Authors: Charlie Higson
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #General
‘I watched Greg driving the bus,’ said Justin with a shrug. ‘It’s the same thing. I really think I could do it. I really do.’
‘I can drive and all,’ said DogNut. ‘Used to jack cars with me mates. I’ll sit with him. Between us we can work it out, I reckon.’
‘All right, we’re on!’ Ed clapped his hands together.
‘Oi, you lot!’ Jack called down from the roof. ‘Who’s moving that bloody body? It’s stinking the place out.’
He looked at Brooke and her friends. They made disgusted faces and backed away, shaking their heads.
‘I’ll do it,’ said Frédérique, stepping forward and picking up one of the snowman’s feet. She tried to pull him along, but couldn’t shift him. She had a determined, slightly mad look on her face, but it was clear she wasn’t going anywhere.
‘Come on.’ Brooke nudged Courtney. ‘We ain’t leaving her to do this. Makes us look bad. Grab a leg.’
‘Broo-ooke,’ Courtney protested.
‘We didn’t come along on this trip just to make sarcastic comments, did we?’ Brooke asked, grasping the other foot. ‘Or to hold the boys’ coats for them while they had a scrap. We got to pull our weight, or at least pull
weight.’ She sniggered. ‘Come on, shake a leg.’
Giving in to Brooke’s bullying, Courtney and Aleisha joined Frédérique, and the four of them started to drag the body along the alley towards the yard, keeping their faces pointing resolutely forward, away from the snowman. Trying not to think about what they were doing.
They got him to the end of the alley and pulled him over to the row of garages. It had been dark in the alley, which lay in shadow, and the sun felt suddenly warm and cheerful as they stepped into its light.
Brooke let go of the snowman’s foot and, closing her eyes, she turned her face up to the sun, feeling its warmth on her skin.
‘Oh, that feels so good,’ she said. ‘I have been
‘Brooke,’ said Courtney. ‘Look at this …’
‘What?’ Brooke opened her eyes. Courtney was staring at the dead driver with a half-revolted, half-fascinated expression.
‘I don’t want to look,’ said Brooke. ‘It’s going to be something horrible, isn’t it?’
‘I can’t …’
‘You got to see this.’
Brooke clenched her teeth and forced herself to look round at the dead driver, prepared for the worst.
For a moment Brooke thought the snowman was coming back to life. His skin seemed to be boiling, as if liquid was bubbling up from beneath it, pushing it out into rippling blisters. Before their eyes his body was swelling, blossoming, bloating. His tongue poked out from between his lips, the tip of it studded with more blisters that popped as they hit the air. His hands were moving, the fingers wriggling and writhing. His neck was getting fatter and fatter, until it was thicker than his head. Then there was a hiss and sigh as his throat burst open, squeezing out bright pink jelly.
The only way Brooke could deal with what she was seeing was to imagine that she was watching a film. Something with over-the-top special effects. The driver didn’t look human any more. She was absolutely mesmerized.
Someone tugged at her arm.
‘What d’you want?’ she said, turning round angrily, assuming it was one of the boys come to get her.
Instead she found herself looking into a black hole where a face should be. It was a young mother, with wavy hair that was once blonde but was now showing dark roots. She had eyes and a lower jaw with a row of teeth with silver fillings, but nothing in between.
Brooke felt like she’d been kicked in the guts. Her windpipe clenched shut. Her lungs froze. She opened her mouth and tried to scream but nothing came out.
While the three girls had been watching the driver a group of about fifteen sickos had entered the yard, attracted by the noise. They were all young adults, mothers and fathers, but they were in a terrible state, bloodied and battered, with bits missing, and skin ruined by craters and sores.
Aleisha, Brooke and Courtney had left their weapons behind in the alley so that their hands were free to drag the body, but Frédérique had her knife in a sheath on her belt. She pulled it out and started waving it at the sickos, yelling and screaming in French as the three other girls shouted for help.
Frédérique was like a wildcat, spitting with rage, a look of crazed fury on her thin face. Her blade slashed clumsily at the sickos, doing little real damage but confusing them enough to give the other three time to move away from where they’d been backed up against the garage doors. Frédérique at last managed to get close to a father. She gouged him in the neck and he whined and went into a sort of stiff-legged dance. She stabbed again and again, the knife rising and falling like a piston.
‘Leave him!’ Brooke yelled. ‘Get away, Frédérique!’
Frédérique didn’t hear. All her fear and anger and sadness was coming out. She turned from the father and lunged at a bald mother, who stepped to the side. She snarled, the knife scything through the air, and waded right into the knot of sickos. The knife flashed in the sunlight, then punched into a father where it lodged in his armpit. Frédérique tried to tug it free but two mothers barged into her arm, loosening her grip on the handle. A third got her from behind, knocking her to her knees. She put her arms around her head to protect herself and curled forward, arching her back, defeated.
A father crouched over her, sniffing her hair. He was quickly joined by five others, who crowded round her, blocking her from view. Vultures on a carcass.
Unarmed, Brooke, Aleisha and Courtney could do nothing to help. The rest of the sickos had got between them and Frédérique and were now advancing on the girls, dribbling and moaning softly, sniffing the air.
Ed came skidding round the corner and when he saw what was happening he got hold of Aleisha and Courtney and dragged them back towards the alley, shouting at Brooke to follow.
Once in the alley they retreated towards the lorry, the sickos closing in after them.
‘Where’s Frédérique?’ Ed asked.
‘They got her,’ said Brooke. ‘They got her.’
‘We can’t leave her.’
‘I ain’t going back. Are you?’
Ed said nothing.
Bam and Jack were sitting on the roof of the cab. They could see the sickos advancing along the alley.
‘Hurry up!’ they shouted, waving their arms. ‘For God’s sake, run!’
Justin and DogNut were inside the cab, struggling to get the engine started. They had the windows wide open but it still stank something rotten in here. DogNut had found a whole packet of pine-tree-shaped air fresheners in the glove box and had ripped them out of their packaging and strewn them about the place. But he didn’t think all the air fresheners in the world would be able to get rid of the smell of a fat dead lorry driver left to rot in his seat.
Yelling encouragement, Bam and Jack reached out to the girls, ready to drag them up on to the roof. They got Aleisha first, as Courtney started to clamber up the radiator grille by herself. Aleisha was so small she weighed almost nothing. Ed and Brooke waited their turn.
From inside the cab all Justin could see was a tangle of arms and legs as the girls wriggled up the windscreen. The engine didn’t want to start. Probably because the diesel had got too cold. He was running out of ideas. Every time he turned the key there was a cough and a rumble, then nothing.
‘Swear at it,’ said DogNut.
‘Swear at it. It’s what my dad used to do when his car wouldn’t start. Sometimes worked.’
‘OK,’ said Justin. ‘Bastard!’
‘That word won’t work,’ DogNut sneered. ‘Try something stronger.’
‘No, like this …’
As Justin turned the key, DogNut let out a filthy obscenity and the next moment the engine jumped into life. They both roared. Then, as Brooke and Ed cleared the windscreen the two boys in the cab finally saw the sickos lumbering towards them, blocking the narrow alleyway, reaching towards them with scabby fingers.
‘Bloody hell. We need to get motoring,’ said DogNut. ‘Put her in gear and let’s get out of here.’
Justin sucked a lungful of air in through his nose, plunged the clutch pedal down with one foot, wrestled the gear lever into place and pressed down with his other foot on the accelerator. It was much harder than the simulation on his computer, but it was basically the same idea.
He forced the accelerator down further – and further – and further. It was nothing like a car. The engine was a monster and was pulling a monster load. There was no subtlety or delicacy involved. You had to work the pedals with heavy boots.
He could feel the whole rig shuddering, but it still didn’t want to move. He was beginning to doubt whether he could do this after all. The size and power of the thing terrified him. He eased the clutch up further and gave the engine yet more juice. There was a thump and he looked up.
The lead sickos had got to the cab and were battering on the windscreen with dirty hands, leaving smears of pus and blood and filth.
‘Get a move on, nerd-boy,’ said DogNut nervously, then saw to his horror that one of the sickos had got hold of a lump of concrete and was getting ready to lob it at them. He was a younger guy, a teenager, and showed little sign of the sickness. He looked pretty much like any of the older boys from DogNut’s estate. Like a junkie after a heavy night.
There was a flash and a bang and the sicko was thrown back against the wall.
‘That must be Bam,’ said Justin. ‘We’d be rubbish without him.’
get out of here,’ DogNut shouted.
Two mothers had climbed up on to the front of the cab. One of them was the blonde without a face.
‘Jesus, that’s rank,’ said DogNut. ‘I can see right down her throat.’
Someone on top of the cab knocked the mother off and then took a swipe at the other sicko, catching her in the side of the head but failing to dislodge her.
The lorry shuddered, jerked forward and then stopped, throwing the mother clear.
The engine cut out.
‘Do you want me to drive?’ said DogNut.
‘No,’ said Justin. ‘I’m getting the hang of it. Don’t hassle me. I’m all right.’
‘Drive, dork, drive!’
Justin flushed red. He felt a cold rush of adrenalin wash through him on a rising tide of anger. In his mind he swore at DogNut, using the same words DogNut had used to swear at the lorry, and then told himself it was all OK.
Engine on. Down with the clutch. Gear into position. Accelerator. Be brave. Do it.
The lorry just needed to be treated more brutally than a car. It was hard to give it too many revs.
Clutch up. Right up.
Now she was straining to move off.
Stamp on those pedals with all your weight.
And now they were moving. Inching forward, nudging the rest of the sickos out of the way. They could hear shouts of triumph from the roof.
‘You’re doing it, man,’ said DogNut. ‘Oh my days, you’re doing it, you knob-end, you’re doing it!’
Slowly and steadily the lorry ploughed on. Justin didn’t dare try shifting up a gear so they stayed in first, crawling along, over-revving, fumes from the exhaust filling the alley.
The sickos limped and stumbled ahead of them, trying to get out of the way. A couple fell over, but the high clearance of the lorry meant that it passed right over them.
As they broke out into the winter sunlight at the end of the alley they saw someone standing directly in front of them. Justin was about to run them down when he realized it was Frédérique. He slowed and she drifted out of their way in a daze.
Up on the roof Jack spotted her. He called out her name and climbed down the side of the cab, using the open window as a footrest. He hung on the step for a moment then jumped clear and ran over to Frédérique.
‘What happened? Are you all right? I didn’t even realize you hadn’t come back with the others. You must be a better fighter than I thought.’
‘I’m all right,’ Frédérique mumbled, and indeed she looked untouched. Jack took her by the wrist.
‘Keep moving!’ he shouted to DogNut through the window. ‘Don’t stop. I’ll see you out on the road.’
He ran ahead of the lorry, pulling Frédérique along behind him.
Justin was sweating and trying not to panic. Going in a straight line was relatively easy, but turning was a different matter. The steering wheel was huge and you had to force it round and round to make the wheels rotate even a little way. And then there was the immense length of the lorry to deal with, plus the fact that it was jointed and turned in two parts.
Trying to ease past the garages they smashed into the corner of a wall and demolished it. They scraped along and Justin thought of the scene in
when the ship hits the iceberg.
DogNut was laughing hysterically and swearing at him.
‘If you would just shut up, I could handle this,’ Justin complained.
‘No way you could, man,’ said DogNut. ‘You are
out of control.’