The Fallen, p.1Charlie Higson
Charlie Higson started writing when he was ten years old, but it was a long time before he got paid for doing it. On leaving university he was the singer in a pop group (The Higsons) before giving it up to become a painter and decorator. It was around this time that he started writing for television on Saturday Night Live. He went on to create the hugely successful comedy series The Fast Show, in which he also appeared. Other TV work includes Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and Swiss Toni.
He is the author of the bestselling Young Bond books, and The Fallen is the fifth book in his current horror series, The Enemy.
Charlie doesn’t do Facebook, but you can tweet him @monstroso.
Books by Charlie Higson
DOUBLE OR DIE
BY ROYAL COMMAND
DANGER SOCIETY: YOUNG BOND DOSSIER
MONSTROSO (POCKET MONEY PUFFINS)
SILVERFIN: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL
For Billy and Charlie
28 SECONDS LATER …
THE EVENTS IN THE FALLEN HAPPEN AT
THE SAME TIME AS THE EVENTS IN
THE SACRIFICE AND JUST AFTER THE
END OF THE ENEMY …
Laughter filled the street. Laughter and singing. Maxie was laughing too, though she wasn’t really sure why. She was filled with a wild, mindless joy. Here she was, out in the cool fresh air, marching through the streets of London with the surviving Holloway kids. It reminded her of Halloween when she’d been younger. That slightly hysterical feeling of escape, the normal rules broken, the streets being owned by children.
Only tonight the monsters were real.
No matter. They would destroy all monsters.
They’d just chased off a group of grown-ups. Sent them running. Maxie felt invincible. She was floating on air. There was a sort of magic about it. The energy of the other kids was combining into a powerful force. They were so much more than a gang. They were an army.
She’d escaped from the palace. Got away from that creepy loser David. After being shut away in the sick-bay for so long with Blue, the last half-hour had been mental, totally unreal, a mad film she’d watched on late-night TV while fighting to stay awake. There had been chaos in the palace. People running through the dark corridors, distant shouts, gunfire … At one point she’d seen one of David’s captive royal family. The last surviving members from the old days. An old woman wearing a tiara and a tattered silver dress, her face covered in boils.
The kids stomped down the middle of the road and their voices bounced off the high walls of the buildings, chasing away their nightmares. Taunting the grown-ups who hid in the darkness.
She turned to smile at the girl next to her. They’d rescued her from an attack near Green Park tube. She’d been badly cut up and had a bandage round her head. Maxie saw that she was crying.
‘Are you all right?’ Maxie put her arm round her.
‘Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.’
‘Only you’re crying.’
‘Am I?’ The girl wiped her bruised and swollen face, sniffed and laughed through her tears. ‘I’m only crying cos I’m happy.’
‘Then we should all be crying.’
‘Maybe.’ The girl held on to her. ‘Thank you, Maxie.’
‘So have you got a name, bandage-head?’
‘Cool. Pleased to meet you, Brooke.’
It was Brooke who had told them about the Natural History Museum, how there was a group of kids living there. How it was safe and well organized.
And that was where they were headed in the middle of the night.
Maxie could feel Brooke’s ribs through her clothing. She hadn’t seen the girl eat anything in all the time they’d shared a room. She was running on adrenalin and guts. Maxie worried that if she squeezed her too tight she’d snap in two.
Brooke was about her own age and height. Hard to know what she might look like when her face healed. Right now it was a mess of scabs and yellow and purple bruising, and Maxie hated to think what might be under that bandage.
Just so long as Brooke led them safely to the museum the poor girl could rest up and get well, then Maxie could find out all about her, what she’d been doing when she was attacked, who she’d lost, why she’d lain so long in bed without moving or speaking.
Probably not a happy story, let’s face it. There weren’t too many happy stories in the world any more. Except maybe this one … Escape from the Palace of Terror, starring the Holloway Crew.
Maxie looked around. They hadn’t all made it. They’d lost a few along the way since leaving north London, good friends, including the boy she’d loved, but there were still enough of them.
They were all around her, in a comforting knot.
Lewis, his Afro unmistakable in the darkness, was out on the left flank with his fighters; Big Mick was out on the other. Ollie was at the rear as usual, he and his skirmishers watching their backs. Clever Ollie with his red hair and his slingshot, the
Achilleus, the best fighter of them all, was walking stiffly just in front of Maxie and Brooke. Achilleus had been hurt pretty badly in the fight at the palace with Just John and one side of his head was taped up. He was leaning on someone for support. A stocky little kid with fuzzy hair who was new to Maxie. He was younger than Achilleus, and carried a golf-bag full of weapons. He looked like he was finding it hard work, but wasn’t the complaining type. Wanted to show how hard he was. He and Brooke weren’t the only newcomers; they’d also picked up a long-nosed guy called Andy, one of David’s palace guards who’d defected and helped them escape.
In the centre of the group were the non-fighters – among them big, no-nonsense Whitney, Ben and Bernie the emo engineers, and Maeve, who acted as their doctor. They were looking after the younger kids – Blu-Tack Bill, Monkey-Boy and Ella – who were fussing over their little Alsatian puppy Godzilla.
It felt good to be with her friends. The world had turned cold and cruel, and friendship helped keep them warm. It was more important now than ever to help each other and work together.
But the best thing was Blue, the leader of the Morrisons gang, who had a lot more going for him than Maxie had ever imagined. He was walking on Maxie’s left. Quiet and watchful. She’d been scared of Blue for ages. Had thought he was a typical tough guy. Cold and hard and stupid. The alpha male who had fought his way to the top and kept his place with violence. But she’d found, in the time they’d been locked up together at the palace, that it was all a front, and behind that front he was warm and funny and smart. Finding him had almost made it all worthwhile.
‘There it is.’
Maxie looked to where Brooke was pointing. She’d been a couple of times to the museum, once with her mum and dad a few years ago, and once with her school, but she didn’t remember it being this big. Back then, though, she hadn’t been thinking of living in it. It seemed to fill half the street, with tall, churchlike towers at both ends and another pair in the middle where the main entrance was. And then she shivered. There was something about this place. Something she didn’t like.
A wide strip of garden, set behind iron railings, separated the museum from the road and a small gatehouse guarded the entrance. The gatehouse appeared deserted, the door hanging open.
‘Something’s not right,’ said Brooke and Maxie felt her heart beat faster. It was late, probably well after midnight, and she hadn’t thought about being tired before, but now weariness flooded her body and her bones felt suddenly heavy. She hadn’t reckoned on having to deal with any more trouble tonight.
‘What is it?’
‘There should be someone at the gates,’ said Brooke, looking around distractedly. ‘There’s always someone here. Guarding them. At least two kids. This ain’t right.’
Blue rattled the gates. They were firmly locked. Maxie looked over at the museum building. There was candlelight flickering in the windows.
‘How do we get in?’ she asked, but before Brooke could reply Blue ran back along the pavement to where the railings were lower, climbed on to a bench and vaulted over to the other side. The rest of the kids followed him and they ran up a wide, curving ramp towards the two sets of big double doors at the entrance.
‘They’re open!’ someone shouted and Maxie watched as a group of kids pushed one of the doors back.
She forced her way to the front and found Blue. They exchanged looks. She took a deep breath.
‘What you waiting for?’ Blue asked and Maxie went in.
The place was so big and so dimly lit it took Maxie a moment to get her bearings and work out what was going on, but when she focused she realized that a fight was taking place. A small group of kids were backed up against a huge diplodocus skeleton, surrounded by a much larger mob of grown-ups. Dead bodies lay all around them.
By the guttering light of several candles, Maxie could see that the grown-ups were a mangy bunch, skinny and feeble, with thin, bent arms and legs. Their grey flesh was eaten away by sores and open wounds. Many of them were covered in blood, whether their own or from the children they were attacking, it was impossible to tell. They had the advantage of numbers, but weren’t like the street-hard grown-ups she was used to in Holloway.
‘They ain’t up to much,’ said Lewis. ‘Take ’em down!’ And he and his fighters steamed into the pack, lashing out with spears and clubs. At the same time Big Mick and his crew circled round the dinosaur and hit them from the rear. The sight of reinforcements gave the defending kids fresh hope and it took them less than a minute to hack the grown-ups to the floor.
Maxie had noticed a kid who seemed to be leading the locals. At first she’d thought it was a boy, but as she got closer she realized that she was mistaken.
‘You in charge here?’ Maxie asked her. The girl looked around at the other kids with her and shrugged.
‘I suppose I am.’
‘What’s your name?’
‘Well, Jackson, do you want to tell us what’s going on?’
‘Who are you?’ Jackson said warily.
‘It’s all right, they’re with me.’ Brooke stepped forward. Jackson looked first shocked then delighted.
‘Brooke … We thought you were dead.’ Jackson gave her a quick hug. ‘Are the others with you?’
Maxie remembered rescuing Brooke. The mangled bodies of her friends lying in the road.
Brooke didn’t reply. She didn’t have to. Her face said it all. Jackson swore and spat on one of the dead grown-ups.
‘I don’t get it,’ said Brooke. ‘What’s happened here?’
‘I don’t really know, to tell you the truth,’ said Jackson. ‘It’s been mad. No time to stop and think. Far as we can tell, the sickos have got in from downstairs; they somehow got past the locked doors. The museum’s full of them. They’re all over the place.’
‘Where’s everyone else?’ said Brooke.
‘It’s OK. They’re mostly safe. They’re up in the minerals gallery.’
‘I don’t know.’ Jackson peered into the darkness. She looked tired. ‘I think we might have lost some. I can’t keep up with what’s happening.’
Maxie had a chilly feeling of unease. It wasn’t just the grown-ups. There was something else. That shiver that had run through her outside. She bent her neck back and craned up at the looming black skeleton of the diplodocus.
She remembered now what had happened when she’d come here the first time with her mum and dad – the dinosaurs. They’d totally freaked her out. She must only have been about four or five years old. There had been some kind of moving exhibit, with life-size animatronic dinosaurs, and she’d had nightmares for weeks. She still found dinosaurs a bit creepy. It was the teeth that did it. Maxie didn’t like teeth.
She switched her attention to the dead bodies on the floor, crouching down to try and identify them. They’d been chopped up pretty badly.
‘Any of this lot yours?’ she asked Jackson.
‘No. All sickos.’
Maxie gave her a questioning look.
‘It’s what we call grown-ups,’ Brooke explained.
‘Fair enough.’ Maxie straightened and peered into the shadows. ‘So how many sickos got in, d’you think?’
She was getting bad vibes from the place. Echoes of her childhood fears. This central hall was massive, the vaulted ceiling disappearing into darkness. It was full of giant fossils and weird stuffed things that threw eerie shadows on to the walls.
‘No idea,’ said Jackson, wiping blood from her face. ‘I’ve seen at least ten others, but I reckon there’s more.’
‘And you think they got in downstairs somehow?’
‘A guy called Robbie usually looks after security, but he’s injured.’ Jackson looked at Brooke. ‘I guess things have slipped a little.’
‘Do you have any more fighters, or is this it?’ Maxie asked, checking
‘This is it.’
‘All right,’ said Maxie, raising her voice. ‘Listen up. I know you’re all knackered, but before we get to beddy-byes we got some work to do.’ She pointed at Brooke. ‘Take the smaller kids and put them with your people where they’ll be safe.’
‘In the minerals gallery?’ said Brooke.
‘If you say so.’
‘It was designed to keep precious stones safe,’ Brooke explained. ‘It’s built like a bank vault.’
‘Sounds good. Round everyone up, Whitney.’
‘You got it, girl.’
Maxie now turned to Jackson. ‘We need to split up and search the museum, look for any surviving kids and any more grown-ups. How many groups do you think we’ll need? I don’t know the layout of the place.’
The Fallen by Charlie Higson / Horror / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes