By Darren Shan
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Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of Zom-B Fugitive
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Life was hard for Becky Smith—but death was a lot harder. Attacked, killed and turned on the day zombies first ran riot across the globe, B recovered consciousness months later as a revitalized member of the undead, and soon found herself at the center of a war to decide the future of the world.
On the side of good stood Dr. Oystein and his team of Angels, determined to rid the world of its undead stain and return control to the living. On the side of chaos and villainy stood Mr. Dowling and his band of merciless mutants. The killer clown spread disorder and death wherever he pranced.
Slotting in around the forces of good and evil were a variety of other groups and individuals. The Ku Klux Klan became a major player, backed by remnants of the army. Both were in league with the Board, a cluster of powerful, ruthless tyrants who saw the world as their plaything. And an owl-eyed, semi-undead man seemed to have a finger in every slice of the action.
A pair of vials lay at the heart of the feuding factions. One contained a virus that could wipe out every zombie on the face of the earth within a couple of weeks if released. The other held a virus that would finish off the last living survivors just as swiftly. Dr. Oystein had explained to B that he held the zombie-destroying virus, but that Mr. Dowling was in possession of its counterpart.
Though the opposing sides could parry and jab at one another, they couldn't declare all-out war while the vials were in the hands of their respective owners. If the Angels targeted Mr. Dowling and were poised to crush him, he could release his virus in retaliation. Similarly, if Mr. Dowling or Owl Man launched an assault on the doctor's base in County Hall, Dr. Oystein could uncork his vial and disperse the fumes that would wipe out the undead. It was a twisted stalemate, and at times it looked like there might be no way forward.
B had suffered greatly as a revitalized, but nobody hurt her as much as Dan-Dan, a child-killer who held her captive in Battersea Power Station and tore her body to shreds, extracting every last tremor of pain that he could.
Just when it looked as if B was finished, she was spared by the most surreal of saviors—Mr. Dowling. The crazed clown had crossed paths with her twice before, and saved her from her enemies both times. Invading Battersea Power Station with an army of mutants, zombies and eerie babies, he rescued her yet again, and asked her to come with him, claiming that she belonged by his side, that he was going to take her home.
B was weary and in agony. She had been betrayed and tortured. Her parents had both perished in the battle at the Power Station. She was alone, fragile, bewildered. Mr. Dowling promised to spare the human survivors in the building if she went with him. In that time of madness and grief, he was the only one to offer her a helping hand, and she seized it gladly. It didn't matter to her that he might be–as Dr. Oystein believed–an agent of pure, satanic evil. She was a fallen Angel and, in her distressed state, it seemed only natural for her to accept the aid of a demon.
So B struck a Faustian pact with Mr. Dowling and let herself be lifted onto the shoulders of dozens of blank-eyed, sharp-fanged babies, the most unusual of the clown's mutant creations. Crooning to her softly, they carried B like a holy relic, out of the crumbling Power Station, down a tunnel into the darkness of their underground lair.
You know what? I'm enjoying this! I feel like a princess being borne aloft by her personal retinue. A welcome treat after what I've endured recently. I'm in no hurry for it to end. Part of me wishes it could last forever. If this was what the afterlife was like, a calm procession through the unending gloom, I'd sign up for it in a heartbeat. If, of course, I had a heart.
The babies transfer me carefully, lovingly. They're silent most of the time, but occasionally they'll murmur, "we love you mummy." It's almost like an incantation. It soothes and comforts me. I can't recall why I used to think it was menacing when they crooned it in my nightmares when I was alive.
There's no sign of Mr. Dowling or his mutants. I hope they kept their promise and herded the zombies out of the Power Station, giving the surviving humans inside a chance to organize themselves, free the locked-up slaves and retreat. Maybe I should have asked to stay behind to oversee the exodus. With hindsight, I suspect I agreed too quickly to their offer. I've no way of telling if they upheld their end of the bargain.
Then again, why should I be expected to do everything? I'm so tired and in so much pain. I've done all that I can to help. I can't see every last stage of a rescue operation through to its end. Others have to step up and take responsibility too, don't they?
I wish I didn't care. It must be so easy to be a selfish creep like Mr. Dowling, Dan-Dan or Rage. All I want is to enjoy the comfort of the dark and my strange journey through it. But my thoughts keep returning to the Power Station. I'm troubled. I don't trust the clown and his followers. They could do anything.
"don't cry mummy," the babies whisper, sensing my unease. "going home mummy. we love you. it will be all yummy now."
Yummy mummy, I think to myself, and the babies laugh softly.
"yes. yummy mummy. we love you yummy mummy. forever ours."
How strange that they picked up on that. We must have a mental connection. They're reading my thoughts, at least to an extent. That should scare me, but it doesn't. In fact it makes me chuckle warmly. I want to pull the little guys in close and hug them. They seem so lovable and cute. I know they're not. I haven't forgotten about the artist Timothy Jackson or the people they slaughtered at Battersea Power Station. They're deadly killers, regardless of their tiny size. But they've yet to threaten me. Just because they used to tear me apart in my dreams doesn't mean they want to kill me in real life.
I've no idea where we are or how long we've been trudging through the dark. I haven't tried to keep track of time. We might have been down here for twenty minutes or a few hours.
Every now and then, a shaft of light finds its way down to us. I glimpse brick walls, open sewers, the occasional shredded corpse, bones scattered about the place, dried bloodstains, the babies trudging through the mess, taking no notice as the hems of their white christening gowns become soiled. I'm worried in case they pick up germs and get infected. Then I remember that they're not ordinary children. I think it would take more than a bit of filth to trouble these fierce, sexless warriors.
There are rats down here, scores of them, hiding in the dark depths where even the undead don't tread. I catch glimpses of them when light pierces the blackness, gnawing on bones, stripping them of their last few scraps of flesh. Some are the size of a small dog. I don't think a human or zombie would last long in this kingdom of rodents. The rats would tear any normal intruder to shreds.
But the feral creatures run scared of the babies. They flee, squealing, snapping wildly at one another, the stench of their terror thick in the air. They must have had run-ins with the babies in the past, and come off the worst.
The babies ignore the rats and march along merrily, pausing only when they have to negotiate an obstacle or transfer my motionless body to another level. They're incredibly gentle whenever they pass me into fresh hands, whispering to assure me that everything is fine. "don't worry mummy. we won't drop you mummy. we'll keep you safe forever."
I don't know how they find their way in the dark, but they maintain a steady pace. They never stop at a junction to consider their options. It's always full speed ahead, taking turns in their stride as if following directions on a GPS. For all I know, they are. Maybe Mr. Dowling inserted a homing beacon in each of their tiny heads. Perhaps it's just instinct. Or one of them might have a map.
I giggle at the thought of the babies crowding together over a map. They laugh softly in response and I feel a wave of warmth seep through me. I'm not sure if I'm imagining it or if they transmit heat when pleased.
My thoughts start turning towards my parents, Dad's face as he shut the door on me and steeled himself for the end, how he must have settled down beside my zombie mother as he pulled the pin on the grenade that he always carried, setting them both free of this hard, cruel world. With an effort, I block out those grisly memories. There will be plenty of time to mourn later. I'm too weary to deal with my loss right now.
Instead I make myself think about Dan-Dan. That's more pleasant. The world is well rid of the sicko. I love that he cowered at the end. He put on a brave front most of the way, but he couldn't keep up the pretense when his time came. He died terrified and pitiful, the way a monster of his kind should.
The eyes of the babies light up around me, a dim red glow in the gloom. "dan-dan," they growl.
"It's okay," I calm them. "He's gone now."
The light fades and they push on, but that's another sign that they're tuned into my thoughts. It's just as well that I'm at ease in their company and happy to be going along for the ride. I'm not sure how they'd react if I started plotting ways to strike at them.
But what if I plotted attacks on other people? If they'd been around when I was locking horns with Dan-Dan, I'm sure they would have taken my side and made short, bloody work of the giggling monster. I wonder if they'd back me against my other foes too?
To test my link with the babies, I focus on a memory of Mr. Dowling tormenting a woman and her baby in Trafalgar Square. My fear and hatred of him resurface as I recall how he tricked her and turned her child into a zombie. As dark feelings rumble through me, I wait for the babies' eyes to turn red again.
They don't. Instead the babies titter, then trill, "daddy."
Looks like I'll have to rely on myself when I cross swords with the mad clown later. Typical. Where are the Navy bloody SEALs when you need them?
After a long trek through London's charming waste system, we nudge into what feels like a much larger tunnel. Even though it's pitch-black, I can tell we're no longer in the sewers. The babies' feet don't splash in putrid puddles, and echoes are tinnier. Plus the smell has faded.
As we progress, I spot light far ahead. I raise my head, but it's too far off to make out any details, so I lie back and wait, humming tunelessly to myself.
The glow increases as we march towards the mouth of the tunnel. The roof and its array of pipes and cables swim into focus. I'm familiar with areas like this, so I know now where we are. It's a Tube line, one of the maze of underground tunnels that used to play host to trains packed with commuters in the old days.
"Choo-choo!" I croak.
The babies copy me. "choo-choo mummy. choo-choo."
"Good babies," I murmur. "Let's try another one." I start singing, "The wheels on the bus go round and round," but the babies don't take up the tune. Maybe they don't like that song. Or maybe they never saw a bus in action. If they were born after mankind fell, the song would mean nothing to them.
There's no telling how old the unnatural infants are. I'm assuming that, like zombies, they age slowly. If that's the case, they could be as old as I am, or older. Maybe they're adults, trapped in the bodies of babies, decades shy of reaching maturity.
We pass from the tunnel into the light and I have to fling an arm over my eyes to shield them from the glare. My vision starts to adjust as we move along, and after a while I'm able to lower the arm and take in my surroundings.
We're passing through a Tube station. I raise my head and spot a sign with the name Temple on it. I sometimes swept through here on a train from the East End. We're not that far from County Hall.
There are grunting sounds and I look around. Loads of zombies are standing at the edge of the platform, staring at us. Some of them have cocked their heads in confusion, and I can tell they don't know what to make of us.
The zombies disturb my tranquillity and set me thinking about my situation. I should probably consider making a break for freedom. The Tube station would be a good place to do it, since it provides an exit to the world above, as well as lots of bodies to knock over and stir up into an agitated mob, in the hope that they might provide a barrier between myself and the babies. But I'm a physical wreck and there are dozens, maybe hundreds of babies. Even if they couldn't read my thoughts and nip any escape plan in the bud, they'd catch me long before I made it to the platform. I'd be wasting my time and what little energy I have left. Besides, as I've already noted, I'm enjoying this in a strange kind of way. I'll worry about escape another time.
As I turn away from thoughts of freedom, I notice that one of the undead spectators on the platform is wearing a train conductor's outfit. I laugh with delight and wave at him. "Tickets, please!" I yell.
The conductor's lips move automatically as a memory kicks in and he tries to mimic the cry, but he can't make any sensible sounds. He holds out a hand and I feel sorry for the glum-looking official. I wish I had a ticket that I could flash at him. That would make his day. Even better than a bowl of fresh brains.
I'm surprised the lights work down here. But that's the way it's been since humanity's downfall. Nothing works in some places, but in other areas televisions and radios crackle away, lights shine through the night and day and the world carries on as if there's still someone at the rudder, directing it all.
I expect the zombies to hop down to check me out, but they must be able to tell from their vantage point that I'm undead, because not one of them approaches. Glancing down at my torso, I realize why. Though most of my ribs are bandaged over, the area around my chest is clear. They can see the hole where my heart should be, along with the fresh, gaping wound where Dan-Dan recently sliced off my right breast.
I wince at the memory of the assault. I was never a girlie girl. I didn't worry about makeup, dresses, stuff like that. But with my ruined chest there's now nothing at all to mark me out as female, not unless I was to drop my drawers. I feel like I've become an androgynous, meaningless thing, like the sexually neutral babies.
"Sexless Smith," I laugh weakly. "That should be my new name."
The babies stop before exiting the station. They hold perfectly still and I get the feeling they're communicating with one another. That's confirmed a second later when one of them–the one with a hole in its head, the baby I'm pretty sure Timothy rescued–steps away from the others and addresses me directly. "are you hungry mummy? we can make the dead people bring you brains."
"That's sweet of you," I smile, "but I ate not long before you invaded the Power Station. I'll be fine."
The baby nods, resumes its place in the pack and they proceed. I wave good-bye to the zombies as we leave. As Mum always said, it pays to be polite.
Back into darkness. It doesn't bother me. In fact I prefer it to the light. I can't see the wreckage of my body in the gloom, and the pain doesn't seem so bad. I don't want a ship and a star to sail her by. I want a coffin and an eternity of quiet black.
We come to a train on the tracks. Lights flicker on and off inside the carriages. I expect the babies to edge around, but they climb in and escort me through the train. It's littered with corpses. I guess the zombies in the station, or others like them, found these guys after they got marooned here on the day the world fell.
I try to imagine what it must have been like for the passengers, stuck down here, not sure what was happening above, waiting, hot, suffocating. Maybe some people chose to leave and walk along the tracks to the nearest station, but most stayed, confident that someone would come to sort things out, as they always did. Then the undead forced their way in. The killing commenced. Nowhere to hide. Nowhere to run.
"It was the same up top," I whisper to the skeletons. "Most of you would have died even if you'd got out. At least this way you have a ready-made tomb. The people up above simply lie rotting on the streets."
There are more rats in the carriages, though they don't linger when they catch sight of the babies. They take off as if the place is on fire. A few of the babies dart after them and bite the heads off any that they catch, but most hold their position beneath me.
The rats set me thinking. I bet they're not the only animals at large. The tunnels have long been home to rodents, but I'm sure they've been joined by others since zombies took over. Dogs, cats, foxes… The smarter animals would have headed for far-flung, deep-buried holes like this, where they could rest unseen from their brain-hungry predators.
Many of the furry survivors who sought shelter here probably still emerge in the daytime to hunt for food. But there are surely others who will have made the darkness their full-time home. Maybe they'll breed blind puppies, kittens and cubs, better equipped for hunting underground. This could be the start of a new evolutionary chapter, the era of the sightless.
I pass the time thinking about that, picturing myself as a modern Darwin, charting the changing face of the animal kingdom. It keeps me amused as we follow the tunnel through Cannon Street Station, Monument, Tower Hill.
- On Sale
- Feb 24, 2015
- Page Count
- 208 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers