Extract: The Last by Hanna Jameson
Jon Keller was on a trip to Switzerland when the world ended. More than anything he wishes he hadn’t ignored his wife Nadia’s last message.
Twenty people remain in Jon’s hotel. Far from the nearest city, they wait, they survive. Then one day, the body of a girl is found. It’s clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer…
As paranoia descends, Jon decides to investigate. But how far is he willing to go in pursuit of justice? And what happens if the killer doesn’t want to be found?
Read on for an extract from The Last by Hanna Jameson!
Observations from L’Hôtel Sixième,
Nadia once told me that she was kept awake at night by the idea that she would read about the end of the world on a phone notification. It wasn’t exactly Kennedy’s Sword of Damocles speech, but I remember that moment word for word.
For me, three days ago, it happened over a complimentary breakfast.
I was sitting by the window, looking out into the encroach ing forest, the cleared path around the building leading to the rear parking.
There was a hum of chatter, from couples and one or two families on early checkout, but I was the first of the conference down. We had all stayed up late drinking the night before, but I tried not to deviate from routine, even if it hurt.
We weren’t supposed to be at this hotel. The conference had originally been slightly nearer Zurich, farther north. But there had been a fire at the intended venue eight months before. The move had been arranged without much fuss and the location changed to L’Hôtel Sixième, which we had joked was in the middle of nowhere. A pain in the ass to get to.
I was reading the opening chapter of What We Talk about When We Talk about Photoreconnaissance: The Legal and Perform ance History of Aerial Espionage, taking notes for an upcoming lecture series, and my phone was on silent.
A glass of orange juice to my left, and a black coffee. I’d spilled a little on the tablecloth in my eagerness to drink it and get a refill. I was waiting on eggs Benedict.
It’s the banality that pains me.
The last text I received from Nadia was sent at eleven thirty the night before. It said: ‘I think everyone in my line of work is doing more harm than good. How can anyone love this job any more? I miss you so much, you always know what to say when I’m feeling like this. I feel bad about how we left it. Love you.’
I hadn’t replied to her crisis of faith because I thought I could get away with the delay. She knew the time difference meant I was probably asleep. I wanted to give it some thought and reply in the morning with something measured and reassuring. There was still a need for excellent journalism, she could still make things better… Something like that. An email might be better.
We all thought we had time. Now we can’t send emails anymore.
A strange noise erupted from one of the tables, a shrill exclamation. The woman didn’t say anything, just cried out.
I looked up, and she was sitting with her partner – I assume – and staring at her phone.
Like everyone else in the room, I thought she had just become overexcited by a message or a photo, and returned to my book, but within seconds she’d added, ‘They’ve bombed Washington!’
I hadn’t even wanted to go to this damn conference.
I can’t entirely remember what happened in the hours that followed, but as I started scrolling through my own phone, the push notifications and social media timelines, I realized that Nadia had been right. It played out exactly as she feared. In fact, the headlines are almost all I can remember at the moment.
BREAKING: NUCLEAR ATTACK ON WASHINGTON IN PROGRESS. STORY DEVELOPING.
BREAKING: 200,000 FATALITIES ESTIMATED, SAYS EXPERTS.
BREAKING: CONFIRMED: PRESIDENT AND STAFF AMONG DEAD IN NUCLEAR EXPLOSION. AWAITING MORE INFORMATION.
Then there was some aerial footage, from London, and we all watched the buildings vanish into dust in real time, under an iconic pillar of cloud. That was the only footage available so we watched it over and over. It didn’t seem as real as the head lines. Maybe we had all been desensitized to the imagery by too many movies. Watching a whole city vaporized like that seemed too fast, and too quiet.
A plane went down on the outskirts of Berlin and we only knew Berlin was gone because someone in the plane had uploaded a video of them going down. Dust in the engines maybe. I can’t remember what she was saying; she was crying and hadn’t been speaking English. It was probably just goodbye.
BREAKING: NUCLEAR WEAPON DETONATES OVER WASHINGTON, HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS FEARED DEAD.
BREAKING: CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR CALM AS NUCLEAR ATTACK HITS US.
BREAKING: US WITHOUT GOVERNMENT AS NUCLEAR BOMB DEVASTATES WASHINGTON.
Maybe I was lucky, watching the end of the world online, instead of living it, reacting to an explosion or a siren announcing one.
We’re not gone yet. This is the third day and the internet is down. I’ve been sitting in my hotel room watching what I can see of the horizon from my window. If anything happens, I’ll do my best to describe it. I can see for miles over the forest, so when it’s our turn I imagine I’ll have some warning. And it’s not like I have anyone to say goodbye to here.
I can’t believe I didn’t reply to Nadia’s text. I can’t believe I thought I had time.
I figure I should keep writing things down. The clouds are a strange color, but I’m not sure if that’s just me being in shock. They could be normal clouds.
I’ve also started checking off the days since we last had sun light or rain. So far it’s been five.
The likelihood of Armageddon appearing on our horizon seems smaller now, but with the internet gone and our cell phones refusing to make any connection, we have no idea what’s going on in the wider world. Either way, I’m not spending the majority of my time keeping watch at my window anymore. I need to eat.
I spoke to a few acquaintances down in the restaurant, where some of the staff are still providing food. They’re going to leave on foot. I’m going to wait until someone comes for us or an official procedure for evacuation is announced. We have no way of telling when that will be. But someone will come eventually.
Day Six (2)
That was a lie, what I wrote before. I wanted to come to the conference. I was glad of the time away from Nadia and from my children. I might die soon, there’s no point lying about it now.
I’m sorry, Nadia. If you ever read this. I’m so, so sorry.
I’m not sure anybody is coming.
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