The boys, these jokers, looked back bemused. Or was it baffled? With hindsight, that look grabbed Daniel by the throat. It was terror. The crowd, already at capacity swelled towards the back, trying to evade whatever was eating away at its front ranks. As the crush briefly receded like the tide; ebb and flow, he could see there was nowhere to go. The danger upfront, thrashing it's way into the crowd, high concrete walls on two sides, and outward opening doors on the school side meant the weight of the rush just crushed into cold, unsympathetic inanimate brickwork and concrete. The back was last to be hit. Bodies under bodies.
Grabbing Alan and Matthew, and screaming something he'd never repeat correctly again, they rushed just ahead of the back of the panic. People began falling and pushing, the fight had become larger it seemed, a squall of fists and anger. A sea of blue became a melee, as the three boys pushed their way towards what Daniel hoped, was the one climbable wall. Three feet of concrete with a six foot wooden fence and some chain link contraption above that.
The boys made their way through easily at first, it wasn't that far, just bustling. But the noise seemed to catch them before their classmates did. As a member of the choir, Daniel knew the noise, that power of a rhythm overriding the individual, dominating life. It was beautiful in the chapel, but horrifying now. Death cries obliqued the sky. Reason, crushing their space, their breath. Worse edged over the top of the fallen crest.
One way out. Away, up, up and away. Alan and Matthew made moves to stop and explain to their comrades, but Daniel's metronome clicked back and forth at a speed which left no quarter for others, he tightened his grip on their ties. Vision fixed on the top of those cheap chains in the fence. It took much to shake music from Daniel, but this did it. As they reached the back wall Miss Tomes appeared through the disarray, pale and shaking. Almost choking under the growing weight of several hundred people.
“Miss we need to get over that wall.”
Daniel wasn't sure why he asked his struggling teacher for help, but he did. She stared back, blankly, head shaking slightly in the crowd as she took in the enormity of what was happening. At danger of drowning in it. It surged toward them, squeezing breath in perfect order, one after another, from those in front as they fell. Daniel pushed away, towards the wall, and all he recalled was splinters and a daunting height.
People fell near them as Alan, Daniel and Matthew started ascending the wall. Bodies of teenage boys came crashing down in waves. The force of weight too much to hold back. Tanya was close but the crush became mortal. Boys climbed over boys, the trampled screamed but eventually subdued, the torrent grinding towards the back wall. The wall Daniel had to climb. Soon.
What was over powering, except for the mass of hysteria crashing at all sides, was the quiet which came with it. Daniel will never forget that. There were screams, but boys were dragged to their graves mostly at will, it seemed. Exhaling, as long as it takes to exhale, and you've no breath left to fight with. It wasn't a massacre, it was a crushing. For a while.
Daniel continued at the fence, hoisting Matthew and Alan up as much as he could. Other boys grabbed and fell at them, making the task harder, knocking their rhythm. Tanya, too, tried to help, but even teenage boys had strength and height on her. Daniel knew if they could reach the links of the fence they stood a chance, but every time their teetering system stood close they were knocked off balance. It was then that he remembered the dead.
Dead was all he could think of them, apart from being mobile. These were no flu victims from what he could see. More energy, more determination. This was angry, animate death, attacking all life in front of it. There were a few hundred souls in this ship, being extinguished in one of two ways, now. From the back of the mound they were getting up and, as boys tried to climb away, using the layers of people as a ladder, tearing away at them. A ladder leading directly to Daniel and his charges. A cold sweat, he'd not felt before or since, fell from his forehead down his body.
It was now be crushed or be torn apart, as the reality of what they'd seen from the tiny aperture of their class became deadly prescient. The dead spread almost as fast as the crush could kill. Flailing arms, shots of gore, overwhelmingly a rush of rage, hauling itself at the living. Daniel, Matthew and Tanya balanced on the lip of the concrete wall, trying to gain a grip on the linked fence, now standing ever taller, above them. Alan got trapped at the bottom, still on ground level. It wasn't simply a case of making it to those links now, it was making it over them, and away, safely.
As those fleeing being eviscerated got ever more scared, the volume of flesh at their end of the playground increased sharply. Torso upon torso, a mountain of meat rising up, tearing itself up at the surf. Being flat against the wall, Alan could only reach his one free arm up. Daniel could still see the vomit on his shirt collar. He didn't, or couldn't, remember the petrified stare in his eyes as he disappeared beneath the swell.
There was no time for words. No goodbyes. Matthew and Daniel, to their eternal regret, turned away and kept chasing the chain links. The crushed became a carpet, lifting the boys to the fence their fingertips had bloodied scratching to catch. Those underneath, Alan among them, were sacrificed as these lucky few rode their last breaths to the fence.
Daniel was first there, and held his hand back. Matthew grabbed it and clambered above him. Tanya surfaced. Gasping, she blew out,
Several feet away, pressed hard against the fence as low death groans began to compete with screams, Matthew was her best option for survival. He looked at Daniel, who didn't notice him as he reached the fence himself. As Matthew moved towards their teacher, his feet buckling on the heads and shoulders of the broken below, he desperately clung to the wire links.
Daniel looked over as his friend reached their ailing teacher, Matthew let one hand go of the fence to reach out to her. Tomes was riding closer to the fence than any of the students. If they were going to save anyone it would be her. Daniel didn't like looking down in his memory; blue blazers and pale faces was all he'd let himself see. He did remember looking back, though. Almost as if this sea was boiling, a maelstrom across it's surface as the bloodstained faces and wild eyes of his former classmates glared at them, at him, it seemed.
Matthew was torn. Anguished, Miss Tomes was touching distance. Almost calmly, she called,
Matthew trampled over the last few bodies, reaching Tanya and hoisting her up to the fence as the weight of the crowd began to buckle the wooden fencing. The slow, juttering break came as the dead neared the front. Loud cracks as the fence gave way into the garden behind, spilling bodies. As he was higher up the fence, Daniel hit the ground farthest away from the carnage. Boys, some dead, some just about alive, some both, crashed into the neat communal lawn of the small block of flats overlooking the playground.
The infected tore into those with any breath left. Daniel rolled to his side, pulling his feet out from under his deceased friends. Tanya was almost upright, too, with Matthew trapped, screaming as a dead boy clawed his way over the carrion, lusting after him. He managed three words,
“Miss help me!”
Daniel called to his now free teacher, who looked back and noticed Matthew's peril for the first time. Tanya froze, as did Daniel. Not for the first time today they would make a call they'd regret. The infected boy was on top of Matthew, and as the two paused, bit a chunk out of the screaming boy's chin. Tears streamed from Matthew's eyes and blood dribbled from the mouth of his assailant, who continued violently gnawing and tearing at the boy. Tanya turned back, and caught Daniel's eye again. The teacher took charge, ran over the stricken mass of flesh and grabbed her one remaining student.
Daniel turned, pulled by his teacher away from the violence which rolled towards them. They ran, and they ran fast. After that Daniel's memory lapsed.