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       The Enemy, p.17

           Charlie Higson
 

  “All right. I know how you feel, Maxie.”

  “No you don’t.”

  “Just leave it. I’m sorry.”

  “You think you’re so great, don’t you?” said Maxie. “In your leather jacket with your bow and arrow. Well, you’re nothing. The only person you’ve killed with that thing is Arran. Great. Well done.”

  “Listen, Maxie,” said Sophie, and Maxie could sense the emotion in her voice, as if she was on the verge of tears. “I know we can’t be friends. But we do have to find a way to get along.”

  “Why? I never wanted you with us in the first place.”

  “Fine. Be like that. I thought you were cleverer, though.”

  “What? What did you say?” Maxie advanced on Sophie. “Don’t insult me.”

  “Why not?” said Sophie angrily. “You insulted me. I understand about Arran. He was your boyfriend, and—”

  “He was not my boyfriend. Maybe if he’d lived he might have been. But we’ll never know, will we?”

  Sophie struggled to say something, then gave up. She turned her back on Maxie and walked away.

  Maxie felt a brief moment of triumph, and then it was swamped by black despair. Why was she such a bitch?

  She knew why.

  She was tired and scared and miserable and still aching over Arran.

  It wasn’t Sophie’s fault. She knew it wasn’t, but when she saw her pretty face she just wanted to lash out at her.

  She swore quietly and left the main group, returning to the central well. She needed to be alone for a minute. It was quieter here. There was no one around—and no one keeping watch. She looked over the low wall. Shone her flashlight down, searching the floors below.

  She caught her breath.

  There was something moving.

  She called out.

  “Hello? Anyone down there? Hey! We need to keep together.”

  Nothing. No sound. No movement. Maybe she’d imagined it? She was so jumpy she was seeing dangers everywhere. She raked the beam over the area. It was quiet now.

  She sighed and turned to walk along the balcony.

  Sophie was there, about four yards away, her bow up to her face. The string was drawn back, an arrow glinting, ready to be fired. Her face was set into a hard mask. Her eyes wide in the gloom.

  Maxie swallowed. The blood throbbed in her head. She really didn’t know this girl at all. Know what she was capable of.

  “Don’t move,” said Sophie coldly, but Maxie couldn’t have moved even if she’d wanted to. She was welded to the spot. Her legs felt like they were made of lead.

  Why had she been so stupid? Pushing Sophie like that. They were living in a different world now with different rules.

  What would the girl do?

  Maxie let out her breath.

  “Sophie,” she said, “I . . .”

  Sophie released the bowstring. The arrow sizzled through the air and swished barely an inch past Maxie’s right arm.

  She had missed.

  Maxie heard a thud behind her and she spun around.

  A grown-up was standing there, a father, the arrow in his chest. He staggered sideways, flapping at the arrow and whining, then he hit the wall and toppled over the balcony. Maxie twisted around to watch him fall. He dropped all the way down to the bottom, turning slowly in the air, and landed with an almighty crash, splintering a table.

  The sound was followed by complete silence. All the kids froze where they were, listening hard. What was going on?

  Achilleus ran up to Maxie. She hardly recognized him. He was wearing a shiny new silvery-gray suit over a dark blue T-shirt.

  “What’s going on?”

  “Grown-ups,” Maxie croaked, the words sticking in her dry throat.

  Small Sam slept deeply. His chest rising and falling.

  Rachel was still sitting by his side, stroking his forehead and cooing to him.

  “Don’t he look peaceful?” she said.

  Nick grunted, went over to a dresser, and pulled out a drawer. He took a pair of handcuffs from it and walked back to the bed. He gently lifted Sam’s left hand and snapped the cuffs tight around it.

  “Almost seems a shame,” said Rachel. “He’s a nice kid.”

  “Don’t get attached, Rachel, love. Remember how it was with the pigs? You should never have named them. Once you name them they become pets.”

  “It’s all right,” said Rachel, pushing a lock of hair off Sam’s face. “I won’t get attached.”

  The kids had been called together, and a fighting party had quickly assembled around Achilleus, but they could see no sign of any more grown-ups.

  “Maybe there was only one of them,” said Lewis, who was wearing a light blue V-necked cashmere sweater.

  “No,” said Freak, pointing. “Look.”

  “Oh, my days!”

  Shambling down the frozen escalator from the floor above in complete silence were about fifteen grown-ups. They were all wearing new clothes, festooned with hats and jewelry and belts and scarves, and carrying expensive new luggage. But it was a mess, like some awful costume parade. They looked like children who had raided their parents’ wardrobes. The clothes didn’t match, or were the wrong size, or were simply being worn in the wrong way. One man was wearing two jackets but no pants, another wore a dress, some of the women had things on backward, and they had smeared their faces with makeup. One wore her underwear on the outside, like some freakish superhero, and had what looked like a lampshade on her head. An impossibly skinny old woman wore a flashy Nike tracksuit, a fur coat, a long blond wig, and several strings of pearls. She carried a camera on a strap over one shoulder and had only one shoe. High heeled. Making her limp.

  It was an eerie sight as they came down in a huddle, like a bunch of weird tourists.

  “Kill them,” said Achilleus, and he raised his spear.

  “No, wait,” said Maxie. “I don’t think they’re going to attack.”

  “Who cares?” said Achilleus. “They’re grown-ups. Kill them.”

  “Look at them. They’re harmless.”

  “We’ll see about that.” Achilleus walked over to the group, which had stopped at the bottom of the escalator. They cowered away from him. One father, who had several ties knotted around his shirtless neck, raised his hand defensively. Achilleus struck his spear into his chest and he fell back. The other grown-ups shrank farther away. Achilleus advanced on them, herding them across the floor. They stuck together like frightened ducklings. Utterly bewildered. Achilleus started to laugh.

  “Look at the silly sods,” he said. “They’re pathetic.” He grabbed the old woman and shook her until her wig came off.

  “What do you look like? Eh?” he said, throwing her into the others. “The lot of you. You’re freaks. Morons.” He snatched a hat off one of the fathers and stuffed it on top of his own head.

  “Come on, you sheep,” said Achilleus, steering the little group between a row of columns. “Show us your stuff.”

  The other kids were starting to laugh now, and four of the older ones joined Achilleus, tormenting the grown-ups, chasing them around, tripping them up, until they were all crowded into a corner, shivering and gibbering.

  The big kids prodded them with their weapons and pushed a couple over. Then Achilleus and Big Mick grabbed one of the fathers and dragged him across the floor.

  Achilleus sniggered. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s see if you like heights.”

  Laughing, they took him to the balcony, and before Maxie could stop them, they’d taken hold of him by the ankles and hoisted him over the side. He dangled there, his arms clawing at the air.

  “Look at him,” said Achilleus. “He’s trying to fly.”

  “Stop it!” Maxie shouted.

  “Stop it? Why? These bastards have been making our lives hell. Killing us, eating us . . . well, now it’s our turn.”

  “Not this lot,” said Maxie. “They’ve never done anything to you. They’re harmless. Look at them.”

 
They’re all the same,” said Achilleus. “All guilty. If it wasn’t for grown-ups we wouldn’t be in this mess. They mucked up our planet. They caused the disaster. Every one of them is to blame. We should wipe them off of the face of the earth.”

  “We don’t know what caused the disaster,” said Maxie.

  “Oh yeah, I forgot, it was God, wasn’t it?”

  “Or spacemen,” said Big Mick, and he sniggered.

  “We don’t know,” said Maxie. “But we can’t become animals. We’ll be like them.”

  “No we won’t. We’ll be top dogs, and we’ll hunt them down and slaughter them.”

  “Achilleus, this is not right.”

  Maxie looked around for support. Half of the kids were laughing, some looked worried, some were crying. She saw Blue staring at Achilleus, fascinated.

  “Blue,” said Maxie, “tell him.”

  “Let go of him,” said Blue.

  “All right.”

  Achilleus and Mick let go, and the father gave a little gasp as he plummeted to the basement floor.

  “He couldn’t fly after all,” said Achilleus.

  “You idiot,” said Maxie with as much scorn as she could muster. Achilleus tried to look dismissive—but she saw in his eyes that he thought he’d maybe gone too far.

  “Who’s next?” he said, and strode over to the other grown-ups, but Blue put himself between Achilleus and them.

  “C’mon, man,” Blue said quietly, and nodded to the smaller kids. “I think there’s been enough death lately. I don’t think the little ones want to see any more. Okay?”

  “So we just leave ’em?”

  “They’re not our business,” said Blue. “They’re certainly not dangerous. They just come in here like us. To get some new clothes. I guess old habits die hard. Now let’s get out of here. They’re waiting for us at the palace.”

  A couple of kids slapped Achilleus and Mick on their backs, but most avoided them, and Maxie felt disgusted. She caught Sophie’s eye and Sophie looked away.

  Now wasn’t the time to thank her.

  Someone put a hand on Maxie’s shoulder. It was Blue.

  “You done well, girl,” he said. “You look after yourself now, yeah? We need people like you.”

  “Thanks. And thanks for sticking up for me.”

  Callum watched them from the crow’s nest with his binoculars. They’d begun to arrive that morning in ones and twos, drifting in from the direction of Camden. They stood about aimlessly at first, now and then coming over to the shop and inspecting it. After a while they grew braver. They battered uselessly against the barricades or the windows, before wandering off and squabbling with each other.

  Idiots.

  He’d had a lovely morning. He had no idea what time it was when he got up. All he knew was that it was light outside. From now on he would get up when he wanted, and eat when he was hungry. He wasn’t going to turn into a slob, though. He had made his bed and the place was clean and tidy. When he went to the toilet he took the bucket to the end of the Waitrose parking lot, climbed a ladder, and tipped it over the wall into a garden. It smelled a little, but it would decompose. Stuff would probably grow there.

  He was going to look after himself. Clear away each meal when he was finished, wash regularly, and change and clean his clothes. He wasn’t a savage. That was what his mom had used to say. “Callum, do the washing-up, we’re not savages.”

  He thought of himself as being like someone stranded on a desert island. Marooned. Like Robinson Crusoe. Or the people on Lost. If he kept on top of things he would survive. He had calculated that his supply of food would last him at least a year if he was careful. And he was careful. After breakfast he’d done his exercises. Push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, stretches, and a bit of work with an old set of weights that Achilleus had found one day and brought back to the shop. Then he’d run twenty laps around the circuit he’d made on the shop floor. He would be fitter than he’d ever been before.

  He planned to spend most of his time up here on the roof, where he felt most at home. Of course it would be different when it got cold and wet, but for now it was glorious, sitting in the crow’s nest, looking out over Holloway. He’d be able to stay up here as long as he liked today. The sky was blue and mostly clear. There was still a faint smoke haze from a big fire over Camden way, but it looked like it had stopped spreading.

  Bliss. He had everything he needed. The stupid, meandering grown-ups below even provided him with entertainment. He liked to watch them fight, and he’d put imaginary bets on who would win.

  He wondered where Arran and the others had got to. They must surely be at the palace by now.

  He smiled. The last place he wanted to be was Buckingham Palace. Crammed in there with all those kids. No peace and quiet. Always someone telling you what to do. Waiting your turn for food. Lining up for the bathroom. Arguing all the time. No way. They could keep their palace. He was king of all he could see, and he aimed to keep it that way.

  He felt something tickling his cheek. A fly, probably. He put a hand up to brush it away and it came back wet.

  It was a tear. He was crying.

  Why was he crying? He had no reason to cry. Even as he thought about it, though, his body heaved in a great sob, and the next moment there were tears flooding down his face, and he was wailing like a baby.

  He shouldn’t have thought about the others. He shouldn’t have thought about them. He was so lonely. So bloody lonely.

  The kids had reassembled on the sidewalk. Maxie couldn’t help thinking they looked a little like the sad grown-ups they’d found inside, wearing clothes that didn’t really suit them, or fit properly. But she had to admit that they were at least cleaner than they had been before. They wouldn’t look so much like an army of tramps. Some, like her, had chosen to pack their clothes away for later, and she was determined not to be embarrassed or self-conscious about how she smelled. Besides, it was their bodies underneath that really reeked. No amount of clean clothes could hide that fact. You kind of got used to it when you were surrounded by it all the time, but if you ever stopped and thought about it—yeck. Maybe, if what Jester had told them was true, they could all get baths and showers at the palace.

  The palace? The very idea of it sounded ridiculous. She didn’t really quite believe it yet. She was taking every moment as it came, trying not to think too far ahead. Trying not to hope.

  Blue was getting his crew together, checking with Whitney that they were all there. Maxie found Ollie, who was also counting heads. He reassured her that everyone was present.

  “Okay,” Maxie shouted at her kids, jumping up onto a street bench, “we’re ready now. We won’t stop again until we reach the palace. It’s not far, half an hour at the most. Are you ready?”

  Everyone gave a big cheer, and with a light feeling inside, Maxie went over to Blue.

  “We’re all set,” she said. “Shall we go?”

  “Yeah.” Blue raised his arm, just as Arran had done the day before, then dropped it, and they marched across Oxford Street and down toward Grosvenor Square in perfect formation.

  A group of little kids had adopted Godzilla. Monkey Boy, Ella, and Blu-Tack Bill. It gave them something to think about other than themselves, and stopped them from worrying too much. They took turns carrying him and they fussed over him like a little baby. They had some cans of dog food and fed it to him with a spoon.

  It was Blu-Tack Bill’s turn to hold Godzilla, and in his mind he spoke to him, and he imagined the dog’s replies so vividly it was as if they were having a real conversation.

  You’re like me, Godzilla. You can’t talk.

  Doesn’t mean I’m stupid.

  Me neither. Talking don’t make anything better. Maybe I should bark like a dog.

  I don’t think you should; people will think you’re weird.

  They already do. But I don’t care. I’m never going to talk again.

  The grown-ups don’t talk anymore.

  No. But you
know what, Godzilla? They are stupid.

  Will you really never talk again?

  I think so. I’m happy like this. I’m safe. If nobody can hear your thoughts, they can’t hurt you. You’re the only one who knows me, Godzilla. And I’m the only one who knows you. We’ll always be friends, won’t we?

  Yeah. Do you like any of the new kids?

  I like Maxie, she’s nice. And Maeve is kind. But Achilleus scares me.

  Are you looking forward to getting to the palace?

  Yeah. I’ve never been to a palace before. In fact, I’ve never left Holloway before. I wish I’d come here before everything went wrong.

  “Can I hold him?”

  Bill looked up. Ella was talking to him. He held Godzilla tighter. It wasn’t her turn yet. He’d only had him a little while.

  “Let her hold him,” said Monkey Boy. “She’s getting upset thinking about her brother again.”

  Bill held Godzilla even tighter. The dog squirmed in his arms and whimpered. Bill loosened his grip a little.

  Don’t worry. You can still talk to me if she’s carrying me.

  Bill shook his head.

  Whitney came over. She was only thirteen, but to the small kids she was as big and imposing as an adult.

  “What’s the matter?” she said.

  “Ella wants to hold the puppy,” said Monkey Boy, “because she’s sad thinking about her brother, but it’s Bill’s turn.”

  “What about Bill? Does he mind? Do you mind, Bill?”

  Bill shook his head. He wasn’t going to let go. Even if he was a little bit scared of Whitney.

  “Come on.” Whitney picked Ella up and put her on her shoulders. “When Bill’s had his turn, you can carry the dog. It’ll be something to look forward to, yeah?”

  Ella nodded, swallowing her tears. She would never argue with Whitney. She looked sadly down at Godzilla. Sam would have liked him. Sam loved dogs. He’d always wanted one of his own.

  She wondered if there would be other dogs at the palace. Jester said they had it all set up nice. Like a farm. Maybe there would be chickens and lambs. She’d like to see some lambs.

 
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