RUNNING

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Run to survive or join the dead. Pt 1

 

ONE

The man is running.

His breath burns like fire in lungs that were hardly in the best of condition anyway. Cigarettes had seen to that and now he regretted the years and the money he had spent on the fuckin' things. Not that it really mattered now. Now he was running for his life. Behind him lay the horrors of the past 48 hours. All he had done in that time was kill and run with only moments to take a breath and rest in between. How had it begun? How the hell did the world screw itself over so badly that no one he had loved or even known was alive? They were all dead. Dead like the fuckin' things that appeared in the horizon less than half a mile from him.

It began sometime on Thursday about lunchtime when Mark Hood sat in the cafe' at the bottom level of the hotel where he worked as the concierge. It was a posh hotel with upper class clients that were mostly there for business in the city or layovers to fly overseas. He had worked there for nearly five year. Married one of the clerks that worked in bookings three years ago and had a baby only six weeks before. The picture of his pretty brunette wife and their new ruddy faced son were on his computer desktop, his mobile phone and in his wallet. They made his life worthwhile. But despite his happy life, Mark was no model husband. His addiction to gambling saw him loose large amounts of money and then the drugs had crept into his life. He used them to help with the despair he felt when the losses were large.  Marks life had become a series of ups and downs but recently the downs were a little less.  A manager of the hotel knew of his troubles and took him to AA and slowly the road to recovery was beginning. That beginning was short lived.

The sun was warm and he wore sunglasses whilst eating a salad wrap in the cafe. The crowd was small and the passing pedestrians were on their way back to their jobs. Lunch time for Mark was probably an hour after most and they were all heading back to offices, shops, businesses. Nothing seemed abnormal, he could hear the tv inside droning about a riot somewhere in the city, apparently the government were trying to stop wage increases for the next two years and no one was happy about that. He took little notice, Mark had other things to worry about. The siren approaching didn't even raise his eyes from his emptying plate in-front of him. The can of Pepsi-Max had rivulet's of moisture running down the tins red and blue surface. Then there was a scream. Time seemed to freeze. He lifted his gaze and saw half way down George Street a crowd of nearly a hundred people were gushing forward like lava from a volcano. Slowly he stood up along with the other people in the cafe. the mater-de, Frankie as Mark knew him, was close to his table and swivelled his bold head toward the movement and the rush of noise that had started with that scream. A knot began to form in Marks stomach and he clenched his hands on the tables edge. The noise was a deep hum, almost primal and it made fear fill everyone at the cafe, slowly at first the people began to leave then it was a rush. The crowd down the street gathered numbers and momentum. 

Mark had rushed to the hotel but the security shutters had been activated for the first time since installation just after the Lindt terrorist attack two years previously. Nothing he could do would open those metallic doors until someone inside decided to end the alarm that triggered them. Mark then tried to phone the front desk but the services were suspended. He swore and shoved the mobile back in his jacket pocket. The guttural sound of the crowd was getting louder now and he took a quick glance to his right, toward the noise. The number of the crowd had tripled; Mark took of his sunglasses and stared in horror. He knew he had to get moving or they would be upon him within minutes. People were running around him everywhere faceless smudges in his minds terror, all but one. Frankie still in his uniform and with an apron around his waste grabbed Marks arm. 

"What are you doing? RUN god dam it!" So he did.

For the first hour they ran together at full speed. Gradually the sound became dimmer and then it was a constant hum. The humanity that had ran with them were thinning out and what lay before them scared Mark and Frankie nearly as much as the sound from behind. Deserted city streets, cars abandoned and emergency services rushing about with what seemed like dogs chasing their own tails. Frankie was panting and they slowed down without a word said. Mark took off his jacket and took out his phone and keys before throwing it into a bin they passed, as did his companion throw the apron and vest he wore. Both men were wet with perspiration and thirst was a burning sensation in their throats.

"Look!" Frankie pointed out a small grocery store with its doors open. Inside some people were helping themselves to goods. The atmosphere was dangerous but as the owner seemed to be absent they decided to get some water bottles. Frankie,though not a big man, was strong. He muscled several younger men out of his way and grabbed four cold bottles of water. Mark took two tins of beans and went to the counter emptying out his pocket of its contents, a little over five dollars in change. One of the coins fell on the ground behind and he went around to get it. The scene made his salad wrap rise in his throat. The shop owner, an Indian wearing a traditional white crochet cap lay on the ground covered in blood. A deep slash across his neck still oozed dark fluids. Newspapers were scattered around him with bold headlines of rioting cities drenched with dark red stains.. Mark turned his head and emptied his stomach over the dead man' moccasin feet and onto his own leather shoes. He closed his eyes and heaved with the image burned into his mind. Frankie yanked him away and Mark followed like a lost sheep wiping the acid fluid from his lips and swallowing hard against the urge to purge his stomach contents again. 

Out on the street again they began to jog onward. Mark didn't look back any-more, it was enough to sense the urgency from Frankie. Finally after twenty minutes they moved into the shadows of a lane. They were close to Kings Cross Station and the streets seemed worse here. No firemen or cops drove pass, they hadn't for quite a while. Frankie took a huge drink from one of the bottles after he passed one to Mark. Mark drank deeply and tipped a little over his head. 

"Don't waste it man, we don't know if we will find any more for a while."  They sat on the lane gutter where it joined up with the street. "Do you live close?" He asked staring at Mark. Mark shook his head.

"No, my place is in Kingsford." It was then he thought of his wife and baby. His eyes grew wide with renewed fear. "oh god!"

"I know." Frankie whispered. "My family are in Marrickville. So lets get to  yours then make our way to mine, might be able to get a car by then too." As he spoke he had his mobile at his ear. Mark did the same but there was still no phone coverage. "I got such a bad feeling.." his voice trailed off as two men ran toward them. Mark quickly stood up but Frankie, who was also standing, grabbed his arm and drew him into the shadows of the lane. They watched the two men and it was as they passed that Mark saw them carrying rifles. Fear began to find a new definition. "What ever is going on has people acting outside the law. We need to be careful."  Mark nodded and looked up at the darkening sky. The sun was sitting low now and a red hue was permeating across the steel and cement landscape of a dying city. He felt the dread grow like the shadows of those looming structures around him. It was like Sydney was already decaying under the dying light.

 

 

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