Chapter Thirteen

By the time the city was bathed in darkness again Donna and Paul had decided what they were going to do. They planned to distract the bodies on the landing as they'd discussed earlier and then make a break for it. They hoped that their comparative strength and control would be enough to get them through the crowd outside the office doors. As the afternoon and early evening had worn on their simple plan had slowly gained more purpose and direction. There was no question that they were doing the right thing. For the first time in days both of them could see a reason to try and do something positive, and they were both acutely aware of the fact that they had to do it quickly. In the gloom of the dying day Donna had gathered her few belongings together and put on as much of the clothing she'd collected as was comfortable. The evening was bitterly cold. Even indoors her breath condensed in cool, billowing clouds around her mouth and nose. Across the room, still keeping low and out of sight, Paul had done the same with his things.

The lamps around the office floor remained dull and unlit, the survivors electing to remain in darkness until they were completely ready to make their move. 'We need to stir them up at the other end of the room,' she whispered. 'We'll use the lamps and we'll make enough of a disturbance so that they try and get in through those doors.' 'And then we come back to this end?' Paul asked anxiously. He knew full well what they were going to do. They'd been planning it for hours. Going over the plan again and again seemed to help both of them. Donna nodded. 'We'll prop the doors open up there and let them get inside. We'll get ourselves back down here and wait for a couple of minutes until the bulk of them are in. Then we'll get out.

They'll follow each other like sheep.' 'You sure?' 'Sure as I can be. Only one way of finding out for certain though, isn't there?' Paul nodded nervously. He knew exactly what she meant. He also knew that it wouldn't be long now before they left the comparative safety of the office and stepped out into the unknown. He continued to go over the plan again and again in his head. It seemed to make sense and he couldn't think of any alternative. He knew in his heart that it was going to work, but as the minutes slowly ticked by and the inevitable approached he began to doubt himself. 'Make yourself useful,' Donna said, snapping him out of his daydream. 'Let's start getting the lamps together.' She turned and walked out of the training room, leaving Paul sitting alone in the darkness. For a few seconds he stayed exactly where he was, suddenly too afraid to move. It didn't matter how long they'd talked about doing this, now that the time to act had actually arrived he wanted to curl up again and hide. Sensing that he hadn't followed her, Donna turned back. 'What's the problem?' she hissed. His mouth was dry and he couldn't answer. 'I...' he began, not knowing what he was trying to say. 'Get off your backside and fucking move!' Donna cursed. She waited for a second but still he didn't move. 'Now!' she yelled. Paul scrambled to his feet, suddenly feeling pathetic and ashamed but no less frightened and unsure than he had been. Donna's voice also provoked frantic activity out on the landing as the bodies again began to batter against the doors, trying hopelessly to force their way inside. The two survivors quickly made their way around the perimeter of the office, collecting the torches and lamps which Donna had placed there the previous evening. They then assembled them on a single desk in the furthest corner of the room, in full sight of the bodies behind the door. 'Got everything?' she asked. Paul swallowed hard. 'Think so,' he mumbled nervously, realising that they would be making their move within minutes. 'Good,' she replied. She started to light the lamps and torches but stopped after only lighting four. The creatures outside were banging on the door again with even more force. Their simple, basic interests already aroused by the sound of Donna's voice moments earlier, the bright light in the corner of the room now seemed to be enough to drive them into a frenzy. She glanced over her shoulder at the movement outside. 'Bloody hell,' Paul moaned. 'Christ, what the hell are we doing?' 'What we have to do,' Donna grunted, returning her attention to the lamps. 'Now shut up and get on with it.'

With his hands shaking with nerves Paul lit a match and began to light the gas lamps. The room was quickly filled with more light and with the faintly acidic smell and dull roar of burning jets of gas. The noise on the landing became even louder. 'Shit,' Paul cursed, 'listen to them. All we've done is light a few lamps and the bloody things are going mad.' 'Good, that's exactly what we want.' 'Is it?' 'Of course it is. The more fired up they are, the better a distraction this is going to be.' Paul wasn't convinced. He returned his attention to lighting the remaining lamps, trying unsuccessfully to blank out the noise coming from outside. A couple of minutes later and it was done. The far right corner of the office was filled with bright light and a sudden warmth. 'Okay,' Donna whispered, stepping back into the shadows again, 'let's go.' Paul instinctively began to backtrack. 'You're completely sure about this?' he mumbled, his mouth dry. 'But what happens if we get out there and...?' She turned and stared at him, her face harshly illuminated from the right. The anger in her face was blindingly apparent. 'Just stop your damn whining and move,' she seethed. 'It's too late to back out now. Get back to the other end and get the bags ready.' Relieved to be away from the revealing light he walked quickly away to the far end of the office. 'And keep out of sight,' she shouted after him. 'Don't let them see you. You screw this up and we're trapped.' He didn't need her to tell him that, it was painfully obvious. Their actions were geared around the basic fact that there was only one way for them to get out of the building. If their escape route became blocked for any reason then that would be it. There would be no second chances. Breathing deeply to try and calm her own shattered nerves, Donna cautiously walked away from the light and moved closer towards the doors. Through the small glass panels she could see the creatures outside reacting to her presence. The ferocity of their movements increased as she approached - she could see the reaction of the first bodies causing the second and the third to react, then the forth, the fifth and the sixth and so on until the landing was filled with clumsy, awkward movement and action. She wondered what, if anything, was going through their decaying minds? Were they frightened of her? Did they want to harm her? Did they want her to help end their suffering? Whatever the reason she knew that ultimately it didn't matter. Self-preservation was all that was important now. She took a deep breath and opened the door. For a split-second there was nothing.

Then the force of the mass of bodies on the landing and stairs caused the crowd to surge forward, spilling into the office and sending countless corpses stumbling and tripping around her. The brightness of the light in the corner of the room was more of a distraction than she was. In the relative darkness she was able to turn and run back to the training room. 'Okay?' Paul whispered. 'Shut up,' she snapped. 'Keep quiet. If they hear us they'll start coming up this way.' The two survivors crept quietly out of the training room and towards the other doors. Down at the far end of the office they could see a huge mass of dark, uncoordinated bodies continuing to flood into the room and head for the light. The first few of them reached out with cold, lifeless hands and grabbed inquisitively at the lamps. Unable to grip with clumsy, uncoordinated fingers and thumbs, one of the creatures knocked a lamp to the ground, shattering its protective glass cover and leaving the burning mantle exposed. Within seconds the carpet and a pile of papers was alight. 'Bloody hell,' Donna gasped as she watched the fire spread quickly. 'Let's get moving.' 'No, hold on. We should give it a little longer.' Donna moved forward just enough to enable her to see through the doors and watch the bodies continuing to enter the office through the other entrance. Still more of them dragged themselves up the stairs and onto the landing. Paul watched the bodies around the light, which had now changed from a steady white-yellow to a flickering orange-red as the unchecked fire took hold. Some of the pitiful creatures walked into the flames, apparently ignorant to the heat and danger. Their ragged clothes were tinder dry and quickly began to smoulder and burn. 'We've got to go,' Paul insisted. 'Christ, that fire's going to spread through this whole building. And when the gas bottles on the lamps start to go...'

'I know,' Donna interrupted, standing up straight and picking up her few belongings. She watched the crowd through the door for a moment longer before stepping back to look at the fire. Several bodies were burning (and still moving) now, as was a desk and chair. Thick brown smoke was billowing up and was beginning to roll along the low ceiling towards them. Donna flicked her security pass casually at the control panel at the side of the door and then quietly pushed it open. Even now after the bodies had been able to get into the room for several minutes there were still more of them on the landing, tripping towards the open office doors. She looked back momentarily to check that Paul was with her and then led him out towards the staircase. Silently they crept along the landing with their backs pressed against the wall, terrified that they would be seen by the diseased hordes which continued to crowd towards the light. Donna stopped just short of the open door which led out onto the staircase. 'Okay?' she mouthed silently. Paul nodded. 'Just keep moving forward until we get outside.' After waiting for another withered body to drag itself through the doorway Donna turned and forced her way out onto the stairs. She tripped down in the darkness, pushing random bodies to the side as she began to run down towards ground level and deflecting countless grabbing hands which reached out for her constantly. The heavy footsteps of the survivors on the concrete stairs echoed throughout the dead building as they ran down and down, turning one hundred and eighty degrees at the foot of each short flight and the start of the next. Numerous bodies continued to emerge from the darkness around them but the sheer strength, speed and fear of Donna and Paul was too much for any of the cadavers. They were knocked away and flung to the side like discarded rag dolls.

Through another door and they had reached the reception area. Still more dark and indistinguishable bodies approached but the survivors did not allow themselves to be distracted. Donna led Paul down a final staircase and out into the office car park through an insignificant basement entrance. The car park was empty. In the safety of the shadows and the darkness they stopped. 'You all right?' Paul asked quietly. Donna nodded, shaking and breathing heavily. 'I'm okay,' she replied. 'You?' 'I'm fine.' Disturbed by a huge noise from above, Donna took a few steps out into the centre of the car park and looked up. She could see the floor from which they had just escaped. The windows along two-thirds of the length of the building were lit up, illuminated by fierce yellow-orange flames. Even from where they stood, many meters below, they could hear the crackle and pop of the fire as it consumed the office. The sudden muffled bang of an exploding gas cylinder and the cracking of glass made them both catch their breath. Without saying another word, and walking slowly for fear of attracting the attention of the sickly, withered bodies soon moving randomly around them again, Paul and Donna left the car park and began to head towards the centre of the city.

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