More bodies appeared and began their typically slow, dragging walk towards the survivors. Frozen to the spot with shock and disbelief Jones stood and watched them. No-one else moved. And then Doreen spoke.
'Did you open the door to the roof?' she asked. Bushell nodded.
'Yes, I don't know why they're not...?'
'It's bloody obvious why they're coming down here and not going up there, they followed you, you pair of bloody idiots.'
'Shut the door,' Proctor pleaded from somewhere deep in the suite. 'Please, shut the door.'
'So is that it?' Doreen asked. 'All that noise and all that effort and that's it? That's all you're going to do?'
Bushell tried to mumble a response but he couldn't coordinate his brain and mouth to make it happen.
'What else can we do?' Jones hissed under his breath, taking a step back as the nearest cadaver took another lumbering step forward. 'We're completely screwed.'
'If that's true,' Doreen hissed back, 'then I'm not about to sit here, lovely as it is, and let those things have their way with me. I'm an old woman with standards. I've still got my pride.'
More interested in the relentless approach of the dead than the prattling of a nervous old woman, no-one paid her any attention. Infuriated by the lack of response from the others, Doreen took it upon herself to take action.
'Bloody useless, the lot of you,' she grumbled. 'Get back in there, close the door and enjoy your little party or whatever it is you decide to do...'
Doreen was tired. She'd really had enough. Wiser and more shrewd than they gave her credit for, she'd listened to everything that Bushell had said and she'd agreed with him completely. Death was inevitable, and she didn't have the energy or the desire to go on running. She pushed her way past Jones and slammed the door of the Presidential Suite in his face. With a complete lack of nerves she walked towards the bodies and pushed past them. Although their numbers were imposing, they were weak and clumsy. They swung their rotting fists at her and tried to grab at her with slow and gnarled, talon-like hands but she was as wiry and thin as they were and she slipped past them, weaving between them with the sudden grace and subtlety of a woman with chronic back pain which was ten percent physical and ninety percent attention seeking bullshit. She pushed her way deeper into the throng until she had reached the stairs. She then looked up and saw the short flight of steps which led to the roof. Without stopping to think she gave a loud whistle and then threw herself up the last few steps and out onto the asphalt. Distracted by Doreen's sudden speed, noise and movement, several of the bodies turned away from the door to the Presidential Suite and followed her.
Bloody hell it was cold. Doreen wrapped her thin cardigan tightly around her and braced herself against the wind. Now what did she do? She hadn't quite thought this through. She knew what she was doing, but now that she was standing unprotected on the roof the consequences of her actions really began to hit home. This was it. No more running or hiding or sleeping on the floor. No more fear or confusion or disorientation. Time for a rest. A long overdue and well deserved rest.
Doreen walked towards the edge of the roof and looked down. Bloody hell, she thought, it was higher than she'd expected. That was probably a good thing, she decided. Although she was only a few feet higher up there than she'd been in the suite just below, the difference was stark. Perhaps it was because the protection of glass and concrete had gone. Perhaps it was because now there was nothing between her and the rest of the world.
The first few bodies staggered out onto the roof.
This is it then, she thought, time to do it. She'd been toying with the idea of suicide for few days, a few weeks if she was honest, but she'd always clung onto the slim hope that things would get better. Suicide had always seemed like the coward's way out before today, but after listening to what Bushell had said earlier she'd come to realise that this was far from a cowardly act. Her fate was sealed, whatever she did. By ending her life this way she would manage to hold onto some dignity and control, and that was all she had left.
Nervously she climbed up onto the low concrete wall which ran around the outside edge of the building. The wind seemed even stronger there as she gingerly stood up straight. She held out her arms like a tightrope walker and tried to keep her balance. Bloody hell, she thought, I can't do it. I can't go through with it. She looked down past her feet towards the street many hundreds of feet below. Save for the occasional body staggering by the pavement was relatively clear. Her mind began to fill with stupid questions. Was this going to be painful? Would it definitely kill her or would she somehow survive and end up lying helpless on the ground with her arms and legs broken as the dead swarmed over and around her? She thought about the old adage she'd heard countless times before - it's not the jump off the top of the building that kills you, it's hitting the ground that does it. She managed half a smile but those words were of little help now. Would she feel anything? What would the fall be like? Would she know when she'd hit the ground or would it all be over before then...?
Doreen looked around and watched more bodies continue to pile unsteadily out of the door and onto the roof. They hadn't seemed to notice her yet. They wandered around aimlessly like the empty, soulless vessels they were. She turned her back on them again and looked forward across the town. There was no going back now. Even if she changed her mind, she couldn't get back inside now.
What are my options? Do I do it now or wait for them to get closer to me? Do it now or wait until the last possible second? What will I gain from waiting? Is it worth clinging onto a few more seconds of life? What good will it do me? Do I want to stand here, freezing cold and terrified, trying to keep my balance and not think about those bloody things behind me, or do I just let it happen? Think about finally being able to stop and rest. Think about not having to run and hide...
Doreen closed her eyes, tipped forward and let gravity take over.
'Well?' Elizabeth sobbed. Bushell was pressed against the door, peering through the spy-hole out onto the landing.
'Not good,' he sighed. 'There are too many of them. They know we're in here now.'
Elizabeth began to cry uncontrollably. Proctor attempted to put his arms around her and comfort her but she pushed him away.
'So what do we do now?' Wilcox asked, the strained emotion in his voice clear.
'Can't see that much has changed, really,' Bushell answered, his face still pressed against the door.
'I said I can't see that much has changed,' he repeated, turning round to look at the others. 'We're still in here, they're still out there. They're just a little closer than we hoped they'd be at this stage, that's all.'
'So what do we do?' Elizabeth pleaded, desperate for someone to answer.
'Seems to me you've got the same two options you've always had,' he answered, his voice low and resigned. 'You can sit here and wait for the inevitable to happen, or you can run for as long as you can keep going, then stop and then let the inevitable happen anyway.'
'I'm running,' Jones said. He was already edging closer to the door to the fire escape. 'I'm not just going to sit here waiting for them to get in. Fuck that. I'm leaving now...'
'Me too,' Wilcox agreed.
Bushell looked at Proctor and Elizabeth, although he didn't really care what they were going to do. Proctor began to nervously side-step closer to the two men waiting by the fire escape. Elizabeth , struggling to hold herself together, instinctively did the same.
'Come on,' she pleaded. 'Don't stay here. It's suicide.'
'I know,' Bushell smiled, 'but it's suicide on my terms. Why do you all want to keep on running when there's no point? It's not your fault, but can't you see that the game's over?'
'It's not a game,' Jones interrupted angrily.
'I know, I'm sorry,' Bushell said, regretting his choice of words, 'but you don't have to keep fighting. You can choose not to. That's the difference between us in here and those things out there. You can stop and switch off if you want to, they're cursed to keep going until there's nothing left of them.'
'Come on, Barry,' Proctor said quietly.
'I'm not running,' he replied. 'I've had enough.'
Sensing that there was nothing they could do to persuade him otherwise, the four remaining survivors pushed their way through the fire escape door and began their dark descent down towards the ground floor of the hotel.
It was suddenly quiet. Save for the thumping noise coming from the mass of decomposing bodies on the other side of the main door, Bushell's hotel suite was suddenly quiet and empty. More to the point, it was his again. His and his alone. Just how he'd wanted it.
Tearful (he knew he didn't have long) he walked around the vast suite dejectedly, collecting together his things. He salvaged everything that he could from the little that was left and packed it all against the wall of the master bedroom. A sudden sound distracted him. More noise from outside. He peered through the spy-hole to see that the corridor outside was now a solid mass of flesh. It wouldn't be long before they broke through. He wiped a tear away from the corner of his eye (still taking care not to smudge his make-up) and then took one last, long and very definitely final look around the suite which had been his home for the last few weeks of his life. Ignoring the increasing noise coming from the door he took a moment to walk around and look out of each of the windows in turn, staring at the remains of the city where he'd lived and remembering everything and everyone that had gone and been left behind. The memories were harder to deal with than the thought of what was to come. It still surprised him how much it hurt to remember all that he had lost. Thinking about the little he had left to lose didn't seem to matter. He'd collected everything he'd needed. With the door rattling and shaking in its frame, he slipped quietly into the master bedroom and closed the door behind him. Once inside he shoved the bed across the entrance to the room and wedged it into position with other furniture and belongings. If he'd had a hammer and nails, he thought, he would have nailed it shut. The bedroom door wouldn't be opening again.
Barry Bushell, with tears streaming down his cheeks, selected another outfit from his wardrobe and got changed. Finally presentable, he lay down on the bed and picked up a book. With his hands shaking so badly that he could hardly read, he lay there and waited.
'Keep moving,' Elizabeth yelled, slamming her hands into the middle of Wilcox's back and sending him tripping further down the last few stairs to the ground floor.
'Watch it!' he protested, grabbing hold of the handrail to try and stop himself from falling. He looked back up the stairs. Proctor and Jones had stopped a short way back.
'What now?' Proctor asked. They'd finally reached the bottom of the staircase. It was a pointless question. They didn't have a choice. Wilcox cautiously edged closer to the door and teased it slightly open before, equally carefully, closing it again.
'Well?' Elizabeth asked hopefully.
'Not as bad as it could have been,' he replied.
'Hundreds, but I was expecting more. We'll probably make it through if we're fast and we keep moving.'
'Fucking hell,' Jones grunted, 'and I was going to walk.'
He shoved past Wilcox and peered around the side of the door. Back inside, he leant against the wall and composed himself.
'This is it then,' he quietly announced.
'We'll stand more of a chance if we split up.'
'You think so?'
Jones shrugged his shoulders.
'Maybe,' he grunted. He took a deep breath, opened the door again and slid out into what was left of the hotel reception. It was light outside and surprisingly bright after the enclosed gloom of the fire escape. The air, although still heavy with the noxious smells of death and decay, was somehow fresher. Several of the nearest bodies noticed his sudden emergence from the doorway and immediately turned and began walking towards him. Jones, terrified and pumped full of adrenaline, ran, pausing only to stare in disbelief at the main staircase of the hotel which was a solid column of slowly moving flesh.
Without direction he skipped and weaved through the lifeless corpses that still dragged themselves around the rubble-strewn ruin and then burst out onto the street. The bodies were fewer out there, but he knew they would be upon him soon. Not knowing where he was going or why, he ran.
'Bastard,' Wilcox moaned as bodies began to slam against the other side of the fire escape door. 'That bloody stupid bastard, he's let them know where we are.'
The three remaining survivors stood together at the foot of the staircase in stunned silence. What the hell did they do now? Elizabeth thought about Bushell, twenty-eight floors above them, and the sense of his actions became painfully clear. It was no longer about surviving, it was about choosing where to die. Still tearful, she opened the door and barged past the six bodies that were now clawing against the other side. In panic Proctor ran after her.
Wilcox froze. He couldn't do it. He couldn't bring himself to go out there. He knew as well as the others that what was going to happen to him was inevitable, but he didn't have the mental strength to keep going like they did.
As the fire door had swung shut, one of the bodies had become trapped, leaving it half-open. More of the sickly cadavers gravitated towards the exit and clambered over the trapped corpse. Wilcox watched as the first few of them moved closer. What did he do now? Still breathless from the sudden descent, he began to climb back upstairs.
This is bloody stupid, he thought to himself as he climbed. His body wanted to slow down but the panic and claustrophobic fear he felt kept him moving forward at an uncomfortable speed. He was soaked with sweat and his legs felt like lead but it didn't matter. He'd left those fucking things at the bottom of the stairs for dust.
It was more than half an hour later when he reached the fire escape door on the twenty-eighth floor. He pushed through it eagerly, keen to find Bushell and... and the suite was full of bodies. He looked up, terrified, and saw that the main door was down. The cadavers had noticed his sudden and unexpected arrival too. They surged towards him and knocked him off his feet. As their sharp, bony fingers dug into his flesh he lay on the ground and looked at the open fire escape door through which he'd just emerged. If he really tried, he thought, he might be able to crawl through it and give himself a little more time.
What's the fucking point, Wilcox thought as warm blood began to gush and pour from gaping wounds that the dead had torn open. Bushell was right. Just give up, lie back and wait for it to be over.
Elizabeth wasn't aware that Proctor had followed her until she heard him shouting for her to slow down. She glanced back over her shoulder and saw him dragging himself after her. She wasn't interested. She didn't want to be with anyone else now, certainly not him. She kept moving, if anything increasing her speed. Not knowing the city particularly well she didn't have a clue where she was going. She'd wanted to head out of the centre but, instead, had inadvertently found herself running through the main shopping area. The bodies there were still dense in number and tightly packed but she moved with sufficient speed and control to work her way around them and through them.
Needing to stop and rest she turned left into a dark alleyway. She stopped running for a moment and rested with her hands on her knees, sucking in as much precious oxygen as she could. No bodies had followed her yet. If she could get out of sight quickly she knew she might have an opportunity to properly catch her breath and decide what to do next. There was a door halfway down the alley. She looked in through a small, dusty window but couldn't immediately see any movement. She pulled the door open and slipped inside, too tired to care what she found on the other side.
Bloody hell, she thought as she climbed a narrow, white marble staircase. Of all the doors in all the alleys, she seemed to have chosen the staff entrance to Lacey's department store. Christ, she'd never been able to afford to shop there although she'd always wanted to. It was one of those places that made you feel dirty and unworthy if you walked in without a purse full of gold and platinum charge cards and credit cards. Today, of course, it was a cold, dark, skeletal shadow of its former self but what the hell, it was still Laceys.
Barry Bushell's words continued to play heavily on Elizabeth's mind as she crept further up the stairs and deeper into the building. How right he'd been. She couldn't think of anywhere she'd be completely safe and, even if she could, she had no way of getting there now. She continued to climb, stopping when she reached the jewellery department on the third floor. There were no bodies around that she could see. Always a sucker for gold and stones, she found herself drawn to the cobweb-covered display cabinets. They were still filled with beautiful pieces that, a month ago, would have been worth a fortune. Today they were worth nothing. But hell, she could dream, couldn't she? Dreaming was just about all she had left...
Elizabeth finally had her shopping trip around Laceys. She worked her way through the building floor by floor, avoiding the occasional corpse and staring in wonder at all the things she'd never been able to afford. When she reached the ladies clothing department she changed out of her dirty clothes and dressed in the most expensive outfit she could find. She climbed to the very top floor and sat on a leather sofa she'd never have been able to afford in a hundred years. She drank wine, ate chocolate and swallowed enough headache tablets to kill an elephant.
Paul Jones had also decided to take his own life.