Giorgino Pisani didn’t care that if he tripped at this breakneck speed, he would break his neck, as the name implied.
With zombies hot on his heels, a little fractured skeleton didn’t scare him. As long as it KO’d him, Giorgino didn’t care. Did a cracked spine kill you straight away? Would a shattered skull send lethal pieces into your brain? Could you still feel things afterwards? The worst would be a popped ankle or a snapped shin, fragmented into splinters. Immobilised but still prone to the agony as they ate him alive. But a swift death would be an easy choice right about now.
More to that point, how could they run? Giorgino never knew zombies could run. It felt like an abuse of the natural laws — or the unnatural laws of reanimation. He’d only ever seen the old school flesh-eating flicks from the eighties and nineties. Back in the day, zombies shuffled along at a snail’s pace and groaned their intent in a discordant chorus. So what had happened to these monsters that could run, leap, climb and scream?
The frantic female voice once more exploded over the tannoy. “One minute! I repeat, one minute ’til we blow this hellhole!” In the background, screams and cries punctuated the airwaves. “So if there’s anyone—” static crackled “—anyone out there, anyone alive, come now! Gate B6! Gate B6!” A horrid thunk ended the sentence before the final transmission: “One minute!”
Outside the blown-out floor-to-ceiling windows of the departure lounge, the inferno roared. The remains of flights ZB265 and ZB733 burned in a mess of twisted metal and melted plastic. The former had bisected the latter halfway onto the runway. Giorgino hadn’t seen the collision, but he sure had heard it.
Fragments of the panes of glass crunched under his feet as he sprinted, a stitch in his side. An ice-cold wind tore at him through the destroyed windows, dotted with rain droplets. Despite the weather, the conflagration had caused the temperature inside to rise. Heat sweat soon intermingled with the moisture from exertion. His lungs struggled through the black smoke that encroached. Before long, the smog would fill the entire building, so he had to be fast. He either got on this plane, or he would die. No ifs, no buts. Not that death by smoke inhalation scared Giorgino at this point.
He told himself he would pause for no one and stop for nothing. He had to run, run, run; he must run for his goddamn life. Giorgino swore he would stop for neither woman nor child. Grim, he knew, but you had to look out for number one in this dog-eat-dog world. Or, instead, in this human-eat-human world. Somebody had to survive this mess. If not, then humanity would go down the tube.
Giorgino gripped the back of a row of chairs and leapt over the gap. The sort of thing he would never have dreamt about during a typical day — the danger of injury would be far too real. But in these moments, he found himself imitating the stunts one would see in an action movie. He landed it with a stumble and a twinge in his ankle. It hurt, but it didn’t delay him. To slow down would be to die.
The gates blurred past him as he sprinted. B13, B12, B11. Gone, gone, gone. How much time had passed? Ten seconds? Twenty? Had the plane already begun to taxi, the corridor between him and safety now severed? B10, B9, B8.
Behind him came the howls of rage and hunger. The airport’s staff and passengers thundered through the terminal like a pack of wild rhinos. Cracks of broken glass and broken bones pincushioned the chaos. Metal sounds as the dead tore door hinges and bolted chairs from their homes.
He had to skirt around a group of five as they feasted upon a businessman in a once-fine suit. Organs spooled out of the open cavity of his chest like sausages. They stuffed strings of flesh and slippery organs into their mouths like eels. Even in the mess of it all, Giorgino had the time to think: Eat the rich. But then the man’s wide eyes rolled to him and their gazes locked. A frozen moment of unspoken communication passed between the pair. Still alive. Jesus, God in Heaven, the man hadn’t yet died. Giorgino circled them. They lifted their heads — faces streaked with gore, clouded eyes rolled white. He didn’t turn to see if they got up and joined the chase.
B7 passed, and here it came: gate B6. Blood coated the white tiles, deep red and black. The trail stretched off around the corner toward gate B5. An airline assistant dangled from the check-in desk, her blonde hair matted to her skull. Her bare fingers twitched, but the rest of her remained motionless. Grunts, squeaks and gasps rose from the other side of the desk. What did he do if another all-you-can-eat-buffet occurred back there? Leap over the zombies? Plough right through them and risk their teeth and nails? He couldn’t very well turn around. The plane would leave any second. And how long had it been? Had a minute passed by now?
Giorgino rounded the corner.
A young woman in a wheelchair — face a rictus of desperation beneath a sheen of sweat — tried to push herself. She threw furtive glances as she tried to roll, but it only squeaked forward a couple of inches. A severed arm waggled, lodged into the spokes. The palm flapped against the tiles with each quarter rotation, but no further. She’d have to snap the bones in the disembodied limb to get the chair moving. Her deer-in-headlights gaze bored into him, an unspoken plea for help.
Giorgino slipped past her, headed for the door to the bridge. He told himself not to stop. His hand pushed as his shoes squeaked in the gore. Instead, he told himself to keep going. He told himself it would be suicide to slow down and help. Even as he thought this, Giorgino came to a stop and looked back.
Timid whimpers dribbled from her mouth, and her lower lip trembled. The chair continued to refuse to move. The arm waved — a cheery motion, if only it had remained attached to a body. Behind her, the dead mob swelled like a wave. They rolled towards them as one giant organism rather than a thousand people. You had to give it to zombies. They understood the power of community spirit.
Giorgino growled, in a close approximation of the dead who would eat him, and doubled back. He slipped in the blood but caught his balance on the chair’s handles. He reached down, grabbed the hand — still warm — and threw it away like a piece of trash. “I got you,” Giorgino said. He grunted as he started to push the wheelchair. “I got you.” The wheels sliced through the maroon pool and left tire marks on the tiles.
He shoved the woman into the door, and, to her credit, she punched out with her arms and threw it open. The carpeted bridge descended, with crimson stains in the fibres. The windows’ glass remained intact, the blast of 265 and 733 far enough away. Although a part of Giorgino wished they’d shattered too. In the reflection, a million arms of the cannibalistic snakepit writhed.
The bridge vibrated beneath his feet. They’d only turned with the L-shaped corridor when the floor beneath began to thunder. The stamp of their pursuers made the bridge dance like tickled piano keys. The bridge loomed ahead, and his eyes traced it along to its conclusion and—
The plane hadn’t left.
The door remained open, and an air stewardess beckoned them with one gloved hand. Her uniform had a jagged tear from shoulder to hip, and her hair lay in disarray across her face — her hat long since lost. Giorgino put his head down and pushed. The pain in his side rose to a flame, but he forced himself to go, go, go. Behind came a glass shatter as some from the horde ploughed right through the wall.
The stewardess, face smeared with sweat and messed-up makeup, urged them on. “Come on, come on, come on!” Her eyes widened when she looked above and beyond Giorgino’s shoulder. “Quickly! Oh God, QUICK!”
Closer. Closer. Closer. The stewardess reached out for the chair, the scent of her fear rich in the air. The undead gasps misted Giorgino’s neck, the flecks of saliva flicked across his naked skin. A cacophony of snarls and screeches reverberated through the tunnel. The sounds bounced from wall to ceiling.
He reached the door and threw the poor woman inside. The chair caught on the lip between bridge and plane and flipped its occupant inside. Both wheelchair and woman crashed into the stewardess and took her out. Another woman popped up in her place, the same mask of terror on her face, the same disarray of clothes and hair. Her fingers grasped the handle. Chipped nail varnish, crimson-painted skin, and—
A punch in his side knocked the air from his lungs. Before he knew which way the attack had come from, Giorgino found himself slammed into the glass. Hands grasped him from every direction. Fingers in his hair, at every limb, beneath his armpits, around his ankles. Teeth and nails dug into the skin and shredded the flesh. His jugular popped, and bright red and vital blood spurted across the window. It rattled like raindrops against the glass.
He locked eyes with the stewardess behind the window as the lock clunk-thunked. The thought of how the roles had reversed arrived right as a finger took out his left eye. Teeth buried themselves in his throat and tore Giorgino’s Adam’s apple out. The zombies granted him neither the swift death of a broken neck nor the soft demise of carbon monoxide. Instead, the thought he’d done the right thing numbed his senses. His blood flooded his mouth, and he gargled with copper-flavoured mouthwash.
He faded out knowing that he’d died better than he’d lived.