Read The Dead Online

Authors: Charlie Higson

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #General

The Dead (10 page)

‘No,’ said Malik. ‘You’ll see. For the first time in weeks I’m starting to feel positive. Not too positive, mind, let’s not get carried away here, but I really think that –’

Malik was gone.

One second Ed was talking to him, and the next …

It took Ed a moment to process the information, to make sense of what he’d seen – the brief flash of a face in the darkness of the factory doorway, a white face with black eyes and yellow teeth, two hands reaching towards Malik’s neck.

He’d been pulled inside.

Before Ed had time to shout, to warn the others, bodies erupted from all around, from out of the doorway, from the gaps between buildings, from behind them, moving fast, hitting the boys hard.

There were screams coming from all around Ed now. And everywhere he turned there was a confused melee of writhing shapes.

What shall I do? What shall I do?

Malik was in the building. His friend, Malik. Ed made a half-hearted move towards the doorway, and saw in the dim interior about ten of them, three or four crouched over Malik’s body, the others coming straight for him, charging out of the gloom. Ed backed away and the figures exploded into the daylight, arms flailing, teeth bared.

Teenagers. Boys and girls. They looked to be about seventeen or eighteen.

Ed turned and ran. Shouting to the other boys.

‘Stay with me. Get away from here.’ But he had no idea if anyone could hear him, if anyone could do anything.

He saw Johnno go down, with three or four teenagers on his back, another two pulling his arms and legs. The Field House boys were in a huddle, panicked. The three nerds were backed up against a wall, sobbing.

The teenagers were faster and stronger and more brutal than the older teachers from the school. They were filthy, their clothes stained with blood and worse. Some wore hoodies, some were wearing only T-shirts, others were so ragged it was hard to tell what they were wearing – their clothes hung off them in tatters. A few were nearly naked, their bodies a mess of wounds and pus-filled boils. One or two of them were older boys from the school, wearing suits. Ed recognized a prefect. He’d lost most of his hair and one eye and looked more like an animal than a human now. He had a smaller kid, Stanley, one of the boys from the chapel that Ed remembered carrying out into the fresh air only an hour ago. The prefect was swinging him round by one arm, his face blank and emotionless.

And all the while the rain fell in a steady monotonous drizzle. It was a dull, damp, grey day. A typical English day. Boring and flat. A day for staying indoors and waiting for tomorrow. And here they were, dying on this dreary industrial estate.

Ed spotted Frédérique, still hanging on to her cat carrier. She was standing frozen, staring a hundred miles into the distance, while the fight raged around her. He grabbed her and pulled her away from where four teenagers had Johnno on the ground and were trying to bite his stomach. Then Ed saw Wiki and Arthur, cowering behind a pile of boxes. Ed grabbed Wiki and hoped that Arthur would follow.

‘We have to get away from here,’ he shouted, but there was nowhere to run. Wherever they turned there were more of the older kids.

Ed dragged his gang towards the Sullivan brothers, who had made it back to the road and were holding out, fighting back clumsily but effectively with garden spades. There were just too many of the teenagers, though, and before Ed got to the brothers he watched helplessly as a fat teenager got Anthony from behind and sank her teeth into his neck. Anthony yelled and clutched at the wound, dropping the spade. Instantly two more were on him, girls with maniac twisted faces covered in spots and blisters.

Damien tried to batter the girls off his brother, but he was overpowered by a mob of bigger boys and he went down struggling and cursing.

Ed switched direction and bumped into someone running the other way. He went sprawling, pulling Frédérique and Wiki down with him. He let go of them and rolled to his feet. Both Sullivan brothers were on the ground now and it didn’t look like they’d be getting up again. And there was one of the Field House boys, trying to run with two girls on his back and another with her arms round one leg. He fell over with a yell.

Ed made it out of the estate and into the road but was knocked over again and ended up with someone on top of him. He laid into them desperately with knees and elbows.

‘Ow, stop it!’ It was one of the nerds, his shirt torn half off his back. Ed apologized and they helped each other up. The nerd – Justin – picked up a bit of bed frame that had been dropped by a rugby player and started lashing out around him in a blind, red-faced fury, keeping the circling teenagers at bay.

Ed looked around for Frédérique and the younger boys. Wiki and Arthur had disappeared but Frédérique was standing frozen again. A slobbering, wet-faced teenager was crouched in front of her, sniffing her, his head moving up and down her body. For some reason he wasn’t attacking her, maybe because she was standing so still he couldn’t tell if she was alive.

Wasn’t that what you were supposed to do if you were attacked by a bear? Play dead?

Whatever, the teenager was just dribbling and sniffing and Frédérique wasn’t moving.

Ed had just enough time to register this before he was flattened again. And no sooner was he up than he was down once more. There was such a confusion of sprawling bodies that he couldn’t remain standing for more than a few seconds at a time. Sometimes he was knocked over by the older kids; sometimes it was one of his friends from school.

He was weeping in fear and rage and frustration.

He didn’t want to die. Not here. Not like this …


As he walked, Jack constantly scanned his surroundings, keeping alert for any movement, any signs of danger. It felt very strange being out on the streets after all those long days cooped up in the school and he had had no idea how dangerous the outside world was now. There were signs of violence. They’d seen wrecked shops and a few dead bodies, but so far no living ones. No kids, no adults. Nothing. Just a dreary parade of boring houses sitting grey and damp in the rain. Matt and Archie were so absorbed in their conversation about the Lamb that they seemed to have completely forgotten that they might be in any danger at all. That wasn’t clever of them. The sudden attack that came from nowhere was the most devastating. You had to be prepared.

Jack wanted to scream at the boys to shut up and pay attention, but feared that they would only try to involve him in their discussion. There was no way of getting through to Matt – he was utterly obsessed. He really seemed to think that the Lamb, whatever the hell that was, would protect him from anything.

He was reciting something by heart as he walked, without needing to look at the pages, which he’d put away to protect from the rain.

I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death

‘Will it be clear when we meet the Lamb what it is?’ asked one of the younger boys. ‘What will it look like?’

‘Not it,’ said Matt. ‘
. The Lamb is a boy like us. His hair is golden. His face is white and shining, and he walks with a shadow.’

‘You keep saying that, Matt, but what does it mean?’ Archie Bishop asked. ‘Surely we all walk with a shadow.’

‘The Lamb’s shadow is a living shadow, like a doppelganger.’

‘A what?’

‘It’s a fancy word for a double. It’s like his dark half, his dark brother. He’s a demon who speaks in tongues.’

‘My older brother, Robert, went on an Alpha Course,’ said Archie. ‘They speak in tongues. He did a bit for me. It sounded mad.’

speak in tongues, do you think?’ Matt asked, getting excited.

‘We could try.’

‘How do you do it?’

‘Well, you just sort of let the spirit guide you and you sort of go, blah laa laa, baba babala laaa la la al ba ba ba blaaa …’

Matt joined in, going, ‘Blaa maa kaaa baa laaa …’ but soon broke down into helpless giggles.

‘We need to practise that a bit,’ he said.

The acolytes started up and soon all of them were chirruping away, laughing and spouting gibberish.

, thought Jack.
I’m on marathon walk to London, likely to be ambushed by diseased nutters at any moment and I’m stuck with a load of idiots who sound like they’ve escaped from the set of
In the Night Garden.


When he was eight, Ed had gone on a family holiday to the west coast of France. There had been signs everywhere reading
, wild coast, and the waves had been huge. One day his dad had taken him out to brave them. It had been amazing, rising up on the swell, diving through the breakers, body surfing, but then one had taken him by surprise and knocked him off his feet.

It had been terrifying, being rolled over and over, not knowing which way was up or down, a hideous churning confusion of water and sand. Whenever his feet had found the bottom, they’d been whipped away and he’d been spun again, like being inside a giant washing machine.

At last his dad had grabbed him and pulled him up.

That’s how it felt being in this fight. And his dad wasn’t here to rescue him today. His dad would never be able to help him again. Winded once more against the hard concrete, he didn’t have the strength to get up. He drew in a painful rasping breath, rolled on to his back, and the next thing he knew one of the teenagers was on him. A sharp-faced boy who looked to be about eighteen. It was hard to tell, though, because his eyes were bulging out of his head and his face resembled a margherita pizza, livid red with crusty yellow patches, like the worst case of teenage acne Ed had ever seen.

With a mad, terrified burst of energy Ed just managed to get his hands round the boy’s neck and hold him off at arm’s length.

The boy was snarling and snorting, which made green snot bubble from his nose. Pinkish-looking saliva foamed from between his rotten teeth, flecked with blood. It mingled with the snot and formed into a dribble that hung down like a rope, dangling over Ed’s mouth. A drop fell from the end and spattered on to Ed’s lips. He jerked his head to the side and spat. More warm dribble pooled in his ear.

Ed shook his head.

The teenager looked horribly diseased. Ed didn’t understand how the sickness worked, nobody did, but the thought of catching it off this drooling, pizza-faced git was horrifying.

He lay there on his back, arms straight out, squeezing the boy’s neck and trying to keep him away at the same time. He had a horrible image of one of those rubber toy heads that when you squashed them the eyes and tongue popped out. The teenager had shorter arms. He couldn’t quite reach Ed, but he scrabbled wildly at him, scratching his skin with dirty, black fingernails. Ed could do little to stop the crazed attack and he felt his arms shaking with the strain. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could hold out.

And then the boy would fall on him and press that gaping mouth into Ed’s face.

There was a shout – ‘Look out, Ed!’

Out of the corner of his eye Ed saw Bam pounding over.

Bam shouted ‘PUNT!’ and Ed let go of the boy just as Bam swung his leg in a mighty drop-kick. His boot connected with the boy’s head and sent him spinning over backwards. Ed scrambled to his feet and glanced at his attacker, who lay still for a moment then got to his knees and started to crawl about in circles, his head bent at a crazy angle. He appeared to be looking for something, and then Ed realized that the force of the kick had knocked one of his eyes out.

Ed felt faint and turned away to be sick. Bam caught him and held him up.

‘No time for that, mate. Gotta keep moving.’

‘I can’t,’ Ed sobbed. ‘I can’t. I can’t do this.’

‘Yes you can.’

Before Ed could say anything else a fresh group of teenagers jumped Bam and he was at the centre of a thrashing brawl, arms and legs working furiously to keep his attackers off him. He seemed to have lost his weapon and was fighting bare-handed.

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