“There’s still too many of them,” Claire groaned.
“I think we can make it.” Ben was sure of it. It was true, there were at least 5 in the immediate area he could see, but they were facing the wrong way to see them, and they were just far enough out that they should be able to make it across and out of sight. Then they’d have to find a way up. One problem at a time, he figured.
Claire stared indecisively at the scene, which actually helped; several of the dead shuffled along their aimless way and put more distance between themselves and the living onlookers.
“Okay,” she said at last. And with that they started down, slowly and as quietly as possible.
Ben led the way, and surprised himself with how quickly he reached the ground. Once there he stood still and silent, waiting for Claire. She was making good progress herself, though she still held the bag with what supplies they had left. She was moving a bit cautiously so as to keep it from rustling and giving them away, but it was awkward for her. As Ben watched, she had to catch it with one hand while bracing herself on window ledges to keep it from swinging too far with her movements.
She was about halfway down, between the first and second storeys when it DID swing out too far and suddenly slipped off her belt. She couldn’t stop a soft gasp, and Ben gasped himself. Frantically, he reached out for the bag as it fell towards him. He managed to snag one of the plastic handle holes and stop it, but his heart skipped a beat as it rustled and clunked with the sudden stop.
Frantically they both looked around at the nearby dead, barely daring to breathe. No reaction from most … but one, the nearest one, paused where it was shuffling away. They watched with mounting dread as it stood still, giving no sign what it was about. Ben felt like his heart was about to pound through his ribcage, it was beating so hard.
The sigh they let out when it started walking off again was long and heartfelt. Claire barely breathed the whole rest of the way down to the ground; Ben helped her down as she got near, and with another quick look at the zombies to make sure none had turned their way, they crept across the street and into the cover of a thankfully-empty alley they guessed would lead them to the back and a route up to the roofs.
They kept their pace slow and careful. As they got close to the rear area, Claire nodded for him to keep to the other side of the alley; they’d overlap their fields of view as they approached, the better to ensure they weren’t walking into a crowd of the dead.
They slowed further, keeping their backs to the walls; Ben saw what looked like it could’ve been an old parking area. There were a few rusted hulks that may have been cars at one time. Beyond the lot there was a smaller building, probably a house, partially collapsed. He saw no movement, nothing that looked like a person, a zombie, even a corpse. Claire’s face was intent, showing no sign she’d seen anything distressing either.
They paused at the end of the alley; everything seemed clear, so they eased out into the back lot and double-checked. Nothing moving. And as he’d hoped, there was a fire escape. The sight cheered him, though he found himself wishing fervently that this one was quieter than the last.
Claire blanched a bit at the sight of it, and he nodded. “We’ll take it REALLY slow on that thing, see if we can avoid the noise this time,” he whispered. Relucantly, she nodded. She started toward the fire escape. He was about to follow after when sudden movement caught his eye.
Turning back to the alley, he watched with horror as one of the dead—he thought it was the one that had stopped—turned into the alley from the street beyond, slack-jawed and with a face that was half rotted away. It fixated on him, advancing in slow, methodical silence.
He broke into as much of a run as he could. “It followed us!” he whispered.
Wincing at the noise, they rushed up the fire escape. “This is going to be bad,” Claire groaned. It rattled and clanked as they climbed the short ladder at the bottom and then rushed up the stairs that traversed the bulk of the height. The building was 3 storeys tall.
Halfway up, Ben paused and looked down. The thing had reached the bottom of the fire escape and was pawing ineffectually at the rungs above its head. He was turning his attention back to the climb when something clamped around his injured ankle, stopping him in his tracks.