Chapter Eighteen

'I checked all the rooms for bodies and I took what I needed but...'

'Did you take everything?'

'No. Didn't need to.'

'So there's your answer,' Jones said smugly, rocking back on his chair and almost looking down his nose at the others. 'We go back down as far as we need to and grab what we can.'

'Think that's going to work?'

'Might do, might not. Should prevent us from starving to death for a few days longer,' he sneered cynically. 'Delay the inevitable for a while.'

'That's all you're going to do,' Bushell reminded him, 'just delay what you know is going to happen anyway.' 'He's right, isn't he?' asked Doreen. 'It's not going to change the fact that those bloody things will be up here with us in the next couple of days, is it? It's not going to help us get away.'

'No,' he agreed, 'it won't. But it might give us a little time and space.'

Eight thirty-five. Pitch black. Jones, Wilcox and Elizabeth crept cautiously down the fire escape staircase towards the lower floors of the hotel. Hunger, claustrophobia and fear had combined to deadly effect to kick the instinctively cowardly survivors into action. Their hastily considered and half-improvised plan seemed increasingly risky with every step of descent. Jones had suggested they head all the way down and work their way back up. They had only made their way down as far as the seventeenth floor when he stopped and turned round to face the others.

'What's the matter?' Elizabeth asked, immediately concerned.

'I want to have a look,' he replied.

'What for?'

'What do you think?'

'But you said...'

'I said nothing. We know they're on the stairs. We don't know where else they are, do we?'

She shook her head. Jones moved towards the door and gently pushed it open a fraction. He shone his torch out onto the landing.

'Anything?'

'Can't see any movement,' he replied, his voice little more than a whisper. 'I'm going to have a look around.'

Without waiting for a response from either of the other two Jones slipped out through the door and onto the landing. He switched off his torch, concerned that the light might attract unwanted attention, and then cautiously moved further down the dark hallway to the first corner. The layout, as far as he could see in the gloom, was pretty much as Bushell had described. A long, wide corridor with a right-angled right turn which ran towards the central part of the building where, he presumed, the staircase and several thousand rotting bodies would be. He moved closer to the corner and peered around, holding his breath for fear of making any sound which might tip the balance and alert the dead to his presence. He couldn't see anything. It was too dark.

Jones felt his way along the wall and paused at the door to one of the hotel's many bedrooms. Did he go inside? It would be worth having a quick look around the room before he returned to the other two waiting on the fire escape staircase. He wanted to see the layout of a typical room so that he could get a feel for what they were dealing with. How quickly would they be able to thoroughly check a room for food? What were they likely to find? Would there be a mini-bar or similar? Christ, he needed a drink. Imagine if each room had its own supply of booze. Surely some of the more expensive rooms on the higher floors would have...

Jones reached down and tried the handle. Damn thing was locked. No surprise really. Bushell had a set of master keys which he'd taken from reception. Elizabeth had them with her. He shoved the door again, hoping it would open. It didn't matter. He'd go back to the... Wait. What was that? He sensed movement nearby. Jones felt something brush against his arm and he froze. He lifted his torch and turned it on. Ahead of him the whole corridor was filled with bodies.

'Fucking hell,' he mumbled as he tripped and staggered back away from the dead. Illuminated now and then by the unsteady light from his shaking torch, he saw that the corridor was packed full of corpses which had obviously spilled out from the staircase. They began to stumble towards him. He turned and ran back to the fire escape and hammered on the door. Elizabeth opened it slowly.

'Move!' he yelled, forcing himself through and slamming the door shut behind him.

'Bodies?' she asked over her shoulder as she instinctively began to climb back up.

'Fucking hundreds of them,' he grunted. He glanced around for Wilcox but he'd already gone and was way ahead of them both. Cowardly bastard. He made a mental note never to put himself in a position where needed to rely on Wilcox for anything.

The survivors pounded breathlessly up the stairs, suddenly not bothered about the volume of noise they made, just desperate to get back to the Presidential Suite. As he climbed Jones thought more about the progress of the bodies he'd just seen.

'Wait a minute,' he shouted, stopping Elizabeth in her tracks. Breathless, he shone his torch at a small sign on the back of the nearest fire door. Floor twenty-six. It was worth taking a chance to see if this floor was the same as the one ten floors below. Elizabeth walked back down five steps to stand next to him.

'What are you doing?'

'According to Proctor they haven't reached this floor yet,' he said. 'We might as well see if we can find anything before we go back.'

She agreed. He was right on two counts. Firstly, if the bodies hadn't yet made it this far up the staircase, they wouldn't have made it up to this floor at all. Secondly, it looked likely that this was their last chance to get food before the dead reached the Presidential Suite.

'Come on,' she mumbled.

The two survivors crept through the fire door (leaving it propped open with a fire extinguisher) and moved slowly along the corridor to the first corner. Jones put his head around the corner and shone the torch down its length.

'Clear,' he said, the relief in his voice obvious. 'Let's stick to this end of the corridor and stay away from the stairs.'

'Suits me,' Elizabeth replied.

The layout of floor twenty-seven was different to floor seventeen. This floor bore more of a resemblance to the luxurious twenty-eighth floor than any of the lower levels. There were several large suites on this floor and Jones was immediately hopeful they'd find some food and drink at least.

'Got a key for an executive suite?' he asked. Elizabeth worked her way through the huge bunch of keys she carried. The door was quickly opened and the two of them slipped inside.

'So what are we looking for?' Elizabeth asked. 'Anything,' Jones replied, 'and make sure you split what you find into two piles. Keep one for yourself and we'll share the rest with the others.'

'But that's...'

'...completely fair. How many of those fuckers are down here with us? If they want more they can come and get it themselves.'

He turned round and began to ransack the room.

A little under an hour later Elizabeth and Jones returned to the Presidential Suite. They had with them the entire contents of the drinks cabinets of the Executive Suites on the floor immediately below. They'd found very little in the way of food, but that didn't seem to matter anymore. The survivors gratefully took what they were given as they listened to what the others had seen on the other levels. Regardless of their nerves and uncertainty, what food they were given was eaten quickly.

'Feels like a last supper, doesn't it?' Bushell said quietly. He didn't know who was listening. No-one had lit any lamps this evening.

'So what do we do tomorrow?' Proctor asked, sitting a little way behind him. 'Do we just sit here and wait for them, or do we run?'

'We've been through this before,' Elizabeth sighed.

'Wilcox will run,' Jones smirked. 'You're good at running, aren't you, Wilcox.'

Wilcox switched on a torch and shone it around the room until he found where Jones was sitting.

'Shut your fucking mouth,' he hissed angrily, shining the light directly into the other man's eyes. Jones laughed at him.

'Thanks for your help back there,' he smirked, referring to Wilcox's sudden disappearance on the fire escape stairs. 'Couldn't have managed without you.'

Wilcox switched off his torch. He didn't know how to react. He was angry and he didn't like Jones mocking him, but he didn't feel able to retaliate. What was going to happen tomorrow was much more of a threat than Jones and his snide comments.

'So what do we do tomorrow?' Proctor asked again. 'Do we run or...?'

'Let's just think about it logically, shall we,' Bushell suggested. 'They're still coming in through the front door, aren't they? And they're climbing the stairs because of the growing pressure from other corpses behind them. So what's going to happen when they reach the top of the stairs? They're not going to turn back round and start heading for the ground floor again, are they?'

'They're going to keep coming,' Jones said ominously. 'When they can't go up, they'll start spreading onto the landings like they did on the other floor.'

'And even when there's no more room on the landing up here,' Bushell continued, 'they'll keep coming. Before we know it they'll be up against our door and then, when the pressure gets too great, our door will give and this place will be filled with the damn things.'

'Lovely,' mumbled Doreen. 'So you don't think there's anything we can do?' asked Elizabeth .

'It's like I said earlier,' Bushell replied, 'what's coming is coming. I think we're all going to die. The only choice we each have left is how we do it. Now I don't personally intend being torn apart, but I also don't like the idea of running either.'

'So what are you going to do?'

'Not sure yet. I haven't decided.'

'You haven't got long.'

'I know.'

'I'm running,' Wilcox muttered.

'You would,' laughed Jones. 'I'll probably run too.'

'What about you, Doreen?' Elizabeth asked.

'Too tired to run, too scared not to,' she answered dejectedly. 'We'll just have to see what tomorrow brings, won't we?'

Next morning. First light. Proctor picked up his camera and nervously walked out of the main doors and across the landing, intending to carry out his self-imposed daily duty and ascertain how far below them the advancing bodies now were. He walked out to the staircase and leant over the banister. He immediately pulled his head back. There was no longer any need for cameras and fire-hoses. He could see them. They still had several flights of stairs to climb, but he could now see the first few dead. He ran back to tell the others.

'How far?' Elizabeth asked as he burst back into the room breathlessly.

'Not far.'

'How long?'

'Not long.'

'More specific?'

Proctor shrugged his shoulders.

'Couple of hours maximum.'

Doreen began to sob with fright.

'Shut up you silly cow,' Wilcox snapped with his characteristic lack of concern and compassion, 'all you're going to do is get them up here quicker.'

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