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       The Enemy, p.14

           Charlie Higson
 

  Maxie kicked out at it, and the thing grabbed her leg. She could feel the incredible strength in its arms. Before it could bite her, she quickly butted the end of the club into the top of its skull. It croaked and fell away with a pitiful whine. She struck it once more in the head, and it collapsed into a lifeless heap. At least the things could be killed. She helped the little girl up from the ground. Her back and neck were scratched and bleeding, and she was sobbing uncontrollably, her tiny body shuddering. Whitney scooped her up and cradled her in her arms.

  “I’ll look after the kids,” she said to Maxie. “You rally the fighters.”

  Maxie yelled at the top of her voice. “They’re attacking the little ones! Everyone help!”

  She saw two of the beasts dragging Curly Sam into the long grass by the hair, and ran after them. She got there just as Lewis and his team arrived. The animals were swiftly dealt with, and Curly Sam was returned to his friends.

  “What are they?” Lewis ran his flashlight beam over the dead animals. They had huge black eyes, great ragged ears, and long yellow fangs strung with saliva and spotted with blood. Like the grown-ups, their skin was covered with oozing pustules and ugly lumps.

  “Gross,” said Lewis, curling his lip with disgust. “They’re some sort of mutated children.”

  Maxie didn’t know what to think. Anything was possible. Before they had the chance for a proper look, though, they were called back into the fight. The beasts were everywhere, scurrying in and out of the legs of the kids, bowling them over, snatching the smallest ones. The fighters tried to get at them, but it was difficult in the dark with all the kids in the way.

  Maxie switched on her flashlight and saw a group of little kids break off the path farther down on the other side.

  “Stop them!” she shouted, but it was too late. She saw them go into the grass, which came up almost to their shoulders, and one by one they went down.

  Thank God Blue and the others had realized what was going on. They charged back from the front, weapons at the ready, and scattered a knot of marauding beasts. The noise was appalling. The animals screeched and squealed and bellowed, which terrified the kids even more.

  Maxie saw a fighter run past with a creature on his back, its hands over his face, clawing at his eyes. She smashed it in the spine with her club, and the two of them fell over. The animal was quickly up, though. It ran at her on its knuckles, teeth bared into a ferocious grin. She butted it in the face but only succeeded in knocking it back for a moment and making it furious. It was soon up again and coming at her. She didn’t have time to swing her club, and could only try to fend it off. Its skull seemed to be made of iron. Then it managed to get hold of the club and wrenched it out of her hands with tremendous force. Now she was unarmed. She didn’t want to run, because she was terrified of it getting onto her back. It flung the club aside in a rage and lifted both hands above its head. She backed away and saw it preparing to charge. Then there was a flurry of activity as someone stepped in and stabbed it with a spear.

  It was Josh.

  “They don’t scare me,” he said as it ran off, dripping blood.

  Maxie spotted Joel. He was sitting on the ground hugging Godzilla. She was glad that he was all right. As she watched, though, a fighter blundered into him and kicked him over. Godzilla was jogged from his arms, and he shot off into the grass, whimpering.

  “Leave him!” Maxie shouted, but Joel ignored her and was soon lost from sight in the confusion.

  Blue and Freak arrived.

  “Get everyone together!” Blue yelled. “We need to make a run for it—get out from the trees and onto the road.”

  “Yeah, but some of the kids have gone off into the long grass,” said Maxie, looking for Joel.

  “Then go get ’em back,” Blue ordered.

  “Okay.” Maxie turned to Josh. “You take the other side. Make sure you get any stragglers.”

  “Sure.” Josh grinned. “You might need this,” he said, handing Maxie Arran’s club.

  “Thanks.”

  Josh ran off.

  “I’ll take this side,” said Maxie.

  “I’m with you,” said Freak.

  They ran into the long grass and found Lewis and his team already bringing back a group of runaways.

  “Is that all of them?” Maxie asked.

  “Think so.”

  “What about Joel, the little kid with the puppy? Have you seen him?”

  Lewis shook his head. “Nah.”

  Then Maxie heard a shout. Thin and high and far off.

  “Come on!”

  Maxie set off with Freak in the direction of the sound, swinging the club in front of her to clear a path. They hadn’t gone far when two of the beasts suddenly reared up, clutching rocks.

  “I’ll deal with them,” said Freak. “You get the kids.”

  Maxie ran on. Hoping she was heading in the right direction.

  “Joel!” she called out. “Where are you?”

  Again—a small piping cry.

  Maxie sped up.

  There was a big black sky above and a feeling of space such as she hadn’t experienced in months. This had once been a cricket field, and it seemed to go on forever. If it hadn’t been for the fear wrenching at her stomach, she might have enjoyed this exhilarating feeling.

  At last she spotted something in the darkness. Two small figures running full tilt across open ground. She roared at them to stop. They were too scared, however, and kept on running. Maxie put on a burst of speed and finally caught up with them and grabbed hold of one. It was Ella.

  “Stop,” she said. “It’s me, Maxie. You have to come back.”

  The other kid, Monkey Boy, now stopped, and Maxie held on to the two of them as they stood there sobbing and panting and babbling incoherently about monsters. But Maxie wasn’t listening. She had seen something behind the little kids that they hadn’t. It was approaching stealthily through the grass, bigger than the other animals. It came closer and reared up on its stubby legs, its arms out to either side like a wrestler. It had only one eye and a scarred, battered face. A crop of painful-looking boils nested in the crook of its neck. It stared at Maxie with its one big, black, glinting eye.

  Maxie straightened up, the club raised ready to strike, never taking her eyes off the brute.

  It tossed its head from side to side and quickly battered its chest with its fists, and at last Maxie understood what it was. A male chimpanzee, hairless and diseased, driven mad like the grown-ups. He pursed his huge lips and began to whoop. His call was taken up by the other apes. Maxie was sure he would strike, but a sad look settled over his face. He looked deflated, tired. He sighed, gave a last feeble whoop, then turned and walked off into the grass.

  “It’s just a monkey,” said Maxie.

  She picked up Ella, and they set off back to the others. On the way, they passed several more chimpanzees hurrying away through the grass.

  Freak was standing where she’d left him. He picked up Monkey Boy and walked with Maxie.

  A little farther along they heard something moving in the grass, and they froze.

  Then Maxie smiled and knelt down. “It’s only Godzilla.”

  But Godzilla was whimpering and shivering and nudging something with his nose. Maxie frowned and looked closer.

  “Take the kids back,” she said to Freak, and something in her voice told him not to question her.

  “Come along,” he said to the little ones, and walked off.

  Joel was lying in the grass, bleeding from a wound in his head where he had been hit with a rock. His eyes were open and he had stopped breathing.

  Maxie picked Godzilla up. He struggled and protested, whining quietly. He wanted to stay with Joel.

  “I’m sorry, darling,” Maxie said, and closed Joel’s eyes.

  She sniffed. Her throat was tight, but no tears came.

  Small Sam woke with a start. At first he had no idea where he was. Suspended in a world of total, sightless night, he couldn’t fe
el his body at all. For one crazy moment he thought he might be dead. He felt a small sense of relief. Nothing to worry about anymore. And then he was filled with the burning unfairness of it all. He was only a little kid, he didn’t deserve to die, what had he ever done wrong? Okay, so there was the time he’d broken his mom’s favorite mug and hidden it in the back of the cupboard without saying anything. And that other time when Ella had been to a party and gotten a fantastic face-painting of a jaguar. It had been beautiful. She’d come in with it and he’d been so jealous. He hadn’t said anything, but when he was alone with her he’d thrown a cup of water in her face and ruined it.

  All right. If he thought about it, there were lots of things he’d done wrong. But they were only little things. He’d been sorry enough about them at the time and still felt guilty when he pictured Ella with the paint running down her face mixed with tears.

  Surely it didn’t mean that he deserved to die, did it?

  Then he felt awful pins and needles in his legs, and it came back to him. He wasn’t dead. He was stuck up the shaft in the underground tunnel. The last thing he remembered doing was tying himself to the iron rungs of the ladder with his belt. He was still jammed there, half dangling, half wedged, half dead.

  He held his breath and listened.

  Nothing. The grown-ups had gone at last.

  What time was it? He had no idea. He had no watch. He had no way of knowing if it was even day or night. He moved his stiff and painful shoulders, trying to get the blood circulating again, and then squeezed his legs with his tingling fingers. They were still numb. He couldn’t move until he had some feeling back in them. He waited as the fizzing spread through his nerve endings. One moment it was a faint tickle, quite nice, then it was agony and he was kicking the walls and whimpering. After what felt like ages, he had enough feeling to risk undoing the belt, but as soon as he tried to climb down, his legs gave way and he tumbled to the bottom of the shaft, landing in a painful heap in a puddle of water.

  All his cuts and scrapes from the day before had woken up. His body was a mess of stings and aches and painful throbbing.

  It was time to stop feeling sorry for himself, though. He needed to get up, get out of here, and get back into the daylight. He switched on his flashlight and carefully emerged from the hole. He leaned over and flashed the beam up and down beneath the train. There was nothing moving in either direction. As he listened, though, he could hear distant sounds back the way he had come. Probably grown-ups at Camden

  station. That meant he would have to go the other way.

  No matter. He could get out at the next station.

  He crawled along under the train, pumping his flashlight as he went. Stopping every now and then in the dark to listen. There were odd underground sounds. Small animals moving about. The drip of water. Deep creaks and groans. But no human sounds.

  He at last reached the end of the train and could stand up and move more quickly. He trotted along. Sometimes the water became quite deep, coming up past his knees. It was black and smelled bad, but he tried not to think about it. At least it was probably so toxic nothing could be living in it.

  On and on he pushed, down the curving tunnel, until he saw a faint light up ahead. He hurried on with fresh energy, but as he got nearer he slowed down. What did the light mean? It couldn’t be daylight, after all, because he was still underground. It couldn’t be an electric light, because there was no electricity. It could only be one thing. Fire. He turned off his flashlight and studied the glow. It was flickering, all right.

  As far as he knew grown-ups didn’t light fires. Maybe it was a camp of kids then? Maybe kids lived down here? Or maybe it was just an accidental fire?

  He walked slowly toward it. He could smell smoke in the air, like a barbecue. His mouth was watering. A pain in his gut reminded him how long it was since he’d last eaten anything. Why did he have to think about barbecues now? He remembered how whenever the sun had come out in the summer, you could smell them for miles around.

  That had been the old days.

  As he walked he gradually saw more of the way ahead. He made out wires and junction boxes on the walls, a stop sign for train drivers, and a sort of traffic light thing, then the edge of the tunnel mouth, and finally bits of the station platform.

  He realized that the fire was pretty small. It had seemed bigger at first because it was the only light around. There were dancing lights and shifting shadows, but he could tell that they weren’t being caused by a big blaze.

  He reached the end of the tunnel and peered out. He could now see the full length of the platform. He saw some signs. He was at Euston. He was fairly sure he was going in the right direction.

  And there was the fire. Just by the entrance where the passengers came onto the platform. A pile of trash was smoldering, and a man’s legs were sticking out of it. Sitting on the platform nearby were five or six grown-ups. They were thin and dirty and feeble looking, little more than stick people. They stared at the fire and the man’s burning legs but seemed too tired to move.

  Sam swore to himself. If there were grown-ups on the platform, they had probably infested the whole of Euston. He would have to somehow get past them and continue on to the next station.

  He figured that if he stayed down on the tracks and kept close to the wall nearest the platform, the grown-ups wouldn’t be able to see him. He was short of breath and tried to fill his lungs with clean air. There wasn’t a lot of oxygen down here. Smoke was drifting from the fire through the passenger entrance, but it was also hanging in the air above the platform.

  No wonder the grown-ups looked half dead. If they stayed there long enough, the fumes would kill them.

  Good riddance.

  Sam ducked down and crawled out of the tunnel, hugging the wall, gasping for breath, praying that one of the stick people wouldn’t get up and peer over the edge. As he passed below the fire he could hear it crackling and popping. A spark jumped through the air and a burning cinder dropped onto the far side of the tracks. Sam ignored it and pressed on.

  His stomach rumbled, and he froze. Had they heard it? It had sounded like a bear growling. He was so hungry. When had he last eaten? How long ago had it been? No idea. He had a bottle of water in his backpack, but he’d finished off the stale biscuits and tinned fruit he’d brought from Waitrose while he was hiding in the shaft.

  Now wasn’t the time to be thinking about food. If he wasn’t careful he’d wind up as somebody else’s breakfast.

  On he went. It must have taken him fifteen minutes of patient crawling to get to the end of the platform, but he made it safely and scurried into the comforting darkness of the next tunnel. He glanced back. The grown-ups were sitting exactly where they had been before. Not one of them had moved. Maybe they were already dead? He didn’t want to find out.

  He turned and pressed on toward the next station.

  As he walked, the water on the tracks grew deeper and deeper. At one point it was up to his waist. It wasn’t warm and it wasn’t cold, but it was still unpleasant. Black as oil with scum floating on the surface. He held his hands and arms up above it, keeping his precious flashlight well clear. Without light he would be lost and might end up wandering around down here forever.

  No. Not forever. Only until he starved to death. His stomach gurgled even more loudly. There were sharp pains in his guts. He had to keep moving, and somehow he had to find something to eat.

  The journey to the next station was a repeat of his journey from Camden to Euston, except that at one point he came to a junction with two tunnels leading off it. He chose one at random and kept going, trusting to blind luck.

  After a little way, however, he found the tunnel was blocked by a big pile of what he at first thought was sticks. As he passed his flashlight beam over it, he realized that it was bones. Human bones, some still wrapped in clothing. Not bleached and white like skeletons in films, but a dirty yellowish gray. There were hands and legs and arms and ribs and skulls, all jumbled up o
n top of each other, stretching away down the tunnel. Maybe someone had piled dead bodies down here out of the way, or maybe the grown-ups had crawled down here to die. Whatever the reason, he could go no farther in this direction, so he backtracked and went down the other tunnel.

  He’d sometimes wondered where all the dead grown-ups had gone. At first the streets of London had stunk. A horrible rotting smell that made you cover your mouth and nose with your shirt; but slowly it had faded away.

  He shuddered. What other secrets were buried down here in the tunnels?

  He soldiered on, going as fast as he could. Time ticked past, and he got more and more tired and more and more hungry. He took sips of water, which helped. Every time he put his bottle back, though, the level was lower. Soon it would all be gone.

  He almost didn’t realize when he got to the next station. He was stumbling along in a daze, and as he shone his flashlight to the side, there was a platform. Pitch-dark like the tunnel he had just emerged from.

  Good. If it was dark it meant that there was nobody around. He pulled himself up off the tracks and sat on one of the metal benches along the wall. He would wait here until he got his strength back.

  Where was he?

  He flashed his light over a sign.

  King’s Cross.

  Was that good? Or had he taken the wrong branch after Euston? He wasn’t sure. If he could only get up the stairs and back into sunlight, he could find his way. He was pretty sure that King’s Cross was a normal overground station as well. That meant there would be maps on the wall.

  Yes.

  He remembered now. Didn’t the Eurostar to Paris go from here?

  Maybe he should go there. Get right out of London. Maybe everything was all right in France. He could go to Disneyland.

  He laughed.

  Imagine having Disneyland all to yourself.

  No. He had to find his sister, and his friends. He didn’t want to be alone. He wanted to be with them. Well, soon he would be. He’d made it this far, hadn’t he?

  Cheered by thoughts of sunlight and escape, he stood up and walked along to the foot tunnel. His flashlight beam dimmed with each step, until it died altogether.

 
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