Chapter Thirteen

With no time to properly consider his actions Wilcox turned the bus as instructed. The dark silhouette of the hotel loomed large in front of him.

'Where?' he screamed, desperate for some help and guidance.

'Just keep moving,' Jones yelled back. 'Keep going forward until...'

He didn't have chance to finish his sentence. The low light and the constant criss-crossing movement of hundreds of bodies made the distance between the bus and the front of the hotel impossible to accurately gauge. Tired and terrified, Wilcox jammed his foot down on the accelerator and sent the bus crashing through the front of the building. Their velocity was such that the bus continued to move until the twisted metal and rubble trapped under its wheels eventually acted as a brake. Eighty percent inside the building with only the last twenty percent of its rear end sticking out into the cold night, the bus came to a sudden, juddering halt in the middle of the hotel's wide and imposing marble-floored reception, its front wheel wedged hopelessly in an ornate and long-since dried up decorative fountain. No-one moved.

'My back...' Doreen eventually wailed from somewhere on the floor under a pile of carrier bags full of clothes and other belongings.

'Is everyone all right?' Proctor asked. No-one answered. 'Is anyone all right?' he asked again, slightly revising his original question.

Paul Jones shook his head and dragged himself back up onto his feet. He looked across at Wilcox who was trying to stem the flow of blood from a gash just above his right eye.

'Nice driving,' he sneered.

'Fuck off,' Wilcox spat.

'Shit,' Elizabeth cursed from somewhere in the darkness behind them. 'Get out of here. We've got to get out of here.'

The sudden fear and desperation in her voice was clear for all to hear. Without pausing for explanation the six survivors picked themselves up, grabbed as many of their belongings as they could carry, and moved towards the door at the front of the bus which Jones had already forced open. He glanced down the side of the long vehicle and immediately saw what Elizabeth had seen. A large part of the hotel entrance had collapsed. Although still partially blocked by the bus, there was now a huge, gaping hole in the side of the hotel where the main doors had once been. Hundreds of bodies were already swarming into the building from outside.

'Over here,' an unexpected voice yelled. Barry Bushell stood at the bottom of the main hotel staircase at the other end of the vast, dust-filled and rubble-strewn lobby. He gestured for the survivors to follow him. The light inside the building was minimal and they struggled to make him out at first. Wilcox was the first to see him. He ran across the room, closely followed by Doreen, Elizabeth and Jones.

'Come on, Ted,' Proctor pleaded. 'Leave your stuff, we have to move.'

Hamilton was busy collecting his belongings and supplies. Loaded up with bags and boxes he tripped and stumbled down from the bus after the others.

'Keep going,' he gasped, already out of breath. 'I'll catch you up.'

Proctor looked back at the other man who was clearly struggling.

'Just leave that stuff,' he shouted. 'We don't need it.'

'I need it,' Hamilton groaned.

'They're coming!'

Come on you idiot, thought Proctor. Drop the bags, drop your boxes and get your backside over here. Hamilton was oblivious to the swarm of bodies that were now dangerously close behind him. They moved like a thick, heavy liquid slowly seeping across the floor of the hotel reception. Already the bus had been swallowed up and surrounded, overcome in the same way that scavenging insects might cover and devour a dead animal. Proctor looked around to see that the rest of the survivors had all but disappeared. Just Elizabeth remained, standing at the bottom of the staircase.

'Move you fucking idiot!' screamed Proctor. Hamilton tried to speed up but, if anything, he was slowing down. He was desperately unfit and scared. He glanced back over his shoulder and, seeing how close the nearest bodies now were, he tried unsuccessfully to increase his speed again. He couldn't do it. He couldn't make his tired legs move any quicker. It was hopeless.

'Move!' Proctor screamed again as he nervously backed away and moved towards Elizabeth.

Whereas most people would have dug deep and done everything possible to cover the remaining difference between themselves and safety, Hamilton did not. He was already exhausted and the staircase ahead of him seemed to stretch up into the darkness forever. He'd never make it. An eternal pessimist, subconsciously he had already decided that his number was up. He made one last weak attempt to move quicker but it wasn't working. The distance still seemed huge. Hamilton stopped and dropped his bags and boxes. Proctor and Elizabeth watched helplessly as the bodies swarmed around him and over him and dragged him to the ground.

'Let's go,' Proctor sighed. Elizabeth was already on her way up the stairs. Proctor turned and disappeared into the shadows after her. Although he couldn't see where he was going, he could hear the others' voices up ahead.

'So what the fucking hell are you supposed to be?' Wilcox asked as they climbed. They had stopped momentarily to regroup a few flights up. Bushell carried a torch with him which he used to check who was with him. It was the first time that any of them had been able to see him clearly. He could see the puzzled expressions on their faces. Suddenly self-conscious, he didn't know what to say. He hadn't needed to explain his bizarre dress-code to anyone else yet. For a moment he felt foolish before remembering how good these clothes made him feel and how, when there was just a handful of people left now, what he was wearing was of absolutely no consequence to anyone.

'I'm Barry,' he eventually answered, 'Barry Bushell.'

'So why are you wearing a dress?' Wilcox demanded.

'Because I want to,' he answered factually.

'You look lovely, dear,' Doreen said as she passed him on the landing. Already gasping for air and in need of a cigarette, she patted him on the shoulder and nodded her head upwards. 'This way, is it?'

'Just keep going,' he replied. 'I'm living in the suite on the top floor. It was as far away as I could get from everything that's been going on down here.'

Doreen nodded and kept climbing, her nervous fear helping her forget and overcome her tiredness. Wilcox waited on the landing with Bushell and Jones as Elizabeth and Proctor finally caught up.

'Where's Hamilton?' Wilcox asked. Proctor shook his head.

'Didn't make it,' he said, panting with the effort of the sudden climb. 'Silly bastard got caught.'

'Shit,' Wilcox mumbled under his breath. He shook his head and carried on up the stairs.

The climb to the top of the building seemed to take an eternity to complete. Weighed down by their physical exhaustion and the bulky supplies they'd manage to salvage from the bus, the survivors struggled to make progress. Eventually, several stops later, they reached the impressive top floor penthouse which Bushell had claimed for his own. Even though their appreciation of material possessions and the value of property had been massively distorted by the events of the last seven days, the sheer luxurious scale of the huge apartment still impressed all of them.

'Nice place she's got here,' Wilcox hissed sarcastically as he gazed around the room. Some of the group had sat themselves around a rectangular dining table, others were sprawled out on a nearby sofa.

'Shh...' Elizabeth scowled. 'Leave him alone. He's obviously got problems.'

'We've all got problems,' he sighed.

'Lovely place,' Doreen agreed. 'Just think of all the famous people who must have stayed here. Royalty? Film stars?'

'Why?' Paul Jones grunted.

Doreen looked puzzled. How could he not be excited by the prospect of sleeping in a hotel room that might have been used by millionaires and mega-stars?

'Imagine who's sat round this table...' she continued.

'Why?' he interrupted again. 'Why waste your time thinking about people like that? People like that who could afford to stay here had too much money and not enough sense. You shouldn't look up to them. The only difference between you and them was the size of their wallets compared to yours.'

'It was more than that,' Elizabeth protested. 'It's about glamour and watching them do the things that you always dreamed about and...'

'So did you two read all the celebrity gossip and buy all the glossy magazines that were...?'

'Absolutely,' Doreen said quickly.

'And I bet you used to watch soap operas and reality TV shows and...'

'Never missed my soaps,' she told him with something approximating pride in her voice.

'Pathetic,' Jones snapped. 'Bloody pathetic. It's got nothing to do with glamour or anything like that. I bet you used to swallow all that crap because your own lives were pointless and empty.'

'Thanks a lot,' Elizabeth said angrily. 'Let us know when it's our turn to tear you to pieces.'

'Where are all your celebrities now?' he asked.

'Dead, probably,' Wilcox interjected. 'Face down in the fucking gutter.'

'You know what I think?' Jones continued, even though he knew they didn't care what he thought. 'I think that if by some strange twist of fate one of your precious celebrities had survived and was sat here now instead of one of us, you'd still be treating them like some kind of fucking god.'

'As long as it was you they were here instead of, I wouldn't care,' Elizabeth spat. 'Sometimes you're so far up your own backside that...'

'I've got more food than this,' Bushell explained as he appeared from the kitchen, interrupting the conversation to the relief of the others. 'I'm trying to make it last as long as possible. I'm trying to avoid going outside.' 'I'd be trying to avoid going outside if I looked like that,' Wilcox smirked.

'Leave it, Nick,' sighed Proctor. 'What's the matter with you lot? We've lost our transport and poor old Ted and...'

'Honestly,' Wilcox laughed, not listening to a word Proctor had been saying, 'we wait all this time to find someone else alive, and when we find them it turns out to be a fucking faggot!'

The other survivors cringed with the sudden awkwardness of the situation. Proctor didn't know what was making him feel more uncomfortable, Wilcox's provocation or the fact that their host was wearing full drag. At six feet tall (almost six foot two in heels) Bushell cut an imposing figure. Strangely confident and unruffled, he sat down opposite Wilcox, opened a can of beer and passed another one across the table towards his aggressor.

'Look,' he began, his voice surprisingly calm and assured, 'I'm not surprised you've got a problem with what I'm wearing. Fact is I like it and I'm not going to change. I don't know why, but dressing like this is helping me to come to terms with the fact that all my friends and family and probably everyone else I've ever known is dead. I'm not gay and I'm not a fucking faggot as you put it, I'm just a normal bloke who's decided to try wearing dresses for a while, okay?'

The wind had been taken out of Wilcox's sails by Bushell's brutal honesty.

'Okay,' he mumbled humbly as he reached for his beer.

'Anyway, It doesn't matter what any of us is wearing, does it?' Bushell continued. 'It's not going to make any difference. Same as the colour of our hair won't make any difference either, or whether we're right or left handed. Fact is we're all stuck in this mess together and we'll need to work with each other to get ourselves sorted. Now then,' he said, his voice suddenly louder and more confident, 'who have we got here and what the hell are we going to do now that you've made a fucking big hole in the front of my hotel?'

Dragging introductions and pointless, meandering hypothecations about what had happened to the world took the group through the last few hours of day seven and well into day eight. Spirits were temporarily high - Bushell had the company he'd craved and the others suddenly found themselves in a safer and much more stable and comfortable environment than that which they had become used to.

Proctor pulled up a chair and sat in front of the widest window in the suite for hours watching the night melt away and be overtaken by the first light of day. As the sun began to climb more and more of the shattered world was revealed. Whilst they had been down at street level it had been difficult to fully appreciate the enormity of what had happened to the landscape through which they'd travelled. From twenty-eight floors up, however, the catastrophic damage and devastation was clear.

'You okay?' Elizabeth asked. Her voice surprised him and distracted him from a particularly dark train of thought.

'I'm fine,' he replied, managing half a smile, 'you?' She nodded but said nothing. 'I was just looking out there,' he continued. 'Look at it. The whole bloody world's in ruins.'

Elizabeth took a few steps closer to the window and leant against it. He was right. For as far as she could see the world looked dead and was drained of all colour and life. Apart from the bodies in the streets nothing moved. From this height they could see for endless miles into the distance. The sheer scale of what had happened around them was humbling and soul-destroying.

'Much happening?' Nick Wilcox asked as he joined them. He'd been sat on his own but he preferred the company of others. Elizabeth glanced back over her shoulder at him but didn't bother to answer.

'Not a lot,' Proctor replied. 'No surprise really.'

'I wouldn't be too sure,' Elizabeth said, her face still pressed hard against the glass. She'd diverted her attention away from the horizon to the more immediate area around the base of the hotel building. 'Have you seen what we've done?'

Concerned, Wilcox peered down. The largest crowd of bodies that either of them had yet seen had gathered around the entrance to the building and were pushing their way inside through the huge hole the survivors had made with the bus last night.

'Bloody hell,' he cursed under his breath.

Proctor stood up and joined them. The sight of the massive gathering below them made his legs weaken with nerves. His mouth suddenly dry he swallowed hard and looked around for Bushell.

'Barry,' he shouted. Bushell appeared from the master bedroom and walked over to where the others were stood.

'What's the problem?' he asked anxiously. Proctor nodded down and Bushell looked towards the ground. 'Christ almighty,' he sighed.

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