The last thing I remember before falling asleep, or possibly passing out, was how badly my entire body ached. Like everyone else I’d had the injection. All the actors had gone first, waving for the cameras, somehow managing to act normal when they came out, as though everything was fine even though they must have all felt as bad as I did. The director had followed, because people knew him too, and it was important that they saw someone they felt they knew going in for the injection. It would do good things for the fear some of the newspapers had been spreading, about how the injection hadn’t been properly tested.
I’d gone in not long after the director, because I was going to be needed. Of course then I didn’t know that the actors were faking their smiles and thought everything was going to be fine, the way the World Government kept assuring everyone it would be, but then I actually had the injection. At first it was fine. Then I stood up. I’m not sure what was worse – the wave of dizziness that almost had me falling over or the pain in the arm that the needle had gone into. Like all the actors I simply smiled and carried on, because I had no other option. Everyone who’d gone in before me was in need of help, so I helped them, when all I wanted to do was curl up on my bed, give in to the pain that didn’t seem to fade, and hope that everything would be better in the morning.
As I fell onto my bed at midnight, long after everyone else had, I couldn’t help thinking I’d made a huge mistake. When I checked my phone I knew I had. The battery had been newly charged the night of the injection, just in case anyone needed me in the night, and that meant I still had one bar left three days later, but no missed calls. I knew then that something was very wrong. People called me at all times of the day and night, because I’d been hired by the hotel to be there if anyone needed anything, and they’d all come to trust me. Even though all I wanted to do was find out what the hell had happened I knew I had to take things easy.
My last meal had been three days before. There was nothing edible in the mini bar, but there was some orange juice, and I should get something inside me no matter how badly thinking about food or drink made me feel. Slowly I slipped off of my bed, glad I hadn’t bothered with the covers or had the energy to take my shoes off. Fortunately the dizziness had mostly faded, replaced by the horrible feeling of having low blood sugar, so I forced myself over to the mini bar to get the orange juice, because I knew I needed to start checking on the people who hadn’t rung me. I couldn’t help thinking that maybe the newspapers had been right.
The orange juice was warm, but it made me feel better. Even though I knew it wouldn’t help me I put my phone in my pocket, not bothering to change because I didn’t have the energy, and then, wishing I’d bought a couple of chocolate bars, I left my room behind. I knew I wouldn’t be going back there. All of the other rooms on my floor had been taken up by ill staff members, those who could simply walk away, and I probably should have gone to bed long before I did, but I had a job to do. A job I was going to do once more, as I knew there was a chance someone else might have survived.
On my floor I found only death. Tears trickled down my cheeks and I did nothing to stop them, because they were people I’d cared about. We should never have been given the injection, obviously, but the World Government had forced it onto to us in order to better reduce the number of unplanned for births. Fines weren’t doing the job well enough. Slowly I made my way up the stairs, to the floor that had been given to the actors and director, feeling certain that it wouldn’t be any different, even though I hoped I might find someone else alive.
It wasn’t a surprise when I found the director dead in his bed. He hadn’t been a friend, but we had come to understand each other and we’d had a couple of nice chats when he wasn’t busy. From what he said it had been nice for him to relax a little occasionally, so having someone like me to talk to, someone who had no expectations of him, was nice. Even the other staff had pestered him for minor roles in the new movie, while I… even though I was fascinated by the whole thing I wasn’t interested in being anything more than the girl who helped the actors. That was probably why he’d offered me one and smiled at me knowingly when I turned it down.
Everyone had asked me, the actors and the other staff at the hotel, why I’d done something so stupid, but I hadn’t thought it was. My decision was made based on what I wanted from life and I’d never wanted to be in the spotlight. I much more enjoyed helping people who needed it, even if those people were spoilt actors who didn’t want for anything in their lives, but didn’t have any interest in getting their own coffee, because, in general, they were lazy. There was only one actor who’d never asked me for anything, happier doing it himself, and he was someone I respected in the same way I respected the director, who usually only called on me when he was in the midst of something. He was almost always busy with something, so I never minded getting him a mug of coffee when he needed it or a chocolate bar when one of the actors was asking him for yet another script change.
Blinking away unwanted tears I stepped out of the directors’ room. There was nothing I could do, alone, to move the bodies, and I didn’t know what I’d do once I had, except for attempt to dig a mass grave for all of them. Reading the papers meant, sadly, that I knew one of the conspiracy theories was that the World Government hadn’t really been given the injection, but were waiting for the day when almost all the adults in the world were dead so they could gather up the children that were left to make them into ‘valuable members of society’. What that meant in the world that had been created by the injection was something I couldn’t work out.
In the next room was a dead actress, the lead in the film, who had been nice enough to me, even though I knew what she saw. To her I was nothing more than an assistant, someone who could be expected to get whatever she wanted whenever she wanted it, but she knew that it was always better to be kind to those who helped her. She always said please and thank you, greeted me whenever she saw me, and I didn’t have a problem with the way she saw me, because that was what I’d be hired for: assist the actors and actresses who were making the film. Having them there was a huge thing for the hotel, that might mean repeat business from the industry, so they were going to do everything they could to make certain that it happened.
As I stared at her, remembering the smile she managed to give the camera as she left after she’d had the injection, I wondered what she must have gone through. She was one of the few I hadn’t been called to help when everything went wrong and, somehow, she’d managed to get herself into the bed, even though she must have been feeling as bad as I was. There was nothing I could do any more, no matter how much I wished I could bring her back to life, so, once again, I stepped out of the room with another dead person in it, wondering how many more I was going to see. Breathing deeply I closed the door behind me, wanting to leave her with some dignity and turned to find someone else had survived the injection.
“You don’t want to go that way,” he said, pointing in the direction that he’d come from. “It’s just the two of us.”
The pain in his eyes mirrored mine, I knew that, because he’d seen the bodies of dead friends too. “What makes you think that?” I asked.
“Had anyone else been alive down there they would either be with you or you would still be down there helping them.” He shrugged. “The most logical explanation, as you’re alone, is that you are the only other person in this whole hotel to have survive the injection and that is a terrifying statistic.”
For a moment all I could do was stare at the actor, one I barely knew because he’d always kept his distance, which, considering my position, was entirely understandable. I’d been introduced to him, because I’d been introduced to everyone she was expected to look after, but his name eluded me. It was something I blamed on not eating for three days. My brain was working much more slowly due to lack of food and that explained my unusual forgetfulness. Even though I didn’t disbelieve what he’d just said, considering what I’d seen it wasn’t a surprise, I didn’t want to believe it. That many people dead.
“I know,” he said, sighing. “I was the one who walked into all those rooms, found my colleagues and friends dead, and I don’t want to believe it either, but the injection obviously wasn’t tested properly.”
That was one of the theories in the papers. “Unless the World Government really was planning this.”
“Do you really think it’s likely?”
I shrugged. “Now that this has happened I can’t help thinking that anything is possible. When I was reading the reports that said the injection hadn’t been properly tested I didn’t accept that the World Government would do something that stupid, but they did. It doesn’t seem as though that would be something they would do, not when they were the first to get their injections, and yet there’s no real proof they actually had it. They could easily have stepped into one of the injection booths and left again without actually having it.”
“You didn’t see their eyes.” He bit his lip. “When they came out of those booths they felt exactly the same way we did, but they couldn’t show it. Like us. Pretending for the camera, so no one knew that there was anything wrong. They didn’t know that this was going to happen. If they had they wouldn’t have had the injection and I think they did. Even when I had it and came out feeling as though I’d just come down with the worst flu of my life I didn’t think this was possible.”
“No, I didn’t either. That night I was up until midnight, trying to make sure everyone was okay, and as far as I know they all still had pulses then, so I have no idea when everyone died… or why I survived.”
“When I came in I went straight to bed, the same way most of us did, because I couldn’t keep going. How you did…” He shook his head. “I know it’s your job, but the way I was feeling I can’t have imagined being able to help anyone. The way you did, the way you kept coming in to check on each of us, the way you made certain that we had everything we needed, even though you had to have been feeling just as bad as the rest of us, was amazing, and I can’t thank you enough for being there.”
I felt my face flush. “It was my job,” I said, trying to make myself feel a little less embarrassed and mostly failing, “but even if it wasn’t I would have done everything I could to help any way, because I don’t think I felt as bad as some of you did.” I shrugged. “Now I’m lucky enough, if being alive now can really be called luck, to have survived the injection when almost everyone else in the hotel died, and I’m guessing that the way I was feeling was a sign that my body was fighting off whatever it was that affected the others so badly.”
He shook his head, as I wished I could remember his name. “Maybe it was for you, but I know I felt awful after the injection. At first everything was fine, so I thought that all the reports I read about it not being tested properly were lies, the way the World Government said they were, and then I stood up. That was when the dizziness hit me.” He bit his lip. “I think that was the hardest part to deal with, because I still felt dizzy even when I was lying down, which made it hard for me to want to get up. When I woke up earlier I remembered how dizzy I felt and it took me a little while to convince myself that I was okay to stand up.”
“Dizziness wasn’t something I had to cope with.” I couldn’t imagine how I would have done if that had been one of the problems I was dealing with. “My limbs did feel a bit like they were encased in steel, but that was something I managed to work through.” I bit my lip. “I didn’t really feel, to begin with, like I had a choice, because I was being paid to look after you all, and then, as I came to the conclusion that things really were as bad as some of the reports said they were going to be, I decided that I was going to keep going. You all seemed so badly affected and I wanted to do everything I could to help.”
“So what are you going to do now?”
“I have no idea.”
“Neither do I. I wanted to ring my parents but there was no dial tone and right now I don’t think I’m capable of walking to their house to check on them.”
Hearing that made me feel glad, for the first time in my life, that I’d been brought up by my aunt, who hated me, and it was that hatred that made me decide to leave home the moment I turned eighteen. There was every chance that my aunt was dead, the same as everyone else, which was, as much as I wished I it wasn’t, a huge weight off my shoulders. It meant I wouldn’t get phone calls every month from the woman, who still liked to pretend to the people around her that she cared about her niece, when I knew it was simply because she didn’t want to admit to the rest of the world that she didn’t like the girl she’d been forced to raise.
“Our best chance of finding something to eat is the kitchens, although they aren’t going to be very pretty right now.” I tried to suppress a shudder. “It’s likely that the fresh would have started to go off and I have no idea how long the electricity’s been off, so I wouldn’t stick my head in the fridge, but if we can deal with all that we should be able to find something in the pantry. There’s a chance that something might just be baked beans though.”
He smiled. “That’s better than nothing.”
“You think you’ll be able to get down the stairs okay?”
“I’ll be fine.”
When our eyes met I could tell he wasn’t certain that he would be fine, but lying was better than admitting how bad he was feeling. I felt the same way, especially as the little bit of energy I’d gained from the orange juice had faded away after climbing the stairs. It was hard not to wonder how exactly I’d planned on getting back down them, until I remembered that my original plan had been to find some chocolate in one of the mini fridges. All I could think was that the shock of finding everyone dead had affected me so badly that I’d forgotten what I was going to do. Feeling guilty about stealing from the dead didn’t help.
Pushing the guilt as far away from me as possible I stepped into the room, ignoring the body on the bed as best I could, and went to the fridge. Nothing in it was cold, but it wasn’t hot in the hotel, so all the chocolate within it was fine. I took everything out, dumping it on the floor, including the bottles of juice that were in there, knowing that we were going to need all the energy they could get, even though chocolate really wasn’t the best thing they could be eating after spending three days in bed.
“Eat one chocolate bar now,” I said, looking over my shoulder at the actor without a name. “Do it slowly, but eat all of it. We’d be better off with some fruit, but there isn’t any in the fridge and I have a feeling that even the fruit that was being kept chilled isn’t going to be in the best condition.”
“How long ago do you think the electricity went off?”
“You were the one shooting a film about the apocalypse.” I smiled, picking up one of the chocolate bars even though I didn’t feel like eating anything. “Surely that’s something you should know.”
“That wasn’t my job.” He knelt down next to the bars of chocolate, studying them. “My job was to look good on camera, because I was the second romantic lead, so all I really had to know was how to take my top off sexily.” He sighed. “Not much good for the end of the world, Beth.”
“Beth?” I asked, feeling even worse for not remembering his name when he knew mine, even though he wasn’t using it properly.
He shrugged. “You look much more like a Beth than a Bethany to me.”
“Okay…” I honestly wasn’t sure how to reply to that, because I’d never really thought about whether I looked like my name or not, so I did the only logical thing I could do. “After spending who knows how many hours filming a film about the apocalypse you didn’t pick anything useful up at all?”
“Not really – to be honest I didn’t really think I’d need to. The end of the world wasn’t something we were preparing for, because we believed the World Government had tested the injection, but obviously they didn’t test it enough.” He nibbled his chocolate bar. “Maybe if I’d known in advance what was coming I would have acted differently.”
“I saw you reading every report you could on the injection.”
“That doesn’t mean I accepted what I was reading as the truth. Everything I read about the injection not being tested properly seemed like lies to me, lies about a Government that everyone hated, but looking back now…”
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing.”
“Hindsight is a pain in the ass.” He sighed. “It looks like it’s just the two of us here, so we do need to think about what we’re going to be doing next. We can’t stay here, because all we’ll end up doing is starving to death, and I’m not entirely certain I want to go out there, as the one thing I do know about the apocalypse is that it changes people, no matter how old they are.”
“Do you have any family that you want to check on?”
For a second he stared at me, and I knew I’d said something wrong, but then he shook his head. “I’m an orphan.”
“Family isn’t always the people you’re born with. I know plenty of people who think of themselves as family, even though they share no blood. You could easily have someone you think of as a brother out there somewhere.”
Our eyes met. “Do you have anyone like that?”
“Not now.” I sighed. “There was a girl once I thought of as a sister, but our lives ended up pulling us in different directions. We never were all that similar, no matter how close we were, so I should have known that it would happen in the end – I just always hoped it wouldn’t. I don’t even know where she lives now.”
“Being alone was easier for me. I never really got close to anyone when I realised why I was an orphan, because I decided that people couldn’t be trusted, and it didn’t help that I was always seen as the weird kid, thanks to my love of acting. Now that I’m an actor everyone who used to bully me wants me to be their friend, but that’s never going to happen, not even now that the world’s ended.”
“Unfortunately being blood doesn’t make someone a good person. I know from experience. However the world has ended and you are going to have to learn to rely on other people. The only way we’re going to survive the winter is if we find a community who’re willing to take us in, because neither of us have the skills to be able to do that alone.”***Kim’s Earth: Louisa: Meeting Edward >>>