could almost taste the freedom on my tongue, but a bitter tang of fear tainted the flavor; we weren’t out of the woods yet.
None of us saw it coming; I heard scrambling high above us but, before I could say anything, a creature dropped out of nowhere. All I knew was that it wasn’t there and then, all of a sudden, it was. It sunk its teeth deep into Guy’s arm and held on tight.
With a yell, Guy wrenched his arm back and forth, trying to drag himself free. It didn’t work—the creature’s teeth dug in deeper. A greedy sucking bubbled from its mouth and the creature’s throat worked as it slurped and chewed on Guy’s arm.
“Pull it in.” I reached across Guy, grasped the window handle and turned it.
Guy dragged the creature’s head inside of the car. It came willingly, happy to keep feeding. I wound the handle as fast as I could. The window slid up until the creature was lifted off its feet, dangling from the window, gnawing contently.
I paused momentarily, disgusted by what I was about to do. I tightened my hold and wrenched it around the last few times. The glass slid higher, putting pressure on its throat.
The creature noticed. Its eyes bulged. The pane of glass crushed its neck, it struggled. It released Guy’s arm but was unable to free itself. The glass continued with small squelching noises, and when it could squash no further, the bones in its neck separated with a sickening crunch.
I reopened the window and the now-limp creature fell to the concrete outside.
Guy nursed his arm—a mess of exposed bones and mangled flesh. His wrist hung limp, unable to move. With extreme caution, he reached across himself to scan the key card. The door trundled skyward.
“Steer,” he said through gritted teeth.
I grabbed the steering wheel. When there was sufficient clearance for the car to scrape under, he put it into gear with his good hand and pushed his foot to the floor.
We sped up the ramp and exploded into the bright light of the morning sun. The sterile building was surrounded by grass, a barbed wire fence stretched high above us.
Gunshots, shouts and screams came from the main entrance of the building. We followed the fence in the direction of the noise. Guy increased our speed and we turned the last corner, bringing us into the sight of the guards.
No wonder they’d sent so few to our cell. There was no time to waste chasing us. They were well and truly occupied with the swarm of creatures flowing from the mouth of the building. We didn’t even have to crash through the gates; they were already wide open, the scientists and lab techs ran for their lives.
I kept an eye out for the young lab tech who’d helped me. The last thing I saw before we sped away was a small cottage with bright blue shutters, obviously out of place next to the barbed wire.