Page:Weird Tales volume 36 number 01.djvu/25

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39
THE MAN WHO LIVED

The main story was about Russia and Germany.

"If they could have waited," he said, "they'd have had a bigger story than that. But I suppose they couldn't. They had to go with the rest."

The press still ran, and the concrete floor vibrated. The sight and the sound of it, with the recollection of what he had seen in the news room, stirred something akin to pity in the man. Brains, hands, metal here had been working when death had come, and if ever the product of journalism had been of fleeting value it was now.

Penderby did not know how to stop the press, and the noise irritated him after awhile. He found the rear exit, a grimy, steel-grilled door that opened onto a lane. He turned right, the direction in which a number of tracks had been turned, and found himself on Fleet Street again.

His throat was parched, and he decided to look for more drink. Beer would be best, for the forenoon was hot. He filled two big glasses in a saloon, brought them out, placed them on the curb, and sat beside them in the sunlight.

This time, he drank slowly. He had slipped a newspaper into a jacket pocket, and he idly read and drank for half an hour. The day was serene, and had brought an air purer than London had breathed in a century.

The man to whom all London—if not all Britain—had passed dropped the paper. For he had noted that purity of the air. He wondered how long it would last. The street contained enough corpses to start a plague after another day or so. He could not bury them, not to mention the rest of the eight million in Greater London.

"I suppose," Penderby decided, "I'll have to leave. Well, it wouldn't take long to get out by car."

But whither? The countryside, in all likelihood, would be as perilous as the city; no district in Britain was thinly-populated.

"Oh, the hell with it!" was his conclusion. Having dismissed the problem for the moment, he went into the saloon for more beer.

He was tired, and it was nearly noon when he stretched himself and decided to explore farther; only a little farther, for the heat was intense. He cycled across Ludgate Circus, at the end of Fleet Street, and up Ludgate Hill. Dead, as he had expected, everywhere; silence complete, save for the faint noise of the bicycle.

He was in the financial center. This region of swarming clerks and dull buildings had interested him little at any other time, and only the coolness of narrow streets between high, gray walls induced him to go in now. The bodies he saw were few; life normally had left the district with the closing of offices at 5 p.m.

Ahead was a bank. He dismounted at the curb in front of it. A gate stood between sidewalk and door. The windows were high, deep, and barred.

"If I weren't so tired," Penderby reflected, "I'd go in—even if it took a month."

The place could tell him nothing, he saw. As he rode back to the Strand, he pondered the fact—the most illuminating so far as his new life was concerned—that the district of money was the least useful in all London.

Penderby was sleepy now, though it still was early afternoon. The stimulus of wine and beer had worn off, and the alcohol made him drowsy. He cycled as far as a luxury hotel before which taxis and limousines had been busy the night before, left the machine tilted against one of the glass doors, and walked in.

Some of the well-dressed guests had died