Body Count preview
He was losing a lot of blood.
The piece of cloth he'd wound tightly around his left forearm was already soaked with the crimson liquid.
The knife wound that had opened the arm was deep. He knew it needed stitches, the cloth was barely holding the ragged edges of the gash together. But, for now, it would have to do. He gritted his teeth and shook his head vigorously from side to side in an attempt to stop himself fainting. He wondered how much blood a human body could afford to lose before unconsciousness took hold.
As he ran he tasted blood in his mouth too. It was from the cut on the inside of his cheek but from the way he'd been running he wouldn't have been surprised if it had forced itself up from his ravaged lungs. He gasped for breath now as he continued along the darkened passageway, glancing constantly over his shoulder.
He couldn't hear them behind him but he knew they were there. Somewhere in the shadows. Waiting for him to slow down enough. When he did, or when he moved out into the open, they would be upon him. Just like they had been before.
He had no idea how long he'd been running but his face was slick with sweat and he could feel his shirt sticking to his back and chest.
For a moment he paused, leaning back against the grubby wall to get his breath.
Inside the mask, his breathing sounded louder and more mucoid. Like the laboured snores of a slumbering drunkard. He knew there was no point trying to remove the facial covering, he'd already tried a number of times and failed.
His injured arm brushed against the dirty plaster and left a red smear.
They would see the mark he'd left but, he reasoned, what did it matter, they would come this way eventually. What was the point of hiding his presence. It seemed that wherever he tried to hide they found him. And, when he thought about it, hiding would do him no good anyway. They would corner him. Surround him. Move in frenziedly and finish him.
No, hiding was useless. He had to push on. Had to force his aching muscles to carry him further. He had to gulp down air into his already overworked lungs. His heart was thudding madly against his ribs. A combination of his exertions and the fear that gripped him. Sometimes it threatened to overwhelm him completely. Especially when they got close to him. He wondered how much further he would have to go.
At the end of the long corridor there was a set of stone steps.
He hurried towards them, almost stumbling over something lying close to the wall on his right hand side. He steadied himself, unable to see what he'd tripped on in the gloom. Instead he moved on towards the five stone steps. He halted, gasping for breath.
To his left the corridor arrowed away into more darkness. At the top of the steps there was a wrought iron gate. He could see through the bars beyond to what looked like a deserted, but much wider, street.
Out there in the empty thoroughfare there was just one light glowing sickly yellow. Everywhere else was in deep shadow.
He swallowed hard and wondered if he could make it across the street using the shadows for cover. There were more buildings on the other side of the road including what looked like a church. He could use them as shelter for a few minutes at least. Get his breath. Redress his wound. Prepare himself for the next onslaught.
Again he glanced to his left and the dark corridor but quickly decided the gate was his best option. He looked behind him then climbed the steps and reached out tentatively for the barred gate, pushing against it.
It was locked.
For a moment he thought about shaking the gate but decided that the rattling would only alert his pursuers more quickly. He pushed against the metal partition once more then, cursing under his breath, he darted off down the corridor to his left.
The gloom within this walkway was slightly less cloying than the one he'd just journeyed through. He blinked hard in an effort to see ahead, realising that the corridor turned in a gentle curve to his right.
He slowed his pace for a moment, wanting to ensure that no one lurked in the blackness ahead. Satisfied that his route was clear, he moved on a little more quickly.
Dull light was spilling into the corridor from the far end now and he could see that a short flight of steps led up to an open doorway.
He paused at the bottom of the steps, gazing out into the wide thoroughfare beyond. As he scanned his surroundings for any sign of movement a flicker of light ahead of him forced him to duck back into the gloom.
Another of the street lights had come on.
It flared feebly for a moment then went out again. He watched it, wanting to see if it burst into life once more. Sure enough, as he watched, it flickered a second time bathing the street in a dull, yellow glow for about twenty yards in all directions. This time the light remained.
He cursed under his breath. The shadows would have been more welcoming. He would have felt safer crossing the open ground without the unwanted light from this other lamp post. But he had no choice. He couldn't stay where he was now. They would be close behind him by now. He daren't even consider exactly how close. All he knew was that he had to make it across the open street to the buildings on the other side. Once there he could rest for a few minutes before moving on.
He pressed himself against the door frame, looked out into the street and saw no movement.
The only vehicle in view was a large white transit van parked about fifteen feet to his right. It would offer cover.
A thought suddenly struck him.
It might offer a little more than just cover.
He took a deep breath and ran towards the van.
As he reached it he ducked down close to the drivers side, waited a second then peered into the cab.
No keys in the ignition.
He muttered angrily to himself. No, that would have been too easy wouldn't it? There might be a chance to hotwire it if he had time before they caught up with him.
He swallowed hard, trying to make the decision. He'd stolen cars before. He knew the procedure. The van could be ready, its engine running in a matter of minutes. He glanced back the way he'd come, straining his ears for any sound of their footsteps behind him.
There was only silence.
He pulled at the drivers side door and slid in behind the steering wheel.
Now he had to work faster than ever before. Break open the steering column, expose the requisite wires then twist them together to make the connection. Pump the accelerator until the starter motor turned. Simple.
He wondered what he was going to split the steering column open with. And if he were to do that they would hear him. He would give away his position to them as surely as if he'd put up a neon sign over the van. But he realised he had little choice if he was to have a chance of escaping them.
He looked into the back of the van, behind the worn and threadbare seats.
An empty bottle. That was it. Nothing else. No tools left conveniently for him to find.
He picked up the bottle and hefted it before him. It felt heavy enough to break the plastic housing on the steering column. He paused for a second, deciding that if the bottle shattered he would merely clamber out of the van and run for it.
He struck the steering column and the plastic cracked. Three more times he hit it, pausing after each impact to check around him for movement. When there was none he struck again.
When he saw the wires inside the column exposed he felt a brief, galvanising moment of joy.
He pulled the wires he needed free and bent low towards them, stripping away the plastic sheathing that covered the metal with his teeth. Then he twisted the wires together, pressing his foot down on the accelerator, waiting for the motor to turn.
Not even the groan of a flat battery.
Breathing heavily he slipped the bonnet release catch, jumped out of the van and hurried around to the front of the vehicle.
He lifted the bonnet and looked beneath.
For a moment he smiled. He felt a laugh gathering in his throat. The laughter of the damned. It hovered there as surely as the sickness he felt rising in his chest as he stared beneath the bonnet.
There was no engine.
© Shaun Hutson 2008