Authors: Charlie Higson
Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult
“Bastard,” said Jibber-Jabber, his voice hoarse and choked.
“He's just scared,” said Wiki.
In the chaos below, the kids had forgotten all about Hattie.
“What about me?” she screamed. Chris saw that Cheryl had her cornered.
“Grab a book!” he shouted to her. “Hit her with itâshe looks pretty weak.”
“I can't,” Hattie whimpered.
“Yes, you can!”
But Hattie was too scared to take her eyes off Cheryl and pick out a book.
So Chris selected a heavy-looking volume from the nearest shelf and set off around the walkway, trying not to trip over his robes. Once he was above Hattie and Cheryl, he was about to raise it above his head, but he couldn't help glancing at the cover first.
He froze, incredulous. Opened the book.
“This is a first edition of
The Origin of Species
,” he breathed. “One of the most important books ever written.” He looked at it in awe.
Hattie stared up at him, openmouthed. Cheryl inched closer.
Jibber-Jabber watched Chris hesitate from the other end of the library. “You remember book four of Demon Spawn?” he shouted. “When Luke has to destroy the only copy of the book of spells, the
? To save Lilith from Xathan?”
Chris snapped out of his trance and looked up. “Yes?”
Chris's aim was better this time. The book struck Cheryl directly on the top of the head and she went down like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
“Pick that book up,” he ordered Hattie, “and hit her with it again!”
In a blind, shaky panic Hattie snatched up the heavy volume and gingerly crept closer to Cheryl, who was trying to get up onto all fours. She whacked her with the book, but it was a useless, squeamish blow, almost as if she was scared of hurting the sicko.
“Not like that,” Chris muttered to himself. “Harder.” He raised his voice.
“Hit her harder.”
“I can't. I don't know how.”
“Don't think about it. Just lift it above your head and bring it down as quickly as you can. Imagine you're Lilith crushing the devil's cockroaches in the
Cave of Sorrows
Hattie did as she was told, closing her eyes at the last moment. The book struck the back of Cheryl's head with a loud
and the sicko was smacked face-first into the carpet.
While Chris had been distracted helping Hattie, however, everything had changed down at the other end of the library. Jibber-Jabber was watching in horror as, frustrated in their attempts to get to the stairs, Simon and Louis turned their attention to Thomas and Alice. The two sickos had split up and were coming at the kids both ways around the table. Thomas darted his eyes right to left, left to right, not sure which of the two was the bigger threat. Finally, he grabbed some books from the table and started throwing them. They were mostly paperbacks, though, and not very heavy. They had little effect on the advancing sickos. Now Simon suddenly moved faster, and in their panic, Alice and Thomas collided with each other.
“Look out!” Jibber-Jabber shouted uselessly.
Thomas went down, and with surprising agility, Simon lunged at him and got hold of his right arm. At the same time Louis came at him from the other side and latched on to his left arm. Alice shrieked and started to pummel Louis on the back with her fists, at which point Louis turned to face her, baring his rotten teeth.
Jibber-Jabber could imagine the foul, fetid stink of the sicko's breath and could do nothing to help as Alice shrank away from Louis and stumbled backward, tripping over a chair.
There was an awful
as she struck her head on a radiator. Her body crumpled and she lay still on the carpet.
James was racing through the dark museum. This area hadn't been open to the public and was a maze of dingy corridors and cluttered rooms. He knew his way around pretty well but wished he had thought to pick up one of the candles Chris's team had lit in the library.
Why did they have to shout at him like that? Didn't they understand?
He was going to get help.
Yes, that was it. He hadn't run out on them. He was going to get help. There were fighters at the museum, kids whose job it was to keep a lookout, to guard the scavenging parties, to patrol the buildings and keep them safe. He had to go and find some of them. They'd be able to help the geeks.
He was just a scientist, after all. Not a warrior.
After this, though, he'd be a hero. The guy who saved the day.
He burst through the connecting door that led to the main part of the museum at the back of the big exhibition hall, and hared toward the stairs.
Oh my God
â¦How could this have happenedâ¦?
He tried to stop. Skidded.
He was teetering on the top step. Hanging there.
The three sickos from the truck weren't the only ones to have gotten into the museumâthere were about twenty more of them coming up the wide marble staircase in the half-light.
Things seemed to happen in slow motion. James could do nothing to stop his center of gravity from tipping over. He windmilled his arms, trying to grab hold of thin air. His feet scrabbled for purchase.
And then he felt himself falling, toppling over, crashing painfully down the steps. He rolled over once, smashed his face into a step, and at last came to a halt.
He moaned, trying to get his bearings. He had come to rest among a forest of legs. All around him were bare feet with clawlike toenails, blackened with filth. Then hands reached down toward him, plucking at his clothes; one got him by the hair and pulled him up. He sobbed, felt tears rolling down his cheeks. He was alone. He tried to shout for help, but no sound would come. He felt fingers probing his face, poking into his mouth. He bit down hard and tasted rotten meat and the sharp iron tang of blood.
There was a rip as his suit jacket was pulled from his back. He tried to lash out, but the sickos were all around him, closing in tight, making it impossible to move. He was aware of hot breath and the close-up rancid stink of them. Ragged fingernails clawed at his face, his stomach. Then the first set of teeth sank into his arm and the pain was so intense he at last found his voice. He cried outâa long, wavering wail of despair.
It was too late. More mouths fixed on to him, biting into any soft flesh they could find. A finger slid under his eyelid, forcing its way deep into the socket.
Oh my God
Lips fastened on to his eyeball, suckingâ¦.
Oh my God, NOâ¦!
Chris had come down from the walkway. There was nothing else he could do. This was his library. His event. The kids were all there because of him. He was the oldest. He had a responsibility to them.
He picked up a book from the table and walked toward Simon and Louis, who were still fighting over Thomas. Thomas had gone limp. His head flopped from side to side on his thin neck as they jerked him about.
Hattie had bravely gone to her sister and was slapping her face, trying to wake her. It was only a matter of time before one of the sickos switched his attention to them.
Chris took a deep breath and strode quickly toward Simon, who had his back to him.
The father turned around and Chris felt a strange lurch inside. He was back in the old world. Watching the TV. The man in front of him wasn't a disease-mangled sicko; he was smartly turned out, wearing a white shirt with a gray suit. He was talking to an interviewer. He was funny and interesting.
What had James called him? Simon Foul?
That wasn't his real name.
He had changed. The disease had chewed away at his features. His skin was distorted with lumps and boils and growths. You could still just about recognize him, though.
“You're Anthony Nash,” said Chris. For a moment a look of intelligence came into the man's dark and poisoned eyes. He hesitated.
“You signed one of my books once.”
But the look faded from Nash's eyes as quickly as it had appeared. He was once again just a hungry animal. He jumped at Chris.
Chris was ready for him. He took a step forward and swung the book into Nash's face in a wide, straight-armed arc. It crunched into him with a spray of blood and snot and pus, splattering his nose and sending him sprawling.
Chris kept moving, eyes fixed on Louis.
“You'd better not be Michael Morpurgo,” he said, and took the father under the chin with a backhand on his return swing. Louis's head snapped back and he almost somersaulted in the opposite direction.
Chris picked up Thomas.
“Now!” he shouted. “Let's get World Book Day started! Release your weapons!”
Books rained down from the upper level. Some opened in flight, releasing their pages; others exploded as they hit the two sickos. Pages fluttered in the air like butterflies; books crashed down with loud cracks. A cloud of dust rose and swirled. It was a magical scene in the candlelightâthe library, full of dancing paper, had become a snow globe.
Chris stood there, transfixed.
“Beautiful,” he said. “Like something out of Harry Potter.”
Slowly, the two fathers were buried.
“We'd better get out of here!” His assistant Lettis was shaking him. The other kids had come down.
“Yeah.” Chris smiled as the last pages floated down around him.
Hattie was helping Alice to her feet. Her sister was confused, dazed, and unsteady, but at least conscious.
“Are we all right?” she said.
“We will be if we get out of here,” said Jibber-Jabberâand he was the first out the door.
They emerged into the corridor and formed a tight group, huddled together for comfort, but as they advanced down the shadowy passageway, they all suddenly froze as one.
“What is it?” whispered Jibber-Jabber, and then he saw. A group of figures was moving stealthily toward them.
Jibber-Jabber was clutching a heavy bookâprepared to fight if he had to.
The figures drew closer.
JJ let out his breath. He could see that two of them were holding candles, and one had a flashlight. They couldn't be sickos. They had to be other kids.
He was right. It was a group of well-armed boys and girls. They looked shocked and slightly bewildered but were relieved to see Chris's group unharmed. Their leader, a stocky, muscular girl called Jackson, stepped forward.
“You lot okay?”
“Yeah, we're fine,” said Jibber-Jabber. “No problem. Geeks three, zombies nil.”
“Zombies?” said Jackson. “You know they're not really zombies, don't you?”
“Yeah,” said Jibber-Jabber. “And we're not really geeks, either.”
Charlie Higson is an acclaimed comedy writer, producer, and actor. He is the author of
The Enemy, The Dead,
as well as the internationally bestselling Young Bond series:
SilverFin, Blood Fever, Double or Die, Hurricane Gold,
By Royal Command.
He lives in London, England. Follow him on Twitter at: