Its a Wonderful Life
The potholes in the road throw us about the truck bed, the metal cage around us creaks.
Reaching the tall buildings on the outskirts of the city, Tommy kills the headlights and begins to skillfully weave his way through the abandoned cars.
As we near the hospital I tug the generator cord and it judders into life, I power up the projector and the VHS as Tommy pulls up to the hospital forecourt. Darren and ‘Shell climb up through the access hatch in the top of the cage. I bang on the back of the truck cab.
Now we wait.
This was our fourth run, at first it had seemed like suicide, but we seemed to be hitting our stride now. I try to think of it like corralling cattle, this stops me shaking enough to be able to function.
The sound begins, at first low groans, they multiply and multiply until it becomes a rush of noise, the roar of the crowd about to break over us like a giant wave.
I pick shapes out from the light of the projector, limbs flailing wildly, a few at first, then a deformed mass of twisted figures. As they approach I cover the light of the projector with my hand, reducing the light to a blue square on my palm. Above me Darren and ‘Shell ready themselves, dropping onto the cage top like sprinters on a starting line.
We wait for a hoard to mass around us, the weight of their bodies rock the truck, their hands clawing at the cage, behind each twisted form, another, then another. We wait until we dare no longer, I hit play and pull my hand away, the projector light hitting a concrete wall.
The wall bursts into life, a huge tolling bell swinging back and forth, the trucks PA booming out across the packed forecourt. Giant words appear, ‘Frank Capra’s It’s a wonderful Life’, well it is Christmas.
As the credits play out, our assailants are hypnotised.
The projector had been our second attempt at distracting the huge crowds that built up around the city. We had needed a diversion to allow us to scavenge for food and medicine. We had tried throwing out hunks of meat from the truck, but now meat is in short supply and fuelling a feeding frenzy was just too dangerous.
I had tried the projector having remembered during the final days, crowds of them would gather around the big public screens erected for the Olympics. Watching the rolling newsfeeds, as if reviewing their progress.
I tried recordings of TV at first, XFactor, Masterchef, Eastenders, but that hadn’t held their attention for long enough. I tried Night of the Living Dead as a sick joke, but when it worked, I twigged, like animals, their vision was black and white.
I tried Psycho next, this proved my theory, not only did it distract them from our activities, they were held spellbound.
Now they stand hypnotised by Jimmy Stewart’s eyes meeting Donna Reed’s across a crowded room.
Darren and ‘Shell jump from the top of the cage, across the forecourt and into the hospital. As the masses watch the movie, our eyes follow two flashlights spiralling up the floors of the glazed building. They had under 100 minutes scavenging time, then 20 to get back down to the truck.
Around 20 minutes from the end, Jimmy Stewart is running along the streets of seedy Pottersville, the once peaceful Bedford Falls; we’re out of time.
I bang on the cab, Tommy hits the horn, and I watch as the two flashlights stop their search and begin to wind fast back down the building. Fifth floor, fourth, third, second, first… the generator stops and the projection and sound stops. The voices of George and Clarence replaced by angered growls.
I tug at the cord of the generator, my feet slip in a pool of gasoline, the fucker had sprung a leak!
I watch the flashlights descend to Ground level, stopping inside the revolving doors at the entrance. Between them and us, the hoard, now in full frenzy, their attention fixed on our truck.
The gasoline was in a can a the end of the truck bed, I throw myself down and slide towards the can, the truck begins to rock. I kick at the cage trying to drive back the gruesome fingers poking through the mesh.
From the corner of my eye I see the two flashlights bobbing up and down, frantically signalling us. Grabbing the can I crawl back up the truck as it bucks wildly.
Tommy starts the engine, I bang on the truck bed ‘No! No!’ I scream, ‘They’ll make it!’
Tommy revs the engine, rolling back and forth.
I reach the generator, holding the can with shaking hands I pour gasoline into the tank, I take the cord in my teeth and yank, the truck rears up on one side, then falls hard onto the ground.
I jerk my head frantically until the genny shudders into life. The concrete wall illuminates once more, Jimmy Stewart by a bridge, seconds later the PA, Jimmy screaming ‘I want to live! I want to live!’
The two flashlights shoot across the forecourt through the crowd of frozen figures, they jump up onto the cage. Tommy guns the engine and we pull away fast, Darren and ‘Shell digging their fingers around the mesh of the cage so as to not fly off.
The projection distorts as we pull away, the hoard begin to give chase, but were too far away now, safe.
Over the trucks PA, little Zuzu’s voice, ‘every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings’.