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       The Enemy, p.12

           Charlie Higson
 

  He gave another quick squirt of light. Just in time. Another second and he would have run into the end of the gutter. He clambered up and into the tunnel. It would be harder going now. He had to make his way over the cross ties without slipping. It was the same for the grown-ups, but they would be able to follow him by the noise he was making.

  He stumbled on, every few seconds lighting the way ahead. The tunnel split in two and he made a quick decision, taking the left-hand branch. A little farther along he came to a stopped train. It fitted too tightly in the tunnel for him to squeeze past, so he would have to go underneath.

  He dropped onto his belly and crawled under the front of the train, wriggling like a worm. It was hard work and difficult to move without making a noise. Were the grown-ups still following? He shone the flashlight back. There were three of them there, peering under the carriage, their eyes bulging, red and swollen, their tongues lolling. One of them flopped down and started to slither his way forward.

  Sam switched off the flashlight.

  Blackness again.

  He crawled on. His knees stinging. The sound of his followers too close behind.

  The one in front worked his way nearer and nearer, his rancid breath coming in short rasping gasps. He got hold of Sam’s ankle. Sam kicked out and kept kicking. He felt something break like a twig, and he hoped it was at least a finger. No matter how hard he kicked it, though, the grown-up wouldn’t let go. It was then that Sam remembered the butterfly pin. He had it stuck through a fold of cloth on the front of his sweatshirt. He pulled it loose, curled back around, and struck—jab, jab, jab, jab, jab—right where he thought the grown-up’s face would be. It was like poking a watermelon. There was a shriek, and the grown-up let go and thrashed about like a wounded animal.

  That might hold the others up. Sam crawled on. He risked another burst of light. The bottom of the train seemed to stretch away forever ahead of him, but off to one side was a dark hole in the tunnel wall. Maybe a way out?

  He stuffed the flashlight back into his pocket, lay flat, and, making as little noise as he could, moved slowly sideways over the rail, past the wheels of the train, where there was a gap between two carriages. He couldn’t risk the flashlight. It would show the grown-ups where he was. So he ran his hands over the wall until he found the opening and ducked into it. He heard the grown-ups move past him, still under the train. It wouldn’t take them long to realize he wasn’t ahead of them anymore, but would they be able to find this hiding place? Sam backed deeper into the hole; the ground sloped downward into shallow water. He soon came to a solid wall. Once more he used his hands to get the shape of his surroundings, and he discovered that he was at the bottom of a shaft of some sort. It was open above his head, and, what’s more, there were metal rungs fixed to the wall. He hauled himself up and climbed into the darkness.

  I didn’t know. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know . . . We couldn’t tell ...”

  Arran was lying where he had fallen, surrounded by dead grown-ups, and Maxie, Blue, and a stunned circle of the rest of the Holloway kids. The girl was kneeling by him, her hand pressed to his chest where the steel shaft of the arrow stuck out. Her bow was lying next to his body.

  Maxie didn’t know her name. She didn’t want to know. She was tall and thin and striking, with long dark hair and very white skin. She was wearing a battered black leather jacket and knee-high biker boots.

  Standing in a small, wary knot behind her were her friends, five girls and seven boys. They were all lean and wiry and weather-beaten, as if they’d been living outdoors for some time. Their eyes moved like animals’ eyes. Watchful, alert, unsure.

  The Holloway crew outnumbered them easily.

  And they had shot Arran.

  “We’d been following the pack,” said the girl. “The adults.

  We didn’t know what they were up to. We’d never seen them behave this way before. We know how to keep hidden. We were staying out of their way. And then they were charging down the street toward us. We thought they were coming for us. We started firing. We never saw the boy among them.” She touched the feathers at the tip of the arrow. “This is mine,” she said sadly. “I’m so sorry.”

  “Being sorry won’t bring him back,” said Maxie. “Being sorry never changed anything.”

  “It was an accident,” said Ollie, and Maxie shot him a dirty look.

  Maeve pushed her way to the front and knelt by Arran. She put her ear to his chest and a finger to the artery in his neck.

  “He’s not dead,” she said.

  “Oh, thank God,” Maxie sobbed, and dropped to the road beside Maeve. She put her face to Arran’s. It was wet with tears. She didn’t care who saw it.

  “Arran,” she whispered in his ear. “Don’t die.”

  Arran’s lips parted and he spoke one word, in the quietest whisper they had ever heard. So deep was the silence, however, that there was no mistaking what he said.

  “No.”

  Maxie smiled through her tears.

  “He’s not going to die. He’s strong. He’s our leader. He’s going to get us to the palace. . . .”

  “The palace?” said the girl, and now Jester stepped forward.

  “I’m taking them to Buckingham Palace,” he said. “It’s safe there.”

  “It’s not safe anywhere,” said the girl. “We know. We’ve been all over.”

  “Have you been into the center of town?” asked Jester.

  “Well, no . . .”

  “Then you haven’t been all over, have you?”

  “She’s not coming with us, anyway,” said Maxie, standing up. “Not after what she’s done to Arran.”

  “I didn’t mean to.”

  “Yeah,” said Blue. “It was an accident. If they want to come with us, then let them. We could use some more fighters. We lost seven kids in the battle.”

  “She’s not coming!” Maxie shouted.

  “If I say she’s coming, she’s coming,” said Blue.

  “Why?” said Maxie. “Because she’s pretty?”

  “What’s that got to do with it?” Blue laughed dismissively. “I told you, she’s a mad good fighter. We all need to stick together.”

  “Who put you in charge all of a sudden?” Maxie snorted.

  “You said just now Arran was the leader,” said Blue calmly, ignoring Maxie’s outburst. “Well, that wasn’t strictly speaking true, was it? We was both leaders. And now he’s hurt bad, so, from here on, I’m in charge.”

  Maxie glared at Blue, her eyes defiant. “I’m Arran’s second in command,” she said. “I’ll take his place until he’s better.”

  “I’m in charge, girl,” said Blue.

  “It doesn’t matter,” said Ollie, stepping between them. “All that matters right now is we try to get Arran better. Then we can argue over who’s in charge. Maeve, is there anything you can do?”

  “I don’t know,” said Maeve, shaking her head. “The arrow’s in pretty deep. If we take it out he might bleed worse.”

  “Is it in his heart?”

  “If it was in his heart he’d be dead already.”

  “His lung?”

  “Maybe.”

  Maeve looked around at the girl who was still kneeling next to her. “What do you think? Do you know about arrows?”

  “I think you’re right. If you try to take it out you could make it worse.”

  “You can’t leave him like that!” Maxie yelled. “You can’t!”

  Ollie nodded at the girl. “You,” he said. “What’s your name?”

  “Sophie,” said the girl.

  “Tell me, Sophie,” said Ollie, crouching down to inspect the wound. “Is it barbed? The arrow? Has it got a barbed tip?”

  “No,” said Sophie. “It’s a sports arrow, designed for shooting at targets. It’s probably gone right through him. It was very close range.”

  Maxie wailed and threw herself on Arran, cupping his face in her hands.

  “He was already weak from the bite in his neck,”
she said. “What are we going to do?”

  “Okay,” said Jester, “as I see it, it’s like this. He can’t walk. So, whatever we do, we’ll have to carry him. Maybe make a stretcher, or find a trolley, or something.”

  “We can’t move him like that with an arrow sticking out of him,” Blue objected.

  “I know that,” said Jester. “So we’ll have to risk taking it out. We’ve no other choice. We’ll have to bandage him up and just hope we can stop the bleeding.”

  “You’ll only be able to stop the bleeding on the outside,” said Maeve. “Not inside. He’ll die.”

  “Well, what do you suggest?” said Jester. “We operate on him?”

  “It would be the only way to save him,” said Sophie.

  “Don’t be stupid,” Maxie snapped. “We can’t operate on him.”

  “I know,” said Sophie sadly.

  “If we can just get him to the palace, he might have a chance,” said Jester. “But if we stay here he won’t, and it’ll be dangerous for the rest of us. We have to keep moving. I say we take the arrow out and see what happens.”

  “No,” said Maxie.

  “We ain’t got time for this,” said Achilleus, and he marched over to Arran, grabbed the arrow, and yanked it out. Maxie screamed. A gout of lumpy jellylike blood dribbled from the wound. Arran groaned and coughed. His body spasmed, and he was still.

  “You’ve killed him!” screamed Maxie.

  “No.” It was Arran’s voice.

  Sam waited, perched on the metal rungs. There was no way out of the shaft. The top was blocked. He didn’t know how much longer he could hold on, even though he had wedged his body across the gap. His muscles were sore and shaking. His back hurt.

  He tried to concentrate on hanging on instead of imagining what the grown-ups were doing. Every time he thought they’d gone, he heard them again. Searching for him. Just be small, he told himself. Be small and still, and try to think of happier times. Of sunny days on the beach. Of playing with his Playmobil. Anything other than being stuck underground in this tiny space with the grown-ups sniffing around for him.

  He heard one nearby. Snuffling like a pig. Its fingers raking the brickwork. He felt warm liquid trickling down his legs, and he realized he must have wet himself again. He prayed that they wouldn’t be able to smell it. Then he heard the grown-up lapping at the water on the ground. A few seconds later it was sick. A fight broke out. The grown-ups snarling and whining at each other.

  Why wouldn’t they just go away?

  He had had enough.

  He was only nine.

  A terrible voice inside tempted him to give up, to let go and drop down and make an end to it.

  No more fear. No more pain.

  But there was a stronger force making his hands grip tighter, tensing his legs, readying them to kick if needed.

  He was Sam the Giant Slayer. Sam of the silver pin. He thought about his favorite film—Time Bandits—how the little people in it won in the end against the forces of evil.

  And he remembered the story of Pandora’s box that they’d read at school. After all the nasty things had come out of it, there was one thing left. Hope. And Pandora had let it out of the box.

  He had to have hope.

  The grown-ups would go. He would climb down. He would find his sister and his friends and walk to safety.

  Callum pressed play on the beat box and sat in his armchair. He smiled as the sound of ABBA filled the shop. “Dancing Queen.” ABBA had been his mom’s favorite band. She had taken him to see Mamma Mia live on stage, and although he’d complained, secretly he’d enjoyed it. He couldn’t remember how many times they’d watched the DVD together. There were a lot of uncool things he liked but had to pretend to hate, like High School Musical and Harry Potter.

  And ABBA ...

  Well, now he could listen to what he wanted, he could read what he wanted, he could do what he wanted without any other kids laughing at him. He opened a can of peaches and took a gulp of the sweet juice. The taste exploded inside his mouth and he closed his eyes. He couldn’t remember when he had ever been happier.

  Arran’s mouth was dry and he felt hungry. God, he was hungry. He was hungry and he was thirsty, but there was no pain. He felt nothing. He was drifting in a warm sea. He struggled to keep his eyes open. Sometimes the sky looked black, sometimes a brilliant, blinding white.

  And sometimes it was red as blood.

  He slept for a while and dreamed of sitting at his Xbox.

  When he woke, his mother was there, cradling him in her arms, and he felt an overwhelming happiness. He wanted to tell everyone. The nightmare was over. His mother looked down into his face and smiled the most beautiful smile. He knew that everything was all right if she smiled at him like that. There were no more monsters. She brushed his hair off his forehead and rested a cool hand on his face. Like she always did when he was sick. To see if he was hot. And all the while her eyes were smiling at him.

  “I love you, baby,” she said, and he smiled back. He opened his mouth to speak; he wanted to tell her something. It was hard to get the words out. They stuck in his dry throat.

  They had bandaged the wound and wrapped Arran tightly around the chest. The white material was soon stained dark with blood, though. The wound was steadily leaking, and nobody dared catch Maxie’s eye. They all knew the worst— Arran was dying—but Maxie wouldn’t admit it. They hated themselves for it, but they wanted to move on, leave Arran behind. It wasn’t safe here. The grown-ups had attacked once and they would attack again. The longer the kids stayed still, the more danger they were in. But Maxie sat by the body and wouldn’t move. It was late. She’d been holding him for what seemed like hours. Talking quietly. Trying to give him water.

  She could hear the others muttering. They were plotting. She knew they wanted to abandon Arran. She looked at his handsome face, so pale and tired looking. He hadn’t moved for ages.

  And then his lips parted and Maxie’s heart leapt.

  “Come over here,” she cried. “Quick. It’s all right, listen, he’s trying to speak.”

  Ollie came back over with Maeve and Blue.

  “Listen,” said Maxie. “I’m sure he’s trying to say something. He only needed a rest. He’s getting stronger at last. If he can speak he’s all right.”

  Arran’s gray-blue eyes opened, and they were clear and bright. He smiled at Maxie.

  “I love you, Mom,” he said quietly, and he died in Maxie’s arms.

  They had ransacked the buildings and gardens nearby and collected everything they could find that would burn— fallen branches, tables, chairs, doors, mattresses, scaffolding planks, tires—and packed it around the BMW. It was no more use to them. Blue had driven it around, chasing off the last of the grown-ups after the battle, until the last of its gas had run out. Once they had a good-sized bonfire, they wrapped Arran and the other dead kids in sheets. They wanted to make sure their faces were hidden. Then they placed the bodies on top of the heap.

  Maxie had insisted. There was no way she was going to leave them here to be eaten. Arran, with the others, would be given a hero’s send-off. The dead grown-ups they left where they had fallen. Freak sprayed a message on to a nearby wall. this is where arran harper fell. we don’t know the day or the date, but we’ll never forget it. he was the bravest of us all.

  Whitney and Josh gave him the names of the other kids who had died, and Freak added them to the mural, then finished it with a Freaky-Deaky tag.

  When they were ready, Maxie lit a match and approached the car.

  Freak called her back.

  “Before you do that,” he said, “can I say something?”

  “Okay,” said Blue, “but make it quick. We need to get going.”

  “I’ll be quick,” said Freak. He took a breath and looked at the faces of the kids.

  “Arran talked to me this morning,” he said. “Helped me to keep going. Now it’s my turn. We all lost someone we loved today. But the thing is, we won.
We beat them. I was going to write something different over there. I was going to write ‘Arran Lives.’ Cuz it’s important we don’t forget what he wanted. To get to the palace and have a better life. And we mustn’t forget one other thing. Us kids are all in this together. We’re all on the same side. The grown-ups are the enemy. It was an accident, what happened to Arran. And I don’t want no one to blame Sophie. We work together, we survive together.”

  “Yeah, nice speech,” said Achilleus with a touch of sarcasm. “Now light the fire.”

  Maxie stepped forward, and soon the great pile was sending flames several feet into the air. Maxie saw something lying on the ground and stooped to pick it up. It was Arran’s club. It felt heavy in her hands. It was all that was left of him.

  From now on it was hers.

  Once the kids were sure that the fire wasn’t going to go out, they set off. They didn’t want to stay and watch the bodies burn to ash. They said their farewells and marched away in battle formation, the fire at their backs.

  The plan was to keep going and try to get to the palace that night, even though it was late and the sky had grown dark. The problem was not only that there was nowhere in Camden for such a large party of kids to shelter safely, there was also the danger of a blaze that was spreading down from Kentish Town, consuming every building in its path and sending up thick smoke that further darkened the sky.

  Sophie and the archers walked at the front with Blue and Jester. Then came the other fighters, Big Mick, Achilleus, Freak, and the rest. Ollie and the skirmishers brought up the rear as ever. Lewis took up his position on the left flank. Maxie left Josh in charge of her group on the right flank, however, and joined the little kids in the center of the column. She wanted to be with them and take comfort from them. They were affectionate and caring and not afraid to show their emotions. They hugged Maxie and held her hand and told her it was all right and that they missed Arran, and they swapped stories about him, his great deeds. She nearly burst into tears again when little Joel gave her his puppy, Godzilla, to hold. The puppy felt warm and soft. He was very sleepy, but he managed to lick her face before snuggling down in her arms. She walked on with Joel staring up at her.

 
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