THE FIRST FLOOR OF the hotel is deserted, and it's easy to see why. The carpet is soaked with water, and there's a tidemark on the wall about eighteen inches off the ground. Wallpaper is hanging down in strips, and the whole place smells of rotting waste and untreated sewage. I thought there would be more people in here. I guess most of them were washed out with the floodwater that has obviously flowed through the building in the last couple of days. Others will have left when the fighting started. Am I too late? Has Lizzie already gone? Was she ever here at all?

I head back to the front of the hotel, feet squelching on the waterlogged carpet, then head upstairs. I climb the long, straight flight of steps to the second floor, knifing a fucker in the gut as he tries to barge past me and nearly sends me flying. I glance back and watch as he tumbles down the stairs, rolling over and over until he lands in a bloody, groaning heap at the very bottom.

I start checking the rooms on the second floor, but they're empty. I'm halfway along the hall when a door flies open and three terrified Unchanged men come sprinting out, carrying as many bags and boxes of belongings as they can manage between them. They can't see me over everything they're carrying, and one of them knocks me to the ground. Instinctively I get up and start running after them, but it's too late and they're already gone. Doesn't matter. Have to concentrate. Have to focus. Let them go.

The next three doors are open, and the rooms are empty. They're foul, squalid places, full of the residue of the refugees who've been forced to live here together for weeks on end. The carpets are covered with a layer of waste and abandoned belongings, so deep that I don't see the curled-up body of an elderly man until I feel the fingers of his outstretched hand crack under my boot.

Back out in the hall, I force myself to slow down. Need to try to apply some logic here. The hotel's emptying, so there's no point checking any of the vacant rooms. If any of the doors aren't locked, I decide, there's no one there.

I start hacking at the lock and hinges of the next door I find that's still shut. I can already hear the bastards inside the room screaming with panic. I keep working on the door, shoulder-charging it open when I've done enough damage to loosen the latch. One of the occupants runs at me, brandishing a chair leg. I sidestep him, then shove him across the hall, sending him crashing into the wall opposite. There are three other Unchanged in the room, with a fourth trying to get out through an open window. The light's low, but I see enough to know that I don't recognize any of them and they're of no interest. I turn and head back out to the hallway, pausing only to knife the fucker who comes back at me for a second go with the chair leg.

The lock on the door of the next room is broken, but it's held on a chain. It opens just far enough for me to see inside. No sign of Lizzie. A gray-haired woman grabs hold of the door handle and pulls it shut, snatching it from my hands. Another room empties as I approach, and this time I just press myself back against the wall and let two more sobbing Unchanged stumble past.

Almost all of the third floor is empty, and Lizzie's not in any of the rooms that are still occupied. In a room near the staircase on the fourth floor I find a small girl sitting alone in an armchair that dwarfs her tiny shape. In my haste and desperation I think for a second that it might be Ellis. It's dark, the dull dawn light just beginning to seep in through the cracks between the wooden boards that have been nailed across the window. It's only when I touch the girl and she slumps out of the chair that I see it isn't Ellis, and it's only when she lies at my feet and doesn't move again that I realize she's already dead, abandoned by whoever she was with.

The door to the last room on this floor is open slightly, but it slams shut as I run toward it. I shove it open before it's locked. Three Unchanged women and a man begin shouting and screaming at me in a language I don't understand. Sounds like Polish or Russian or something... I turn and leave, and one of them follows me back out into the corridor, still shouting. She grabs hold of my legs, pleading with me for help. I kick her off and keep moving.

Top floor. Running out of options.

There are more locked doors up here than I've got time for. I stop outside the first. I can hear voices inside, so I start chopping at the lock with my axe, my arms beginning to feel heavy and numb with effort. The rotten wood splinters easily, and the door flies open, but Lizzie's not here, and I move on. I can feel their relief when I turn my back. The door slams shut, and I hear them shoving furniture up against it to seal themselves in.

Two doors facing each other are both shut. I jump the sprawled-out body of a Chinese man and press myself up against the first of them. I can hear a man's voice ranting in Urdu or Punjabi or similar, so I immediately turn my attention to the other and start chopping at the wood around the latch. I stop for a second when I hear another deafening explosion outside, a flash of white lighting everything up like a strobe. It's impossible to gauge the distance, but that sounded close. Too close. I can still feel the vibrations through my feet as I start chopping again. This door is more stubborn than most. It's newer than the others, probably recently replaced. I guess I'm not the first person to have to try to break into a room here. I grunt with effort as I hammer the door again and again, desperate to get through.


WITH HIS FACE PRESSED hard against the spyhole in the door, Mark stared in disbelief at the man trying to bludgeon his way into the room directly opposite.

"What is it?" Kate asked, trying to pull him away. He didn't answer. He couldn't answer. How could this be? How had he found them? Was it just coincidence or the cruelest stroke of bad luck imaginable? Had he been looking for them? How could he have known they were here? He glanced back over his shoulder at Lizzie standing in the far corner, the stunned expression on his face obviously speaking volumes.

"Mark, what is it? What the hell's the matter?" Kate demanded again, her voice now frantic. He ignored her and instead continued to stare at Lizzie. She moved closer, her pace quickening as she approached. Sensing that she already knew what was outside, she tried to push Mark out of the way. He stood his ground, turned his back on her, and pressed his eye up against the tiny glass button in the door again.

He hadn't seen him for almost a year, and he was virtually unrecognizable, but it was definitely him, he was sure of it. Danny McCoyne. His cousin Danny. His mom's sister Jean's son. The kid he'd messed around with at countless boring family gatherings and parties when they were growing up. The miserable loser with the dead-end job who'd ended up saddled with too many kids in an apartment that was too small. The notorious slacker who other members of the family had frequently cited as a prime example of how not to do things. Lizzie's partner. A murderer. A Hater.

Outside on the landing, McCoyne continued to hammer against the door. Mark was overwhelmed by the anger and hatred so visible on his cousin's twisted face, shocked and appalled by what he had become. He'd always seemed awkward and gangly, uncomfortable in his own body, but that uncertainty had been replaced now with focus, ferocity, and a vicious intent. To Mark, Danny McCoyne now personified the previously faceless Hater menace, and he felt his legs weaken with nerves at the thought he might be forced to confront him.

Lizzie grabbed Mark's arm and yanked him out of the way. She pressed her eye against the spyhole briefly, then staggered away from the door, recoiling in shock at the sight of the Hater in the hallway. The room around her was filled with noise-Kate's panicked screaming, Gurmit Singh's constant unfathomable tirade-but she didn't hear any of it. How could this be? How the hell could he be here?

"Will someone tell me what's wrong?" Kate pleaded, desperate for information.

"It's Danny," Lizzie mumbled, her voice barely audible.

"What? But how could he-?"

"Keep your voice down, Katie," Mark warned.

"Let him have the kid," Kate shouted, moving forward. Mark pushed her back away from the door. "Come on, Mark, let him take her. Give her to him. Get the little bitch out of here. We'll be safer if-"

He kept pushing her away, the noise from the hallway getting louder and louder. He shoved her back toward her catatonic parents, then ran to the spyhole and peered outside again. He watched as McCoyne finally forced his way into the room opposite. He disappeared inside but was back out again just a few seconds later, and this time there was no question as to where he was heading next.

"Get back!" Mark hissed as he stumbled back toward the others, sweeping them away from the door. He grabbed a baseball bat they'd kept in the room to defend themselves, then herded Kate, Lizzie, and Singh around the foot of the double bed, gesturing for them to get down and stay out of sight.

"Is he-" Lizzie started, the sound of the first flurry of blows from the axe against the door rendering her question obsolete before it had even been fully asked. The door rattled and shook in its frame. Mark glanced back at Kate, who cowered alongside her parents, then turned and faced the door again, desperately trying to give the impression he was ready to fight when all he wanted to do was run.

The Hater in the hallway booted the badly damaged door open, sending it clattering back against the wall, splinters of wood flying in all directions. He charged into room 33, straight into Mark, who ran toward him to try to head him off, baseball bat held high. He clumsily swung the bat at his cousin's head but missed by a mile, wrong-footed by the sudden speed of events, the close confines of the cluttered room, and the utter terror that he felt in every nerve of his body. McCoyne grabbed the end of the bat on its fast upward arc, yanked it from his grip, and threw it out of reach across the room.

The Hater stopped.

He thought he recognized the man in front of him. Mark? Mark Tillotsen? Was it really him?

The unexpected appearance of a face from his old life caught him completely off guard. For a split second he stood there in numb silence and simply stared at the other man, his head suddenly filled with memories and emotions that had been suppressed and long-forgotten since he'd first tasted the Hate. He rocked back on his feet, hardly even blinking as another explosion outside shook the entire building. Then, as Mark lunged at him again and someone else screamed something unintelligible from the far corner of the room, he snapped himself out of his sudden trance and remembered Ellis and Lizzie and why he was there. He caught Mark as he leaped forward, grabbing his collar, spinning him around, and smashing him up against the wall to his left, then dropping him onto the floor in a crumpled heap. He rolled over onto his back and lay groaning at the Hater's feet.

He sensed more movement. Another one of them was attacking.

McCoyne looked up as Lizzie ran toward him. Her face was tired, old, and drawn, her cheeks and eyes sunken and hollow, but he knew immediately that it was her.

"Lizzie, I-"

She swung the baseball bat around and smashed him in the side of the head. Copyright 2016 - 2024