The Dead


By Charlie Higson

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 14, 2011. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

The disease only affects people sixteen or older. It starts with the symptoms of a cold. Then the skin begins to itch, and spots appear–spots that soon turn into pus-filled boils. But the worst part is the headache, the inner voices that tell you that you need to eat them . . . the young ones. When the Disaster strikes, the world turns upside down for Ed, Jack, Bam and the other students at Rowhurst School. The parents and older siblings they left back at home are dead–or worse. Once the teachers go on the attack, the kids know it’s time to escape and make their way to the city. It’s got to be better in London . . . or will it be worse?


Books by Charlie Higson



Blood Fever

Double or Die

Hurricane Gold

By Royal Command

SilverFin: The Graphic Novel


The Enemy

The Dead

The Fear

The Sacrifice

The Fallen

The Hunted


Mr. Hewitt was crawling through the broken window. Sliding over the ledge on his belly. Hands groping at the air, fingers clenching and unclenching, arms waving as if he were trying to swim the breaststroke. In the half-light Jack could just make out the look on his pale yellowing face. A stupid look. No longer human. Eyes wide and staring. Tears of blood dribbling from under his eyelids. Tongue lolling out from between cracked and swollen lips. Skin covered with boils and sores.

Jack stood there frozen, the cricket bat held tight in sweating hands. He knew he should step forward and whack Mr. Hewitt as hard as he could in the head, but his right arm ached all the way down. He’d been swinging the bat all night, and the last time he’d hit a teacher it had jarred his shoulder. Now it hurt just to hold the bat, which felt like a lead weight in his hands.

He knew that wasn’t the real reason, though. When it came down to it, he couldn’t bring himself to hit Mr. Hewitt. He’d always liked him. He’d been Jack’s English teacher for the last year. He was one of the youngest and most popular teachers in the school, always talking to the boys about films and TV and video games, not in a creepy way, not to get in with the kids, simply because he was genuinely interested in the same things that they were. When the disease hit, when everything started to go wrong, Mr. Hewitt had done everything he could to help the boys. Trying to contact parents and make arrangements, keeping their spirits up, comforting them, reassuring them, always searching for food and water, making the buildings safe…

And when it had gotten really bad, when those adults who’d gotten sick but hadn’t died had started to turn on the kids, attacking them like wild animals, Mr. Hewitt had helped fight them off.

He’d been tireless, and it had looked like he might escape the sickness.

He’d been a hero.

And now here he was, crawling slowly, slowly, slowly into the lower common room like some huge, clumsy lizard. He raised his head, stretching his neck, and wheezed at Jack, bloody saliva bubbling between his teeth. Jack could see two more teachers behind him, attempting in their own mindless way to get to the window.

Jack swallowed. It hurt his throat. He hadn’t had anything to drink all day. They were running low on water and trying to ration it. His head throbbed. This was the second night the teachers had attacked in force. Jack’s second night without sleep. The stress and the tiredness were turning him slightly crazy. His heart felt all fluttery and he was constantly on the edge of losing it, breaking down into uncontrollable sobbing, or laughter, or both. He was seeing things everywhere, out of the corner of his eye, shapes moving in the shadows. He would shout a warning and turn to look and there would be nothing there.

Mr. Hewitt was real, though, something out of a waking nightmare, slithering in, inch by inch.

The last hour had been a chaotic panicked scramble of running around in the dark from room to room, checking doors, windows, battering back any teachers that got past the defenses. And then they’d heard breaking glass in the lower common room, and he and Ed had come charging in to see what was happening.

And there was Mr. Hewitt.

Jack couldn’t do this alone. He looked for Ed and saw him crouched down behind an overturned table, his gray face poking over the top, eyes white-rimmed and staring. Ed, his best mate. Ed, who everyone thought was cool. Clever without being cocky or a suck-up. Good-looking Ed, who all the girls went for. Ed, who beat him at tennis without really trying. Jack had always felt second in line to him, even though the two of them did everything together, hung out all the time, shared books and comics and music, played on the same football team, the same cricket team.

Last year the school had produced a glossy booklet advertising itself to new parents, and there on the front cover was Ed—the boy most likely to succeed. The happy, smiling, confident face of Rowhurst.

Well, this was the new face of the school, hiding behind a table, scared halfway to death, while the teachers crawled in through a broken window.

Ed reminded Jack of someone.

The Scared Kid.

Ed was totally bricking it, and his fear was making him next to useless.

“Help me,” Jack croaked.

“I’m keeping watch,” said Ed, a slight catch in his voice.

Yeah, right, keeping watch….Keeping safe is more like it.

Jack sighed. His own tiredness and fear were turning him bitter.

“If you won’t help,” he said, “at least go and get one of the others.”

Ed shook his head. “I’m staying with you.”

“Then do something,” Jack shouted. “Hewitt’s nearly through. I need help here.”

“What…? What do you want me to do?”

Jack rubbed his shoulder. He’d had enough of the school. He’d had enough of this mess, night after night, the same bloody ritual. Right now he’d rather be anywhere else than here.

Most of all he wanted to be at home, though. Back in his own house, in his own room, with his own things. Under his comforter, with the world shut out.


He tossed the bat to Ed. It bounced off the table and ended up on the carpet.

“Hit him, Ed,” he said.

“I’m not sure I can,” Ed replied.

“Pick up the bat and hit him.” Jack felt tears come into his eyes. He squeezed them tight and pinched the wetness away. “Please, Ed, just hit him.”

“And then what?” Ed asked. “They just keep coming, Jack. We can’t kill them all.”

“Hit him, Ed! For God’s sake, just hit him!”

Ed looked at the bat, lying in a strip of moonlight on the worn-out carpet. The electricity had gone off three weeks ago. Nights were blacker than he had ever known they could be.

He didn’t know what to do. He knew he should help Jack, but he was paralyzed. If he did nothing, though, wouldn’t it be worse? The teachers would get him, just as they’d gotten Jamey and Adam and Will. They’d come in with their horrible filthy nails and their hungry teeth. They’d grab him….

Maybe that would be better. To get it over with. All he could see ahead of him was a never-ending string of dark nights spent fighting off adults, as, one by one, his friends were all killed.

Get it over with.

Shut your eyes, lie down, and that would be that….

He saw a hand reaching out toward the bat. As if he were watching a film. As if it were happening to someone else. The fingers closed around the handle.

His fingers.

He picked up the bat and raised himself to a standing position. The blood was pounding in his head and he felt like he was going to throw up at any moment. If he came out from behind the table and ran forward now, he could get Mr. Hewitt before he was fully through the window and on his feet. He could help Jack. They’d be okay.


He pushed the table out of the way and crept forward. What if Mr. Hewitt sped up, though? What if all the diseased adults weren’t slow and confused? It was easy to make a mistake. Every boy who’d been taken had made some stupid mistake. Had been careless.

Ed raised the bat just as Hewitt flopped onto the floor. For a moment he lay there, unmoving. Ed wondered if he was dead. Then the teacher rolled his head from side to side and forced himself up so that he was squatting on the sticky carpet. He belched and vomited a stream of thin clear liquid down his front. It smelled awful.

“Hit him, Ed.”

Ed glanced over at Jack. He was stooped over, breathing heavily, his eyes wild and shining. Exhausted. The strawberry birthmark that covered one side of his face and gave him a permanently angry look was like a splash of blood.

“Hit him now.”

When Ed turned his attention back to Mr. Hewitt, the teacher had straightened up and was shuffling closer. There were three long jagged rips down the front of his white shirt. Ed’s eyes flicked to the window frame, where a row of vicious glass shards stuck up along the lower rim. Mr. Hewitt must have raked his torso across them as he crawled in, too stupid to realize what was happening. Blood was oozing from behind the rips and soaking his shirt. His tie had been pulled into a tight, stringy knot.

There was a noise from outside. Already other shapes were at the window, jostling with each other to get through.

Hewitt suddenly jerked and lashed out with one hand. Ed staggered back.

“Hit him, Ed,” Jack hissed angrily, on the verge of crying. “Smash his bloody skull in. Kill him. I hate him. I hate him.”

The thing was, Ed hadn’t hit a single one of them yet, and he didn’t know if he could. He didn’t know if he could swing that bat and feel it smash into bone and flesh. He’d never enjoyed fighting, had always managed to avoid anything serious. The fact that most people seemed to like him and wanted to be his friend had kept him out of trouble. He’d grown up thinking it was wrong to hit someone else, to deliberately hurt another person.

And not just any person. It was Mr. Hewitt, who until about two weeks ago had been friendly and normal….

Normal. How Ed longed for things to be normal again.

Well, they weren’t ever going to be normal again, were they? So swing that bloody bat. Feel the bone break under it….

He swung. His heart wasn’t in it, though, and there was no force to the blow. The bat bumped feebly into Mr. Hewitt’s arm, knocking him to the side. Hewitt snarled and lunged at Ed, who cried out in alarm and jumped backward. One of the table legs poked him in the back, winding him and knocking him off balance. He fell awkwardly, his head bashing against the table. He lay there for a moment in stunned confusion until a shout from Jack brought him back to his senses.

Where was the bat? He’d dropped the bat. Where was it?

It had fallen toward Mr. Hewitt, who had stepped over it. Ed couldn’t get to it now and neither could Jack. Not without shoving Hewitt out of the way.

And Hewitt was nearly upon him. There was just enough light to see the pus-filled boils that were spread across his face. He raised both his hands to chest height, ready to make a grab for Ed, and his shirt pulled out of his trousers.

“Help me, Jack!”

But before Jack could do anything, there was a bubbling, gurgling sound, like a clogged-up sink unblocking, and an appalling stink filled the room. Mr. Hewitt howled. The glass had evidently cut deeper into his belly than any of them had realized. He looked down dumbly as his skin unzipped and his guts spilled out.

Now it was Jack’s turn to vomit.

Mr. Hewitt dropped to his knees and started scooping up long coils of entrails, as if trying to stuff them back into his body. Jack moved at last. He kicked Hewitt over, grabbed the fallen bat, then ran to Ed.

“Come on,” he said, seizing Ed’s wrist and pulling him to his feet. “We’re getting out of here.”

They bundled out into the corridor, and Jack pulled the door shut.

“I’m sorry,” said Ed. “I can’t do this.”

“It’s all right,” said Jack, and he hugged Ed. “It’s all right, mate, it’s all right.”

Jack felt weird; it had always been the other way around. Ed helping Jack, Ed cool and in control, gently mocking Jack, who worried about everything. Jack never sure of himself, self-conscious about his birthmark. Not that Ed would ever say anything about it, but it was always there, like a flag. What did it matter now, though? In a list of all the things that sucked in the world, his stupid birthmark wasn’t even in the top one hundred.

“Should we try to block the door somehow?” said Ed, making an attempt to look like he was in control again.

“What with?” said Jack. “Let’s just get back upstairs to the others, yeah?”

“What about the teachers?” said Ed, glancing fearfully at the door.

“There’s nothing we can do, Ed. Maybe the rest of them will be distracted by Mr. Hewitt. I don’t know. Maybe they’ll stop to eat him. That’s all they’re looking for, isn’t it, food? You’ve seen them.”

Ed let out a crazy laugh. “Listen to you,” he said. “Listen to what you’re saying, Jack. This is nuts. Talking about people eating each other. It’s unreal.”

But Ed had seen them. A pack of teachers ripping a dead body to pieces and shoving the bloody parts into their mouths.

No. He had to try not to think about these things and concentrate on the moment. On staying alive from one second to the next.

“All right,” he said, his voice more steady now. “Let’s get back to the others. Make sure they’re all okay. We’ve got to stick together.”


Ed took hold of Jack’s arm. “Promise me, Jack, won’t you?”


“That whatever happens we’ll stick together.”

“Of course.”

Ed smiled.

“Let’s go,” said Jack, dragging his flashlight from his pocket and shining it up and down the corridor. There were heavy fire doors at either end that the kids kept shut to slow down any intruders. This part of the corridor was empty. They had to keep moving, though. They had no idea how long the other teachers would be delayed in the common room.

Ed suddenly felt more tired than he’d ever felt in his life. He wasn’t sure he had the energy just to put one foot in front of the other. He knew Jack felt the same.

Then one of the fire doors banged open and Ed was running again.

A teacher had lurched through. Monsieur Morel, from the French department. He’d always been a big jolly man, with dark wavy hair and an untidy beard; now he looked like some sort of mad bear, made worse by the fact that he seemed to have found a woman’s fur coat somewhere. It was way too small for him and matted with dried blood. He advanced stiff-legged down the corridor toward the boys, arms windmilling.

The boys didn’t wait for him; they flung themselves into the fire door at the opposite end, but as they crashed through they collided with another teacher on the other side. He staggered back against the wall. Without thinking, Jack lashed out with the bat, getting him with a backhander to the side of the head that left him stunned.

Jack and Ed came to a dead stop. This part of the corridor was thick with teachers. God knows how many of them there were, or how they’d gotten in. Even though they were packed in here, there was an eerie silence, broken only by a cough and a noise like someone trying to clear their throat.

Ed flashed his light wildly around, almost as one the teachers turned toward him. The beam whipped across a range of twisted, diseased faces dripping with snot, teeth bared, eyes staring, with peeling skin, open wounds, and horrible gray-green blisters.

They were unarmed and weakened by the sickness, but they were still larger and on the whole more powerful than the boys, and in a big group like this they were deadly. The boys had fortified one of the dormitories on the top floor where they were living, but there was no way Jack and Ed could make it to the stairs past this crowd.

They couldn’t go back and try another way, though, because Monsieur Morel was even now pushing through the fire door, and behind him was a small group of female teachers.

“Coming through!”

There was a loud shout, and Ed was dimly aware of bodies being knocked down, then Morel was shunted aside as a group of boys charged him from behind. At their head was Harry “Bam” Bamford, champion prop forward for the school, and bunched next to him in a pack were four of his friends from the rugby team, armed with hockey sticks. They yelled at Jack and Ed to follow them and cleared a path between the startled teachers, who dropped back to either side. The seven boys had the muscle now to power down the corridor and into the empty entrance hallway at the end. They kept moving, Ed running up the stairs three steps at a time, all tiredness forgotten.

They soon reached the top floor and hammered on the dormitory door.

“Open up! It’s us!” Bam yelled. Below them the teachers were starting to make their way onto the stairs.

There were muffled voices from the dorm and sounds of activity.

“Come on,” Jack shouted. “Hurry up.”

Monsieur Morel was coming up more quickly than the other adults, his big feet crashing into each step as his long muscular legs worked like pistons, eating up the distance.

At last the boys could hear the barricade being removed from the other side of the door. They knew how long it took, though, to move the heavy cabinet to the side, shunting it across the bare wooden floorboards.

There had to be a better system than this.

Jack turned. Morel was nearly up.

“Get a move on.” Ed pounded his fists on the door, which finally opened a crack. The boy on the other side put an eye to the gap, checking to see who was out there.

“Just open the bloody door,” Bam roared.

Morel reached the top of the staircase, and Jack kicked him hard in the chest with the heel of his shoe. The big man fell backward with a small high-pitched cry, toppling down the stairs and taking out a group of teachers on the lower steps.

The door swung inward. The seven boys made it through to safety.

The adults were scraping the dormitory wall with their fingers and battering at the door. Now and then there would be a break, a few seconds’ silence, and the boys would hear one of them sniffing at the doorjamb like a dog. Then the mindless frenzy of banging and scratching would begin all over again.

“Do you think they’ll give up and go away?” Johnno, one of the rugby players, was standing by the heavy cabinet that the boys had used to barricade the door. He was staring at it as if trying to look through it at the adults on the other side.

“What do you reckon?” said Jack, with more than a hint of scorn in his voice.


“Exactly. So why ask such a stupid question?”

“Hey, hey, hey, no need to start getting at each other,” said Bam, stepping over to put an arm around his friend’s shoulder. “Johnno was just thinking out loud, weren’t you, J? Just saying what we’re all thinking.”

“Yeah, I know, I’m sorry,” said Jack, slumping onto a bed and running his fingers through his hair. “I’m all weird inside. Can’t get my head straight.”

“It’s the adrenaline,” came a high-pitched, squeaky voice from the other side of the room. “The fight-or-flight chemical.”

“What are you on about now, Wiki?” said Bam, with a look of amusement on his broad, flat face. Wiki’s real name was Thomas. He was a skinny little twelve-year-old with glasses who seemed to know everything about everything and had been nicknamed Wiki, short for Wikipedia.

“Adrenaline, although you should properly call it epinephrine,” he said in his strong Manchester accent. “It’s a hormone that your body makes when you’re in danger. It makes your heart beat faster and your blood vessels sort of open up so that you’re ready to either fight off the danger or run away from it. You get a big burst of energy, but afterward you can feel quite run-down. It’s made by your adrenal glands from tyrosine and phenylalanine, which are amino acids.”

“Thanks, Wiki,” said Bam, trying not to laugh. “What would we do without you?”

Wiki shrugged. Before he could say anything else, there was an almighty bang from outside, and all eyes in the room turned back to the door.

Ed looked around at the grubby faces of the boys, lit by the big candles they’d found in the school chapel. Some of these boys had been his friends before, some he’d barely known. They’d been living in this room together now for a week, and he was growing sick of the sight of them.

There was Jack, sitting alone chewing his lip, the fingers of one hand running back and forth over his birthmark. Bam with his four rugby mates, Johnno, Piers, and the Sullivan brothers, Damien and Anthony, who had a reputation for being a bit thick and had done nothing to prove that they weren’t. Little Wiki and his friend Arthur, who almost never stopped talking. A group of six boys from Field House, across the road, who stuck together and didn’t say much. Kwanele Nkosi, tall, elegant, and somehow, despite everything, always immaculately dressed. Chris Marker, sitting by the window, reading a paperback (that’s all he did now, read books, one after another; he never spoke) and “the three nerds,” who were all in Ed’s physics class.

Nineteen faces, all wearing the same expression: dull, staring, slack, slightly sad. Ed imagined this was what it must have been like in a trench in the First World War. Trying not to think about tomorrow, or yesterday, or anything.

Apart from the nineteen boys in this room, Ed was alone in the world. He had no illusions that his mom and dad might still be alive. About the only thing the scientists had been able to say for sure about the disease, before they, too, had gotten sick, was that it only affected people sixteen or older. His brother, Dan, was older than he, eighteen, so he’d probably be dead, or diseased, which was worse.

The last contact Ed had had with his family was a phone call from his mom about four weeks ago. She’d told him to stay where he was. She hadn’t sounded well.

There were probably other boys around the school, hiding in different places. He knew that Matt Palmer had taken a load over to the chapel, but basically Ed’s world had shrunk down to this room.

These nineteen faces.

It scared him to think about it. How shaky his future looked. He felt like a tiny dot at the center of a vast, cold universe. He didn’t want to think about what was outside. The chaos in the world. How nothing was as it should be. It had been a relief when the television had finally gone off the air. No more news. He had to concentrate on himself now. On trying to stay alive. One day at a time. Hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second.

“How many seconds in a lifetime, Wiki?” he asked.

Wiki’s voice came back thin but sure. “Sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour, twenty-four hours in a day, three hundred and sixty-five days in a year, actually three hundred and sixty-five and a quarter because of leap years, so let’s say the average life is about seventy-five years, that’s sixty, times sixty, times twenty-four, which is, er, eighty-six thousand four hundred seconds in a day. Then three hundred and sixty-five days times seventy-five makes, let me see, twenty-seven thousand three hundred and seventy-five days in seventy-five years. So we multiply those two numbers together…”

Wiki fell silent.

“That’s a big sum,” said his friend Arthur.

“Never mind,” said Ed. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It’s a lot,” Arthur added, trying to be helpful. “A lot of seconds.”

And too many of them had been spent in this bloody room. They’d dragged beds in here from all around the House, so that they didn’t get split up, but it meant it was crowded, stuffy, and smelly. None of them could remember the last time he’d washed, except perhaps Kwanele. He had had his school suits specially made by a tailor in London and used to boast that his haircuts cost him fifty quid a shot. He was keeping himself clean somehow. He had standards to maintain.

The room was made even more cramped by a stack of cardboard boxes at the far end. They’d once contained all their food and bottled water, but there was virtually nothing left now. They had supplies for two more days, maybe three if they were careful. Jack was looking through the pile, chucking empty boxes aside.

There came an even bigger bang, and the cabinet appeared to shake slightly. They’d packed it with junk to make it heavier, and it would need a pretty hefty shove from outside to knock it out of the way, but it wasn’t impossible.

“We’ve got to get out of here,” Jack muttered.

“What?” Ed frowned at him.

“I said, we’ve got to get out of here.” This time Jack’s voice came through loud and clear, and everyone listened. “It’s pointless staying. Completely pointless. Even if that bunch out there backs off in the morning, even if they crawl back to wherever it is they’re sleeping—which we don’t know for certain they will do—we’re gonna have to spend all day tomorrow going around trying to block up the doors and windows again. And then what? They’ll only come back tomorrow night and get back in. We can’t sleep, we can’t eat. Luckily, none of us got hurt tonight, but…I mean, if the teachers don’t get us, we’ll basically just starve to death if we stay here.”


On Sale
Jun 14, 2011
Page Count
496 pages

Charlie Higson

About the Author

Charlie Higson is an acclaimed comedy writer, producer, actor, and genuine James Bond aficionado. He is the author of the adult thrillers Full Whack and King of the Ants the internationally best-selling Young Bond series: SilverFin, Blood Fever, Double or Die, Hurricane Gold, and By Royal Command and seven books in the Enemy series.Charlie is a fan of zombie movies and believes that we shouldn’t try to prevent young people from experiencing fear, because it helps prepare them for later life. He lives in London. Follow him on Twitter at:

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