Extract: The Enemy
The glass doors of the swimming pool were cracked and so covered with dust on the inside that it was impossible to see anything through them. Deke hefted his sledgehammer and took a swing, aiming for a spot next to the handles. The glass exploded with a bang and fell out of the frame in sparkling nuggets.
‘Cool,’ said Freak.
‘Yes it is,’ said Deke, who loved destroying things. In the early days, just after the disaster had happened, and before he understood the dangers, Deke had wandered the streets in delight - breaking, burning, smashing - hardly able to believe that there was nobody around to stop him and that he could do whatever he wanted.
That crazy, joyous freedom had been cut short when he’d discovered that not all the adults had died. And those who had survived would treat you far worse than any parent, teacher or policeman if they ever caught you. A parent might have grounded you, a teacher might have kept you in after school and the police might have arrested you, but none of them would have tried to eat you, like the grown-ups who wandered the streets these days.
He still got a kick out of destroying things, though, when he got the chance, which was why he often volunteered to join a scavenging party.
He stood back from the shattered door to let Achilleus see inside.
Achilleus leant in and looked around.
‘We’ll need the torches.’
They all carried hand-powered LED dynamo torches that didn’t need batteries. They quickly fired them up by pumping the triggers that spun the flywheels inside. After thirty seconds the torches were charged enough to give a good three minutes of light.
They stepped into the entrance lobby and shone their beams across the dirty floor and walls. Ahead of them was the reception desk. To the right, past a turnstile and low barrier was a small seating area that opened out on to the pool.
A wide passage led the other way to the changing rooms.
The reception desk was covered with cobwebs and the faded, peeling posters on the walls were from a different world. They showed smiling, happy children and talked of health and fitness and community activities. There were a few animal trails in the dust and debris on the floor, but no sign of any recent human activity.
‘Vending machines used to be through there,’ said Freak, nodding towards the fixed tables and chairs in the seating area.
‘We’ll take a quick look,’ said Arran, and, without having to be told, Achilleus led the way. He climbed over the turnstile and dropped into a crouch on the other side, spear at the ready.
One by one the others followed, Ollie bringing up the rear, torch in one hand, slingshot in the other.
They walked cautiously forward. As they moved closer to the pool they noticed a smell. The choking, rotten stink of stagnant water.
‘Aw, who’s farted?’ said Deke, holding his nose. Freak sniggered, but nobody else laughed. The pair of them liked to joke around to keep the fear away, but the others had their own ways of dealing with their nerves.
Achilleus was tensed and alert, ready for action, almost willing a grown-up to jump out at him. Arran tried to stand tall and appear unafraid, imagining he was casting a protective shield around his little group. Ollie kept glancing back over his shoulder. He was so used to watching their rear that he almost found it easier walking backwards.
‘That is an evil smell,’ said Freak.
‘Keep it down,’ said Achilleus.
‘Come off it, Akkie,’ said Deke. ‘If there was anyone here I think they just might have heard that bloody big bang as I took out the door.’
‘Shut up so’s we can listen, Deke.’
They shone their torches around the seating area where the vending machines had once stood.
‘They’re gone,’ said Arran.
‘What a surprise,’ said Achilleus.
‘Told you this was a waste of time,’ said Ollie. ‘Now can we go?’
Arran carried on towards the pool. A dim light was glowing green through the windows around the high ceiling. The air felt hot and moist. He used to come here nearly every week in the summer. There was a water-slide that snaked out of the building and back again. It had always been noisy here, busy with kids. There had been a wave machine and all sorts of fountains, waterfalls and jets. Now it was absolutely quiet and still and stank like a sewer. Stringy weeds hung from the water-slide that stood on rusting supports.
Arran was aware of his heart thumping against his ribs.
He didn’t like being here.
‘We should take a proper look round,’ said Freak, joining him by the poolside and shining his torch around the cavernous space.
There was still water in the pool, but it was a soupy greenish-brown colour. Clumps of algae and weed floated on the surface and odd pieces of furniture had been dumped in it. Arran could see chairs and tables, a filing cabinet and what looked like a running machine, probably from the gym upstairs.
More algae and mould made its way up the walls, covering the windows - this was what was turning the light that weird ghostly green.
The others came through.
‘We should go,’ said Ollie, nervously glancing back towards the entrance.
‘Scared, are you?’ said Deke.
‘Course I’m scared,’ said Ollie simply. ‘I’m always scared when we go somewhere we’ve not been before. It’s good to be scared. Keeps you alive.’
‘Check this out,’ Freak hissed, interrupting them. He was shining his torch across the pool.
A vending machine stood there, half submerged in the water, but they could see that it was still stocked with chocolate bars and sweets and crisps.
‘We’ve struck the jackpot,’ Deke whispered.
They moved closer to the water’s edge, marvelling at the treasure trove in the stagnant pool. The side of the pool sloped gradually into the water, giving the effect of a beach. The smell was appalling, and the floor was slippery beneath their feet.
‘What’s it doing in the water?’ said Achilleus.
‘Who cares?’ Freak and Deke said in unison.
Arran shone his torch on to a sign; it was still just about readable beneath the fungal growth on its surface.
NO RUNNING. NO DIVING.
‘See that?’ he said. ‘No diving.’
The others sniggered. The thought of diving into the dark, stinking water was disgusting, but nevertheless somebody
was going to have to wade in if they wanted to get to the vending machine.
‘I don’t like it,’ said Ollie. ‘It’s not right.’
Once again he glanced back towards the entrance, making sure that their way out was clear.
‘There’s nothing here, man,’ said Deke. ‘No one. The place is deserted. Look at all that crap in the water. The vending machine must have been dumped there ages ago, and forgotten about.’
‘Come on,’ said Ollie. ‘I’m going.’
He jumped as Freak suddenly shouted, his voice startlingly loud.
‘HELLO? ANYBODY HOME?’
The sound echoed off the hard walls.
‘You’re an idiot,’ said Achilleus.
‘Yeah? And who are you then - Brainiac, the world’s brainiest kid?’
‘Don’t start arguing,’ said Arran wearily.
‘Look,’ said Deke. ‘We’ve been here long enough, if anything was going to happen it would’ve happened by now. This place is dead, like the rest of London, like the rest of the world for all we know. Dead.’
‘We’re not dead,’ said Arran, ‘and I want to keep it that way.’
‘Then let’s get the gear from the machine,’ said Deke.
‘Food, yeah? To eat? You remember food, don’t you?’
‘I’m not sure about this.’
‘Oh for God’s sake, this is a waste of time.’ Freak walked to the water’s edge, holding his nose. Deke groaned as he watched his friend wade in. Soon the slime was up to Freak’s knees, then his thighs. He carried on until he had reached the machine. Turned to wave, then peered inside.
‘Sick!’ he said, grinning. ‘You should see this.’
‘Freak! No!’ Deke screamed.
The whole surface of the water around Freak had come alive as if some huge beast was rising from the depths.
Deke splashed into the pool, yelling.
‘Idiot,’ said Achilleus.
There were shapes emerging everywhere now, seemingly made from the same green slime as the water itself. They pushed up out of the bubbling pool.
People. Men and women. Blanket weed hanging off them and tangled between their outstretched fingers like webs.
‘GROWN-UPS!’ Arran shouted.