Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Novel Extract 2

Harris, in his alleyway at 11.20am knew none of this.  The delivery van was still blocking the alley, and water was pouring from a ruptured pipe in the wall of the wounded coffee shop; the alley was a mass of puddles and chunks of masonry.  He tried his mum again: again no luck.  Putting his phone onto a battery-saving mode, he weighed up his options.  As far as he knew, a terrorist attack was ongoing and the city was a dangerous place.  He had found temporary shelter, but realised it was pretty restrictive if he was spotted by someone wishing to do him harm.  He would be better, he reasoned, in a more open space, but one with plenty of hard cover.  How would the parks be? Would they be as hectic as the streets?  With no way of knowing, he set off down the other end of the alley, where the passage was narrower, and emerged in Chinatown, staying on the narrow streets.  Things were quieter here.  Helicopters were still hovering overhead, and the roar of crowds could be heard, but it all felt a little more distant, like the back streets of a busy seaside town in August.  Harris felt himself relax, and he considered his next move.  If he headed down past Piccadilly, he could get to St James park.  Or, with a little more effort, he could head to Hyde Park, which was bigger and a little further out, and therefore possibly safer.  He decided to head towards the West End, skirting Piccadilly as much as possible.  He fought against crowds in several places, and Pall Mall turned out to be almost as busy as Charing Cross, but he found himself in Green Park by midday, discovering it to be relatively quiet.  A few people he’d met on the way had given him snippets of information.  It seemed that the terrorists were brutal, exacting physical, manual violence on Londoners rather than shooting or bombing them.  Apparently one person had seen a group of individuals being eaten alive by their assailants.  Harris’ head span.  He still couldn’t get hold of his mother, and was still no closer to discovering what was going on.  He’d realised the Guardian had gone down at about 11.50, when an error screen kept being returned.  Twenty minutes later, his signal had gone altogether, including his 4G.  He was without means of communication, huddled under an oak in the least revered royal park in London.  He quietly sobbed, hiding himself as best he could under his coat as rain began to fall.

              A sudden flash and eruption of flame interrupted his misery.  It came from somewhere around Park Lane, and was joined with a second plume of smoke and fire.  The sound reached him a moment later, a heavy thudding roar.  Pieces of flaming debris were scattering around him, hurled into the air by the explosions.  Harris could see tall flames emerging from the source of the chaos, licking the walls of the high hotels and apartment blocks, a smear of black smoke on the blue sky.  So it was terrorists, he thought.  They were going for the symbols of wealth and inequality, no doubt.  He glanced across the trees to spot the heights of the Shard, peeping over the oaks and rooftops; a moment of clarity came in the realisation that he was sitting only a few hundred yards from Buckingham Palace.  He began to run.

              He was stopped by another immense crowd of people, many of whom were screaming and crying.  They were jostling and elbowing past one another, like an aggressive glacier.  There was no hope of crossing the stream, and Harris had no desire to join it.  There was no choice but to wait, so he ducked into a clothes shop that seemed to have been looted – garments were strewn on the floor and windows were smashed; no one was around.  The place smelled stale, with a tangy odour Harris put down to the vandals.  He squatted in a corner, hidden by some racks of jeans, and took out his phone again, only to discover there was still no signal of any kind.  Turning it off to preserve battery, he looked around at his situation.  The steady stream of people continued outside, and he could see the other side of the road, where people were leaning from windows, frantically looking at the events unfold.  There was a brief flash of blue lights and a moment of a siren which then died to nothing.  The shop was wrecked.  He hadn’t noticed how the ceiling was caving in, wires and light fittings dangling; glimpses of upstairs apartments with potted plants and book cases could be seen through the apertures. There seemed to be no logical reason for such destruction.  Harris pondered this for a moment and then noticed a figure, watching him from the far corner of the shop, a silhouette against the bright inlaid lighting advertising Givenchy and Boss scents.  Harris held up his hand in greeting, but the person didn’t move.  They appeared to be looking intently in his direction, and seemed totally uninterested in the crowds outside; Harris shifted his weight to offset the cramp that was developing in his thighs and tried speaking.  “Hiya, you ok?”

              The response was immediate and horrifying, as the figure leapt at Harris in a single, fleeting movement.  Harris turned and dived under the customer desk, banging his head hard on the wood, hurriedly drawing in his exposed legs as the other person reached for them.  The light was now illuminating the other, and Harris could see grey skin, shrivelled and worn features and empty eye sockets. The smell was incredible, and almost made him pass out.  Screaming in terror, he backed away, under the desk as the creature crawled towards him, clutching for his feet blindly.  The stench was unbelievable, and was choking Harris, bringing tears to his eyes.  The monster was wearing a grey, matted and filthy dress, in blue and gold, and had a necklace dangling around its neck; it swiped at Harris’ eyes with thin and discoloured fingers, the tips worn to bone like dinosaur’s claws.  Harris kicked at it with all his might, landing a few solid blows on the jaw of the thing, which promptly broke off and shot across the floor like a rat.  It rose, standing over Harris, its head shrunken and strangely imbalanced; with electric speed it lunged at him, but he managed to roll out of the way and struggle to his feet. Heart racing, he cast his eyes around for anything that could be useful.  A fire extinguisher was a possibility.  Footsteps behind him as he closed his fingers around the nozzle of the extinguisher alerted him that the creature was close, so he wildly swung the heavy metal cylinder in a wide arc, using its momentum.  Blind luck had it connect with the thing’s head, and its skull shattered into powder and small fragments.  The rest of the body continued to move for a few seconds, clawing ineffectually at him as he danced out of the way, extinguisher discarded on the floor.  After a longer time than felt reasonable, the remains collapsed onto the chequered floor of the fashion shop and were still.  Harris let his back slide down the wall; exhausted, he too slumped onto the floor, breathing heavily.  He now realised tears were shiny and sticky on his cheeks and his back ached terribly.  The crowd was thinning outside, but he could do nothing but rest.  But there would be no way he would shut his eyes.