Authors: Charlie Higson
Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult
Before he could say anything else, Wiki and Jibber-Jabber backed out of the truck and hopped down onto the cracked Tarmac of the parking lot, gulping in fresh air.
“I guess we'll put him down as a no, then,” said Jibber-Jabber. At that, Wiki managed a hollow laugh.
“What does he mean nobody writes books about adults eating children?”
Jibber-Jabber had never seen Chris Marker get angry before. Maybe it was the generally feeble response to his World Book Day event that had wound him up. Apart from Jibber-Jabber, Wiki, and four of the kids who worked with Chris in the library, only three others had turned up. Two sisters called Hattie and Alice, and a quiet, shy boy called Thomas. Or maybe it was just that Chris didn't like anyone making fun of his beloved books. He was red-faced now, striding up and down the library, his fists clenched at his sides. Jibber-Jabber watched as he stormed past the stacked shelves, which rose several meters to the high ceiling. There were a lot of shelves in here, a lot of books. To get to the higher shelves, you had to climb an iron-framed spiral staircase up to a gallery that ran all the way around the room.
“That just shows he never reads,” Chris ranted on. “There are
of stories about adults eating children.”
“Millions?” said Wiki, who was very keen on facts, and hated generalizations.
“Well, maybe not millions,” Chris conceded. “But there are loads. I mean, what about âHansel and Gretel,' or âJack and the Beanstalk'?”
“I don't remember Jack being eaten by sickos,” said Jibber-Jabber. “I remember the beanstalk, and the castle and the magic singing harp, and the chicken that lays golden eggs, and theâ”
“He doesn't get eaten,” said Chris, cutting him off before he retold the whole story. “He's clever. He gets away.”
“And it's a giant in the story,” said Wiki. “An ogre, not a human.”
“Whenever I was read that story when I was little,” said Chris, calming down slightly, “I imagined the giant as a grown-up, and Jack as a boy.”
“I suppose so, yeah, you're right,” said Jibber-Jabber. “I can see that. I mean, he can't have been, like, miles high, can he? More like, yeah, as you say, a very big manâ¦with a beard.”
“And what does he say?” Chris went on. “What's his catchphrase?”
“Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman,”
said Hattie, the older of the two sisters. She spoke dreamily, as if digging up a long-forgotten memory. A happy memory, despite the meaning of the words.
“Be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread.”
“Exactly,” said Chris. “He's a cannibal. So is the witch in âHansel and Gretel.' It's the same with âThe Juniper Tree,' âLittle Red Riding Hood,' âSleeping Beauty'â¦”
“Wha-at?” Jibber-Jabber looked amazed. What was Chris going on about now? He'd seen the Disney version of
and couldn't remember any scenes of cannibalism in it.
“Read the original,” said Chris. “It's all in there. And what about the Greek myths?”
“What about them?” Everyone looked around as James came in. He'd swapped his white lab coat for a dark suit and was wearing a piece of black material around his neck as a DIY tie. Add to this a pair of borrowed glasses and a scar crudely drawn on his face with felt pen and it was clear he'd come as Harry Potter. It was also clear that he wasn't taking Chris's event terribly seriously.
“The Greek myths are full of cannibals,” said Chris patiently. “Like the Cyclops in the
. And there are plenty of tales about adults eating children.” He had fully calmed down now, and returned to his old, slightly withdrawn self.
“Yeah?” James sat down at the big central table and slumped down in his seat, his legs splayed. “So what?”
“I bet you've never read any Greek myths,” said Chris, and James snorted.
“Why would I want to read any of that crap?” he said. “I'm a scientist. I don't waste my time reading made-up stories. I read textbooks. Books that are about something real. I'm doing something useful. Not like you losers. I mean, I saw
Clash of the Titans
in 3-Dâthat was Greek. It was useless.”
“It had nothing to do with the real Greek myths!” said Chris.
“Who cares?” James cast a weary look over the books piled up on the table. “Nobody ate any kids in it.”
“3-D's rubbish,” said Jibber-Jabber.
“Well, unless they completely changed the story,” said Chris, “it should start with the baby Perseus being thrown into the sea in a locked chest. They weren't trying to eat him, but they
trying to kill him.”
“Boring,” said James.
“You probably think that
is just a funny word that sounds like
,” said Chris. And James snorted again.
“It's a planet,” he said. “Everyone knows that.”
“And it's named after a Greek god,” said Chris.
“There was a god called
?” James said the name with relish and laughed. “That is one embarrassing name for a god. If I was a god, I'd much rather be called something cool like Thor or Zeus, or something.”
“Uranus was the first ruler of the Greek gods,” Chris said, ignoring James. “Before Zeus. He was the god of the sky. His son Cronos wanted to take over the universe, though, and attacked his father with a sickle.”
“It's a tool with a big curved blade for cutting down crops.”
“So who won?”
“Cronos. He cut his dad's privates off and threw them into the sea.”
“But after Cronos took over, he heard of a prophecy that his own children would do the same thing to himârise up and overthrow him. So he ate them, one by one, as they were born.”
“One of them escaped, though,” said Chris. “His youngest son, Zeus.”
“Yeah, as I say, I've heard of him.”
“And when Zeus was old enough, he slit his father's belly open and freed his brothers and sisters, and that was the end of Cronos.”
“Cool story,” said James. “But Cronos was hardly a sicko, was he?”
“He was pretty sick,” said Jibber-Jabber. “I mean, he chopped his dad's dangly bits off and chucked them into the sea. That's pretty sick, I reckon. On a scale of one to ten that's definitely at least a nine.”
“Yeah, I guess.” James had been idly fiddling with a stack of books, poking and prodding them, and now they collapsed across the table.
Chris tutted. “What are you doing here, anyway?” he said, tidying the books.
“What does it look like, noob? I've come for your World Book Gay event.”
“Are you supposed to be Harry Potter?” said Wiki.
“No, I'm supposed to be
,” said James, pronouncing it “your anus” again. “That's why I look so ugly and stupid.”
“If you've just come to ruin everything, you can sod off,” said Chris.
“Oh, so this is an exclusive event, is it?” said James. “Not open to everyone? I'm not good enough to read your precious books? And there I was thinking maybe you could teach me something.”
“No, you weren't,” said Chris. “You've just come to laugh at us.”
“Yeah,” said Wiki. “This was supposed to be something fun, something for us lot. We don't need you wrecking it.”
James put his hands up in surrender, with a pantomime-innocent expression.
“What did I do?” he said. “I'm here, aren't I? I've even brought some reading glasses. So what's the deal? When does it start? Do I get a badge and a certificate saying âI am a reading nerd'?”
“Go away, James.”
“I've got as much right to be here as you lot.”
Hattie came over to James. She was tall, with a round face and slightly goofy teeth.
“Please don't spoil it for us, James,” she said. “I've been really looking forward to this.”
“Who are you supposed to be?” said James, looking Hattie up and down. She was wearing some old-fashioned clothing she'd lifted from the Victoria and Albert Museum next doorâa long skirt and a bonnet.
“I'm Elizabeth Bennet from
Pride and Prejudice
, if you really want to know.”
“I don't really, no.” James looked at the others, sizing them up. “Okay, Wiki and Jibber-Jabber, what are you? A couple of hobbits from
The Lord of the Rings
“Thomas? Ermâ¦no. You're going to have to help me out.”
“I'm Alex Rider.”
“Yeah, right. What about you, Chris? You're a wizard of some sort. Gandalf? Dumbledore?”
“Rincewind, actually, from the Discworld novels. Lookâyou can stay if you want, James, as long as you don't ruin it for everyone else.”
James leaned back in his chair, putting his hands behind his head. “I only came to hear the fairy stories.”
“Just ignore him,” said Hattie's younger sister, Alice (who was dressed as Alice from
Alice in Wonderland
). “We can still do what we were going to do.”
“That's right,” said James.
Chris sighed. The event had not got off to a good start. He glanced at the big windows that were set into the wall all down one side of the library, overlooking the parking lot. The stars were coming out. At this rate it was going to be a long night.
If Chris had looked out the library windows, he might have spotted a dark shape moving across the parking lot. Nobody was supposed to be out here at night, but as part of the security team and the official keeper of the sickos on the truck, Paul had keys to everywhere. He darted behind one of the chicken coops and scanned the windows of the library, two stories above him. They were lit with a soft orange glow from the candles the kids were burning. All the other windows were black squares. Most of the kids would be getting ready for bed in the main exhibition hall of the museum. The only risk of being seen was from one of Chris Marker's lot, the bloody book nerds. He hoped they were too involved in their stupid
to notice anything going on out here. He'd do what he had to do and get away fast.
He moved over to the truck in a low crouch and pushed the shutter up as quietly as he could, then scooted up onto the tailgate. He grabbed a flashlight from where it hung near the opening, and pulled aside the drapes. He pushed the button forward and shone the light on his three sickos, nudging them from their sleep. They hissed and gurned at him, angry at being disturbed.
“Time to come out and play,” he said, sliding a key into the padlock that held their cage shut. “It's judgment time.”
He'd show the kids. Show them what the world was really like now, make them suffer like he had suffered, like his little sister Olivia had suffered. He rattled the padlock loose and swung open the door of the cage. He walked over to Cheryl. She waved her skinny arms at him. Her nails had grown long and horny, like claws. She was weak, though. By herself she could do very little, but with her friends, with Simon and Louisâ¦Well, let's face it, even the three of them wouldn't do that much damage.
Three against sixty wasn't great odds.
That was why Paul had already opened the doors in the basement of the museum as well. Behind those doors, shut away in the dark corridors, lurked an army of sickos, just waiting to enter the upper levels of the museum and feed. They'd found their way down there somehow, drawn by the scent of children. And now they would be able to find their way up to where the children lived.
He unfastened the chains that held Cheryl in place, and kicked her as she made a move toward him. Then he went over to Louis and fiddled with his chain. The sicko snapped at Paul like an untrained guard dog and Paul slapped him away.
“Behave yourself,” he said. “I'm letting you go, you stupid creep. It's not me you want to attack.”