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       The Enemy, p.3

           Charlie Higson
slower 1  faster

  “What kept you?” said Arran as they joined him and Ollie, who had secured the seating area.

  “I had to rescue the Chuckle Brothers,” said Achilleus.

  “We couldn’t leave without having a swim,” said Deke, his voice hoarse and cracked. He coughed and doubled up in pain.

  “Is he all right?” Arran asked Achilleus.

  “Think so. Come on, what’s the holdup? Let’s get out of here.”

  “Easier said than done.” Ollie loosed a shot at a black silhouette in the reception area. “They’re blocking the exit.”

  Achilleus swore. “I’ve never seen anything like this before. These are some clever bastards. They set a trap for us.”

  “These guys are getting scary,” said Ollie.

  “We’ll get our breath back and take them,” said Achilleus. “They don’t scare me.”

  Deke was coughing again and shivering. He moaned. He looked whiter than ever. Freak seemed to be coming out of his daze, though. He shook his head and rubbed his temple with the heel of one hand.

  “My ax?” he said.

  “It’s gone, Superman,” said Achilleus. “Forget it. We’ll find you another one. For now we’ve just got to get clear of this dump. You reckon you can walk now?”

  “I’m fine,” said Freak.

  “Deke don’t look so hot.”

  Freak turned to his friend.

  “Thanks for getting me out of that, bro,” he said.

  Deke nodded. “No probs.” But his breathing was fast and shallow, and there was a bubble of blood on his lips.

  “You hurt?”

  Deke forced a feeble grin. “I think I’m poisoned.”

  “You was under the water for a long time, man, a long time,” said Achilleus.

  “I feel sick.” Deke swayed to one side, and Freak caught him.

  “You’re bleeding,” said Freak, putting a hand to Deke’s side. His clothes were stained black by blood. Achilleus lifted his arm; a large shard of jagged glass was sticking out of his side.

  “Oh no,” said Freak.

  “I’m all right,” said Deke. “It’s nothing.” But then he coughed again and there was blood in his spit.

  “It’s in your lung, man,” said Achilleus. “The glass.”

  Deke’s eyes were rolling up in his head.

  “Hold on, bro,” said Freak.

  “I think I’m going to . . .”

  “Don’t faint, bro,” Freak shouted, and shook his friend as he fell into unconsciousness. “Arran! We got to get him out of here.”

  Almost as Freak spoke, the grown-ups attacked again. At least ten of them blundered up from the pool.

  Arran was filled with a blind rage. He couldn’t stand it that another kid was wounded. They didn’t have the drugs to deal with it, and the water in the pool must have been swarming with filth and germs. With a great roar he lashed out to right and left, smashing his club into the grown-ups, shattering bones, breaking noses, loosening teeth, closing eyes. He was hardly aware of what was going on around him, only that Achilleus was at his back, cold-bloodedly dealing with the grown-ups in his own way.

  When a mother came at Arran, long hair flying, he gripped her by the throat and squeezed. Her head thrashed from side to side, her scabby hands flapped at him. Her hair whipped out of her face so that for a moment he saw her clearly.

  Her nose was half rotted away by disease. There were boils and sores covering every inch of skin. Her lips were pulled back from broken teeth, showing black shrunken gums.

  Everything about her was disgusting, inhuman, degraded —apart from her eyes. Her eyes were beautiful.

  Arran looked into them, and for a moment he saw a flash of intelligence.

  He froze. Time seemed to stop. He had the sudden vivid notion that this was all a stupid dream. He had imagined the whole thing: the collapse of society, the fear and confusion, the months spent hiding out in Waitrose. It wasn’t possible, after all. It wasn’t possible that the world had changed so much. So quickly. It wasn’t possible that he had become a savage. A killer.

  The mother tried to speak, her lips formed in a ghastly pucker, and a single syllable came out.

  “Mwuhh . . .”

  Tears came to Arran’s eyes. He couldn’t do it anymore.

  He loosened his grip.

  The mother wriggled free and sunk her teeth into his neck. Then Achilleus must have stabbed her, because a bright spray of blood hosed out from a wound in her chest. The next moment she was gone and Ollie was pulling him toward the turnstiles.

  “Move it, Arran!” he shouted, and Arran slithered over the turnstiles in a daze.

  “Where’s Freak?”

  Freak had been fending off the grown-ups with his bare fists, punching, kicking, butting, trying to protect Deke. But he was losing the fight. The grown-ups had sensed that Deke was wounded. They had given up trying to block the exit and were concentrating their efforts on getting at him. Two of them had taken hold of his legs, and Freak was engaged in a ghastly tug-of-war.

  “Leave him!” Ollie screamed.

  “I can’t!”

  A grown-up lurched into Freak from the side, knocking Deke out of his hands.

  “Deke!”

  The name stuck in Freak’s throat as he watched Deke being dragged quickly away, face down on the hard tiles, leaving a long, bloody smear. Freak chased after them, sobbing and screaming insults, but it was no good. There was nothing he could do.

  The grown-ups pulled Deke under the water, and he was gone. The last Freak ever saw of his friend—the boy he had grown up with, shared six years of school with, played soccer with, watched TV with, laughed with, argued with—the last he ever saw, was his bright yellow hair sliding into the sludge.

  “Get out of there, now!” shouted Achilleus. “I’m not coming back for you this time.”

  No ...

  Freak was going to go after his friend. He knew it would be suicide, but he hated to leave poor Deke at the mercy of the grown-ups.

  There was a reason these boys were still alive, though. Something made them stronger than the other kids, the ones who had died in the early days, who had simply lain down and given up, unable to cope with the terrible things that were happening in the world. These boys were survivors. The will to live was stronger than any other feelings.

  Freak turned on his heels and sprinted out of there.

  Callum was in the crow’s nest. He loved it up on the roof; it was his favorite place. He couldn’t wait for it to be warm enough to sleep out here. You could see the whole of Holloway spread out beneath you. Like Google Earth. The kids had built the crow’s nest around the dome that stuck up from one corner of Waitrose. They had used scaffolding poles and planks and ropes and any useful bits and pieces they could find. A ladder at the back led to the sloping roof of the supermarket. From there you could climb down across the tiles to a small tower they had constructed at the edge of the courtyard. The courtyard was a rooftop terrace in the center of the building, enclosed on four sides but open to the sky.

  The lookouts could communicate with other kids in the courtyard through a speaking tube. More speaking tubes linked the courtyard with other parts of the supermarket. The system was based on what they used to use on ships to communicate between the bridge and the engine room. It wasn’t much more than a series of long metal pipes that had been slotted and bent through the ventilation and cabling ducts of the building, but it was surprisingly effective.

  Callum felt safe up here. He and Josh were the main lookouts and could normally tell if there were any grown-ups around. The only blind spot was the parking lot at the rear of the building from where Small Sam had been snatched. Those kids should never have been out there without a guard. Callum was ticked off that he had missed the grown-ups sneaking through the gardens, and since the attack he had spotted loads more of them about. He kept a pile of ammo on a specially built ledge—rocks and stones to use as missiles, mainly—and he was itching to have a go at any grown-ups stup
id enough to get too close.

  He was keeping a lookout for Arran’s scav party. They needed Arran back. Everyone was on edge since Small Sam had been taken. Arran would calm everyone down, sort things out. Stop the little ones from being scared.

  Callum never went scavenging. He had convinced the others that he was more use to them on the roof. In fact, he hadn’t been out of Waitrose, except to come up here, for nearly a year. There was an invisible rope attaching him to it. In his mind he wandered the streets below, like a character moving around a game, but in real life he never wanted to go out there again. Waitrose was safe. He had everything he needed here. He was happy. Almost happier than he had been before the disaster.

  The one thing he longed for, though, was peace and quiet. To be alone, really alone. That would be bliss. To just sit there, in all the space of the shop, without it being full of other kids. Sitting here in the crow’s nest was as good as it got.

  He put his binoculars to his eyes and scanned the Holloway Road.

  “Come on, Arran, we need you. . . .”

  They were limping along. Ollie and Achilleus were walking ahead of Arran and Freak, who were both silent, lost in private thoughts. Ollie knew well enough not to push it. If the other two didn’t want to talk about what had gone down, then he wasn’t going to try to make them. Freak had lost his best friend, and Arran had been badly bitten. Ollie hadn’t expected him to take it so badly, though. Arran was tough. Hated showing any weakness in front of anyone else. Something had happened to him back at the pool. He had the look of someone who had stared at something nasty. Stared for too long.

  Arran’s skin had been punctured. There would be a big danger of infection. The grown-ups were filthy and riddled with germs and disease. Luckily, Arran hadn’t been in the water, but the mother who had attacked him had looked pretty foul.

  Why had Arran frozen like that? All the fight went out of him. One minute he was cracking skulls with his club, and the next he was just standing there, in a dream. Had he lost his nerve?

  Arran had to know that nobody would blame him for what had happened to Deke. It had been Freak’s stupid idea to go into the pool. How could they have prepared for the ambush? It wasn’t like grown-ups—usually they were stupid and slow and confused. Not much different from the pack of dogs the gang had dealt with earlier. This bunch had acted together. Organized. A team.

  How many of the adults had they killed? he wondered. He knew for sure he had hit seven of them, but it didn’t mean that each shot was a killing shot. When they’d bundled out through the reception area he’d seen two of his targets lying still on the floor. He must have fired thirty pellets, maybe more. It had been too dangerous to try to collect them afterward. He had a pile back at the camp, but it was a lot to lose in one day. At this rate it would be sooner rather than later that he ran out altogether. He’d have to find some more, or start collecting pebbles.

  Damn. He loved those heavy steel ball bearings.

  His ankle was sore; he had landed wrong leaping over the turnstiles. They made a sorry bunch. Freak had been pretty badly mauled. He was covered with filth and there was blood on him, but as far as it was possible to tell, it didn’t look like his own blood. At least Achilleus looked unharmed. He swore that boy had iron underpants.

  Achilleus wasn’t particularly a friend of Ollie’s. He was always having a go at him for being too rich, too clever, too quiet. But Ollie didn’t let it get to him. The two of them had a sort of grudging respect for each other. When it came down to it, Ollie valued Achilleus’s fighting skills, and Achilleus valued Ollie’s brains. They usually kept out of each other’s way. Ollie wasn’t used to being up front. It felt weird.

  He remembered driving in the family car. Him and his mom and dad and three brothers. Ollie had always sat in the back, staring out of the side window, trying to keep out of their arguments and fights. He remembered the few occasions when it had been just him and his dad, and he’d gotten to ride up front in the passenger seat. How different it had felt, like they were equals. And how nice it had been to get his dad all to himself. His dad had been like Ollie. Quiet, distant, always thinking about something.

  They were all dead now. All five of them.

  His dad had been the first to go. One of the very first to die when the illness struck. He had even been on the news; the headline had said something like “Another Death from Mystery Illness Sweeping Europe.” Then there had been more and more deaths, and not just in Europe—all around the world. They’d stopped mentioning individuals;it had been whole streets, then whole towns. It had all happened so fast, people had been stunned and hadn’t really had time to panic. The whole world had sort of gone into shock. His mother had been frantic after Dad died. She’d packed the house up, ready to try to escape to the countryside and stay with Auntie Susan. But she’d fallen ill before they could get away. Then it was just Ollie and his brothers. They’d tried to leave London by themselves. His oldest brother, Dan, got sick next. He’d been eighteen. Then Will, sixteen.

  His younger brother, Luke, hadn’t been old enough to get sick. He’d been killed in a riot up near Finsbury Park. That must have been over a year ago. It felt more like a century. By then, Ollie had had no more tears left to cry; the catastrophe had been so immense, so overwhelming, that he had just pushed it out of his mind and concentrated on trying to stay alive. He owed it to his family, as the last one left, not to die.

  “We should have never gone into there in the first place,” said Achilleus. “Freak’s an idiot.”

  “Leave it,” said Ollie. “We couldn’t have known.”

  “All for a bloody vending machine,” said Achilleus. “Chips and candy! We’re not babies.”

  “Would have been nice, though,” said Ollie. “I could really do with a Mars Bar right now, and a can of Coke.”

  “Yeah.” Achilleus smiled. “You know what I used to really like? Jaffa Cakes. I could eat a whole pack in one go. But all we’ve got to look forward to when we get back is roast dog.”

  “Better than nothing,” said Ollie. “We haven’t had meat in ages.”

  “Hold up. . . .”

  Achilleus raised a hand and they all stopped. They had come to the part of Holloway Road where they had had the fight with the dogs. A group of people was up ahead, clustered around the carcass of the dead German shepherd.

  “Can you make out who it is?” said Achilleus.

  Ollie had the keenest eyesight of all of them. He shaded his eyes and squinted.

  “They’re kids,” he said.

  “Ours?”

  “Nah. Morrisons.”

  When everything had fallen apart, one group of local kids had ended up taking shelter in Waitrose, and another group had taken up Morrisons, the cheaper supermarket in the nearby Nag’s Head shopping center. Kids had mostly ended up in the place where their moms and dads had gone shopping. Not all, though. Ollie guessed Achilleus was more of a Morrisons kid.

  In the struggle to survive, where every scrap of food was fought over, the two groups of kids led totally separate lives. There was even the occasional skirmish in the street.

  Achilleus turned to Arran.

  “What do we do? There’s more of them than us. Should we go around the back way?”

  Arran looked at the other gang, then at his feet, then up at the sky.

  “I don’t know,” he said eventually.

  “I’m wiped,” said Achilleus. “I can’t face another fight, and I can’t face going the long way around, looking out for grown-ups every step of the way.”

  Arran sighed, pushed past him, and kept walking.

  “If they want to have a go at us, let them,” he said. “I don’t care anymore.”

  Achilleus watched him go, then shared a look with Ollie.

  “Come on.”

  They made sure that Freak was still with them, and hurried to catch up with Arran.

  The Morrisons crew soon spotted them, and they took up a defensive stance in the middle of the r
oad.

  Arran carried on walking toward them. He wasn’t going to stop. Achilleus ran past him.

  “We don’t want no trouble,” Achilleus called out to the other gang. “We’ve had enough for one day. We just want to get back. We ain’t got nothing you want.”

  The Morrisons crew stood their ground, sullenly watching them as they approached. They were armed with an assortment of knives, sticks, and spears. Ollie spotted their leader, Blue, a muscley kid with close-cropped hair. Ollie smiled at him, being as open as he could, showing that they meant no harm. A couple of the Morrisons crew nodded at them as they arrived, showing no expression. Blue noticed the dog, still strung across Arran’s back.

  He looked from the dead pit bull down to the German shepherd.

  “You do this?”

  “Earlier.”

  Arran snapped out of his weird mood. He knew he had to put on a brave face. It was important not to show any weakness. They had nothing in their camp the Morrisons crew could want, but there was always a danger that they might lose some good fighters if the Morrisons thought they’d have a better life in the rival supermarket.

  “You look pretty messed up, man,” said Blue, staring at Arran and then at Freak. “Was it the dogs?”

  “No,” said Arran. “Grown-ups. At the pool. Don’t go up that way.”

  “Never do,” said a big, slightly stooped kid who looked almost like a grown-up. He was Mick, the Morrisons equivalent of Achilleus. Their top fighter.

  “There’s been a lot of attacks lately,” said Blue.

  “Too right,” said Arran. “They’re getting desperate.”

  Blue looked at him. “There’s been some trouble up at Waitrose,” he said.

  Ollie’s heart caught in his chest. His stomach flooded with acid. Now what?

  “What sort of trouble?” said Arran.

  “Some sort of an attack. There’s been grown-ups hanging around all day.”

 
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