Read The Dead Online

Authors: Charlie Higson

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #General

The Dead (9 page)

But so far they’d seen no other people. Living or dead. They’d made it to the outskirts of the town. The shops had mostly given way to houses and small businesses. They passed a doctor’s surgery; a dentist; the local pub, the Hop Sack, its windows blackened by fire. There was a big Tesco up ahead and, after that, beyond the common, was ‘Futures Enterprise Zone’, known by the locals as ‘The Fez’, an ugly modern retail and industrial park, whose main occupants were a carpet warehouse and a tool-hire company.

Arthur and Wiki were walking along with a boy called Stanley, who had been part of the chapel group. They were having an intense conversation about whether you got wetter walking or running.

‘Scientifically, the less time you spend in the rain, the less wet you’ll get,’ Wiki was explaining. ‘So you’re better off running. As long as you’re running towards a shelter.’

‘We had floods last year,’ said Arthur, ‘at home. It rained really hard for two days and nights and the river burst its banks, it was like the streets had become a river, you had to use boats to get anywhere, it was really fun, and I thought it would be probably the most exciting thing that was ever going to happen in my life, you know, like a disaster movie, you see them in the cinema and you think, that looks incredible, but it’s never going to happen to me, because, mostly, living in England it used to be pretty boring, not any more, though, this is more extreme than a flood, much more, it’s maybe not as cool as a flood, and it’s more, you know, terrifying, but it is like a real disaster movie, and I never thought that was going to happen.’

When they got to Tesco, they stopped to take a look, but the place had been cleaned out and set on fire. All the food and drink had been looted from the petrol station next to it as well, but there were a few useful items still on the shelves, torches, cigarette lighters, batteries and a stack of road atlases.

Bam opened one out on the counter.

‘Look,’ he said, pointing to the map with a stubby finger. ‘This is us, here, in Rowhurst. We’re going this way, south-west, past The Fez. After that there are fewer and fewer buildings and then we’ll start to be in the countryside. Not proper countryside, though, still lots of town and villages and whatnot. We’ll need to go more west to this open area here towards Sevenoaks and Maidstone. That’s proper farmland, that is. We’ll get a pretty decent idea of what to expect once we’re there. And it’s near enough to some major towns if we decide the country life isn’t for us after all.’

‘Looks like a plan,’ said Ed.

When they got outside, they found the group of boys from Field House were throwing bricks at a glossy black Mercedes that had been left in the car park. They were trying to break the windscreen, but so far the bricks were just bouncing off.

‘Stand aside!’ said Bam, and he picked up a huge block of masonry.

He ran at the car and hefted his missile at it with a grunt.

This time the glass shattered and the boys cheered.

The bang had seemed startlingly loud, as did the wailing alarm that followed it. It shrieked for about thirty seconds then stopped.

The silence that followed was perhaps even more extreme. There were no angry shouts from adults, no sound of traffic, no aeroplanes overhead, no music …

The boys too were quiet. Thoughtful. They were in a world of silence now, something that none of them had ever really known before. The comforting hum and buzz of civilization had ceased.

‘Come on,’ Bam shouted. ‘Let’s hear some noise! What’s happened to the singing? We’re on the road, a band-of-brothers, team effort and all that! How about a group hug before we go?’

‘What?’ Ed looked at him as if he’d lost his mind.

‘Joke. OK?’ said Bam, laughing. ‘Don’t lose your sense of humour, Ed me old mate. Now
ándale
,
ándale
! Let’s get motoring.’

As they marched off singing the car alarm started up again as if cheering them on.

12

Jack was trudging along in the opposite direction out of town, wondering if he’d made the right decision. Apart from Matt and Archie Bishop and their six young acolytes nobody else had come with him and he was beginning to feel very alone.

Matt wouldn’t shut up. He seemed to be able to talk tirelessly about his new religion. Spouting a non-stop stream of babble. To make it worse, if he ever paused, one of the acolytes would ask him a question and he’d be off again.

He was droning on now about what they could expect when they got to London.

‘… it will be changed by the Lamb to become a city of pure gold, as pure as glass, like transparent glass with twelve gates made of pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. You see? And there will be food, more food than we can eat, and clean water.’

‘But won’t it be hard to get there?’ asked Phil, the smallest acolyte.

‘The Lamb will test us,’ said Matt, and he scrabbled through his scorched pages for a couple of minutes before he found the passage he was looking for. ‘
The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. The second angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sea turned into blood, and a third of the ships were destroyed
. You see, we’ll have to go through fire, and rivers of blood.’

‘And a shipwreck?’ asked another acolyte.

‘Maybe.’

‘That sounds a bit scary,’ said Phil. ‘This is all a bit too real. It was all right in the chapel. I don’t like it out here. It’s like a ghost town.’


Do not be afraid
,’ said Matt, quoting again. ‘
I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One. I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades
. You see? The Lamb will look after us.’

Jack sighed. He didn’t have an iPod he could plug into his ears. The battery had long ago died on him. He wasn’t sure he could put up with seven hours of this.

13

Ed was walking along with Malik and Bam. Bam as cheerful as ever. It seemed that not even the rain could spoil his good mood.

‘Don’t you ever get miserable, Bam?’ Ed asked.

‘Nope.’

‘Or scared?’

‘Nope.’

‘Why not? What’s your secret?’

‘I have no imagination,’ Bam said in a very matter-of-fact way. ‘Never have done. Never will. Works just fine for me.’

‘Do you think we’re doing the right thing?’ Ed said quietly. ‘Going to the countryside and everything?’

‘God knows,’ said Bam. ‘Just don’t think about it, mate. Onwards and upwards and outwards!’ With that Bam gave Ed a hefty slap on the back and strode off to catch up with his friend Piers.

‘You worry about things, don’t you, Ed?’ said Malik. ‘You never used to.’

‘There’s a lot to worry
about
.’

‘We’re going to be all right, Ed. We’ll find a barn to sleep in. A river to drink from. Maybe there’ll be cows we can milk, sheep and chickens.’

‘Pigs,’ Ed added.

‘Technically I’m not supposed to eat pork,’ said Malik. ‘But I guess God might let me off if I’m just trying to stay alive.’

‘It’ll be like going back to Victorian times,’ said Ed. ‘We can set up a sort of commune.’

‘We’ll need to find some girls,’ said Malik.

‘What, you mean to clean and cook?’

‘No.’ Malik shook his head in exasperation. ‘That’s not what I meant.’

‘All right, don’t sound so misunderstood, Malik,’ Ed protested. ‘I know what your lot are like when it comes to women – keeping them in the home doing the housework and all that.’

‘We’re not all like that, Ed. Just like you Christians aren’t all the same.’

‘I’m not sure I am a Christian,’ Ed said.

‘Whatever.’ Malik shrugged. ‘I meant we’ll need to find some girls if we want to start repopulating the world.’

‘Fair point. We’ve got Frédérique for a start. We’ll find others. Nice country wenches.’

‘Let’s hope we can persuade them to join us,’ said Malik. ‘I don’t know that much about girls.’

‘Do you ever wish you’d gone to a mixed-sex school?’ Ed asked.

‘My parents would never have allowed it,’ said Malik. ‘They’re not that strict Muslims, but there are some things they’re quite old-fashioned about.’

‘They don’t know about that girlfriend you had that time?’

‘No way.’

‘Whatever happened to her, anyway?’

‘She dumped me for an older boy,’ said Malik. ‘He had his own car and everything. Plus he didn’t have any pesky Muslim hang-ups.’

‘How very shallow,’ said Ed, putting on a nasal nerdy voice.

‘Indeed,’ said Malik, copying the voice. ‘How very shallow.’

Johnno the rugby player was walking next to Frédérique, trying to get her to come out of her shell. She plodded along, head bent forward, hair hanging down like a veil. All Johnno could see of her face was the tip of her long nose, but he could tell that she was still miserable. Her shoulders were slumped and she barely lifted her feet as she walked, as if each step was a huge effort.

He tried asking her about her cat, about France, about her school, but he could get nothing out of her, not even a grunt. In the end he told her about himself. He thought at least it might distract her. He told her how he had grown up in Dover. How his dad worked for the customs department at the ferry port. How he had two sisters, his parents were divorced and he’d got into the school on a sports scholarship. He explained how he lived for rugger. The French played rugger too, so he thought she might be interested in that, even though in his experience girls weren’t really that much into rugger.

‘I’m into music as well,’ he said. ‘It’s not just rugger. I don’t much like indie music, though, and hate R&B. I like anything LOUD.’

He couldn’t remember when he’d last heard any music. You needed electricity to hear anything. Had all the music in the world just disappeared along with the power? What a weird idea, to think that there would be no more AC/DC, no more Led Zep and Nirvana and the Rolling Stones and the Stone Roses …

Best not say anything about all that to Frédérique; he was meant to be cheering her up, wasn’t he? He’d only bring her down even further if he started to point out all the things that no longer existed because there wasn’t any electricity.

The Internet, music, TV, films …

Bloody hell.

They were coming up to the Futures Enterprise Zone – The Fez. A modern development of low brick buildings each with its own parking area in front.

Bam caught up with Johnno.

‘I’ve been thinking,’ he said.

‘Are you sure that’s a good idea?’ Johnno asked with a grin.

‘Ha, ha, laughed the man,’ said Bam. ‘No, listen, there’s that tool-hire place in The Fez. We should check it out. We could really get tooled up, if you’ll pardon the pun. Most of us have still only got bits of broken bed and sticks. There’ll be axes in there, crowbars …
chainsaws.

He said ‘chainsaws’ with such relish that Johnno smiled.

‘Might be worth a look,’ he said.

‘Come on then.’

Bam spread the news and they veered off the road into The Fez, which looked as deserted as everywhere else in Rowhurst.

They passed the carpet warehouse and there ahead of them was the tool-hire shop. It looked untouched, though there was evidence of fire damage to the laminating factory to the right. The steel shutter over the loading bay was rolled up and inside it was blackened and sooty.

Ed and Malik were in the middle of the party, still discussing girls. Not really paying much attention to where they were.

‘We’ve got to think practically,’ Malik was saying. ‘We need to make sure the human race doesn’t die out. It’s hard to imagine – but us lot, we’re the future.’

Ed looked around at the others. ‘It’s not much of a future, is it? A bunch of public school boys and a girl with a cat in a box.’

‘We’ll find other kids,’ said Malik. ‘We can’t be the only ones who’ve survived.’

‘Well, it’s certainly looking that way so far,’ said Ed.

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