Chapter Eighteen

Midday. Donna had managed to sleep for a few hours. It was the first time in a week she'd had a proper bed and even though it was in a cold and unfamiliar place, it still felt reassuringly comfortable and safe. A man she hadn't seen before walked past the door to the room she'd been sleeping in and, seeing that she was awake, stopped to talk to her. 'How you feeling?' he asked. 'Crap,' she replied with brutal honesty. 'I'm Bernard Heath,' he said, taking a couple of steps into the room. 'Donna.' He nodded and, feeling suddenly awkward and not knowing what to say, looked around the room rather than stare at her lying on the bed. 'Look,' he said after a few long seconds had passed, 'would you like to come downstairs with me? I can get you some food or something to drink or...' Donna was up and on her feet before he'd finished his question. She was starving. Heath led her along the corridor and down the stairs.

'Bloody hell,' she muttered under her breath as she walked into the assembly hall. She began to cry. She couldn't help herself. She'd given up hope of ever seeing so many people together again. She counted between ten and twenty of them. In one corner a handful of subdued children played quietly. Elsewhere people sat around the edges of the room, generally keeping themselves to themselves. Heath fetched her some food from an adjourning kitchen. Standing in the middle of the hall with a tray in her hands, Donna suddenly felt exposed and vulnerable. She looked around for somewhere to sit and caught sight of Paul Castle sitting next to another man. Despite the fact that she still wanted to punch him in the face for the stupid stunt he'd pulled this morning, he was the only other person that she knew.

Wearily she dragged herself across the room and sat down next to him. 'You okay?' he asked. She nodded and grunted but didn't properly answer. She began to eat the crackers and cheese spread that she'd been given. Her hands shook as she tried to spread with a plastic knife. It was bitterly cold inside the building. 'This is Steve,' Paul continued, introducing the man sitting next to him. 'Steve, this is Donna.' 'Hi, Donna,' Steve said wearily, managing half a smile. Donna managed another grunt. 'Steve says there's almost fifty people here you know,' Paul whispered. 'Thank God we found this place.

He says that most of them don't...' 'Finding it wasn't difficult,' Donna said, swallowing a mouthful of food and finally finding enough energy and interest to bring herself to speak, 'it was getting here that was the hard part. It wouldn't have been so much of a problem if it hadn't been for you, you stupid bloody idiot!' Paul looked down at his feet and turned back to face Steve. 'So what's the plan?' he asked, trying desperately to ignore Donna's anger.

'What's going to happen next? Are we staying here or...?' 'As far as I can tell there is no plan, mate,' Steve replied. 'And if there was you'd only go and screw it up,' Donna snapped. Paul ignored her. 'Don't think anyone knows what to do next,' Steve continued. 'Seems like it's going to be as bad wherever you go so you might as well stay put. A couple of us have got a few ideas brewing though, haven't we, Nathan?' Nathan Holmes was walking across the hall on his way back to his room. At the mention of his name he stopped and turned round. Bored and glad of any distraction he pulled up a chair and sat down in front of Steve and Paul. 'What you talking about?' he asked. 'I said we're starting to get a few ideas about what to do next, aren't we?' Holmes' face cracked into a broad, knowing grin. 'Too right,' he said, his voice lowered to a whisper. 'What you going to do?' Paul asked. 'When those things outside start to drift away,' he explained, 'we're going out on the town.' 'What do you mean?' 'I mean we're going to shut ourselves in one of the clubs round here and we're going to have the biggest fucking party you've ever seen. We're going to blow all the drinks and drugs we can find in the place. And when they start to wear off and we start to come back down, we're going on to the next club and we're going to do it all over again. The biggest bloody pub crawl in history!' 'Sounds good,' Paul said, far from convinced. 'We're going to hit this town and...'

'You been outside recently?' Donna interrupted. Holmes leant back on his chair to get a look at the woman who had interrupted him. 'Yeah, why?' he replied. 'Because there's nothing left out there, that's why,' she sighed. 'Exactly. That's why we're going to do it. Nothing matters when you've had a few drinks.' She shook her head sadly and returned her attention to her food. Holmes leant across and helped himself to a cracker. 'Do you mind?' she scowled. 'Not at all,' he replied in a smug, self-assured voice. 'Haven't seen you before,' he said, chewing on her food, 'when did you get here?' 'This morning.' 'You been out there all this time?' 'Yes.'

'Grim, ain't it?' Donna nodded. She didn't want to talk to Holmes. She didn't really want to talk to anyone, least of all this brash and irritating man. Much as she'd craved company and conversation at times recently, she now needed space and time alone. Getting away from the office and finding the survivors had brought a brief respite from the cold emptiness of the remains of the world. It was only now that she'd found a relatively safe and quiet shelter that the full horror of what had happened had returned to haunt her. With other survivors in close proximity for the first time she felt able to try and deal with her pain, fear and uncertainty. Although she needed other people close, she also needed to be by herself. She didn't really have anything against Holmes (she'd put up with countless men like him in numerous bars and clubs before now), but at that moment she didn't want anything to do with him either. 'I tell you,' he continued, completely oblivious to Donna's lack of interest in him, 'there is no way I'm sitting in here with this lot for much longer. Soon as I'm ready I'm getting out. We've got the whole bloody country out there just waiting for us, isn't that right, Steve?' Steve nodded. 'Damn right.' Donna looked at the two men in disbelief.

Was getting drunk really all that was left for them to do? With the world lying in tatters at their feet, did they not have any higher priorities? On one hand it seemed a sensible way to try and forget all that had happened and enjoy what time remained, but could their suggestion really be the only alternative? Given that she was surrounded by so much uncertainty she hadn't dared to start thinking about the future before now - until that moment she hadn't dared consider whether she even had a future to look forward to. Looking into Holmes' pathetic, grinning face, however, she knew that there had to be a better option than the seedy, selfish and dangerous escape that he and Steve Richards were planning for themselves. 'You can finish this,' she said as she stood up and dropped the tray of food on Holmes' lap.

He turned and watched her as she walked away. 'Where you going?' he asked, getting up and following her. 'Somewhere else,' she grunted. 'Where's somewhere else?' 'Somewhere away from blokes like you.' 'I've got some bad news for you,' he said, walking alongside her, 'blokes like me are all that's left.' Donna stopped walking and turned to face him. 'Listen,' she said quietly, 'I'm twenty-four years old, I'm female and I'm blonde. I've had to deal with fucking idiots like you for as long as I can remember. I've seen hundreds of your type, full of mouth and fighting talk but you've got no balls.

If you're all that's left, I'll be spending the rest of my time on my own. Now will you leave me alone?' Not about to let her know if her words were having any effect on him, Holmes simply smirked. 'I'll see you around then,' he grinned. 'Fucking idiot,' Donna cursed as she stormed out of the hall and down the corridor back towards her room. She didn't even know if she'd be able to find the room again but that wasn't important. She just needed to get away from the others for a while longer.

Donna got lost in the accommodation block. The corridors looked the same, the rooms looked the same and the staircases looked the same. She remembered that her room was the third or fourth along from the stairs, but she couldn't remember whether it was on the second or third floor. She opened a third-floor door which looked vaguely familiar. It was instantly obvious that it wasn't her room - a young oriental man was sitting on the bed, staring into space. 'Sorry,' she mumbled instinctively.

'I got the wrong room. I didn't mean to disturb...' He looked up at her and smiled for a moment. He looked so lost and helpless. Her heart immediately went out to the poor man. 'Are you okay?' she asked. He nodded. 'Have you had any food? Do you need me to show you where the hall is?' The man responded only with another smile and another nod of the head. 'No English,' he said simply.

'I'm in the room next door,' Donna said slowly, pointing down the corridor and hoping that she was right. 'Let me know if you need anything, okay?' Another nod and another smile and Donna left the man alone and returned to her room. She lay down on the bed and closed her eyes tightly shut.

For a while she couldn't get his face out of her head. As if everything that had happened wasn't hard enough already, this poor sod was having to cope with it all without being able to understand a word that the other survivors said. If she felt detached and alone, she thought, how the hell must he be feeling? Dark thoughts filled Donna's mind. The longer the silence in her room continued, the darker her thoughts became.

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