It was only the static crackle of the radio braking through the silence of the cab that broke me from my chain of thought. Shayne’s face was buried deep in today’s paper, while my mind was elsewhere. I don’t know why, but I had thought about him so much more lately, I had thought about the last look on his face before he died and less about what he'd done, or what he took from me; maybe it was just the sleepless nights and double shifts? “This is dispatch”. Hazel said, her soft voice rising above the crackle. “I need an available unit to attend a possible fatality at Priory park, repeat, Priory park, over.”
“Shit, I didn't hear that if you didn't” Shayne said trying to make a joke of it.
“Me neither, but it’s just round the corner. There’s no way we can pass this one off” I replied. But deep down that was the last place I wanted to be.
Shayne had been on the job for almost as long as I had. Like me, he had watched the town corrode around us; watched the cancer take hold of everything, turning picturesque places like Priory park from a moonlit stroll, to the breeding ground of human depravity it had become. I figured the thought of wading through a river of broken bottles and discarded needles had Shayne looking for the door; I had my own reasons. But Shayne was right, we were too close.
“Dispatch this is Rick, we got that call, ETA five minutes” I replied, and then hung up the receiver.
As we drove through the quite dark early morning streets with the blue lights jumping the red, I couldn’t help but cast my mind back to that night when everything changed. It was a night like this one, except a thick mist had overwhelmed everything. You could barely see the trees in front of you. The night was so silent, not even the wind breathed. I found him curled up beneath the tree. I recognised his face straight away. I remember how helpless he looked, the dirty syringe still buried in his arm. I still remember how the anger coursed through every vain in my body, like the heroine coursed through his. It had been almost two years now since they were taken. I told everyone I was fine to come back to work; of course I lied. I couldn't tell them that every night they called to me in my sleep, and that the booze was the only thing that helped drown it out. I doubt anyone would have understood.
Suddenly the breaks screeched to a halt, sending me flying forward in my seat, my head stopping just inches from the dashboard.
“Fuck me Shayne” I cursed, startled, realising that I had drifted off again. “You nearly broke my neck” I said rubbing my shoulder where the seat belt had cut into it.
“Sorry fella, but I’m not cleaning him off the bonnet” Shayne said pointing through the wind screen.
I looked up at the dark silhouette still lumbering across the road, oblivious to the blue lights and the fact he was nearly wearing the Ambulance. Still shocked, I felt like rolling down the window and letting rip at this prick that had nearly given me whiplash, but I remembered where I was.
” Open your eyes mate, you don’t want to end up in the back of this thing” I said trying to half crack a smile as the figure continued across the street.
I could see as the Ambulances blue flashing lights passed over him that he was probably under the influence. He constantly swayed back and forth, looking unsteady on his feet.
“Look fella, do you need some help” I asked stretching my head out of the window, but all I got was a drunken mumble.
“Mate! Wakey wakey” Shayne barked impatiently, now arcing his head out of the driver’s side, but he just carried on, slowly dragging one foot behind him. He then disappeared up a side road. I guessed by the faint smell of filth that drifted toward me he was just another tramp. The hint of stale booze kind of gave it away. A rush of guilt came over me as I tasted the vodka in my own mouth. I tried hard to swallow the remorse before it overwhelmed me. As Shayne crunched the van into gear and slowly pulled away, I felt relief as the feeling slowly began to subside.
Shayne had talked most of the way there about how his Darts team had reached the semis. He told me at least four times about his three dart finish that got them there. I didn't mind though, at least it kept me from thinking. Our talks had gotten me through more night's than I could remember, especially at the beginning. He never spoke of his own children anymore, which figured given the circumstances, although I could tell sometimes he wanted to; I could tell how proud he was to be a dad by the photo’s that took pride of place in his wallet and dotted his locker. I found it too hard to look at my own. I felt too much shame.
We were only a few streets away when I caught the smell. My window was still slightly wound down from when we’d stopped.
“Was that you mate” I said, cutting Shayne off mid sentence. He sniffed the air and then took one hand off the wheel to cover his mouth and nose.
“Hell no!” Shayne said disgusted, his hand slightly muffling his voice.
I quickly rolled the window up fully and did my best to breathe through my mouth. Shayne still had one hand on the wheel as we started to brake just short of the park. Years of neglect had made it’s paths and narrow roads almost impossible to pass over. We would have to go the rest of the way on foot. I could already see the faint glow of the police cars lights skirting the distant tree tops as we came to a stop. I was glad they had arrived before us as we couldn’t have risked going in alone in an area like this. When I opened the door, the smell hit me like a brick wall. I had smelt it dozens of times over the years, but you never get used to it. The warm humid night air only seemed to magnify the stench.
“Jesus” Shayne said coughing, trying to clear the taste of the smell form his throat. “I thought Hazel said it was a possible fatality, smells like they have been dead for weeks!. I mean, that's bad. You'd think they were stuck to the bottom of the van”
“ You've got a point, this smells worst than that DOA in that old boys flat last month” I replied as I fumbled for my first response bag in the back of the van, remembering the old guy who had died alone in his flat. He had been then for weeks before the smell drove several concerned neighbors to make the call. The guy had probably lived there for years, but no friends or family came to identify the body. I felt a knot grip my stomach, wondering if that's how I'd end up. Maybe it’s what I deserved. I was reaching for my hip flask when my arm must have knocked it. Luckily the trolley broke it’s fall. My body froze as I stared down to retrieve it. I felt the Defibrillators weight as its strap was held firmly in my hand and flashed back to that night. I remembered being in the back of the van with him. His heart had gone into ventricular tachycardia, but I'd bought him back with it. I remembered his eyes as he tried to focus on my face. I wondered if he recognised me. It would have been the last thing he saw.
“Ricky!” Shayne shouted. “Chop chop mate!” He was already walking away from the van, the spine board in hand and his first response bag draped over the opposite shoulder.
“Sorry mate” I said startled, almost choking on the mouthful of Vodka I had gulped down.
“You ok tonight, you seem a little spaced mate”
“Year I'm fine honestly, just a bit tired that's all” I replied, trying to wipe the excess from around my mouth. I felt bad for lying, but I could hardly tell him the truth. Whatever had happened to me wouldn't excuse what I had done.
“I hear you there my man. The quicker we get this done the quicker I can get my head down. It’s a big day for my boy tomorrow, his first sports day…shit!” Shayne paused “Man, I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking”
“It’s fine mate, honestly, let’s just get this done” I replied, trying to let him know that it wasn’t his fault before gathering up the rest of my gear.
As we passed through the park’s entrance the smell worsened. The warm night made it hang thick in the air, and a light breeze had picked up carrying it head on to us. The weight of the bag that draped over my shoulder was nothing compared to the guilt that weighed on my mind. With every step I saw the image of his face become clearer in my head, picturing him slumped at the bottom of every tree we past, the smell of death getting stronger the closer we got. Further in the parks lighting became sporadic, a combination of neglect and vandalism. Our flash lights barely cut through the thick trees and bushes. Shayne's torch darted back and forward as his nerves began to get the better of him. I couldn't blame him though, the place was too quiet. There was normally always some drunk talking to himself or a fire burning. You might have been able to smell the smoke had it not been for the scent of a thousand decaying corpses carried on the breeze.
Neither of us spoke as we made our way in further, then up a small incline and onto the parks deteriorating path. It's loose and uneven bricks meant I had to concentrate to keep my footing. At the top, the path before us began to slope down and partly disappear beneath the weeds and moss that had slowly begun to reclaim the ground, and as we reached the bottom the police car came into sight. It's blue and red lights whirled silently as they reflected off what was once a beautiful pond, and as I stared, I began to feel the emptiness in my heart. I remembered how the sun used to reflect off it’s clear water, and how the ducks swam and dived beneath the surface. I would hold Noah tight while he and Nicki would throw bread to them. I would sometimes just sit by the water’s edge and watch her perfect smile and listen to his laughter as they gulped it down. But now- all that floated in it was debris. It's shallow murky water now lapped over abandoned shopping trolleys and other discarded junk. I had begun to feel the pain seeping into my heart again, and I could feel my hands start to shake, but I somehow kept myself from breaking down.
“Where's the police then” Shayne whispered, his words cutting through the stillness of the night. “Well, where they?” he repeated, his voice just above a whisper this time.
“They have to be around her somewhere” I replied, “why don’t you call out?”
“What, and have every junkie in ear shot hear us. No chance, I vote we wait here”
I was just about to call out myself when I heard a noise. I wasn't sure at first, but it sounded like the breaking of branches. It was too hard to tell which direction it was coming from, it sounded like it was all around us.
“Hello!” Shayne called out, more out of being startled. “You called for a Medic?”
No one called back, but the noise began to pick up speed. It was getting closer, and I could hear the sound of brittle branches being snapped, followed heavy footsteps. Shayne stared at me blankly. Whoever was crashing through the trees was getting closer. I hadn't realised it, but I had frozen to the spot. I was staring straight ahead when the figure broke through onto the path in front of us
.”Shit!” I heard Shayne say, startled next to me, but I was too scared to move. All I saw was his ghost gliding towards me, the poor light and shadows were playing tricks on me; it was only as Shayne shone his torch that I could see it was the police officer. But something was wrong.
“Thank god” the policeman said anxiously. I could see he was clutching his arm, and as he stepped closer, wet stains glistened off the torch light that hit his body.
“Man, are you ok?” Shayne said moving towards him placing the spine board on the floor; his torch light danced off the injured man’s body as he moved over the uneven ground. I felt my muscles melt as I snapped myself back, I hadn't realized how tense I had been stood. I got too him just in time catch his fall.
“What happened to you?” I said as I strained under the man’s weight.
“We need to go” the officer said. His voice sounded weak and breathless.
Shayne had to adjust his grip around the man’s back. He was shorter than both of us, but his five foot something frame was solid muscle.
“Just, just hurry! “ he strained, letting out a groan of agony. I felt his weight shift as he became unsteady on his feet. I did all I could to hold on to him, but I lost my grip and my hand slid on his blood soaked arm. I stumbled forward with his weight. My right knee took the full force of the fall and struck hard against the jagged broken bricks. I tried to get up straight away, but the officer’s body had fallen lifeless on me.
“You’d better get on the set mate, call it in” I told Shayne, my knee promising me of the pain to come as I maneuvered my way from under his dead weight.
. “Tell them we need back up, tell them this officers badly hurt”
I began checking him straight over. He was breathing, but it was shallow; It cooled as it hit the sweat on my check. His pulse raced and I could feel through his carotid artery as his body struggled to pump the blood round, or lack of it. I could see by the amount that had saturated his shirt that the cut was bad. Even before I shined the torch onto his arm I could see the wound glistening as fresh blood continued to flow. Shayne was franticly calling for back up as I tore open a pressure bandage and pressed it firmly on his arm. The adrenalin began to course through my veins, and the sweat began to bead on my brow. I could her Hazel's voice talking back to Shayne as the injured mans breathing started to quicken, and then I heard the trees around me come to life. I looked up to see two more people appear from the bushes and on to the pathways in front of me before the smell washed over me. My gloved hand instinctively went to my nose, trying to filter the stench that invaded it. In the dim light I could just about make them out. The smaller of the two, who seemed to sway drunkenly, was female; the tired looking light behind her cast a silhouette around her long unkempt hair, and what looked like a tattered old mini skirt. The other figure stood almost a foot taller, thin wisps of hair grew sporadically from his head. He was also swaying unsteadily on his feet.
I carried on watching as they stumbled closer, and then looked down at the injured officer’s arm that was still bleeding. I could feel the blood cool against the night air as it trickled over my hand. Suddenly there was a dull heavy thud as the man lost his footing; his face met the broken bricked path fall force. Shayne ran over but immediately started to gag as he crouched beside him. The smell was bad enough from where I was, I couldn’t begin to imagine what it was like from that close up. Before Shayne had even started to turn him over, he had begun to clumsily try and right himself. His arms and legs began to thrash about, but it was like he was too drunk to remember how to stand or even register that he had probably lost what teeth he had left. Shayne tried to help him up when the women tripped over the fallen mans legs and landed awkwardly on both of them, then rolled a few feet down the small embankment towards me. She didn’t move at first, her body lay on its front motionless. I heard Shayne groan slightly as he started to rub the side of his head. “You alright pal” I said
“Yeah I’m good; she just caught me on the temple. Is she ok?"
I looked down and she was moving. Her hands were starting to claw at the soft mud, trying to pull herself forward. I noticed her face stared straight at me. It was close enough for me to see her mouth was gapped open. Thin strands of saliva trickled down her chin, her eyes were white and lifeless, almost as if they had rolled back towards her head, but she was crawling straight towards me. I’d nearly forgotten what was going on around me as I was so transfixed by her eyes when the body beneath me began to shudder; softly at first, then a violent spasm took hold. I looked down to see the policeman’s eyes wide with fear staring straight into mine. He started to convulse, forcing what looked like a mixture of blood and vomit out of his mouth, I tried to get him on his side to stop him from aspirating on it, but his hand locked onto my shoulder pining me on my knees. I tried to work myself free when the fallen women’s hand latched onto the officer’s face. She slowly began to pull herself forward when I heard an agonizing scream cut through the air.
“He’s got my fucking arm!” Shayne shouted, the pain echoing in his voice
I tried to yank myself free again to get to him when I heard the wet crunch next to me. They looked like two lovers caught in an embrace. It was only as she jolted her head back that I saw the gaping hole in his face. Small threads of skin and sinew were still attached as she began devouring the mouth full. He still continued to convulse, almost oblivious to the trauma to his face. Finally I broke free from the officer’s grip, the fear and panic giving me a new found strength. I managed to pull her off by taking both her legs in my hands and dragging her on her belly through the mud. I then turned toward Shayne. It all happened so fast, but he must have lost his footing. The guy was right on top of him. Shayne’s arms and legs flailed wildly as the man’s teeth tore free a mouthful of flesh from his throat. I saw Shayne’s wide eyes and herd his voice gurgle as he tried to let out a scream. Quicker than I thought, I ran fall ahead, awkwardly colliding with the attacker, but doing enough to clear him free of Shayne. I ignored the rotted smell and the pain throbbing in my knee and scrambled to my feet..
“Shayne!” I shouted as I fell beside him, but he didn’t answer. I could see the blood slowly pumping from his neck.
“Come on buddy” I said desperately clasping my hand round the wound and trying to get him to respond. But he wouldn’t. For a few seconds it all went silent around me. I just stared into Shayne’s eyes and watched as he slipped away, and felt his pulse as it stopped. It was only the hand that grabbed my foot that snapped me back. Shayne’s attacker began to claw his way forward, his bony jagged fingers gouging their way into my lower leg. I couldn’t believe what was happening, the events of the last few minutes had left me numb and unable to react. I just stared helpless looking into his vacant milky eyes. I could smell the faint metallic scent of blood that dripped of his lips, already staining the tattered weather beaten t-shirt he was wearing. His hands had begun to work their way up my thigh when I felt his teeth bite down. My right quad burned like fire as his teeth were unable bite through the thickness of my overalls. The pain caused me to instinctively recoil my leg back and bring the other crashing into his face. I heard bone crunch; I wasn’t sure if it was his or my already injured knee.
I crawled backwards a few feet over Shayne’s lifeless body until it was between me and the attacker, who by now had slowly begun to drag himself up again. His eyes were still fixed straight on me . His mouth opened letting out a low rasping moan, a thin trickle of blood and saliva dripped onto the ground beneath him. This was followed by another, but this came from my left. I turned to see her stumbling forward, her unsteady legs bowing, her right arm out stretched. She ignored the wounded officer who now lay motionless beside her and continued towards me. I didn’t have long before they would be on top of me. My mind was screaming for me to run, but again my body refused to move. I just closed my eyes, but I was too scared to pray. She must have tripped again, the loud thud that sounded next to me forced my eyes open. She was just inches away, her out stretched hand grasping at the air toward me. Something in me began to push the fear aside, and I was able to back up and climb to my feet. A shrill of agony escaped my mouth as I put my weight down on my knee. I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to get away. I slowly began to back up, but they followed. Every painful step I took was doubled by every unsteady one of theirs, so I headed towards the trees in hope that I could lose them.
The wet dew covered leaves began to slap against me as I retreated deeper into the thick. I could hear them still gaining, their clumsy bodies colliding with the branches. I soon became swallowed in the darkness and shadows of the tress, and realised in my panic that I had dropped my torch and by now I had lost my bearings, and it was too dark for me to see which way I was heading. I carried on blindly, the branches tearing at my exposed skin, and what felt like bullets impacting on my injured knee as I navigated my way through the pitch-black and over the uneven ground. I stopped to listen. I could still hear them crashing blindly through the trees, but I’d managed to put a little distance between us. I nestled myself in between the bushes beside me, hoping to catch my breath and wait for the throbbing in my knee to subside. Suddenly I heard feet running, It was in the distance, and I as I tried to listen, all I could hear was the blood pumping in my ears and the sound of my own heavy breathing. I was trying my best to calm myself down, when someone broke through the bushes in front of me. I felt their heavy footsteps off the ground as they charged past. I sunk deeper into the bush pulling my legs in closer into my body, hoping who had ever just run past wouldn’t discover me. I held my hand over my mouth to try and silence my breath. Before long, I heard twigs and fallen branches being broken underfoot and caught a mouthful of their stench as the two of them shambled past me.
My eye sight had slowly started to adjust to dark because I could make out their silhouette’s as they disappeared off to my right. I began to panic even more as I wondered if they would be able to see me as well. Even though I was pretty well hidden, I could make out a faint glow of orange in the sky as dawn was beginning to break. I knew then that I couldn’t stay hidden for long and decided to make a run for it and head back the way I came. My injured knee felt twice it’s normal size as I limped off, doing my best to put as little weight on it as possible. I hadn’t made it more than a few yards when I heard someone running up behind me. I whipped my head round but I couldn’t see where they were coming from. I began to try and pump my legs faster, but the pain was too much and they refused to move quicker. I turned just in time to see the figure running straight for me. I put my hands up instinctively to take the impact, when the person tripped and slid across the floor stopping only inches from me. Before I could think what to do, they had already started to get up. I turned as quick as my body would let and moved as fast as I could. The fear racing through me pushed me on harder and faster, dragging my bad leg behind me and ignoring the pain. I broke through the tree line to where Shayne’s lifeless body lay, but as I limped closer I could see that it was twitching. I couldn’t understand, I’d felt his pulse no less than five minutes ago and I was certain it had stopped.
I was about to reach him when someone collided with me from behind, knocking every ounce of breath from my body. We both feel to a heap on the ground. A flash of colours shot before my eyes as the back of my head struck the soft wet mud. It only lasted for a second, but before I had a chance to push him off, the body of the police officer was on me. His jaw snapping shut just missing my face. I somehow managed to place my elbow underneath his chin and keep him from latching onto me. I stared into his lifeless eyes in shock, while thin strands of saliva leaked from his open mouth and onto my face. His grip never let up, and by now my arms were starting to fatigue and I was struggling to get air into my already burning lungs. I punched at his face furiously with my opposite hand, but he never even flinched. By now I could feel his weight becoming too much as his face moved closer to mine, his mouth opening and closing in a frenzy, hands trying desperately to pull me even nearer. I turned my head, trying to put a few inches between us when I saw it lying there. It’s beam bathed the patchy grass in bright light. I reached out and felt the cold metal cylinder on my fingertips, and with one final stretch it was clasped firmly in my hand. Before he was able to bite again I swung the heavy torch down. I heard and felt a dull, wet thump as it struck his temple, and then another as I immediately hit him again. The impact of the second blow caused his skull to give way, leaving an indentation in his right temple. His body crumpled. For those few seconds the world almost stood still, the only sound came from my heart almost pounding out of my chest.
The wind lightly rustled through the leaves and tree tops, and the sun began push towards the early morning sky as I rolled the dead officers body off me. The light breeze sent a shiver down my back as it hit the sweat on my neck as I slowly sat myself up. Suddenly I caught the two of them out of the corner of my eye as they stumbled out of the tree line straight towards me. As the wind blew against me I caught the smell of decay. I forced myself up, my arms shaking unsteadily as they took my weight. Again I moved as best I could, my knee had numbed up, but still it dragged behind me as I headed out of the park. I glanced back to see them still following. There awkward gait making them appear drunk as they maneuvered over the uneven path. My head swam as I covered the last few yards to the Ambulance, It’s blue light’s whirling silently as the first rays of Sun began hit the dilapidated houses across the street. I could feel the bile beginning to rise in my Stomach as the blood drained from my head. I stumbled forward and collided with the bonnet. I knew I had to get up, but I began to empty what little had in my guts. The smell of partially digested food and alcohol only forced me to wretch even more. When I finished, I wiped the vomit from the sides of my mouth, and the tears from my watering eyes. When I focused I could see them still lumbering forward, only now there was someone else, running. I could see it was Shayne straight away. His tall slim figure, now blood soaked, came charging towards me, knocking aside the two in his path. One fell to the ground while the other managed to keep his awkward balance and carry on towards me. The bile was still burning the back of my throat as I tried to call to him. I got no reply. I knew deep down that he was gone, and whatever had happened to these other people had happened to him. Using the side’s of the van for support I staggered to the driver’s door.
“Fuck!” I cursed out loud as I pulled on the handle, but it wouldn’t budge.
I fumbled for the keys in my pocket, and heard Shayne’s heavy steps getting closer. My hands were shaking as I tried to get the key in the door. I flung the door open just in time, sending it crashing into his face, but dropping my keys in the process. Before I could retrieve them, Shayne was almost on his feet again. I pulled myself into the driver’s seat with my bad leg trailing behind, and ignoring the pain I forced myself in and slammed the door shut and slapped the lock across. Inside, blackness began to creep over my eyes and the sound of my heavy breathing started to sound distant, it was only Shayne’s face slamming into the window next to me that snapped me back. A greasy smear of blood and spittle was being spread all over it as he started biting on the glass. All I could do was stair into the vacant lifeless eyes of what had once been my friend. He was soon joined by the other two, who in turn began to claw and chew at the glass, leaving equally disgusting stains across the window. Suddenly there was a thud on my other side; I turned to see two more trying to get in. Soon the sound in the front had become deafening as they relentlessly pounded on the glass. I began to ease myself into the back of the van, all the while fighting of the waves of unconsciousness that washed over my tired and battered body. Soon the sounds around me started to become distant, and before I closed my eyes I watched the sunlight spill through the windows and thought about that night.
Almost nine months to the day, I watched as I bought the person responsible for the death of my wife and child back to life. His eyes began to flicker and focus on my face, and my hand’s shook as the De-fib charged again. I remembered so clearly the smile on his face as he walked from the court, his friends and family throwing their arms around him in celebration. All I could see was my wife’s crumpled car and my four year old son’s blood stains on the seat. I just wanted him feel what I felt that day; dead. When the sound beeped to let me know it was charged, I placed the pad’s to his bare chest, and watched the confusion in his eyes as I pressed down, 360 Joules stopping his heart dead. In my line of work it happens, you can’t save everyone, no one said a word, just another junkie. It was supposed to take away my pain; take away the nightmares, but it just made them worse. Everyday I thought about taking my own life, but I had betrayed their memories enough.
When I woke it was day. The curtains moved as the warm summer air blew around the room. I could smell and feel my wife’s perfect brown hair next to my skin. Noah moved closer into my shoulder and I held him tight, his soft breath hitting my check as he slept. I whispered softly to them and told them that I loved them both, and begged for their forgiveness; then for the first time since there death, I prayed. I asked God to not let me wake and to let me lay with them for a while longer…but he never answered.
I was woken by breaking glass as the windscreen gave way…