She swore, but a stopped watch was the least of her worries. In a normal lift in a normal building, she'd try to contact someone, and wait for help. She call a friend to pass the time. But this was a lift in Coleridge House, a notorious tower block at the centre of a strip of no man's land between the affluent Shelley Vale and the derelict slums of Pelling. The area lost all mobile coverage months ago when a group of Ferals brought down the mast to sell for scrap metal. The cable for the lift’s emergency phone dangled out of the wall, its receiver long since gone. Cara pressed buttons but nothing happened. The only comfort was the emergency lighting - if the Rabids had cut the power to keep the lift dangling, she'd be in total darkness. This must be a power cut.
Cara paced inside the lift, suddenly sensitive to the acrid tang of urine in the warm air. She tried reading the graffiti scrawled on the walls but the incoherent threats made her more nervous. Her eyes returned to the roof hatch. In her mind, Rabids emerged from the sub-basement, skittering through the underground car park. They'd swarm up stained and stinking staircases, drawn by the scent of fear in the south-west elevator shaft.
Cara cursed her sister. If Penn hadn't met that waster at college, she never would have bounced down the social ladder. She'd never have landed in the cesspool that was Coleridge House and Cara wouldn't be stuck in a lift at seven minutes to midnight like a sacrificial lamb waiting for the priest to arrive.
Unwilling to wait for Death, Cara scrabbled at the tiny gap between the doors. Being a badly maintained lift in a crumbling tower block, the doors didn’t close fully before the lift moved, and Cara managed to wiggle her fingers into the space. She threw her weight backwards, heaving on the right hand door.
The doors parted with a protesting whine, and she eased them apart by a foot. The lift was stopped directly between the floors, too high for her to clamber up to crawl out onto the 29th floor. She’d have to go the other way. She tossed her bag out of the lift, and sat down, inching across the lift until her legs dangled into the gap. Cara wriggled forward, bending backwards to get her body between the 28th floor ceiling and the lift floor.
She slithered free, jarring her right knee as she landed. Cara snatched up her bag and looked around the corridor. More graffiti adorned the walls, and the air smelled of stale weed. A row of battered security doors faced her, barring access to the cramped and badly lit flats of the block. No inhabitants opened their doors – the whole floor had a peculiar, abandoned feel.
Cara walked towards the stairwell, and froze. Growling came from the darkness below, accompanied by a scent of old blood mixed with filth. The Rabids were loose. There was no way she could go downstairs.
Cara bolted up the stairs, taking them three at a time. She paused on her sister’s floor and heard snarling around the corner of the stairwell. The Rabids had swarmed up the four staircases and were now prowling the block looking for easy pickings, only the inhabitants were locked in their homes.
Which just leaves me.
Only one option remained, and Cara threw herself upwards with new speed. Frenzied snarls erupted below her, and the sound of talons on concrete made her blood run cold. They’d either heard or smelled her, and they were on their way.
She emerged on the top floor landing. Her muscles burned, screaming for rest, but her body refused, hypnotised by the growling behind her. A narrow ladder rested against the wall, and Cara clambered up. She threw open the door to the roof and pushed herself out into the open air.
The roof was a maze of TV aerials, ventilation shafts and broken tiles. White fingers topped by vicious talons closed around her right ankle, and the growl below turned to crazed laughter. Cara kicked down at her attacker, and the Rabid released its grip. Cara seized her opportunity and ran into the roof maze. She grabbed a broken aerial as she passed, determined to arm herself.
She found a solitary patch of moonlight between three air ducts. Her heart hammered as the Rabids swarmed across the roof. They prowled the perimeter of her space, snarling and snapping at each other. Cara clutched the aerial, her hands slick with sweat. Moonlight was only a weak reflection of sunlight, but she hoped it would be enough to deter the pack.
Over the next few hours, the Rabids maintained their distance, lunging whenever a cloud covered the moon. She lashed out with the aerial, sending them back to the pack where other Rabids would fight to lick the blood. An idea formed as the first flames of dawn licked at the eastern horizon.
Cara threw down the aerial and shouted a challenge. The need for blood outweighed their need to find shelter, and they continued to snarl. Rabids at the back fled, whooping as they raced down the stairs, eager to beat the coming sunrise.
Fires broke out among the pack on the roof as sunlight fell on the hunters. Soon Cara couldn’t see for the smoke, or hear anything besides the roar of the flames and the screams of the dying Rabids.
The smoke cleared at 7am, when a distant church tolled the hour. Cara stood surrounded by charred corpses and piles of ash. She picked her way across the roof, and clambered down the ladder. She paused by the south eastern lift and shook her head.
This time, she would take the stairs.
(Elevator photograph by Idac, graffiti added by me)