By Darren Shan
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Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of Zom-B Goddess
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Becky Smith's journey into darkness and pain began when a zombie ripped her heart from her chest and she became one of the walking, brain-eating undead.
Months later she recovered consciousness. As a child, she had been injected with a vaccine by someone working for a century-old scientist named Dr. Oystein, and that had bestowed her with the ability to regain her senses.
After a spell of captivity in an underground complex, B was set free by the nightmarish Mr. Dowling, a mad, vicious clown who was backed by an army of mutants. He killed gleefully wherever he went, but for some reason he let B walk away unharmed.
B found her way to Dr. Oystein's base in County Hall, where she became one of his Angels, a team of revitalized teenage zombies. The doctor had been forced by the Nazis to create the zombie virus, and he believed he was on a mission from God to make amends and help mankind overcome this most hideous of threats.
The doctor told B that he had subsequently created another pair of viruses that were the key to the outcome of the war between the living and the undead. One was a dark red liquid called Clements-13, which would wipe out every zombie on the face of the planet within a couple of weeks if released. The other was Schlesinger-10, a milky-white substance that would have an equally fast, fatal impact on humans if it was uncorked.
Dr. Oystein couldn't use Clements-13 to eliminate the undead forces because Mr. Dowling had stolen a vial of Schlesinger-10 from his laboratory, with the help of his ally, the mysterious Owl Man. The clown could unleash the virus on humanity if the doctor forced his hand, just as Dr. Oystein could crack open his vial of Clements-13 if Mr. Dowling ever attacked him. The pair were locked in a stalemate and the world looked like it would suffer indefinitely because of it.
The Angels did whatever they could to help the survivors of the zombie apocalypse, but their ultimate goal was to track down Mr. Dowling's supply of Schlesinger-10. If they retrieved the vial from the killer clown, Dr. Oystein could bring his sample of Clements-13 into play and deliver the world from its undead menace in one fell swoop.
When B was captured by a hunter named Barnes, an ex-soldier from America who was an expert when it came to killing or capturing zombies, destiny set her on course for a showdown with Mr. Dowling. Barnes was working for the Board, a group of rich and powerful humans who had granted his son a place on an island where zombies couldn't attack him. In return for this favor, Barnes was obliged to hand B over to the Board, whose members gleefully passed the time by watching her duel to the death with other zombies.
A repentant Barnes later helped B escape before setting off to rescue his son, whose safety was no longer guaranteed now that his father had betrayed his foul employers. But B wasn't finished with the Board, and again ended up in their clutches months later. The most twisted of their party was the fiendish Dan-Dan, who strapped her down in his quarters in Battersea Power Station, and proceeded to pick her body apart as painfully as he could.
It looked as if B's time was up, but, to her shock, Mr. Dowling charged to her rescue. Aided by his mutants and a team of lethal, genderless babies, he swarmed the Power Station and freed her.
The clown's babies carried B deep underground to Mr. Dowling's lair, where he patched her fragile carcass back together. She found out that the babies had been cloned from her DNA, making her their virtual mother. The clown wanted her to marry him and rule by his side, so that they could eventually replace humanity with their eerie offspring.
B wasn't interested in playing the wedding game with Mr. Dowling, but, as he shared his memories with her, she began to feel sorry for him. He had been a decent man once, until something dreadful happened and cast him into a state of insane chaos.
When Mr. Dowling promised to stop killing if B married him, she bowed to his wishes, hoping it might signal the start of his recovery. After a warped but oddly sweet ceremony, the pair retired to their wedding chamber, where the clown granted her access to his innermost thoughts.
It should have been a peaceful, loving time, but B found herself instinctively smashing through Mr. Dowling's mental defenses. Without having planned it, she pinpointed the location of his vial of Schlesinger-10. The betrayed clown tried to kill her, and the pair fought fiercely. B got the better of her husband, but, before she could finish him off, the enraged babies stormed the room and ripped into her. They would have killed her, but one of their own–Holy Moly, a baby with a hole in its head–reminded them that B was their mummy. Confused, they let her go, and she set off through the underground lair, wounded and alone, in search of the vial that would ensure victory for mankind if she could deliver it safely into the hands of Dr. Oystein, but all too aware that time was against her and that Mr. Dowling and his mutants would surely execute her if they caught up.
I left Mr. Dowling unconscious. I zapped him with enough electricity to put a normal person out of action for a whole day. But the clown is far from normal and I can't bank on him staying down for too long. I reckon I might have as little as an hour or two before he stirs and calls for help. Maybe less if Kinslow or one of his other mutants comes to check on him. Time, as they say, is of the essence.
The trouble is, the shape I'm in at the moment, I'd struggle to win a race with a snail. Although Mr. Dowling repaired the worst of the damage, I hadn't fully recovered from Dan-Dan's mauling by the time of my wedding. The babies reopened lots of old wounds when they attacked me, and inflicted plenty of new ones.
Every step is agony. The recently restored flesh of my stomach has been clawed away. Most of my replacement ribs have been snapped off. Bones are broken. I'm bleeding all over, thick, gloopy blood slowly oozing from my injuries. I didn't think there was that much of the crimson stuff left–Dan-Dan drained off lots of it while he was torturing me–but there must have been hidden reserves.
I'll have to do something about the blood. The loss won't really harm me, but if I don't stop it, I'll leave a trail that even a blind mutant will be able to follow. Still, I can't worry about that until I locate the vial of Schlesinger-10. If Mr. Dowling recovers sooner than I anticipate, he'll know exactly where I'm going and he'll set the mutants on me. No point wasting time. My priority has to be to lay my hands on the vial. Only then can I start planning my next move.
I stagger along, picking my way from room to room through the maze that Mr. Dowling and his assistants have built over the years. If this wasn't the day of my wedding, there'd be mutants relaxing, working and patrolling the corridors, even this far from the center of the complex. But the celebrations must still be going strong, because I encounter no one. They're all toasting my health in the wedding chamber, unaware that their master is lying on his honeymoon bed unconscious, while their newly crowned mistress is plotting their downfall.
I'd love to return to Mr. Dowling's bedroom-cum-laboratory and immerse myself in the pool of restorative blood and brains. A long soak in that would cure many of my ills. With all the mutants still celebrating the wedding, there's a chance I could steal in, rest up, then slip out again without anyone spotting me. But it's too risky—if one of them spots me in my bloody, bedraggled state, they'll know something is up and raise the alarm.
I don't even stop for a few minutes to rest, since the clock is ticking. Instead I push myself as hard as I can, ignoring the agonized protests of my body as I force it through the pain barrier once again.
I come to a room that looks the same as the others. I would have passed through at any other time and thought nothing of it. But I know from Mr. Dowling's stolen memories that there's a hidden door here, so I stop, treat myself to a short pause, then go looking for it.
I shuffle to the wall on my right and lift down the upper half of a woman's carcass from where it hangs on a hook. The wall behind her is caked with dried blood and dung. The babies bit off some of my artificial finger bones, but several remain intact. I use them to chip away at the mess. After a while, it starts to fall off in chunks and the outline of a door is revealed.
There's a small, old-fashioned combination lock in the center, the type where you roll the tumblers one at a time until they click into place. I prised the numbers from Mr. Dowling's memory and they're somehow still clear in my mind—it's like I have perfect recall. I start entering the digits until they read 528614592. Then I push down on the slim handle and the door opens.
I stare suspiciously into the gloom of the tunnel on the other side. I still don't know how I wrung so much information out of Mr. Dowling. I hadn't planned to squeeze his secrets from him. I didn't think that I could. Something happened in the bridal suite that I had no control over, and it unnerved me. I don't like the fact that I operated on auto-pilot like a cold, calculating, experienced spy.
But what are my options? I can't go back. Mr. Dowling will slaughter me on sight if I don't get out of here. I might be his beloved, but he can't let me live, knowing what I know. I've got to press ahead as fast as I can. It doesn't matter how I came by this knowledge. I need to cash in on it, and quickly, before the mutants lock down the complex and come hunting for me.
I enter the tunnel and push the door closed behind me—there's no way of operating the lock from this side, so I just have to hope that Mr. Dowling's mutants don't spot the disturbance and investigate. Then I press on through the gloom. This area isn't brightly lit, just the occasional light. But that's okay. I know the way. I could find it blindfolded if I had to.
The tunnel forks and I take the left turn. Then a right, another right, a left. These tunnels are roughly carved. Mr. Dowling only used a few of his mutants when creating them, in secret, away from the gaze of his other followers. All of the workers were killed once they'd finished, like the slaves who built the tombs for the pharaohs in ancient Egypt. He didn't want anyone to know about this hidden network. It was created for his personal use only.
More twists and turns. I take them without thinking, following the map that was clear as crystal inside Mr. Dowling's brain. He often comes here to check on his deadly prize, standing before it in ecstatic but horrified awe, like a worshipper at the shrine of some all-destructive god. There are several entrances and routes. He tests them all out on a regular basis, making sure the doors work, that the paths are clear of cave-ins, that no one has been sniffing around his toxic treasure.
It's not a long journey but I make poor time. I'm incapable of rushing. Still, as slow as I am, I'm dogged, and eventually I draw to a halt at another locked door. This one is protected by four combination locks, each requiring a twelve-digit code, and you'd need a serious stash of dynamite to make an impression on the door or wall. It would take a crack team a lot of time and hassle to break through. Even Ivor Bolton, an Angel who can open almost any lock, would have to admit defeat if confronted with these devilish beauties.
But I have the inside scoop, the elaborate string of numbers flashing in my mind's eye as if highlighted on a neon billboard. I start spinning the tumblers and soon I've set all forty-eight windows correctly. I grasp the round handle and twist. There's a sighing sound and the door opens inwards, widening the more I turn the handle, like a giant opening its mouth.
I step into a small, steel-lined room. There's a single light hanging from the center of the ceiling. It switched on automatically as the door opened.
A safe sits in the middle of the room, bolted to the floor. The code for this lock is simpler than any of the others. Mr. Dowling figured that if someone made it this far, the game was up. He set the code out of a sense of irony more than anything else, aware of the things that Dr. Oystein has said about him over the years. I chuckle weakly as I spin the tumblers to the most diabolical of numbers—666.
The safe opens and I sink to my knees. I reach in and pull out a clear tube, no more than twenty centimeters long. It's sealed with what looks like a plain rubber cork, but I know the cork is made from a special material and is absolutely airtight. It will never shrink or shake loose. And, although the tube appears to be just glass, again it's been carefully manufactured from a far tougher substance. You could put it on the floor and whack it with a sledgehammer, over and over, without even cracking it.
Just to be safe, there's a second clear, corked tube nestled within the first, every bit as indestructible as the outer container. And then, snuggled within that, is a vial, maybe fifteen centimeters long, filled with a milky-white liquid. There's no label on any of the containers, but I don't need one.
"Schlesinger-10," I croak, holding the tube up to the light, watching the liquid as it splashes around inside the vial.
I never wondered what it would be like to hold the lives of every living human in your hands. Now that I'm in that position, I find it absolutely terrifying. I know I can't do any damage to the tubes. I'd have to deliberately uncork the first, slide out the second, uncork that, then slip out and uncork the vial in order to unleash the hounds of havoc. But I still feel sick at the nightmarish thought of the tube slipping through my fingers and somehow smashing open. I guess it's like doing a bungee jump—you know you're safely attached, but try telling that to your natural instincts when you're about to hurl yourself off the side of a cliff.
Reverently, knowing I'm not worthy of such a grave responsibility, I lower the tube and look for a place to store it. But there are no pockets in my wedding dress. I could carry it but I want both hands free. So where…?
With a grisly snicker, I stick the tube inside my stomach and root around until I find some pliant flesh to wedge it into. I grit my teeth as I work the tube firmly into place, taking no chances, not worrying about the discomfort. When I'm satisfied, I shake myself roughly and jump up and down. The brief burst of exercise almost makes me faint, but the tube doesn't budge. It's secure.
I feel like an expectant mother, only, instead of carrying a baby, I'm carrying hope for the entire world. If I can get this to Dr. Oystein, the stalemate will be broken and he can release a sample of Clements-13, bringing the curtains crashing down on every zombie and mutant on the face of the planet.
"So, no pressure," I giggle.
Then I put all humorous thoughts aside, turn my back on the safe, limp into the corridor and make my slow, sluggish, excruciating break for freedom.
Although most of the access points to the secret tunnels are situated in Mr. Dowling's base, a few open out into the area beyond. He wanted to be able to skirt the main complex in case it ever fell into the hands of his enemies. As crazy as he is, he likes to cover as many angles as possible.
I absorbed all sorts of memories from the clown, more than I realized at the time. I knew that I was confirming the location of his vial of Schlesinger-10, but I also tapped into recollections of countless trips that he's made through his underground domain. My mind's full of maps and ways out of here.
Assessing that information, I try to come to a decision—should I head straight for the surface or stick to the shadows for a while?
The nearest exit is through Whitechapel Station. It wouldn't take me long to reach it, even in my current shuffling state. I could climb up through the station and lose myself on the streets.
Praise for Darren Shan's Zom-B series:"Shan packs in the bites, and he rips out enough entrails for even the most jaded zombie fan; the cliffhanger ending...closes on just the right note to leave the audience gnawing for more...A series opener to sink your teeth into."—Kirkus Reviews
—Booklist"A raw and deeply observant tale of a morally questionable kid trying, and usually failing, to move beyond the ingrained racism instilled by B's father. It is a brave move by Shan to posit such a bigoted hooligan as our protagonist."
—Publishers Weekly"Character development is impressive...and Shan executes the transition from normalcy to wholesale terror masterfully."
—VOYA"Horror with a social conscience...This compelling page-turner builds steadily to the climax then throws the reader off the cliff with a twist that is impossible to see coming."
- On Sale
- Sep 22, 2015
- Page Count
- 192 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers