Gregor got to work on the angels lying on his tables. He methodically cut away flesh, sawing and slicing and filling bucket after bucket with lumps of rotten gore.
‘You get the best jobs,’ said Hook, lifting two huge buckets of grey meat at once.
Gregor just grunted.
Stella was lifting Jared onto her shoulders. ‘I’m gonna take Mr Jenks somewhere more comfortable,’ she said.
‘You mean a rolled up mat on the floor?’ said Hook. ‘He’d be better where he is.’
‘Let’s just say I wouldn’t want Gregor’s tools to slip and accidently fall on him.’ She smiled as she said it.
‘We can’t feed everyone,’ Gregor growled, his head bent towards his gruesome task. Sweat covered his forehead and, on the rare occasions he glanced up from his work, it shone in the late afternoon sunlight.
Hook lugged his load down the east corridor.
‘Remember to check nothing’s around before you tip that out,’ said Stella.
‘Uh huh,’ the big man called over his shoulder.
Stella moved north and into the gift shop, converted now to a bedroom of sorts. She had filled the shelves with books scavenged on her various trips into the city. Other than that, there was a sleeping mat and a chair. Patterned throws hung at the windows and the door, which she closed, plunging the room into a gloomy shade. Not much, but it was the closest thing she had to a private space.
She didn’t know why she brought Jared in here; if he was awake, he certainly wouldn’t be welcome. She sighed as she laid him down on her mat. ‘Sleep well, Mr Jenks.’ She settled in the chair and grabbed a book from the shelves and clicked on a reading lamp. ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy. A little bit of non-fiction,’ she said to herself, and settled to read.
Stella jerked awake. Someone was standing over her. She lashed out with her fist, connecting with someone’s jaw. The figure yelped and fell over. Stella was up, out of the chair and standing over him in an instant, ready to press her attack.
Jared covered his head with his arms. ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ he said.
Stella stopped, reached her hand down to him. ‘It’s okay,’ she said, with never a thought of an apology. ‘I should warn you, I don’t like to be woken up. If you ever need to do it again, you should do it from a distance.’
Jared reached for her hand and allowed himself to be pulled smoothly to his feet. His jaw was already red and starting to swell. ‘Noted,’ he said.
Stella stared at him.
He flinched again.
‘Don’t be nervous. You’re not in danger here,’ said Stella.
‘We’re in danger everywhere,’ said Jared.
Stella nodded. ‘You must be hungry.’ She looked at his drawn face, his sunken eyes. ‘Breakfast.’
She led him from the gift shop back to the rotunda, where Gregor and Hook were already up and eating.
‘Morning, JJ,’ said Hook. He saw the blossoming bruise on Jared’s face. ‘Rough night?’ He winked at Stella, who ignored him.
Gregor glared at Jared. Both he and Hook ate from bowls, spooning what looked and smelled like baked beans into their mouths.
‘Sit here,’ said Stella, pointing to a stool on the outside of the ringed desk. She walked into the middle and met him on the other side of the black wood. ‘We have just what a starving man needs.’ She placed a tin of baked beans and sausages in front of Jared.
He stared at it, open mouthed.
Stella smiled. ‘Hot or cold?’ she said.
Jared looked at her. ‘How will you heat it? Might get a bit smoky in here if you light a fire.’
Hook and Stella laughed, even Gregor smirked. ‘No problem,’ said Stella. She took the tin, opened it with a tin opener and poured the contents into a bowl. She reached below the counter and Jared heard a series of old but familiar sounds: a door opening, buttons pressed and the whir of a microwave oven.
His mouth dropped open again. ‘You’ve got power?’
Stella smiled. ‘Solar. A little present from our almost-visitors. Vic's was one of the first places to be kitted out with the new gear.’
‘No problems with it?’ said Jared.
‘Nothing serious so far,’ said Gregor.
‘We’ve had to steal a few parts from places,’ said Hook, smiling. ‘Some of the streetlights don’t work anymore.’
‘It’s not stealing, not anymore’ said Jared. ‘No one to steal it from.’ His haggard face was glum again. ‘Wait a minute,’ he said. ‘You have working streetlights?’
The other three nodded. Jared managed to look even glummer. ‘I’ve not seen a working streetlight for years.’
‘Cheer up and eat up,’ said Stella, placing a steaming bowl in front of him.
‘So, what’s the plan?’ said Hook. Breakfast was finished. Gregor was already busying himself at his now gore-free work stations, Hook had taken the pots away, Stella was waiting calmly and Jared was still too stunned to speak.
‘We track down a working mobile phone mast,’ said Gregor, speaking from behind the mechanical parts of the angels stacked on his table. ‘It should give us an idea of how this phone is working, what bandwidth is being used. It might even give us some idea about where the signals are coming from.
‘That’s my job,’ said Stella. ‘Where do I start?’
Gregor shrugged. ‘Tall buildings have them stashed away inside their roofs. Plenty of those to choose from.’
‘What about this place?’ said Jared.
‘We’ve cleaned it out,’ said Gregor, spreading his arms to take in the whole building. ‘Top to bottom. Anything technological is already down here. And I don’t remember a mobile mast.’
‘Next door then,’ said Stella. ‘Front of the Natural History’s tall enough and if there wasn’t one in here, good chance there’s one in there.’
‘Not exactly a clear logic,’ said Gregor. ‘But close enough.’
‘And we won’t need thumpers, so we save a few batteries,’ said Stella.
‘What are thumpers?’ asked Jared.
‘Ultra sound,’ said Gregor. ‘You’ve heard of the Mosquito devices they put in shops to clear teenagers?’ Jared nodded. ‘Similar to those. We set up a thumper and it broadcasts an ultra sonic rhythm, like a beat that we can’t hear. Sends the zombies crazy; they can’t get enough. Drawn to it like moths to a flame.’
‘Why call it a thumper?’ said Jared.
‘Because it thumps into their ears and brains. Duh, duh, duh!’ said Hook, banging the desk.
‘That’s where all the deads are,’ said Jared.
The other three nodded. ‘Zombie catnip,’ said Hook.
‘Is that what you call them?’ said Stella. ‘Deads?’
'Yeah. Not very imaginative.’
‘Spot on though,’ she replied. She turned to Hook. ‘I’m gonna take this one alone, okay?’
‘Not a problem,’ he replied. ‘I was never one for sneaking about. And the garden needs a bit of TLC. I’ll sort that and we can all have a freshly cooked meal tonight.’
Jared stared from one to other, bemused. ‘It’s not like this where I came from.’
Before she left the safety of Vic's, Stella went upstairs to check the streets. The trees on the other side of the road were overgrown, unchecked; Stella could barely see the red phone box against the rampant green. The Ismaili Building stood silent and empty, its windows still covered in the filthy fallout from the crash outside. Ignoring it all, she checked for. The skies were clear but there were a few shufflers, deads, she corrected herself, on the road but that was to be expected. A handful always drifted once the thumpers’ signals were cut. Satisfied, she moved swiftly down the stairs, through the rotunda, past the cloakrooms and out of the door, closing it behind her softly.
One of the deads sensed her immediately. How some of them seemed to be aware while others spent days walking into a glass wall like fat, drunken flies, she had never figured out. She touched the sheathed knife strapped to her leg. A weapon wasn't always best; a sword was too big, a club too cumbersome, but the tanto, a Japanese dagger with a twelve inch blade, was small enough to fit between hip and knee so as not obstruct movement. She knew that not taking it on her last outing was a sign of something. She didn't want to think what. Glancing down at the blade, she smiled. It was from one of Vic's displays when they had first arrived after the crash. Stella had looked after it well, cleaning and sharpening it almost daily.
From across the street, the dead stumbled towards her, its initial jerky movements lying to give it the illusion of speed. Stella knew that it would be a minute before it made it to her position. She decided to ignore it and headed for the Natural History Museum.
The front doors, almost hidden amongst the wild trees and shrubs that grew out of control in front of the museum, were at the top of three short flights of hand-railed steps. They were barricaded. Over a year ago she and Hook had made sure that anything inside couldn’t get outside to come bother them. ‘So,’ she said to herself, ‘when you close the door before the horse has bolted, how do you get back in?’
She stood and stared at the two enormous towers that flanked the main entrance. If there were masts, they would surely be at the top of those towers. There were huge arched windows at the bottom of each tower which she could easily break, but she hesitated, knowing that that would leave a permanent hole in the front of the museum. A permanent hole that could leak deads. She didn’t fancy clearing the whole building. ‘Maybe that’s a job for Hook,’ she said aloud.
She sighed and allowed her shoulders to slump. ‘What to do, what to do…’
Her hand moved quickly to the tanto as she whirled around, and the blade was out of its sheath and into the top of the dead’s head in the blink of an eye. It was the same one that had seen her leaving Vic's. Stella stared at it for the brief second that it stayed upright. The tip of her blade poked beneath its chin, blood dripping from the end. She looked closer at its face. Its yellow eyes never changed. None of them ever did. Dead before, dead now. Nothing left, there was no release. No soul.
She gripped the handle and pulled as it fell and the knife came free. The dead’s raggedy clothes were used to wipe the tanto clean before it was replaced in its sheath.
‘Well, Hook could use the exercise,’ she said to the limp corpse. She walked forward, and with one massive boot, kicked a metal strut holding the hand rail, stooped for the rail, twisted and snapped it away from the strut and stalked towards the window on the right. ‘I think I’ll go through the arched window today,’ she said as she raised the bar high.
She brought it down, sword-like, through the glass, shattering the entire two-and-a-half metre pane. Once the glass had stopped falling and the appalling noise had settled, she looked through into the room beyond. Three deads were already shuffling their way towards the broken remains of the frame.
‘Hi honeys, I’m home,’ she said as she leapt through the gap.