Page:Weird Tales volume 36 number 01.djvu/24

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38
WEIRD TALES

of brown shoes from a store nearly opposite, and then sought the effect in a mirror in the dim rear.

"I don't look too bad," he commented, "considering everything."

He went back to the street.

"And now to see what's become of the rest of the eight million."

Penderby had begun to utter his thoughts.

But it was not in fear—so far as he knew, at least. Nor was he lonely after this inexplicable departure of his fellow creatures.

He picked his way among the dead for about half a mile. The number decreased as he neared Fleet Street, and he took a bicycle from the doorway of a store and rode, with little difficulty, into London's Newspaper Row.

The stare of what had been a police man at a lamppost near the court buildings brought him up with a jerk that nearly threw him off the machine. For a moment, he thought that another had been spared. But the eyes did not move. Only for a wastepaper-bin, shoulder-high, on the pole, and his straddling legs, the policeman would have fallen as he died.

Penderby was slightly hungry when he came to a corner lunch-counter; so he climbed over the bar, mixed a milk-shake as he had seen attendants do, and drank it between bites of a stale ham sandwich. He rode on, and dismounted at a newspaper office. He walked in. The front office contained twelve or fourteen bodies, three or four those of clerks. He climbed the marble-and-concrete stairs two at a time. He had searched two corridors when he opened a door marked "News Room."

There were bodies at nearly half the desks, and one had fallen beside the half-opened door of a telephone booth, in which the instrument hung the full length of the cord. A head pressed the keys of a typewriter on a desk near, and some of the type-bars were in midair. Penderby pulled a sheet of paper from the machine. The word "Churchill" and the number "3" were in the top left corner.

He read:

"Mr. Churchill declared that he did not favor any 'attitude, policy, or frame of mind' that could be construed as 'containing even the germ of what has been called' encirclement, but that, he would oppose any atte——"

No more.

"Good God!" murmured Penderby.

He moved to the desk alongside. A young man had begun a story about loan failure. He had typed a line of hyphens through "said," and substituted "asserted."

Penderby went to all the other desks occupied. No one had been writing of death.

"How could they have known, after all?" he reasoned. "It probably got everyone at the same time. It must have."

He wandered through the composing room and down a spiral, metal staircase to the pillared press-room. The remote bulbs still glared. In the light diluted by mud-spattered, wire-netted windows, they did little but bring glints to the shiny parts of the machines.

One press had run off an early edition. It had continued to run, it seemed, long after those who had tended it died. A hill of papers hid the little gate out of which they had come.

A man in dungarees had been leaning against a steel pillar of another machine. A face-high metal button shone on the pillar; it had been handled often. Penderby pressed it, and the machine began to roll. He retreated to the door as the rush of paper merged with a thunderous hammering; then returned, and lifted one of the papers already carried out.