The Crumbling Empire

The dead capital

London

As the two cars roared into central London the group were greeted with a view of the Palace of Westminter towering over the Thames. Yet the roads were lined with corpses, on which flowers grew. The sounds of Big Ben sounded out over a deserted city with only engine noise to compete with it.

As they headed into beautiful Chelsea the capital seemed erringly empty as they headed down the embankment and parked outside the residence of Content Not Found: null at 96 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea.
96 Cheyne Walk

The building seemed deserted with curtains closed; maybe the resident was like all the others that the group had seen so far, dead and lifeless, and nothing more than food for the ever multiplying plants. Richard swung the heavy knocker down upon the wooden door, its sound echoing out over the nearby river. With no answer he proceeded to test the door, it swung open before him and they slowly inched inwards to the dark hallway. The smell of flowers and potpourri wafted upwards as the group moved towards a heavy curtain pulled shut at the end of the corridor. Richard shouted out again and this time was greeted with call from the adjacent front room. “Who’s there?” came the call from the front room. Richard seemed surprised to hear the voice of his father. Maybe he had resigned himself to the fact that he may have been dead like all the others. “Father”, Richard shouted. “Get in here son”, his father replied. The old man did not seem that surprised to see his son, more troubled by the string of people he had bought with him. Richard remembered his manners and began to introduce the group. Sir Edward stumbled with the name of Richards’s wife, but it definitely seemed to be the old man Richard remembered. After asking for some tea from the kitchen Content Not Found: null told his story of how he had survived the apocalypse by drinking tea left in an urn from the kitchen and eating bread and canned meat from the larder. He had not seen any movement along the embankment or the river since he had gone to bed, late on the evening of the 1st. He remembered waking very late on the morning of the second, seemingly the staff had not come into work and he initially seemed confused as to why they had all failed to show for work.

As the sun was getting low in the London skyline Mark was eager to see if his father; whom lived in Camden was also alive and pressed to group to mount another expedition to north London in search of his father. They all climbed into the Hillman wizard and sped towards north London. Richard suggested that it may be a good idea to stop by the BBC radio offices as it was nearby. Mark agreed as there could be further survivors or information from around the globe as to what had happened. The darkness of the radio building greeted Mark and Agnes as they entered the lobby. The reception lay empty and as the two headed upstairs towards the news room they noticed bodies slumped in the corridors, flowers sprouting from the corpses. In the news room Mark found the news room and the great banks of teleprinters. He began to look into the news logs and it soon became aware that the disaster was a global event. It seems that the seeds had spread at a monstrous rate, far quicker than the winds could have possibly carried them. At first they had spread to Europe and Northern England, then further afield with some reports coming from the Americas and the Far East. It seems the colonies were concerned with the lack of news from London to begin with, and then they began to transmit reports of mass death among the population caused by plant seed infestation. Mark and Agnes collected as much of the teleprinter output to analysis later and left to meet the others outside by the cars.

The Langham hotel

While the others were in Broadcasting House Richard and James visited the Langham hotel nearby to scavenge for supplies from the extensive hotel larder and bars. James seemed interested in the various cans and brands that Richard selected for removal.

They packed the evidence and supplies into the car and then headed north to Camden and the home of Marks father Maj. Frank Golightly who had been to unwell to make the journey to Kent for his daughters wedding.

The car drew up outside the small residence at 13 Carol St. Camden. The door was slightly ajar as Mark walked up the steps outside the property. As he entered he could still smell the cherry tobacco his father enjoyed to smoke. Using his torch to illuminate the hallway he headed deeper into the property. The front room was devoid of any signs of life as if it had not been used in some time. As Mark entered the rear room he could make out a figure sat in a chesterfield chair. He cried out “Dad!” but there was no reply. Again he cried out, but as he rounded the chair to get a view of the person sat in it he saw that his father had died. Flowers now grew from the old mans body. A blanket still covered his legs as if he had wrapped up for the cold November weather.

From outside a sound slowly built up as a vehicle approached. The group quickly ran outside and as the sound grew louder a motorbike passed the end of the road and by the sounds came to a stop just outside of their view at the end of the road. Rushing down the street they saw a bike had stopped and a man dressed in livery of the General Post Office had dismounted from the bike and was removing items from a pannier on the left hand side of the vehicle. As the group looked dazed from the shock of seeing another person on the streets the man reached into the bag and pulled two letters from within. “Are you Mark Golightly?” said the man. “I’ve a letter for you and a Mrs Agnes Bartlett. Do you mind signing for them?” The group asked “Who are you?”, the man replied “”/characters/bill-shakespare" class=“wiki-content-link”>Bill Shakespeare. Pleased to meet you". After introducing himself the group questioned him on what he was doing, he replied in utter calmness that he was delivering the mail as that was his job. The two recipients signed for their letters and franticly tore open the aged strange envelopes. Inside were two further letters from relatives detailing how they were coping, but how life was somewhat different from before. The group enquired if there were any other letters and the man replied that he was not sure, but if they call into the sorting office during the morning opening times of 09:00 to 12:00 he would check through the undelivered mail and see if there were any further correspondence. Bidding the group farewell the man kicked over the motorbike and span the bike round before heading off southwards into the dusk skyline.

The group headed back to Chelsea and Edward Bartlett. The returned with tales of what they had found throughout the city and the postman on his motorbike. The old man was eager to hear the tales and took in all the information that was told. Later that evening after a meal of warm meats and vegetables washed down with some port and other drinks the group sifted through the findings from the BBC. Having been on their feet since the early hours of the morning they retired early hoping to get a good nights sleep.

In the morning they awoke refreshed and ready for adventure. London was as it had been the previous day, dead and deserted. The only sounds were sea birds and other fowl in the Thames and the odd dog barking. The power station over the river had ceased bellowing clouds into the sky and lay dormant before them.

They informed Richards father that they were going to explore the South side of the river and left after the filling breakfast. Over Battersea bridge towards the sorting office on Lavender Hill. The building was a standard GPO sporting office. The heavy door lay open, odd in a deserted city. Inside a large counter lay before them with a solitary brass bell on its surface. Mark rang the bell, soon Mr Shakespeare appeared and invited them into the rear sorting area. They were greeted with rows upon rows of wire cages all neatly numbered SW11 to SW20. Beyond the cages lay an area signed unsorted parcel storage. There, at the back was a small office now seeming converted into a living area. Bill explained that this is where he now lived and had begun sorting and trying to deliver the mountain of parcels that lay before them all. Bill offered the group a cup of tea and began brewing up a large tea pot on a gas burner just inches away from his bed and stacks of jumbled letters. After the pleasantries the group enquired as to where the letter Bill had delivered to them had come from. He indicated that there was a large box in the store room and that this was where he had found the letters. He offered to recover the box and hand it over to the group. Soon they were presented with a well mad and seemingly very old wooden chest, now quite battered and far from good condition. The chest was empty apart from a plate in the roof of the container indicating that it was once the property of a Chester Crispin. Mark asked Bill if there was any records of items being left at the sorting office and bill produced a few large books details all mail deliveries. After a while sifting through the data Mark discovered that the chest had been donated to the Royal Mail in 1855, by relatives of Chester Crispin, a Victorian dilettante and sometime explorer. Richard thought that Chester Crispin may have been a member of the Royal Geographical Society so suggested that they should head to Kensington to research the explorer.

Bidding Bill farewell and asking if he wouldn’t mind calling in on Richards father if he is ever passing Chelsea they headed towards Kensington. At the Royal Geographical Society they searched through documents dating from the 1800s and discovered that Chester Crispin had been an a rather unsuccessful explorer, first performing archeological digs in England before going further afield to Egypt and darkest Africa. Finding nothing of note on any expedition he retired through ill health to his family estate in Hertfordshire. They decided that there may be further clues at Fanham’s Hall and decided to head there after another nights rest. Prior to leaving Kensington they stocked up on supplies in Harrods and took some provisions for Richards father as well.

The following day they headed out of the deserted capital northwards towards Cambridge on the A10. They soon arrived at Ware and found the hall just to he east. The impressive building was surround by fields of white flowers bellowing seeds skywards. As the Investigators turn up the driveway, they hear music. It is swing music, loud and distorted, played through a gramophone at exceptional volume.

Outside the Hall are other cars. Clearly, nobody has tried to flee. As they get closer, the Investigators hear shouting and laughter over the music. Inside, a riotous party is in full swing. Half-empty champagne flutes cover the polished tables. There is frenzied dancing in every room, as two gramophones, playing different music, compete to be heard.

The partygoers are all women, dressed with fashionable absurdity. The party’s theme appears to be “flowers”. One woman is dressed as a sunflower. Many others have imitation flowers woven into hats. Most of the flower costumes are white. After a few knocks at the door the group is greeted by the party’s host Florence Crispin, Chester’s daughter and the owner of Fanham’s Hall. In the dim, artificial light, she appears young. In direct light, she is clearly over forty and slowly decaying. Like the others, she is enjoying herself. She invited the group inside but asks the men to stay in the parlour as the party is for women only. Agnes mingles with the partygoers noticing that they are all drunk and quite a few have dilated pupils, which explains the frenzied dancing. It seems these people are taking cocaine. Florence offers to lend her a party frock and shows her to a dressing room upstairs. She leaves Agnes to pick a dress and join the party downstairs when she is ready. Looking around the first floor Agnes finds the family library and within it are books written by Chester Crispin. All are vanity productions: he paid a printer to produce them. He recounts his expeditions, but they are absurd, with erroneous geography and fairytale elements. You doubt, for example, that he killed a unicorn in India. Richard tries to go upstairs under the pretence of delivering champagne from the kitchen. He discovers an attic entrance but its looked and is soon discovered by Florence who sends him back to the parlour to wait. Searching through the rear of the house he discovers the butlers quarters and within it the main keys to the house. Taking the attic key he passes it to Mark who believes he can use the dumb waiter to gain access to the upper floor without gaining suspicion from the partygoers in the stairwell.

The plan works flawlessly and Mark is able to gain access to the attic. There he finds old boxes of possessions some marked as being the property of Chester Crispin. Searching through the heavy chests Mark discovers Chester Crispin’s papers. Most are nonsensical scribbling. However, he mentions caves near Brichester, in which he found the letters. Intriguingly, he says that he did not take them all leaving some still within the caves. Richard decides to investigate the outsides of the house and looks for the kitchen entrance. In the kitchen he finds many boxes of supplies. Certainly, the women have everything they need to survive for a while, including food and medical supplies. Outside he hears the unmistakable chug of a generator an in an outbuilding finds a medium sized generator and a good amount of fuel cans required to run it for some time.

Meeting up again in the parlour the group bids farewell to Florence and her collection of revellers and head off towards Brichester and the caves of Goatswood.

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