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       The Hunted, p.1

           Charlie Higson
 
The Hunted


  Contents

  St George

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  The Hunter

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  19 Days Earlier

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Chapter 48

  Chapter 49

  Chapter 50

  Chapter 51

  Chapter 52

  Chapter 53

  The Races

  Chapter 54

  Chapter 55

  Chapter 56

  Chapter 57

  Chapter 58

  Chapter 59

  Chapter 60

  Chapter 61

  Chapter 62

  Chapter 63

  Chapter 64

  Chapter 65

  Chapter 66

  Chapter 67

  Closing

  Chapter 68

  Chapter 69

  Chapter 70

  Follow Penguin

  PENGUIN BOOKS

  Charlie Higson isn’t only the writer of the critically acclaimed The Enemy series, or the creator of Young Bond, which has been translated into twenty-five languages. He’s also an actor, scriptwriter, director, producer and former singer. He has written four crime books for adults, presented a film series for Channel 4 (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and once appeared on Never Mind the Buzzcocks with Jedward (a career highlight).

  On leaving university he formed an indie band, The Higsons, before giving it up to become a painter and decorator (the pay was better). It was around this time that he started writing for television on Saturday Night Live, and he went on to create the hugely successful comedy series The Fast Show, in which he also appeared. Other TV works include Harry Enfield’s Television Programme, Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) and the sitcom Swiss Toni.

  His work for radio includes the award-winning spoof phone-in programme Down the Line (BBC Radio 4), which became the television comedy series Bellamy’s People (BBC 2).

  Charlie doesn’t do Facebook but you can tweet him @monstroso

  Books by Charlie Higson

  The Enemy Series

  THE ENEMY

  THE DEAD

  THE FEAR

  THE SACRIFICE

  THE FALLEN

  THE HUNTED

  MONSTROSO (POCKET MONEY PUFFINS)

  The Young Bond Series

  SILVERFIN

  BLOOD FEVER

  DOUBLE OR DIE

  HURRICANE GOLD

  BY ROYAL COMMAND

  DANGER SOCIETY: YOUNG BOND DOSSIER

  SILVERFIN: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL

  For my brothers, Andrew, Barney and Dan

  Praise for Charlie Higson’s writing:

  ‘Ruthless’

  – SFX

  ‘Entertainment of the highest calibre’

  – Books Quarterly

  ‘Adrenaline-inducing’

  – Sunday Times

  ‘Charlie Higson’s Young Bond books get an A*’

  – GQ

  ‘Clever … fast-paced … inventive’

  – Guardian

  ‘Like a John Wyndham survival story’

  – The Times

  ‘Good, gritty and funny’

  – Daily Mail

  ‘Double-oh so good’

  – Sunday Times

  ST GEORGE

  His teeth sank into the boy’s neck and he felt a warm spurt of blood fill his mouth. A deep calm came over him. The chattering in his head fell silent. The fidgeting and twitching in his arms and legs stopped. The deep itch dulled. He felt like he was plugged into the universe, or as if the universe was plugged into him. As he drank, he looked up at the stars. They seemed to spell out a message for him, if only he could read it. He squinted and strained, his brain throbbing in his hot head. What were they trying to tell him? No good. No good. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the blood. It tasted like life, clearing out all the poison inside him, cleaning his tubes and guts, lighting up a million stars within his brain. He shuddered with pleasure.

  The boy was still moving, feebly trying to break away from his grip, but St George was holding him tight. When he’d drunk his fill, he’d give him to the others. They were sitting in a circle around him, waiting. The closest were the ones who’d been with him from the start. His lieutenants. And behind them, in circle after circle, the others, spreading out, filling the park. Sitting there, quietly waiting, their faces lit by moonlight. And out past them, all around, working their way through the city streets … his army was hunting. Maybe that’s what the stars were showing him. The sky was a map and each star was one of his people. He was at the centre, the brightest star of all. And they were all connected, in a circle of light, so that he was out there hunting with his people, and they were feeding with him now.

  They’d only found this one child so far tonight, but there would be more. Each night it took longer as they emptied the nearby streets, and had to search further and wider.

  He was always the first to feed. Sometimes only drinking the blood; sometimes tearing off the flesh. The blood was the best part. The blood was electricity, driving his brain and body, blowing away the darkness and the fog. And with the blood came the memories. Flooding into his thoughts. His life up there in the stars, and in the jungle, travelling across the sea, searching for a new home and finding it inside this body.

  This body.

  This man.

  Greg … Greg Thorne. Of Greg’s Organic Gaff.

  Meat is life.

  He was Greg. He had to hold on to the memory. It was like waking from a beautiful dream and feeling it slip away from you. He’d been a butcher. With a son. A boy. His own boy. What was his name …?

  His boy?

  No good. Not coming.

  He was Greg, though. He remembered that. He’d worked with animals. Cutting them up, chopping through the fat and the muscle, the tendons, skinning and deboning. Eviscerating. Yes, he remembered it well. Pictured the carcasses hanging from the hooks in the cold store at the back of his shop. Cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, children. Animals and children … Was that right? Had he always butchered children? Or had life been different then? That was the problem with the blood. For a few brief moments everything would be clear, lit up, written in the stars. He could read the messages. And then the clouds would come down, the mist and fog and shadows, and he would be so bloody hungry and the rage would take him. There could never be enough children to feed his hunger.

  Already the images were fading. He’d known his name. He’d remembered a place. Knives and hooks and skin …

  Cold. A cold place.

  His head ached with the thinking. What was he to do?

  He loosened his bit
e and looked down at the boy in his arms. The boy looked back at him. His eyes were sad. Blinking. His body trembled. Like a little bird. A chicken before you break its neck.

  ‘Liam?’

  Greg smiled at him.

  ‘We should get home,’ he said. ‘Or we’ll miss the game. The Arsenal are playing.’

  He closed his eyes. He could hear the cheering. The hard, tight thud of boot on ball. The half-time whistle …

  His team was going to win. It was an away game next. They would have to travel. Meet the opposition. He was captain. He was general. He was king. He was a saint. St George and he would slay the dragon.

  First he needed his army. He had to wait. There were more of them coming, more of the others, more glinting stars, a universe of them, all moving towards him. He could hear them out there, calling to him, telling him to wait. From everywhere they came, and when they’d all arrived, when he was strong enough, when he was unstoppable, he would move on.

  Move on to where they were. The enemy. The fast ones. The young ones. They had to be herded up like sheep, penned in like chickens. And when they were ready they would take his sickness from him; the host would move on and live inside them.

  He felt the boy struggle and he opened his eyes.

  Until the time was right, they were just like this boy. Just meat.

  He snapped his neck and threw him to the others, who leapt up and tore into him.

  The boy was nothing, but there were others who were dangerous, and those they had to kill. The shining ones. The ones who wouldn’t take the sickness, the ones whose blood was strong. And, strongest of all, the bright little one, the little twinkling star. Twinkle, twinkle …

  He had the power of light, that one did. He was made of light. He had to be destroyed. And all the others like him. Not as powerful as him, but dangerous all the same.

  The stars had told St George this.

  That was their true message.

  He knew what he had to do.

  To make the ripest children ready to take the host.

  To kill the rest.

  To kill the bright little star.

  He’d seen him that time. At the Arsenal. The stars hadn’t given him his orders then, though. He’d let him slip away. If only he’d known the small boy was a nasty little dragon.

  It wouldn’t happen again. He was St George and he would slay the dragon. That was how it worked, wasn’t it? He knew the story. He was a hero, a patron saint. He was England. This country was his. His people were marching towards him from all corners. He would take his throne.

  But first he had to destroy the dragon.

  He would butcher him like a piece of meat; a long pig, that’s all he was: cutlets, chops, ribs and chitterlings. He would make sausages out of him, ha, because in the end he was nothing more than a side of pork …

  No, smaller than that.

  He was just a lamb.

  A leg of lamb.

  Yes.

  He would slaughter the lamb.

  1

  Everyone at the Natural History Museum was gathered in the Hall of Gods, an area that had big white statues ranked down both sides and an escalator at the back rising up through a weird, rusted metal globe. Ed had hoped that the meeting would be somewhere quiet and he could have talked to just one or two key people. Instead he had to face rows and rows of them, all sitting there, staring up at him and picking their noses like he was giving a talk at a school assembly.

  That was how it was with Justin, though. He was in charge here and had his way of doing things, and you couldn’t argue him out of it. Ed supposed there was a reason behind it all. These kids, like all kids, were bored most of the time. There was work to be done growing food, or scavenging for it; you could read books, or talk to your mates, but that was about it. No football, no computer games, no TV or music. Meetings like this gave the kids something to occupy their minds and fill up their conversations.

  Ed had known Justin at school. A few of the boys from Rowhurst had ended up at the museum. Chris Marker and Kwanele, Wiki and Jibber-jabber. And it was Justin who had got them all safely there. He’d been pretty unmemorable before, a nerdy wimp, not the type of boy Ed used to hang out with. Ed had been into sport mostly. But it turned out there was a lot more to Justin than Ed had ever imagined. He’d learnt a hell of a lot since the disease had hit. Like how you needed all sorts of skills to survive. Brains being a very important one.

  Justin was still fussy and nerdy, but he had authority. The kids respected him and he seemed to be able to control them. Something that Ed was utterly failing to do. Even the more streetwise kids from Holloway had sat there obediently through Justin’s bit. He’d gone through some tedious stuff about tasks for the next day and food rotas and menus and cleaning duties, and there’d been hardly a squeak out of them.

  Even a scarred troublemaker called Achilleus had stayed fairly quiet, only occasionally whispering something to the two boys who sat giggling on either side of him. One younger kid and one of the Twisted Kids, as they called themselves. Ed had thought that Wormwood, the intelligent adult he’d brought here with him, was strange, but the Twisted Kids were off the scale. This one’s name was Skinner, which was appropriate, as he had folds of loose skin all over his body.

  As soon as Ed had opened his mouth, though, everything had fallen apart. Achilleus kept making sarky comments and he was now lounging in his seat yawning theatrically. The other kids had just started talking to each other, not loudly, but they were making enough noise to set up a steady, distracting buzz, so that Ed had lost all confidence in his speech – if you could call it a speech, which, unfortunately Justin had done when he’d introduced him.

  Ed hadn’t been ready for this and had stumbled along, talking about how Sam was searching for his sister, Ella. How Ella had left that morning and Sam had missed her by only a few hours and how Ed needed to go after her. He’d rambled on for about five minutes before he’d run out of things to say. What was there to say? He needed their help on a dangerous and probably pointless expedition. He hardly believed in it himself, so how could he make anyone else buy into it? If he’d been in the audience, he’d have ignored his stupid speech as well.

  It was time to finish up. He’d done his best.

  ‘So anyway …’ he said, looking out across the rows of kids, some looking at him, some chatting with their friends, some bored, some staring at the ceiling. ‘That’s it really. I’m going off to find Ella – you know, tell her that Sam’s alive, and hopefully bring her back. And if anyone wants to come along and help me then, er, I guess, see me afterwards …’

  See me afterwards …? Had he really said see me afterwards? That’s what teachers used to say. ‘If you want to come on the school trip to the theatre see me afterwards …’

  ‘What if she don’t wanna come back?’ said a hefty black girl, who Ed thought was one of the kids who had recently arrived from Holloway with Ella.

  ‘She’ll want to see Sam,’ Ed replied. ‘I mean, wasn’t that the main reason she left? Because there was nothing here for her except bad memories?’

  ‘Whitney’s right,’ said another of the Holloway crew. ‘What if Ella got a better thing going on out there?’

  Ed noticed a commotion near the front and then saw Sam jumping up out of his chair.

  He didn’t need this now.

  ‘What do you mean, “bring her back” here to me?’ Sam shouted. ‘I’m going with you.’

  ‘I’ll talk to you afterwards, Sam. Not now, OK?’

  ‘There’s nothing to talk about. I’m going with you.’

  ‘No you’re not.’ Ed tried to sound firm, like there was no argument. ‘Too dangerous,’ he added. ‘What if we got attacked on the way and you got killed? What then? This whole thing would have been a big waste of time.’

 
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