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       The Enemy, p.32

           Charlie Higson
 

  The Holloway kids laughed and jeered, and with Ollie’s missile unit watching their backs, they safely left the palace grounds.

  As they regrouped on the road, one of the little kids pointed to the Victoria Memorial and shouted. “Look at that!”

  Achilleus was standing there. He had added his own message to Freak’s. Big clumsy red letters spelled out two words.

  FREAK LIVES.

  And under them the tag—AKKIE DEAKY.

  Maxie smiled and ran over to Achilleus. This time she hugged him.

  “I finally figured out what Freak’s original message meant,” said Achilleus. “I was wrong about him. Blamed him for what went down with Deke and Arran. Wasn’t his fault, any more than it was mine. Should have listened to him more. He was all right. He believed in what Arran believed in. For us to be together and strong and to do the right thing. In the end, all the bad stuff that happened to us, as well as all the good stuff, we got to share.”

  “I thought you’d gone over to David’s side,” said Maxie. “I thought you liked it here.”

  Achilleus shrugged. “Once I found out David had locked you up, that was it. You’re one of us, Maxie. You’re our leader. And besides, it’s like I said, I wasn’t gonna sit around here counting potatoes. I go where the action is.”

  “And what about Ollie?”

  “You best ask him yourself. That boy is way too complex for me.”

  As the kids tramped off down the road, singing a selection of TV themes, Maxie went to find Ollie.

  “I thought you’d sold me out,” she said.

  “It did cross my mind,” he said with a grin. “I genuinely thought David had a good setup here. I didn’t want to leave. But at the same time, I never really trusted him, and I needed to find out how far he’d take things.”

  “All that stuff you gave him in the sick bay . . .”

  “By then I’d found out. He’d played his hand. And the last thing I wanted was to get locked up in there with you and Blue. Someone had to tell the others what was going on.”

  “You’re a devious little red-haired rat,” said Maxie. “But I love you.”

  “Steady, girl,” said Ollie.

  Maxie went to take her place at the front, and Ollie was left with his thoughts.

  He looked at his watch. Quarter to eleven. Not long until midnight.

  He hadn’t told anybody about tomorrow. The others may have forgotten what date it was, even what day it was, but not Ollie. He had it all logged.

  Tomorrow was his birthday.

  Ollie knew a lot of things, but he had no idea what was going to happen to him as he got older. None of them did. If you made it to the end of the day, then it was a good day. You didn’t think any further ahead than that. The future was a mystery.

  How could Ollie know if he’d get sick or not? He was only a kid after all.

  Everything was going to be all right.

  He would just have to wait and see.

  They marched down the middle of the road. Maxie, Blue, Achilleus, Paddy the Caddy, and the girl from the museum at the front with a fighting crew. Whitney in the middle with Maeve, Ben and Bernie, all the non-fighters, and the little kids. Blu-Tack Bill, Monkey Boy, and Ella fussing over Godzilla. Big Nose walking with them, not sure if he’d made the right decision. Lewis and his fighters were on one flank, Big Mick on the other with the gun he’d taken from the guard. Ollie at the back with the other skirmishers.

  The little kids weren’t scared. They’d been through too much together for that. They knew that the big kids would look after them. They trusted that they’d find a safe place to sleep, and food and water.

  They headed west away from the palace. And as they entered Belgrave Square they came across a group of ten grown-ups who were eating a dead dog. When they lifted their heads from their filthy meal and saw the resolute army of kids approaching, they were like rabbits caught in the headlights.

  Weapons bristled from the front rank of kids.

  “You want to try and take us on?” Maxie shouted. “Come and get it, you sad old losers!”

  The grown-ups took one look at each other, then turned and bolted, leaving their dinner behind.

  Maxie laughed; Achilleus joined her. Blue put his arm around her waist. The other kids joined in, and soon their laughter was bouncing around the square and echoing off the empty houses, filling the night, chasing away the demons.

  The fog inside his head was strong tonight. There was a red sheet in front of his eyes. And the pain was worse than ever. It was a living thing in his veins, like battery acid running through him, making him itchy and scratchy. His whole head throbbed. With the red mist and the hurting and the voices screaming in his skull, it was hard to think straight. He had to try to sneak up on his thoughts, take them by surprise before they slipped away from him. Like rats.

  Or kids.

  The kids were fast; you had to be clever to catch ’em. But he was clever. Somewhere inside his seething brain he knew that. He was learning that if he snatched hold of one of his thoughts, he had to act fast before it slipped away again and he was lost in the fog of confusion and pain.

  He looked over at the buildings and saw someone looking back at him. No. Not allowed. Anger rose inside him, more powerful than the pain.

  Who are you looking at?

  A man in a white vest with a red cross on it.

  He closed his eyes and clamped his hands over his mouth and rocked backward on his aching feet as a fresh agony clawed at him. Needles were sprouting from his brain and piercing outward, breaking the skin of his face. He growled in his throat and was comforted by the sound, the feel of the vibrations in his neck. He growled again. Enjoying it. It took his mind off everything else.

  He opened his eyes.

  He was surrounded by people. Why were they looking at him? All their bloody eyes on him. He snarled at them, and some of them backed away. God, that was good. He had power over them.

  Yes.

  It came back to him now. He was their boss. They were his army.

  He’d been doing something.

  What was it?

  He shook his head. Growled again. Spat on the ground and looked at his spit. Maybe the shape of it would give him a clue. The spit was thick and yellow, flecked with red. He was momentarily hypnotized by it.

  A thought was there. Circling. He pounced.

  The car.

  That was it. He turned around and clambered onto the hood. Then up onto the roof. He could see all the people now. Spread out around him, filling the road.

  What was this road? He’d known its name once. He’d known the names of everything around here. It had been his manor. All gone now. All the words. All the difficult ones. Only a few remained.

  Car. Road. Shop. Kid. Blood. Eat.

  Look at them. His people. They worshipped him.

  Scum. Boss. Kill . . .

  Those sneaky kids. They tried to run. They tried to hide. Like words. Like thoughts. They were clever. But he was strong. And strong beat clever. He would kill them, every one of them. He would eat them. Like the one that had been in the shop.

  He remembered that. Him sitting there. The kid. That boy.

  They had his head. On a pole. It was their battle standard.

  He roared. He was a lion. The top lion. He could choose the best bits from a kill. He looked over at what had once been the shop.

  Fire.

  That was another good word. Well, there it was. All on fire. He would move on now, take his army with him. Find every kid. Burn them, eat them, smash them. All the clever ones.

  A memory came back to him. Clever kids at that place. With all the other kids. Laughing at him.

  What was that word? A powerful one. One he didn’t like.

  School.

  All the other kids laughing.

  Well, look at me now. Boss. King. Lion. Killer . . .

  He spread his arms wide, opened his mouth for a shout of triumph, but as usual nothing came out, just a lo
w strangled growl.

  They understood, though. His army. They raised their arms, shook their fists. The smarter ones, they shook weapons.

  He looked over and saw that same man again, looking back at him. He hadn’t moved.

  Fat man. Bald. White vest with a red cross on it. He knew the words.

  Saint George.

  Then he smiled. The man was him. It was a . . . What was it? A mirror? A window? Yes. He was Saint George. A crusader. That made him happy. To remember hard words like that.

  You see. If he was sneaky . . . If he came around the side. The words were there, just hiding.

  He had a plan. Crusade. He would go into the lands of the enemy and burn and kill and break. And his people would follow him.

  He began to stamp up and down on the roof of the car, hammering out a rhythm with his big feet. Bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang, one two, one two . . . Come dance with me.

  Bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang, one two, one two . . .

  His people joined in. Stamping up and down in the road. Their feet hammering the asphalt. Thud-thud-thud-thud . . .

  The sound of an army marching. And that was what they were. They would march and they would kill and they would smash everything in their path.

  He climbed down off the car and broke all its windows with his club. All the while stamping, one-two-one-two . . . And the more he stamped, the more he smashed, the more words came back to him, the more thoughts he could hold on to.

  Everything he broke made him stronger.

  He went into a frenzy, attacking every car in the road. Still stamping. It was the comforting sound of a machine.

  Then he led them on. Back toward the battleground. The battle they had lost against the kids. They wouldn’t lose any more battles. They were too many now. They were too strong.

  He was Saint George.

  This city belonged to him.

 


 

  Charlie Higson, The Enemy

 


 

 
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