Chapter Forty-Six

Standing in silence in the window of a first floor bedroom, Nathan Holmes and Steve Richards watched the convoy of survivors disappear into the night. 'They're bloody idiots,' Holmes said. 'They're wasting their time.' Richards didn't respond. He was crying. Holmes glanced over his shoulder and looked at the other man momentarily before turning back to look out of the window again. To his left he could see the fading taillights of the trucks and the van. Hundreds of staggering bodies followed pointlessly in the wake of the vehicles. To his right the huge blaze at the other end of the university complex was continuing to draw thousands upon thousands of cadavers to the scene.

He glanced back at Richards again. 'Okay, mate, you ready?' he asked. Richards nodded and sniffed. 'Going to be a good night, this is.' Holmes picked up an outdoor jacket which he had left hanging on the back of a nearby chair. He put the jacket on and did up the zip. Still crying, Richards pulled on a warm fleece. 'Sure you're up for this?' Richards nodded again. The two men left the room and walked down the dark and silent corridor to the staircase. Together, they then made their way down to the ground floor. They stopped at an inconspicuous window in the corner of a similarly dark and inconspicuous room. Holmes turned to face Richards. 'Pub or club?' he asked. Richards managed half a smile. 'Start with a pub. We can always go on to a club later.' 'The Crown or The Lazy Fox?' Richards thought for a moment.

'The Crown. It's closer.' Grinning, Holmes leant forward and gently teased open the window in front of them. After peering up and down along the outside wall of the building momentarily he climbed up onto the windowsill and jumped down into the middle of an overgrown flower bed. Richards followed close behind. Filled with fear and nerves, and knowing that this was most probably to be his last night alive, he stopped walking and began to cry again. 'Think about it this way,' Holmes soothed, 'those idiots that left here tonight, they've got nothing left to look forward to except more grief. You and me, mate, we've got it made. It's going to get harder and harder for the rest of them. It's going to get easier for us.' Holmes crept forward until he reached the edge of a narrow pathway. 'Nathan, I...' Richards began. 'Trust me,' Holmes interrupted. With that he turned and began to jog away from the university. Richards followed close behind, breaking into a sprint as Holmes did the same, afraid that he was going to be left behind.

The two men emerged from a narrow side street onto a section of the ring road which was swarming with bodies. As the number of bodies around him increased, so Holmes moved with a nervous urgency, pushing his way through the rancid crowds. Driven by a combination of terror and disgust, Richards matched his speed, smashing corpse after corpse out of his way. After reaching the far side of the carriageway, Holmes turned left into another wide and silent street and headed for the shadowy remains of The Crown public house, a large pub which occupied a prominent position on the corner of two once busy main roads. Panting with exhaustion from the sudden sprint, he crashed through the swinging entrance door, followed seconds later by Richards. 'Okay?' he asked. Richards was bent over double with his hands on his knees, fighting to catch his breath.

'I'm okay,' he replied. The now familiar dull thud of bodies smashing against the outside of the door made the two men look up. Holmes immediately began to pile tables, chairs, cigarette machines and anything else he could find in front of the entrance to prevent the odious corpses from forcing their way inside. Richards walked deeper into the building. The pub was empty. It had been closed when the disaster had happened.

'What are you drinking?' he asked as he walked around to the back of the bar. 'Anything you can lay your hands on,' Holmes replied as he finished blocking the door. He peered through a gap in the mountain of furniture he had just created and watched as the sickly cadavers in the street tried hopelessly to force their way into the building. As Richards busied himself behind the bar Holmes dragged two leather armchairs across the room and set them in front of a fireplace, one on either side. He smashed a table and stool and built up a fire in the hearth with the splintered wood. Richards carried several bottles of spirits over and sat down. He poured them both a drink. 'Cigar?' Holmes asked, disappearing across the room and grabbing a handful of cigars and boxes of matches from a display at the back of the bar.

'I don't smoke,' Richards sighed. 'You should start,' Holmes grinned. 'Last chance, mate.' Richards helped himself to a single cigar, took off the cellophane wrapper and lit it. After lighting the fire using bar towels soaked in whiskey as a fuse, Holmes did the same.

The two men sat back in the dull orange glow and began to drink. 'This is as good as it's going to get,' Holmes said quietly, his voice drained of the antagonism and venom that had been so prevalent during the previous days and weeks. 'All you have to do now,' he continued, 'is drink and smoke and relax. Make sure you drink enough because they're going to get in at some point. And if we manage to make it to the morning, we'll just drink some more.' Richards was crying again. The drink quickly began to take the edge off the pain. 'Bloody hell, they're already at the windows,' he said.

Holmes looked up and saw that there were countless shadowy shapes swarming on the other side of the glass. He could still hear the bodies clattering and banging against the front door. If the noise didn't attract them, he thought, the light from the fire certainly would. 'Drink up,' he said, 'and think yourself lucky. Tonight everyone else is either dead or on the run. We're in the best place we could be.' Richards didn't know if he agreed. The more he drank, however, the more he realised he didn't care. It took just over an hour for the crowd outside to build to such a size that sheer pressure forced them inside.

A street level window behind and to the right of Holmes and Richards smashed sending a thousand shards of glass and a hundred bodies spilling into the pub. Already too drunk to react or fight, the two men sat in their chairs and continued to drink as the building filled with rotting flesh.


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