Authors: Charlie Higson
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #General
‘Are there some of them in there?’ Bam asked, trying to see over Jack’s shoulder.
‘It’s hard to tell.’
‘Here, let me look.’ Bam shoved Jack aside and took his place at the window.
‘Not a pretty sight, is it? Don’t think there’s anyone in there, though … Whoa!’ He leapt back as a female teacher hurled herself at the door, squashing her face against the glass and smearing it with pus. It looked like Miss Warlock, from the English department, but it was hard to tell.
The shock made Bam burst out laughing and soon most of the other boys had joined in. Jack just stared at the door, which shook on its hinges as Miss Warlock repeatedly rammed herself against it with a whining and a slobbering noise.
Ed crept forward and risked looking in.
‘There’s more than one of them in there,’ he said. ‘We’ll have to go another way.’
‘You don’t say,’ Jack murmured.
‘And we need to be quick,’ said Ed, ignoring Jack. ‘They could break this door down if there’s enough of them. Or they might just figure out that there’s another way in – however they all got in last night.’
They backtracked down the corridor, increasingly nervous and anxious to be out of the building that was feeling more and more like a trap. When they got back to the hallway, they headed for the doors.
Jack saw what looked like a football sitting in the middle of the floor. He had an urge to race forward and kick it, an automatic response. He took several paces then came to a dead stop, almost overbalancing, like someone suddenly finding themselves at the edge of a cliff in a cartoon film.
It wasn’t a football. It was a human head. All that was left of Mr Hewitt. His eyes were open, and he looked calm and at peace. He no longer resembled the deranged maniac he’d been when Jack last saw him.
Now Bam spotted the head.
‘Bloody hell,’ he said with a laugh. ‘Better get rid of that. Bit freaky.’
He picked the head up gingerly by the hair then lobbed it across the room towards a waste bin that sat in a dark corner. Amazingly it landed cleanly inside. Bam cheered and punched the air.
Jack didn’t know whether to laugh or curl up in a ball and bang his forehead on the floor in despair. He stood there, drained of all energy, wishing he was a million miles away.
Bam, Johnno and Piers, with bits of iron bedstead, set to work on the door, trying to lever the planks off. It was slow work, made slower by the fact that the boys had hardly slept again in the night and were strung out, awkward and sluggish, their muscles not working as they should, as if the signals weren’t getting through clearly from their brains. In the end Jack couldn’t bear to watch them clumsily struggling to make any headway; he came back to life and went over to help.
As they worked, they could hear the teachers down the corridor, bashing and thumping against the kitchen door.
‘Can’t you hurry up?’ said Kwanele, who was standing back, watching, his luggage sitting neatly at his feet, for all the world as if he was waiting for a train.
‘We’re going as fast as we can,’ said Bam.
‘If you’re in so much of a hurry,’ said Jack irritably, ‘why don’t you help? Or don’t you want to get your clothes messed up?’
‘I’m not very good with my hands,’ said Kwanele, flattening a lapel on his suit jacket. ‘And, yes, I don’t want to ruin my clothes. This shirt is Comme des Garçons.’
Jack shook his head and tutted. If Kwanele wasn’t so ridiculous, the others would have long ago lost patience with him.
There was one last plank left to remove. Bigger and thicker than the others, with about ten fat nails fixing it to the door. The boys were getting in each other’s way and Johnno’s weapon slipped, gouging Piers’ hand. Piers sucked his fingers and swore at him.
There came an almighty crash from the kitchen.
Jack glanced back.
Had the door finally given out?
‘Come on, come on,’ he said, as much to the piece of wood as to the other boys. He was scrabbling at the plank with his fingers, trying to prise it loose, and he was so intent on removing it that he lost track of what was going on behind him. It was only when he heard a high-pitched scream that he turned round.
There were teachers in the hallway. Six of them, including Monsieur Morel, who had his hands at the throat of one of the Field House boys and was shaking him like a doll. The boy’s friends were battering the teacher with their makeshift weapons. The rest of them were being kept back by the Sullivan brothers and the three nerds, who stayed in a tight pack, yelling and screaming abuse.
Ed was with the rest of the boys, who were milling in a frightened circle, not sure what to do.
Johnno gave his iron strut to Jack and snatched a fire extinguisher from a bracket on the wall.
‘You get the door open,’ he shouted. ‘We’ll deal with this lot.’
Ed ran over to help Jack and between them they managed to get the bit of bedstead behind the plank. They pulled down on it with all their weight and with a horrible squealing noise the nails began to pull loose.
Johnno hit the plunger on the top of the extinguisher and a stream of white foam erupted from the hose. He aimed it at the circling teachers, blinding them.
Monsieur Morel was still savaging the boy from Field House. The blows raining down on his back seemed to be having no effect.
With a final screech, the plank popped off the door. Jack grabbed one end and raced back to Morel.
‘Out of the way!’
He swung the piece of wood at the man’s head and it stuck fast. One of the nails must have punched through his skull. Morel stood up, the plank hanging from the back of his head like a huge ponytail. He stretched out an arm towards Jack, then went stiff and shuddered before falling sideways, knocking over Miss Warlock, who slipped and slithered about on the floor, unable to stand up in a pool of melting foam.
‘Come on,’ Bam yelled from the doorway. ‘Let’s go! Let’s go!’
‘We don’t know what’s out there.’ Ed looked worried.
‘Can’t be any worse than what’s in here,’ Jack shouted as he ran over and pushed past Ed.
Ed closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to find some small scrap of courage hidden deep inside.
When he opened his eyes, he realized that he’d been left behind. The others had already gone outside. He hurried after them and found them in a tight pack, blinking in the early-morning light. The boys from Field House looked shell-shocked. Ed realized their friend hadn’t made it. He said nothing. Too sick to speak.
There didn’t appear to be anyone else around out here, but a low moan from behind him caused Ed to turn around. The teachers were emerging from the House, covered in foam. They were too sick to move fast, and the boils and sores covering their skin made them walk as if they were treading barefoot on broken glass, but the boys knew from experience that they wouldn’t stop. Once they started to follow they wouldn’t give up.
‘Leg it!’ Bam shouted, and the boys raced across the open ground towards the main school entrance.
Ed stayed at the back, helping Wiki and Arthur. They were smaller than everyone else and slower. Ed didn’t know what he’d do if one of them got left behind. He urged them on, shouting encouragement, aware all the time that the teachers were steadily lumbering along behind them.
They rounded the end of School House and headed towards the archway that led out into School Yard. Ed spotted Jack ahead. He was hanging back, staring at the administrative building by the main gates.
Ed was too scared to stop. He sprinted through the arch, but, as he ran past, Jack grabbed hold of his jacket and pulled him back.
Wiki and Arthur ran on.
‘What’s the matter?’ Ed’s voice rasped in his throat.
‘Can you see that?’ said Jack, and he blinked, as if not wanting to trust his own eyes.
Ed turned in the direction Jack was looking. For a moment he could see nothing.
‘What?’ he said, scared and angry and desperate to get away. ‘What am I looking for?’
‘Over there. The office where the school secretaries work.’
‘What? What is it …? Oh, my God.’
There was a girl at the window, hammering on the glass, her mouth forming a silent scream.
‘Who the hell is it?’
‘Dunno. Never seen her before in my life.’ Jack’s voice sounded as dry and croaky as Ed’s.
‘We should keep up with the others,’ said Ed, nervously glancing over to the road where Wiki and Arthur were disappearing from view.
‘We can’t just leave her there,’ said Jack.
‘No … I know … I didn’t mean that.’
‘Then what did you mean?’
‘I don’t know.’ Ed massaged the back of his neck. Couldn’t think of anything else to say.
‘We’re going to go and help her,’ said Jack. ‘OK?’
Ed turned back towards the archway. There was no sign of the teachers yet, but it was only a matter of time before they came through.
‘OK,’ he said.
A look of relief flooded the face of the girl in the window as they hurried over to the building. She was thin, with long hair and a slightly large nose and mouth. Her cheeks were wet with tears and her eyes red.
The boys gestured for her to open the window. She shook her head and indicated that it was locked.
‘Why doesn’t she just use the door?’ Ed asked as he and Jack went along to the front entrance. His question was immediately answered as they came upon a small pack of teachers scrabbling in the covered entranceway to get inside.
The two boys backtracked quickly and, luckily, the teachers, too intent on trying to get in, didn’t see them. When they got back to the window, the girl was crying again, and knocking uselessly against the glass with a shoe.
‘That’s no good,’ said Jack. ‘It’s toughened glass.’
Ed tried to control his fear, fighting the urge to suggest that they should leave her, and then he spotted two big green wheelie bins on the other side of the yard.
‘We could use one of them,’ he said, pointing. ‘Like a battering ram.’
‘We’ll try it,’ said Jack, and they raced across the cobbled paving to grab a bin. All the other boys had gone down the road and Ed realized he was alone with Jack in the yard.
No. Not totally alone. The first of the teachers who had attacked them inside was shuffling through the arch, still dripping with foam.
The boys trundled the bin across the cobbles, rattling and banging on its small wheels. The noise sounded like thunder and Ed was scared it would attract the teachers in the porch.
‘Stand back!’ he yelled at the girl when they were close, then he and Jack hoisted the bin up on to their shoulders and, still running, launched it at the window. There was a terrific bang as the window disintegrated. For a few seconds there was no sign of the girl, and then she slowly revealed herself in the empty window frame, looking pale and shocked.
‘Can you climb out?’ Jack asked.
‘I think so,’ said the girl, her accent strange, foreign-sounding.
‘Be careful of any broken glass,’ said Ed, remembering what had happened to Mr Hewitt last night. The girl disappeared again and when she reappeared she was carrying a duvet and some blankets which she draped over the windowsill. Then once more she went off to get something.
‘Get a move on,’ Ed murmured under his breath. The teachers were advancing across the yard, and as they drew closer Ed got a good look at them. Their eyes were yellow and bulging, their skin lumpy with boils and growths, horrible pearly blisters nestling in the folds. They were streaked with foam and one or two of them had bright red blood dribbling from their mouths. One had an ear hanging off. It flapped as he waddled along. Another had some sort of huge fleshy growth bulging out from his shirt, as if he’d swallowed a desk lamp. His whole body was twisted and misshapen.
There was a shout from the window. The girl was standing there with a large plastic carrying-box. She passed it out to Ed and he realized that there was a tabby cat inside it, huddled, terrified and shivering, down at the end. Once the cat was safely out the girl manoeuvred herself over the window ledge and Jack helped her to the ground. Her whole body was shaking and her breathing quick and shallow.
She flung her arms around Jack with a great sob and buried her face in his shoulder, soaking his jacket. She kept saying the same thing over and over, her voice muffled.
‘Thank you, thank you, thank you …’
‘We’ve got to keep moving,’ said Jack, pushing her away from him. ‘We’ve got to get away from here.’
The girl nodded and took the cat from Ed. She looked inside the box making little reassuring noises, and then spoke to the cat in what sounded like French.
Ed looked at the teachers. The girl hadn’t seen them. They were getting closer by the second.
‘We need to hurry,’ he said, and the girl tore herself away from the cat, her large eyes very wide. Even like this, her hair a mess, her face blotchy from crying, it struck Ed that she was pretty.
He tugged at her arm, but she resisted.
‘My father,’ she said. ‘I don’t know where is my father.’
‘Who’s your father?’ Ed asked, even though he knew it was a stupid thing to say.