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Two of the gunmen stood there, the dim lights shining crazily off their helmets.
Before they could fire, Monique’s husband shoved her towards the door, using his frame as a cover for her and the kids.
The doorway appeared just as bullets raked the ground at their feet, drawing plumes of dust from the tiles in the store’s entrance.
They turned left, running full pelt, shoving the kids along in front of them in case the gunmen opened fire.
They were out in the mall proper now, and it seemed the gunmen were yet to come out here; the majority of injuries were caused by chunks falling from the floor above.
Either that or the flying glass.
Still, the state of the pour souls the falling masonry had landed on were not for the eyes of children – or adults for that matter.
They tried not to look at the blood and viscera that was sprayed across the tiles as though someone had hurled buckets of paint from the floor above as some sort of obscene art project; Saturday mall trip in crimson.
As they blindly searched for somewhere to go that was safe from the crumbling building and the gunmen, a blood-smeared hand grabbed Monique and dragged her into the welfare block.
‘Get yourselves in here, pet,’ a kind-faced man said.
His stubbly face was spattered with blood and it looked as though he had been struck with some of the flying glass, but his injuries were superficial, unlike most of those they had come across.
‘They’ve got kids, Gaz,’ he explained to the grimacing man pressed against the right hand wall of the doorway.
The man nodded, but the furrow in his brow didn’t lift.
‘Name’s Dale. We’re hiding out in here,’ he said. ‘Keeping out of the way of the falling debris and those fucking arseholes with the guns.’
Monique noticed he held a baseball bat.
The few men behind the door with them looked ready for action.
They all held some type of weapon; most of them golf clubs or other bludgeoning weapons.
‘They come in here we’ll rearrange their fucking faces for ’em,’ Gaz said, a mean look etched into his brow.
‘Aye will we,’ a chorus rang out from the dozen men in the doorway.
‘Women and kids are in the middle there,’ Dale said. ‘There’s another group of lads at the fire doors in case they try to bust in through that way.’
‘Like to see ’em fucking try it,’ one of the lads from the far end of the corridor piped up.
‘You do realise they have guns, right?’ Monique said.
‘Course,’ Gaz said. ‘Armed response unit always does.’
‘But they’ll get their skulls caved in long before they shoot all of us,’ Dale grinned.
‘Last week I discovered I have cancer. Terminal,’ one of the lads nearest the door said. ‘So a bullet between the eyes would be a fucking blessing for me. Especially if it means I get to save the life of a lass or a kiddie.’
‘That’s the fucking spirit, Terry lad,’ Gaz said, whacking the man hard on the arm.
‘Get yourselves in the middle there,’ Dale said. ‘Where it’s safest.’
‘Any sign of them coming through here, we’ll get the fire escape open,’ one of the lads from the other end said. ‘Assuming of course they aren’t out there too.’
They all nodded.
‘What the fuck is going on?’ Monique said.
‘Terrorist attack, I think,’ Gaz said.
‘I don’t think so,’ Sal said. ‘That felt like a fucking big bomb.’
‘Na. I think he’s right,’ Terry said. ‘This seems a bit too well organised for terrorists.’
‘Aye, well what about all them vouchers we got?’ Dale said. ‘That was why we were all here. Some cunt’s set this up. Far too organised for terrorists. They just blow something up or stab some people or shoot a few guns. Then they get out. This is way out there.’
‘It’s like they wanted us all here in the same place, so they could blow the place up with us inside,’ Terry said. ‘Something very fucking suspect about that.’
‘We got a voucher too,’ Monique said. ‘A thousand pound shopping voucher.’
‘Like this fucker?’ Terry said, pulling a grubby piece of paper from his pocket.
‘Yeah, exactly like that,’ Sal said.
‘Something very fucking fishy about this like,’ Gaz said.
Then the words they were all dreading hearing came; Dale, his eye pressed to the spyhole in the door, said, ‘Shut the fuck up. Someone’s coming.’
‘Get yourself back there, lady,’ Terry said to Monique. ‘You too, lad,’ he told Sal. ‘You gotta look after your babbies.’
‘Coast’s clear up here,’ the man at the other end of the corridor said, his eye pressed to the spyhole in the fire door.
‘Remember the plan, lads,’ Gaz said, clearly revelling in his role as leader of the pack. ‘As many of us can lean on the door, hold it steady. We let ’em barge it a few times then open up and drag one of ’em in. Kick the fucking shit outta him then rinse and repeat.’
‘Aye, let’s fucking do it,’ the men said.
‘Remember, I’m first in the line of fire,’ Terry said. ‘So I’ll grab him in.’
‘Spanky, you squirt him with the fire extinguisher so he can’t see, then Terry pulls him in. We all dive on him and batter shite out of him.’
‘Let’s fucking go.’
Six men braced the door, Terry closest to the handle.
‘He’s here, lads,’ Dale said. ‘Big fucking gun on him like.’
‘Be reet,’ Spanky said.
‘Let’s kick his fucking head in, lads,’ Gaz muttered.
The lads nodded.
The door jolted in its frame.
‘Hold ’er steady,’ Gaz said.
The door jolted again.
‘Wait for it,’ Gaz said.
‘He’s getting a run up,’ Dale said.
‘Let him in this time then,’ Gaz said.
‘Get ready, lads,’ Terry said, his hand on the handle.
‘Now,’ Dale said.
Terry pulled the door open, letting the gunman come flying in.
His forward momentum was too much and he tripped over his own feet and landed in a heap on the floor.
Before he’d even hit the deck, Spanky had covered him in extinguisher foam.
He flailed blindly, trying to get the foam off his visor.
Gaz kicked the gun from his hand and instantly began raining down blows with the golf club.
‘Get his helmet off first,’ Terry said, noticing the way their blows were bouncing off the protective material.
They rolled him onto his belly and pulled his helmet off.
Monique turned her kids away when the flat wet whacking sounds began.
The men roared like savages as their blows cleaved the gunman’s skull.
‘Boy, I could do this all day,’ Gaz beamed, blood spattered across his face.
‘He’s dead, lads,’ Terry said. ‘Ready for the next one?’
It seemed like Terry knew what was going to happen, as if, since he was already on Death’s watch list, he was privy to his secrets.
He turned, told Monique and the rest of the women and children hunkered down in the tiled archway by the toilets to get themselves to the fire door in case things kicked off.
He knew, Monique would think later, looking back on these horrific moments which were carved into her memory like scars into flesh. He fucking knew what was going to happen.
The next few minutes were a deafening maelstrom of sound and motion.
It was hard to actually distinguish what was going on.
The next time the door opened, a man in a motorcycle helmet again came in.
Again the lads at the door over-exuberantly began remodelling his skull with their makeshift weapons.
This time though, it was as though the team of cops or SWAT guys or whatever the fuck they were had already learnt from their mistakes.
With all the lads battering seven bells out of the man on the floor, there was no one to brace the door.
Monique saw it happen in horrendous slow motion.
The door flew open.
Muzzle flashes illuminated the doorway.
Terry was first to fall, his last meal a bullet that tore out the back of his neck in a fist-sized wound.
His blood spattered his friends who were still slamming weapons into the fallen gunman.
‘Go,’ Monique bellowed, shoving the woman in front of her.
She’d been standing there, her jaw flapping, her chest heaving like a fish drowning on dry land.
Finally, she was spurred to action.
The women and kids began running out of the fire doors.
‘Get out here. Run for your fucking lives,’ one of the men guarding the door shouted, giving each runner a shove in the back.
The gunshots and screams echoed behind them as they got outside.
The first thing that hit them was how fucking dark it was, despite it being two in the afternoon in late March.
‘Get out here, lads,’ the man on the door said, shoving the fire doors shut and fastening them up with the chain in his trembling hands.
He padlocked it and ran for his life.
‘Wait,’ one of the women shouted, fear carved into her face. ‘My son is still inside.’
She ran back to the door and began to heave at the chains.
She put her fingers to the seam where the fire doors joined and began to pull.
One of her fingernails popped out with a sickly crack.
Blood sprayed across the door.
She didn’t notice.
Kept pulling on the door until it was pushed open from the other side.
A shotgun blast made scrap of the padlock and the door flew open.
The woman’s scream was ungodly as she saw her murdered son on the floor beneath her.
Then the shotgun that had killed him removed the top half of her head in a fountain of gore.
‘Gave us a head start at least,’ the man next to Monique grinned.
Monique nodded, too tired and scared to talk.
She was just focussed on keeping hold of her kids, making sure they were in front of her so if any bullets came near they’d hit her first.
They reached the ring road that ran around the mall.
Floodlights tore through the artificial night.
Dozens of black cars were lined up across the roads.
Behind them were dozens of men in black uniform and motorcycle helmets.
Between the escapees and the gunmen was a mound of bloody corpses, twisted together to form one huge, multi-armed beast.
She thought things couldn’t get any worse, but then their guns began to spit fire.
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