As soon as he grabbed the first rail of the fire escape’s ladder, he expected a spontaneous swarm of the dead to appear. The instant he put weight on it the whole thing creaked and groaned with an ear-piercing loudness.
Having no other choice, they double-timed it upwards, every step they climbed bringing more noise and causing the structure to rattle and vibrate until Ben was convinced it would soon tear itself off the wall entirely.
The awful metal stairs ended at the top floor, but a short ladder section brought them the rest of the way to the roof. They forced themselves through a quick perimeter check to make sure they were alone, then collapsed near the ladder.
“That was much easier than the last ascent, at least,” Ben commented.
Claire nodded. “Loud though. How long do you think we’ll be stuck up here?”
Ben was about to reply when sleep came crashing down on him.
The sky was bright and the sun high enough that it must’ve been about 10am by the time he woke up again. The first thing he was aware of was the dull, gaping ache in his belly; he hadn’t had a chance to eat yet. The next was the dull, roaring background sound of the dead.
His eyes snapped open and he looked around, expecting to find them surrounded, but it was just the two of them.
“We’re okay, for now,” Claire said. She looked much better after some sleep, and she’d eaten as well. She tossed him a half-eaten can of something that smelled incredibly good with hunger as a sauce. “Lucky for us, a few of these cans are pull-tops. We’ll have to get a can opener somewhere for the rest.”
“How many dead are there?” Ben asked as he started scooping stew out of the can with his fingers. It wasn’t elegant, but they weren’t in an elegant world, he thought.
As the food started hitting his stomach, he felt immeasurably better and he almost relaxed. “Looks like there was a bit of a crowd overnight, but we’ve been quiet long enough that they’ve been drifting away. There’s still too many out in the open for my taste. If you ask me, we’ll be here a while longer.”
He finished off the stew and turned his attention to his ankle. It was still horribly sore, and the color was ugly, but the swelling had gone down overnight. He pulled himself to a fully-upright sitting position and groaned. Sleeping out in the open, in the cold, and on a gravel roof made for very sore muscles.
“I’d tell you to walk off the stiffness, but …” She glanced at his ankle in concern.
“Might as well try. Gotta see if I can put weight on it anyway.” He stood awkwardly and hobbled a few steps. He grinned, though it was more of a grimace. “You ever see that old zombie flick where they acted their way through a street full of zombies? Maybe this walk’ll fool ‘em.” He lurched and limped to the far side of the roof and back.
“How is it?” she asked.
“Hurts, but not as bad now. I can make it.” He’d seen the water when he got to the far side. They were only a couple blocks away. “I’m not letting this ankle stop me when we’re this close. I’ve gotten this far on it. I can rest it when we’re on the water.”