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       The Enemy, p.23

           Charlie Higson
 
“Did you have a Wii? We had a Wii.”

  “No,” said Sam. “I used to play games on my computer. World of Warcraft.”

  “My favorite was The Sims.”

  “Yes, I sorta liked that. But I preferred World of Warcraft. I had a Tauran shaman called Dorkcrawler. I wanted to call him Darkcrawler, but that name was already taken. I also had a Night Elf Warrior called Deathblooood, with four O’s, and a gnome called Shortybottom. He was level sixty-two.”

  “Were you on Facebook or MySpace?”

  “No. My mom wouldn’t let me,” said Sam. “I used to use MSN sometimes, but mostly I played World of Warcraft. Though I was getting a bit bored of it. My friend had Grand Theft Auto. I really wanted to get that, but Mom said no way.”

  There was a muffled thud from somewhere down the train. Sam and Rhiannon fell silent. They were both asking themselves the same question.

  What was that?

  It was a sound they hadn’t heard before. It could mean that Nick and Rachel were up to something in another car. Killing something. It could be other grown-ups attacking. It could be a brick falling from the roof.

  Or it could be something to do with the nasty face at the window, and that posed as many questions as it answered.

  Of all the things that had happened to him, the face freaked Sam out the most. The fact that it had no mouth.

  Was it the mouthless creature that had made that sound? The truth was, it could be anything. But as the children lived a mind-rotting existence of boredom mixed with fear, their imaginations were working hard and fast.

  There were no more clues. The thud was followed by a long period of quiet.

  Sam and Rhiannon sat there in the darkness. Unmoving. For a brief moment they had been at home, with their families, snuggled up on the sofa on a Saturday night.

  Now they were back in this cold comfortless train car.

  They could hear the twins sleeping, their breathing shallow and feeble. Sam felt something touch his knee. He realized it was Rhiannon’s fingers. She was reaching out for him. He took hold of her hand and squeezed. She was trembling. After a long while, which seemed like hours, there was another thud, nearer this time. Once again it was followed by nothing but deep silence.

  Sam could stand it no longer. He went over to the window. Looked out at the platform. There was nothing moving out there. The sound hadn’t come from the direction of Nick and Rachel’s sleeping car, and he hadn’t heard or seen anything of them, but it was possible that they could have gone down to one of the other cars without being noticed.

  At last there came another bang, closer still but muffled again. Then a light appeared at the window in the door leading to the next car. A small flickering flame. Sam screwed up his eyes, straining to see what it was. He couldn’t go any closer, as his chain prevented him from moving far.

  Now a sheet of cardboard appeared at the window. It had been ripped from a computer box and there was writing on it. Seven words scrawled in marker pen. Whoever was there adjusted the cardboard so that the flame lit it from the side.

  Sam read:

  kip qwite I am her to help

  It took him a few seconds to realize that it was meant to say “Keep quiet I am here to help.” And no sooner had he figured it out than the cardboard disappeared and was replaced by a face.

  Sam jumped.

  It was the same face he had seen at the window.

  Only it was different.

  He smiled.

  What an idiot he was.

  When he had seen the face before, it had been upside down. Hanging from the roof of the car.

  The bald crown had been its chin. Sam had been looking for a mouth where the forehead was.

  Now that it was the right way up he could see that it was a boy’s face. Black with dirt, eyes wide, small sharp teeth very white. There was a shock of dark, tangled hair sprouting from the top. The hair that Sam had thought was a beard when he had first seen it upside down outside the car.

  The face grinned and then its owner raised a fist and gave a thumbs-up. The flame snapped off. A few seconds later there was a familiar dull thud and the sound of falling glass, tinkling onto the metal floor.

  “If you hear the butchers, yell.” It was the quietest whisper in the world.

  Then silence.

  Sam counted the seconds in his head. It was all he could think of to fill the time and ease the tension that was growing inside him like a balloon inflating.

  He got up to sixty-five before the flame flickered back on. Startlingly close. Sam jerked back in fright. The boy had climbed through the window and come down into the car without them hearing or seeing anything. The flame was lit just long enough for them to get a proper look at him. He was about Sam’s size, skinny and wiry looking, wearing shorts, sneakers, and a woman’s leather jacket with the sleeves cut off halfway. He had a leather backpack slung over one shoulder, and he was carrying a cigarette lighter and a blanket.

  He flicked the lighter and the flame died.

  “Not safe,” he whispered. “If the butchers see the light, they’ll come running, mark my words.”

  “Who are you?” said Sam.

  “Stay quiet,” the boy hissed. “You’re getting out of here pronto.”

  Sam felt the boy’s hands groping along his arms to the handcuffs.

  “Handy-cuffs,” he breathed in Sam’s ear. “Soon have these bracelets off. No more than a jiffy.”

  There was rattling and scraping as the boy poked around in the lock with some kind of tool. Then, finally, a snap and rattle and the cuffs came loose.

  Sam now felt the boy slip the lighter into his hands.

  “Light me, skipper,” he said. “The Kid needs to see his surroundings.”

  Sam rolled the flint on the lighter, and the flame jumped and sparked. The boy was already at the end of the car, holding the blanket across the whole width.

  “There’s sticky-tape on my utility bat belt,” he said, nodding downward.

  Sam saw a roll of strong black tape hanging from a piece of string at the boy’s waist. He gave the lighter to Rhiannon, and in a minute had managed to roughly tape the blanket up. Now if Nick and Rachel happened to look along the length of the train from inside their car, the blanket would block some of the light.

  The boy grinned at Sam.

  “Nice work,” he said, and pushed Sam against the blanket. “Press your ear against blankie. Tell me if you hear anything moving, anything speaking, squeaking, or meandering, even a mouse’s fart, so to speak. Get it? Got it? Good.”

  The kid scuttled over to Rhiannon and inspected her wrists. Instead of handcuffs she was secured with plastic bindings.

  “Naughty,” he said. “I’m going to need to cut.” His hand darted into his pocket and came out with a little folding knife with a wide blade. He pulled it open with his teeth and smiled at Sam.

  “This should do the trick, eh, Jeeves?” he said. “It’s a wicked little snickersnee. Not half.”

  He took the lighter from Rhiannon, gave it back to Sam, and set to work. The blade was razor sharp and it sliced through the plastic in no time. As soon as Rhiannon’s hands came apart, he blew out the flame.

  “Lights out, boys and girls.”

  He drew Rhiannon and Sam into a huddle.

  “We have to go careful and quiet as spies. Can’t risk too much light. It’s like this. If I’d tried to get on the train from the platter-form, those beastly butchers would have spotted me, no sweat. So I’ve gone right to the end and I’ve bonked and bashed my way all the way down the cars, cuz Mr. and Mrs. Lovely have fixed all the doors and windows shut. So we go back and out that same way. Once we get to the end, we drop down on to the tracks and slither back along under-the-neath of the train to where we can get up on to the platter-form and thence to the stairway to heaven. It’s the best way. Safe as milk. You follow?”

  “I’m not sure I can walk,” said Rhiannon.

  “You can walk. When they have to, your legs will do as you say. J
ust speak to them firm.”

  “I can’t.”

  “No such word as can’t. No such word as babagoozle neither!”

  Rhiannon laughed, trying to stifle the sound.

  “You talk funny,” she said.

  “That’s just the way it is,” said the boy. “Now let’s get these two snoozing muckers out of here. Match me, Sidney!”

  Sam figured out what he meant and quickly lit the flame again.

  The boy hopped over to the two sleeping twins, unlocked them, and shook them awake. They were groggy and feeble, with no idea of what was going on.

  “This is going to be tricky, captain,” the boy whispered. “These ones are weak as kitties.” He glanced up at Sam. “You strong enough to help carry ’em, squirt?”

  “I don’t know,” said Sam. “I’ll try. I don’t feel too good myself.”

  “You don’t look it, skipper.”

  Jason looked up at the boy, fear pulling at his face.

  “Who are you?”

  “I’m the Miracle Kid,” said the boy. “The lizard boy, something of a worm and something of a cat. King of the tunnels. I’ll have you out of here in a thrice, I do declare.”

  Jason opened his mouth wide to say something, and the Kid put a finger to his lips and shushed him. He winked.

  “I’m your ticket outta here, buster-balloon. Hoick your bones up and let’s get shifted.”

  “I’m not leaving,” said Jason.

  “Are you joking me?”

  “I can’t leave here,” said Jason anxiously. “Where will I go? Nick and Rachel are looking after me until I’m well.”

  The Kid looked around at Sam and Rhiannon. “He really believe that?”

  Sam shrugged. “We’re all confused,” he said.

  “I’ve seen the rest of this train, my old china,” said the Kid. “I’ve seen what they’re up to. Had my peepers on them for some long time. I found my way down here looking for food, skulking like a blind mouse, running up their clocks, so to speak. You get me?”

  “No, not really,” said Sam.

  “Half of what I say is rubbish,” said the Kid. “But listen to this bit. I could smell food. You get me? Mm-hmm—fingerlicking good. But I don’t want to eat what those two ghouls are serving up. Wish upon a star, squire, that you are gone from here soonish, before they get their teeth into you. Trust me, young man, you do not want to stay for dinner.”

  “I’m not leaving,” said Jason. “I don’t know you. Nick and Rachel are looking after me. I can’t walk. I’m sick.”

  The Kid hefted Jason onto his shoulder and tried to walk; he went about five steps before he stumbled, and Sam just caught them as they fell. The commotion woke up Claire, the other twin. She was even more feeble than her brother, and spent most of her time sleeping.

  “What’s going on?” she said.

  “It’s all right,” said Rhiannon. “We’re getting out of here.”

  “I don’t want to go,” Claire whimpered. “I’m tired.”

  “She can’t stand up,” said Jason. “Leave us alone.”

  The Kid looked at Sam. “It’s beyond me,” he said. “I’m quick and slick and well nifty, but I ain’t strong enough to lug no dead weights.”

  “We’ll never do it,” said Sam. “We won’t get them through the windows.”

  “We’ll have to leave them,” said Rhiannon, struggling to her feet. “We don’t have a choice.”

  The Kid sat down cross-legged on the floor and looked glum.

  “Had me heart set on it,” he said. “Was gonna get you all out of here. Was gonna be a hero for the first time.”

  “You are a hero,” said Sam. “But you’re not Hercules. You can’t do the impossible.”

  “You want to leave them too?”

  “If they don’t want to come, we can’t force them.”

  The Kid jumped up and grabbed Sam. “Persuade them, small fry. The gift of the gab, the wagging tongue. Only we can’t waste too long here. The more noise, the more light, the more chance that the butchers will stir from their slumber and come sniffling after us.”

  Sam knelt by the twins, who were sitting huddled together with wide, scared faces.

  “We’re used to it here,” said Jason. “It’s safe from strangers. We get food. We don’t have to worry about anything.”

  “But they’re going to kill you,” said Sam.

  “You don’t know that.”

  “What happened to Mark?” said Rhiannon. “And that other girl?”

  “They got well,” said Claire. “Nick helped them to go up into the light. When we’re well, when we’re strong, they’ll help us too.”

  “You’re idiots,” hissed Rhiannon, and Claire began to cry.

  “Just keep it quiet,” Rhiannon whispered, and then moaned in pain as she tried to walk, biting her lip to stop from crying out.

  “My legs are so stiff,” she said.

  “Unstiff them,” said the Kid. “We have a good deal of climbing to get done before we’re home free.”

  “Okay. I’ll try.”

  “So,” said the Kid. “Do we leave them or take them with?”

  “Let’s go,” said Sam.

  “We’re gone.”

  The Kid scampered down the length of the car, almost on all fours, keeping low. Sam followed. The Kid had broken the window in the door at the end. The glass in the door of the next car was also broken. Sam looked at the gap between the cars—he thought he might just be able to squeeze down there. He caught the Kid’s eye. The Kid glanced at Rhiannon and shook his head.

  There was no way she’d fit.

  Instead, the Kid laid his piece of cardboard over the jagged lower edges of both windows, and wriggled through.

  He turned in the opening and grinned back at the others, beckoning them to follow.

  Sam helped Rhiannon along the car, leaving Jason and Claire crying behind them. Rhiannon was struggling to catch her breath, and wheezing horribly. They made it to the window, though, and Rhiannon climbed up onto the cardboard.

  It took forever to get her across. Bravely, she didn’t make a sound, though Sam could see that it was agony for her, with her infected lungs and her wasted legs. But she struggled on, and, with the Kid pulling and Sam pushing, she at last got through both windows and into the next car.

  Sam jumped up after her and wriggled through without any trouble. He was so intent on helping Rhiannon that he barely noticed his own aches and pains.

  As soon as Sam put his feet down, the Kid was off and moving.

  This car, which Sam had caught glimpses of when Nick had let him go to the toilet, was used as a storeroom. All the pathetic bits and pieces that Nick and Rachel had collected from underground were in here. Chairs and tables with the tube logo on them, some tools, crates filled with bits of scrap metal and wood, coils of wire, piles of old newspapers and magazines.

  The children hurried down the central aisle, half dragging Rhiannon, until they got to the doors at the far end, where there was more broken glass strewn on the floor. The Kid scraped it aside with his sneakers and once again laid the cardboard across the sharp edges of the window frames.

  They repeated the same maneuver as before, but it was even harder this time. Rhiannon seemed weaker and more breathless. Sam remembered helping his mom put his duvet back in its cover after it had been washed, how the duvet was big and floppy and wouldn’t go where you wanted it to. It was the same with Rhiannon, trying to somehow shove her up and through the narrow gap.

  Sam was sweating and tired out when they finally got her through, and she landed with a nasty thump on the other side. He quickly hopped up after her, though, and clambered across.

  They settled Rhiannon on a seat, and she rested. Sam looked around. This car was where Nick and Rachel kept spare food. Cans mostly, filled with fruit, vegetables, meat, pudding, fruit juice, and soup. There was even a separate stack of dog and cat food.

  “Where’d they get it all?” asked Sam.

  “Some
of the under-the-ground stations, they got shops in them, gyms, clubs, all sorts, you poke about down here, baby, you’d be amazed at what you turn up. Mark my words.”

  “So much stuff,” said Sam. “Surely they don’t need any more. Maybe you were both wrong. Maybe they weren’t going to eat us.”

  “They were looking through a telescope,” said the Kid. “Looking ahead. And they has a plan. Fatten you up on the stuff they don’t want to eat, then eat you when you’re ripe and juicy.”

  “I feel sick,” said Rhiannon.

  “Don’t sit there like a lazy lump feeling all sorry for yourself,” said the Kid, and he pulled her to her feet. “We’ve got work to do.”

  He hurried her along the car, Rhiannon grumbling every step of the way.

  “This next one’s not so pretty,” said the Kid as they approached the window.

  Sam could smell it before he got there. The sickly sweetness of decay, mixed with a salty, meaty pong.

  “We’re nearly out,” said the Kid. “Next car is the last. I’ve opened the doors at the end. We can get off the train, so we can.”

  This time Sam honestly didn’t think they were going to make it. He was sure Rhiannon was going to get stuck halfway, and they’d all be trapped down here. The poor girl was weeping, and every movement made her gasp. But they at last managed it. She was through to the last car. Sam struggled after her. Slower this time, feeling the tiredness in his bones and muscles.

  Flies buzzed around, and the smell was stronger in here.

  “Hold your hooter,” said the Kid, flicking on his lighter. “And try not to look.”

  But of course that was the worst thing he could have said. Sam couldn’t help taking glimpses on either side as they went along toward the car door.

  He got brief flashes.

  Something hanging from a hook on the handrail. A bucket catching drips of fat. A box with three small brown skulls in it. A pile of bones on the sawdust-covered floor.

  He felt vomit rising in his throat and he fought to hold it back. Rhiannon wasn’t so lucky; she fell in a messy heap to the floor, puking and sobbing.

  “We have to go back for the others,” she said. “Tell them what we’ve seen.”

  “No way, holy ghost,” said the Kid. “We got to keep moving and save our own bacon, else we’ll end up swinging from a hook.”

 
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