Read The Dead Online

Authors: Charlie Higson

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #General

The Dead (31 page)

‘Thin?’ Bam snorted. ‘She’s skinny as six o’clock.’

‘But she’s OK,’ said Jack. ‘You know what I mean? Maybe if things had been different I might have done something about it, I don’t know. I can never, like,
with girls, whether they just like me as a, you know, just as a person, or whether they fancy me. I’m always scared of mucking up.’

‘Well, I reckon you’re in there anyway, mate,’ said Bam.

‘So what about you and Brooke, then?’ Jack asked Ed, trying to move the spotlight on to someone else.

me and Brooke?’

‘When are you gonna make a move on her?’

Ed sniggered. Remembering. ‘You know what I just did back there?’


‘I kissed her.’

‘You never? What, in front of everyone?’

‘It wasn’t, like, a proper snog or anything,’ said Ed. ‘It was more like a sort of movie kiss. I was sort of acting. You know, like a soldier going on a dangerous mission kissing his girl goodbye. Maybe she’ll wait for him, maybe she won’t kind of thing.’

‘Oh, she’ll wait for you. You’re well in there, mate,’ said Bam.

‘Yeah,’ said Jack. ‘She only goes for good-looking blokes, and I’m spoken for. There’s no one else around she’d look twice at.’

‘Oi!’ said Bam. ‘What about me?’

you?’ said Jack. ‘You’re hideous, Bam. You’re a kind of troll.’

‘I am
. I had a girlfriend back home if you really want to know.’

‘A real one or an imaginary one?’ said Jack.

‘She was a picture in a magazine, I reckon,’ said Ed, joining in the game.

‘She’s a real girl, thank you,’ said Bam. ‘With arms and legs and everything.’


‘Far as I know. We hadn’t got much past the kissing stage. And now …’ Bam sighed and gave a little grunt. ‘God knows if I’ll ever see her again.’

‘What was her name?’ Jack asked innocently. ‘John? Barry? Roger?’

‘Cass, if you must know.’

‘I thought you only liked rugger, Bam?’

‘I’m a man of the world, Ed. There’s more to me than you will ever know.’

‘There’s certainly more to you than I will ever
to know,’ said Jack. ‘Already that’s way too much information. The thought of you and poor Cass getting all loved up on a sofa somewhere …’

‘Leave it out, Jack,’ said Bam. ‘Why are you two picking on me, anyway?’

‘We’re only having a laugh, Bam,’ said Ed. He put an arm across Bam’s shoulders and they walked a few steps linked together.

‘So you’re going to make a move on Brooke, then, are you, Bam?’ said Jack.

‘Brooke? No way! She’s not my type at all. She’s scary as all hell. You’re welcome to her, Ed.’

‘She’s all right once you get past her front,’ said Ed. ‘But in the past she wouldn’t have looked twice at me. I’m not her type, really. I’d have thought she’d be more interested in someone like DogNut. And you can see he fancies her. He’s always sniffing around.’

‘Oh, come off it, Ed!’ Jack scoffed. ‘I thought you understood girls. You can tell she’s not the slightest bit interested in him. He’s like an over-affectionate dog, sticking his nose up your arse all the time.’

The three of them laughed as they marched along. For one small moment they could forget about survival and pretend that nothing had changed.

They’d ended up back near the gas towers and they stopped so that Jack could work out which way they should be going.

‘That gas sure does smell rotten,’ said Ed, wrinkling his nose. ‘Stupid thing is, there’s probably enough gas in those holders to last us the rest of our lives, if we only had some way to get it out.’

Bam wasn’t listening. He was looking up at the sky and shading his eyes from the sun. The thick black cloud they’d seen earlier had grown larger.

‘I don’t think the smell’s all from the gasholders,’ he said. ‘That smoke’s definitely getting worse. Either
getting nearer to it or
getting nearer to us.’

‘Bit of both, I reckon,’ said Ed. ‘Must be some way off still, though.’

He sniffed the air. ‘You reckon that’s the smoke we can smell?’

‘Yeah,’ said Jack. ‘Like a coal fire mixed with a sort of cooking smell.’

‘And something rotten, like food that’s gone off, unless that’s the gas,’ Bam added. ‘Not nice at all. What if the fire spreads right up to the museum?’

‘It won’t,’ said Jack. ‘It’s been too wet lately.’

‘If it’s hot enough, it’ll burn anything,’ Ed pointed out. ‘No matter how wet.’

‘Come on, guys,’ said Jack, moving off. ‘Let’s get on. There’s nothing we can do about it.’

‘Yeah,’ said Ed, and he coughed. He definitely tasted smoke in the air.


‘Who’s this Angus Day, then?’

The younger kids from the Brains Trust had come through into the museum café to get away from Matt and the rest of his gang who were out in the atrium having a religious discussion, and Harry was proudly showing off his fancy lettering.

Day,’ he sneered, mocking their stupidity. ‘It says

‘Well, who’s Agnes Day?’ said Jibber-jabber. ‘And why have you made a flag for her? Is she your girlfriend?’

‘It’s Latin, dumbo,’ Harry explained, with as much scorn in his voice as he could. ‘It means “Lamb of the Lord”.’

‘That definitely says Angus Day, actually,’ said Wiki. ‘You’ve written
. And
is spelt D-E-I, not D-A-Y.’

‘You’re joking,’ said Harry. ‘I’ve not got it wrong, have I? Matt’ll kill me. We spent ages working on this.’

‘You’re not even close,’ said Wiki.

‘Bollocks, I knew I should have got Matt to write it down for me.’

‘Write what down?’ said Matt, walking in with Archie Bishop and the other acolytes.

‘The name of your new god,’ said Wiki.

‘Why? What’s he done?’ Matt read the banner. ‘You idiot, Harry. What is that? You’ve ruined it. We’ll have to start all over again now.’

‘Bit of a boring name for a new god, Matt,’ said Jibber-jabber. ‘Angus can’t really compete with Thor or Zeus or Buddha.’

‘Yeah,’ said Wiki, joining in the fun. ‘Jehovah, Hades, Baal, Osiris, they sound really exciting, but Angus Day sounds more like a newsreader.’

‘Maybe it’s on purpose,’ said Archie seriously, and everyone turned to look at him, including Matt, who was red-faced with anger and embarrassment.

‘I didn’t do it on purpose!’ Harry protested. ‘I was doing my best. I really was. I thought I’d got it right.’

‘Exactly,’ said Archie. ‘So maybe the Lamb was working through you. It’s like the pages, and Matt’s visions – we don’t choose any of it. Everything has been shown to us by the Lamb. Isn’t that right, Matt?’

‘Er, yeah, that’s right,’ said Matt, backing Archie up but not really sure where this was going.

‘So the Lamb must have been working through Harry,’ Archie went on. ‘Showing him something that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. He
Harry put the wrong words on there. Except they’re
wrong, they’re right, you see? They’re what he was supposed to paint on there all along.’

‘Angus Day?’ said Jibber-jabber, not sounding convinced. ‘Why would he want you to write Angus Day?’

‘We don’t know why, not yet, but we’ll find out,’ said Archie. ‘It’ll be shown to us.’

Matt stood there, struggling to find something good in this. He could see what Archie was doing. He was trying to make the best of it and stop the others from laughing at them. But Matt
wished that Harry hadn’t got it so wrong. Not
bloody words.

Angus Day! If Matt wasn’t so furious, he would have been laughing too.

One of Jordan’s boys came in. He glanced expressionlessly at the banner then looked round at the kids.

‘Your mates are back,’ he said. ‘Nice flag. Who’s Angus Day?’


The smell had got worse – deeper, thicker, more intense. It was a strange mixture of familiar comforting smells, like bonfires and barbecues and wood-burning stoves, all jumbled up with unpleasant smells that shouldn’t go together with them – rotting food, chemistry lessons, dust and blocked toilets.

‘How come we can smell rotting food and cooking food at the same time?’ said Bam, wrinkling his nose as he walked.

‘Maybe it’s not rotting food,’ said Ed. ‘Maybe it’s chemicals of some sort.’

‘Great,’ said Bam. ‘We’re probably being poisoned as we speak.’

‘It’s the gas from the holders,’ said Jack. ‘Must be.’

Ed stopped in the road. ‘Should we turn back?’

‘You can cut out if you want,’ said Jack, who carried on walking. ‘But I’m not giving up now.’

‘Wait, guys, look at that.’

Bam was staring at a big redbrick building that rose up six storeys high.

‘That’s the main stand of the Oval cricket ground,’ said Ed. ‘I was there last summer.’

‘I know what it is,’ said Bam. ‘I don’t mean the Oval, I mean

Ed and Jack peered at the building, trying to work out what Bam was going on about.

And then they saw it.

Clustered round the gates to the ground were police cars, military vehicles, crowd control barriers, an outside broadcast van with a TV transmitter on the roof.

People moving about.

‘Oh my God,’ said Ed, his insides lurching. ‘Is that for real?’

‘Well, it’s not a mirage, is it?’ said Jack. ‘It’s not like we’re in the desert or anything. So I’d say, yes, it must be real.’

Ed tried not to get his hopes up. Maybe, though, just maybe, they’d been wrong. Things hadn’t fallen completely apart. His heart was racing, thoughts chasing each other round his tired mind.

‘Civilization,’ said Bam. ‘If the police and the army are there, then, I mean, then we’re saved. There are people still alive, proper people, adults not affected by the disease. You know what this means, don’t you? There might be a cure after all.’

‘I don’t know,’ said Jack. ‘I don’t know what it means.’

‘Well, let’s go and find out,’ said Bam.

‘Be careful,’ said Jack. ‘I’ve seen films where the survivors try to get help and the army thinks they’re infected and they shoot them.’

‘Let’s risk it,’ said Bam.

They moved out of the road on to the pavement where they hurried along, keeping close to the buildings even though Ed pointed out that there was a greater risk of being ambushed by any sickos who might be hiding in the area.

‘Come off it,’ said Bam. ‘There won’t be any sickos within a million miles of here, not with that lot waiting for them over there.’

‘Guys?’ said Jack, slowing down.


‘Why are we assuming that the police and the army and whoever are going to be alive?’

‘Oh crap,’ said Ed, skidding to a halt and ducking behind a parked car. ‘Good point.’

‘But I can see people moving about,’ said Bam.

‘What sort of people?’ Ed asked.

‘A couple of soldiers, a policeman.’

‘Are they diseased soldiers, or are they fit and healthy soldiers?’

‘It’s too far away to tell with my lousy eyesight.’

‘Then we should be very, very bloody careful until we can be sure either way,’ said Jack.

Now they darted from car to car, trying to keep out of sight as they steadily worked their way closer.

‘When I get back to the museum, I’m going to get a pair of binocs,’ said Bam.

‘I’m going to get a tank,’ said Ed. ‘Life would be a lot easier in a tank.’

At last they were near enough to see clearly what was going on. They hid behind a big black 4×4 and peered ahead.

‘Bollocks,’ Jack hissed.

There were two soldiers and a policeman walking around, but apart from that nothing was moving. It looked like a scene from a DVD on pause. Some big disaster movie. The security forces lined up ready for action … but staying absolutely still.

There were more soldiers sitting in Jeeps, and policemen in vans, a small crowd pressed up against some barriers, and not one of them stirred.

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