Chapter Nineteen

'So what do we do now?' Proctor asked, his face suddenly ashen grey and emotionless. 'Do we just sit and wait?'

'You might as well,' a voice suddenly said from behind him, 'but I'm not ready to. Not yet, anyway.' The survivors turned around. For the first time that morning Barry Bushell emerged from his bedroom. He was dressed as a woman again, complete with blond wig, full make-up and high-heeled boots. He stormed into the main part of the suite with a bright confidence, completely at odds with the others who sat around dejectedly, each contemplating the decisions that they would soon have to make and the horrors they were about to face.

'So what are you planning?' Elizabeth asked, looking Bushell up and down and admiring his nerve if nothing else.

'I did a lot of thinking last night,' he explained.

'And...?' Jones pressed.

'I tried to see if I was wrong. I wanted to know whether I've been looking at everything the wrong way.'

'And?' he pressed again.

'And I think I'm right,' he sighed. 'And the more I think about it, the more I realise that it's hopeless. We're really up against it and I can't see a way out. I'm not just talking about the hotel here, I'm talking about what's left of our lives in general.'

'What do you mean?'

Bushell thought carefully for a moment.

'Whatever we do, wherever we go, we're fucked.'

'Nice.'

'Seriously, just stop and think about it. I'm not being defeatist here, I'm just being honest. Whatever we decide to do, it's going to be a struggle. We're going to have to fight for absolutely everything, and that's bloody stupid when you think there's probably only a few people left. The world's our oyster, but I don't think we can take any of it. What does that say to you?'

Blank, confused looks. Silence.

'Like you said,' Elizabeth mumbled, 'we're fucked.'

'Exactly. The end's coming and there's nothing we can do about it. The only thing we have any control over is what we do with the time we have left.'

'But we don't know how long that is,' Proctor protested.

'We never have done,' Bushell argued. 'Seems to me that we can spend out last days and weeks hiding in the shadows out there, starving to death, running from place to place and freaking out every time someone farts...'

'Or...?'

'Or we can just stop trying so hard to survive and just let things happen naturally. Go out with a little dignity.'

'You're talking crap,' Wilcox protested. 'Am I? Am I really? Do you really think you're supposed to survive all of this? Don't you think there are some things that are bigger than us...?'

'Please don't start talking about God and divine retribution and all that crap,' Proctor sighed. 'I've given all of that up. It's taken me until now to finally see what a load of old shite all that really was.'

Bushell shook his head and smiled and brushed away a stray wisp of long, blond hair.

'That's not what I'm talking about at all. What I'm saying is that whatever happened here was the twenty-first century equivalent of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs.'

'What?' Jones exclaimed. 'Now you've really lost me.'

'This is our ice-age. This is our apocalypse. This is the end. We should just accept it and let nature take its course.' Bushell's comments were met with an ominous silence. Keen to press his point he spoke again. 'Our problem is,' he sighed thoughtfully, 'we've all fallen foul of the programme. We think we're bloody superior. We think the planet can't go on without us. It's part and parcel of the human condition. Truth is the world's going to thrive without us here to screw it up.'

'The human condition?' Wilcox sneered. 'What the hell are you talking about?'

Bushell shrugged his shoulders.

'I can't think of another name for it. I was looking out of the window last night watching birds flying from building to building...'

'Fucking hell,' Jones interrupted, 'he's lost it. I've long had my doubts about him but I think he's finally lost it...'

'I was watching the birds,' Bushell continued, ignoring him, 'and I started thinking about the difference between us and the animals. Seems to me there's one huge difference that doesn't often get talked about.' He paused to give the others opportunity to make a cheap joke or to throw another insult in his direction. Unusually they were silent. 'The difference is,' he explained, 'that we know we're eventually going to die and they don't. Animals strut about the place thinking they're going to go on forever, we spend our lives worrying about how they're going to end. That's what I mean when I talk about the human condition. We're too preoccupied thinking about death to enjoy life.'

There followed an unusually long moment of contemplation and reflection which was only disturbed when Proctor remembered the bodies on the stairs.

'That's all well and good,' he said anxiously, 'but what are you going to do now? Are you going to wait for the bodies to get in here, or are you going to kill yourself and get it over with?'

'Neither.'

'What then?'

'Get rid of a few bodies if I can and try and slow them down a little. Then sit here and drink myself stupid with what's left of the bottles Paul and Elizabeth kindly fetched for us last night.'

'And how do you propose to slow them down?'

'I've been thinking about that too. We've already established that they'll keep moving forward until they can't go any further, right?' 'Right?' Elizabeth agreed.

'So instead of letting them stop here on this floor where we are, let's help them go a little further.'

'What are you suggesting?'

'Lead them up onto the roof.'

'And?'

'And that's it. What they do up there is their business. If they stay true to form they'll follow each other up, one after another, until there's no room left.'

'Then what?'

'Then they'll either start forcing themselves back down, or they'll start forcing themselves over the edge!'

'Brilliant,' Jones grinned. 'Absolutely fucking brilliant!'

He couldn't believe what he was hearing. Was the man in a dress really suggesting they spend their last few days sitting in a luxury hotel suite watching three week old bodies push each other off the roof?

'It's worth a go, isn't it?' Bushell smiled.

'Okay,' Jones said, surprising even himself, 'let's do it.'

The roof of the building was accessed from a narrow staircase which led off an unremarkable looking doorway at the top of the main stairs. With the bodies continuing to make unsteady progress towards them, Jones and Bushell crept up towards the hatch that would lead them outside.

'It's locked,' Bushell grunted as he tried to push the door open.

'Don't you have the key? You've got keys to everywhere else.'

'Sorry.'

'Smash it open then.'

'What about the noise?'

Jones looked down the staircase, back into the heart of the building. Even from this distance he could see indistinct, shuffling movement.

'Bit late to worry about that,' he mumbled.

With limited space to manoeuvre his bulk, Bushell swung himself back and then crashed his shoulder against the door. It rattled in its frame but didn't open. Another couple of attempts were equally unsuccessful.

'Let me,' Jones said, pushing the other man to the side. He launched a barrage of well aimed kicks at the lock. The wood began to splinter and crack. Another few kicks and it flew open.

The two men climbed out onto the roof. A phenomenal wind threatened to blow them off their feet. 'Jesus,' Jones said, having to shout to make himself heard, 'bit blustery, isn't it.'

Bushell didn't answer. He was already busying himself with trying to pull the door off its hinges. For the bodies to be able to keep moving forward the doorway would need to remain clear. The only way to make sure that happened was to remove the door completely. Jones picked up a discarded strip of metal from the roof and, using it as a jemmy, began to prise at the hinges. A couple of minutes of grunting and groaning and the wood splintered and gave way.

'That's it,' Bushell said, dragging the now redundant door away and dropping it on the asphalt. 'Let's get back.'

The two men clattered back down the staircase towards the Presidential Suite. Jones stopped at the top of the staircase and peered down at the bodies moving towards him. Was it his imagination, or had they begun to move slightly quicker than they had been? He tried to think logically as he watched the distance between the living and the dead rapidly evaporate. Previously the bodies had been driven by the pressure of others pushing them from behind. So what had changed now? The answer was simple. The corpses furthest up the stairs now knew that there were survivors above. Rather than wait to be pushed forward, those at the front of the queue were now moving under their own steam. The distance between them was disappearing rapidly. Jones stood on the landing and watched the nearest of the rotting figures awkwardly climbing towards the top floor of the hotel. Bushell stood next to him.

'They're getting faster,' Jones said quietly, not quite believing what he was seeing. 'I think we need to...' He stopped speaking when one of the bodies looked up at him. Was he imagining it? No, now Bushell had seen it too. The creatures were looking at them...

'Move,' Bushell said simply. The other man didn't argue.

'Done it?' Proctor asked hopefully as they burst back through the main doors.

Bushell nodded.

'Done it.'

'Now what?'

'We might have a problem...' he began to say.

'What's the matter?' Doreen asked, concerned.

Jones still stood by the open doors, looking back down the corridor and occasionally turning round and glancing over his shoulder at the others. He was about to try and tell them what they'd seen when the first bodies appeared on the landing. Elizabeth covered her mouth in horror and stifled a terrified scream. Proctor scrambled away from the open door.

'Fucking hell...' gasped Wilcox.

'They saw us,' Jones mumbled pathetically. 'There was nothing we could do.'

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