Chapter Seventeen

'Get a sheet, hold it like a parachute, climb up to the roof and jump off,' Wilcox suggested to Doreen, less than seriously.

'Do you think that will work?' she asked, her response meeting with groans of disbelief from several of the others.

'Only if you try it, Doreen,' he smirked.

'How would I get up again?'

Wilcox didn't bother to answer.

'We should go down there,' he instead suggested. 'We should go down there and torch the place on our way out. Set light to the building and watch the whole fucking place go up in flames.'

'What good's that going to do?' wondered Bushell.

'It would distract them. Christ, the heat and light this place burning would generate would be more than enough of a distraction for us to be able to get away. They're not going to be interested in a handful of people sneaking out the back door if that's going on, are they?'

Wilcox's plan was met with a muted silence from the others. They each thought long and hard about it, but none of them were sure. It wasn't the wanton destruction that put them off, rather it was the thought of running again...

'What about the cradle?' Proctor said suddenly. 'We've talked about it before, haven't we? Barry said there's a window-cleaner's cradle half way up the side of the building. We could use that to get us down, couldn't we? We could use it to get back up as well...'

'What about power,' Jones grunted from the end of the table. The others turned to face him. 'How do you think you winch it up and down? Think the window-cleaners used to pull themselves up thirty floors by hand? No power, no cradle.'

Another idea quashed.

'Seems to me that if we can get out of here in one piece then maybe that's what we should be looking to try and do. Maybe we're going to have to find ourselves somewhere else to hide,' Elizabeth said dejectedly. Bushell shook his head.

'I don't want to leave here,' he sighed, his voice soft and tired. 'I can't see any point in running.'

'Of course there's a point,' sneered Doreen.

'Is there?'

'Yes...' she stammered, sounding far from certain, 'of course there's a point...'

Bushell shrugged his shoulders.

'I'm not so sure there is.'

'So what are you saying?' snapped Wilcox. 'Do we just sit here and starve? Fucking good plan, well done!'

'What are you running for?'

'Because I don't want to die,' Wilcox answered quickly.

'Good answer. Why don't you want to die?'

He struggled to answer. It was a simple enough question, or maybe it was a trick...

'No-one wants to die, do they?' he said quietly.

'But is it the end of your life you're worried about, or is it death itself that scares you?'

'What?'

'Are you worried that you're not going to achieve everything you've always wanted to achieve, or is it the pain of being torn apart by hundreds of bloody bodies that bothers you?'

Again Wilcox couldn't answer. Neither could any of the others.

'What point are you making, Barry?' Proctor wondered.

He shrugged his shoulders and sat back in his seat.

'Sorry, I'm just thinking out loud really. I'm not trying to wind you all up. I guess what I'm saying is that I can't see a way out here. If we run we'll find somewhere else to hide for a while, then something will happen and before you know it we'll be moving on again, and again, and again...'

'Not necessarily,' Elizabeth protested.

'No, but that's probably what will happen. We have to be ready to expect the unexpected. Christ, I thought I was doing okay here until someone drove a bloody bus into the building!'

'But running has got to be better than just giving up and waiting to die, hasn't it?'

Bushell shrugged his shoulders again.

'I'm not so sure. That's what I used to think, but I don't know anymore. Every morning when I wake up, it becomes clearer and clearer to me that my life is just about over. We're massively outnumbered and society is finished. Christ, we're sitting here talking about risking our necks just to get food. What kind of a life are any of us going to have if getting the basics like food and shelter are so difficult?'

Silence.

'Still don't understand you,' Doreen admitted. 'What were you saying about death and dying?'

Bushell rubbed his tired eyes and explained.

'I don't want to keep struggling and fighting forever,' he said sadly, 'and I don't think any of you do either. If I'm completely honest, I just want to relax and let things happen naturally. I don't think we were supposed to survive. So while I don't relish the idea of letting those things out there tear me limb from limb, I'm not too bothered if I die.'

'But that's...' Proctor was about to protest.

'It's not normal,' Bushell interrupted. 'It's not what any of you were expecting me to say. We've been pre-programmed and conditioned by society all of our lives to keep fighting and keep struggling. All I'm saying is that there's no point anymore. Just sit back and relax and let nature take it's course.'

More silence.

'No,' Wilcox said suddenly.

'What?'

'I said no,' he repeated. 'No way am I just going to sit here and wait to die. Absolutely no way... There must be more we can do.'

'I'm with you,' Paul Jones said, similarly unimpressed by Bushell's words. Proctor looked up in surprise at Jones' sudden allegiance to the other man. Strange how their apparent dislike and distrust of each other had immediately been put to one side now that their backs were against the wall.

'So what do we do?' asked Elizabeth .

That was the million dollar question that no-one could immediately answer. A heavy and ominous silence descended on the room as the six individuals quietly considered their limited options and the apparent hopelessness of their situation.

'Exactly how full of bodies is this place?' Jones asked.

'They're almost up to the twenty-fourth floor, I told you that a few minutes ago. Weren't you listening to...' Proctor answered before being interrupted.

'No, you told us how far up the staircase they've managed to get, you didn't tell us how full of bodies the building is.'

Proctor struggled to see the difference. He wasn't alone.

'So what are you saying?' Elizabeth wondered.

Jones shook his head. Christ, these people annoyed him. More to the point he was annoyed with himself. Why hadn't he thought of this before?'

'A couple of minutes ago we were talking about getting out of here, weren't we?' 'Yes.'

'So how was Bushell talking about getting out?'

'Do you always answer questions with questions?' she snapped.

'Do you?' he replied infuriatingly before re-phrasing and asking his previous question again. 'There's another way out of here, isn't there?'

'The fire escape,' Bushell eventually answered.

'Which is still clear, correct?'

'As far as we know,' he stammered. 'Why, what's your point?'

'Is the fire escape anywhere near the main staircase?'

'Of course not,' Proctor answered quickly. 'What would be the point of that? The fire escape needs to be on the other side of the building so that...'

'Exactly.'

'So what's your point?' Elizabeth sighed, confused and tired and unable to follow the rapidly changing direction of the conversation.

'What I'm saying,' Jones replied, 'is that the fire escape gives us a way of moving around the building that's well away from the main staircase where we think the bodies are...'

'And there's a good chance the bodies are still only on the staircase,' Wilcox continued, taking over from the other man. 'Which means that if we're careful we could still go onto the floors and into the rooms.'

'What's the layout of a typical floor?' Jones asked.

Bushell thought for a second before answering.

'Just one U-shaped corridor,' he shrugged. 'Staircase in the middle, fire escape at either end I think.'

'And when you first set yourself up here, did you clear the place out?'

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