Josh stood in a steadily decreasing queue outside the nightclub. He wasn’t out of his comfort zone, but it wasn’t his usual setting; nor was it his place of choice. The guarantee of blaring music and wild visual pyrotechnics hadn’t lured him from the nearby pub; it was, as always, a girl – Natalie.
Josh’s mates – Matt and Justin – chatted amiably while he focused on the object of his affection further up the line. He thought she looked amazing, as usual, giggling with her friends. He was aware that sometimes he looked for too long – his eyeline ensnared by her beauty – but he didn’t think he was being weird. His mates knew he fancied her, and Natalie knew he fancied her. He was just a shy guy with a crush, not built to impress like the superior male competition.
Josh’s friends would say he foolishly traipsed after her, hoping against the odds that his luck would change; but he liked to think of himself as an optimistic fatalist. Fortune favoured the bold, he’d predictably counterargue, despite having nothing to show for his committed endeavour just yet.
‘Josh. Josh!’ Matt’s calls finally broke his trance. ‘You deaf bastard. Stop staring or she’ll get a restraining order on you.’ He laughed.
‘She wouldn’t,’ Josh said, still trying to glimpse Natalie through the masses before him. ‘She doesn’t dislike me.’
‘True,’ said Justin. ‘But this glance battle between you two is a bit one-sided mate.’
As they chuckled and continued their teasing banter, two ambulances soared past trailing police cars. Well, I guess some are having worse luck than me tonight, Josh mused.
It wasn’t long before they were admitted in.
‘He we go lads,’ shouted Matt above the music. ‘Party time!’
Josh didn’t share his enthusiasm. He wasn’t here for the overpriced booze or the tunes he could easily find on YouTube. ‘I’m probably going to—’
‘Find Natalie?’ Matt interrupted.
‘Watch Natalie?’ Justin piped in, barely containing a grin.
It was a stab to his confidence, but Josh knew he wasn’t wrong. He just hoped he was.
‘I’ll see you guys,’ said Josh, ‘once I attain success.’ He indicated to the dance floor where he figured Natalie would be. She was last time, he recollected.
‘Was nice knowing you mate.’
They both laughed, ensured him they were joking, then departed to the bar. Josh went in the opposite direction as the ear-splitting volume from the DJ hit fever pitch.
Josh had failed to recognise the difficulty of finding a single person in the nightclub. The dance floor writhed with bodies bouncing and clashing to the hardcore tempo of speedcore – music not in sync with his tastes. It sounded messy and bombastic, and was already making his eardrums throb. The abundance of sweating teens were in their element as the laser light show produced a variety of blinding colours to highlight their ecstatic expressions and improvised choreography. Josh surveyed the crowd from the edge of the musical maelstrom.
‘Hey, you want something to help you join in?’ a slurred voice spat in his ear.
Josh turned to see a swaying, similarly-aged guy, who was speckled with acne and clearly drugged out of his mind. After a swift assessment, he didn’t hesitate to bluntly send him on his way: ‘Fuck off.’ Josh watched him wobble away in pursuit of a potential customer elsewhere. The asylum is one inmate short tonight, he mused.
After several minutes of staring into the hypnotic onslaught of sights and sounds, Josh spotted Natalie energetically throwing herself into the air, matching the pulsating beat of the industrial techno now playing. He smiled only for a second, because then he spotted someone he had completely forgotten to factor into the evening – Jared.
Josh groaned. The timing was typically inconvenient.
Standing taller and broader, Jared was like his unaware courting nemesis who always seemed to show up to diminish his hope; he was compatible with Natalie’s crowd where Josh wasn’t. A block of steroids with a heavy disproportion of muscle to brains. Josh looked around and noticed everyone was having a good time with friends or lovers; they seemed to be spared his daily failings of denial and defeat.
Josh remained to one side, feeling dejected, when Jared was suddenly hauled to the floor. Natalie and those closest turned in surprise before backing off in revulsion. The attack was unwarranted and hostile. A couple of beefy guys attempted to pull the assailant away as Josh watched on in confusion and angst. They threw the male aggressor aside, but he clambered back to his feet, unaffected, and Josh recoiled in fear at the sight. Despite the interior’s alternating contrast of fluorescent colours, he saw the blood oozing from the attacker’s nose and milky eyes before producing an unnatural, guttural scream the music failed to drown out. People began taking notice as their fun was disrupted while the attacker lunged at random with animalistic rage. Security joined the fray, but the snarling man was out for blood, unorthodoxly keen on using his mouth to injure. Josh turned his attention back to Jared at the dance floor’s perimeter, who was convulsing violently on his back. He staggered to his feet, spasming while dribbling fluid. A girl went to assist him, but the attempt was met with savagery, and pandemonium erupted.
The cacophony expanded across the dance floor. People dispersed in a hurry. Those too intoxicated to fathom what was happening succumbed to the ravenous aggressors in an awkward melee that spilled beer and blood. A bedraggled woman was bitten on the leg, but her cries were muted by heavy dubstep; another slipped in blood and never got up as he was swarmed and consumed.
Josh had been watching in a horrified daze, but now acted instinctively. The adrenaline coursing through his blood stream urged him to protect. He darted onto the dance floor. He was collided into from all sides, barely maintaining his balance as panic infected the partygoers.
Josh found Natalie in a bewildered state, and put her hand in his. ‘Quick! With me!’ he shouted, as the music continued at a deafening volume. Snapped out of shock, she didn’t resist. Her friends were nowhere to be seen.
Josh tried the way he came in, but the exit which led through to the bar was blocked by a familiar face – the drugged guy – who was caught against the wall by two attackers. His pleading was abruptly cut off as vicious mouths chewed at his throat, spraying the undead with blood, and sending them into a feeding frenzy that attracted more.
Josh held Natalie’s hand tight and quickly swivelled away from the bloodthirsty murder, thinking of an alternative escape.
‘This way!’ He led her up the nearby stairs to the second floor; trailing were a pack of shuffling undead who shared one motive. They aggressively tried to ascend simultaneously and got jammed as a result. Their egg-white eyes, mouths smeared with blood, flesh trapped in grinding teeth… it made no sense. Fiction was bleeding into reality. Nightmares were breaking the rules into existence and, like any nightmare, events were becoming fragmented and frightening. Josh put his hands over his ears and shut his eyes tight, desperate to escape the noises of hell. This isn’t real, he thought. This can’t be real. Terror had siphoned his adrenaline, draining him of courage when he needed it most.
‘Josh! What are you doing!?’ begged Natalie. ‘Josh! Come on!’
Overwhelmed by anxiety, Josh realised he had unconsciously let go of Natalie’s hand, to which she was attempting to regrip his. He muttered a futile apology, held her hand, and they moved briskly around the balcony. It was less hectic on the upper floor; the real chaos lay below, and he daren’t look back – or down – where undead numbers increased at a frantic rate. He wondered if Matt and Justin were alright – or alive.
‘Where are we going?’ Natalie asked, tone desperate.
Josh paused to assess the options. The only viable one was getting to the roof where there should be respite and safety. He spotted a roof access door and answered Natalie with action. He opened the door –
And was immediately propelled backwards to the balcony railing. Natalie screamed. Josh held the lone attacker and its snapping jaws at bay as the metal frame saved him from certain death below.
‘Go!’ he demanded. ‘Get to the roof.’
She began to protest, fear promoted in her voice and etched on her face.
‘Just go,’ Josh insisted, and he hoped she had listened.
The strength in the human creature was intense. He glanced to his right and regretted it. The horde from the stairs had found a way up and were gradually closing in. Jared was among the undead. A pain in my arse even in death, Josh randomly thought.
As he struggled against insatiable evil, unsure how to escape, a meaty thwack sounded. Then again. The attacker’s strength waned, and Josh slipped from its grasp. Using all his strength he heaved the undead man over the railing where it thudded into the bloodbath below; its landing softened by mutilated corpses too damaged to reanimate.
Josh turned and saw Natalie gripping a fire extinguisher. ‘Thanks,’ he gasped. She dropped her makeshift weapon and, with no further hesitation, they climbed the stairs to the roof, then barricaded it shut.
The fresh air was cleansing, as was the absence of electro ringing in his ears. But the night atmosphere channelled depravity. Sirens sounded in every direction, far and wide, and screams punctured the emergency services alarms at regular intervals. Josh didn’t know what to do next; he didn’t know if his friends were alright; and he didn’t know what was happening and why. All he knew for certain, was that she wouldn’t let go of his hand.