Ghost Virus: Chapter 43

Three police Transit vans had arrived from Wandsworth and parked nose-to-tail outside the station. DI Saunders went down to meet them, and Jerry and Jamila went with him.

The noise in the streets was hellish. From the direction of Mitcham Road there was screaming and shouting and police sirens, as well as the intermittent banging of gunshots and the smashing of car and shop windows.

Thirty officers in full black riot gear had jumped out of the vans and were lining up along the pavement. DI Saunders went up to the sergeant in charge and said, ‘They’re heading this way. We need to stop them before they come any further, and see if we can push them back towards the Broadway.’

‘You say “they”, sir,’ said the sergeant. ‘Who exactly are we talking about?’

‘They’re coats and jackets and other clothes,’ said Jamila. ‘They’ve become alive, and they’re extremely violent.’

‘And they’re bloody strong, too,’ Jerry put in. ‘Don’t underestimate them, just because they’re clothes.’

The sergeant stared at them. ‘Coats and jackets? Are you serious? I was told they were rioters, that’s all.’

Jerry was about to say more when the first of the coats appeared around the corner. They were still beating at cars and shattering their windows, but they were advancing more slowly now, fanning themselves out across the road. There was no sign of any more shoppers. The coats must have killed most of them, although Jerry hoped that some of them had managed to escape down one of the side-streets, or hidden in cafés or shops.

‘God almighty,’ said the sergeant. ‘I’m seeing things.’

The coats were joined by jackets and windcheaters and long black dresses. They stopped for a few moments, lined up like warriors in some film about a medieval battle, their sleeves flapping in some unfelt wind. The feeling of war was heightened by the sound of drumming, because the coats that were coming up behind them were beating relentlessly on the bonnets and rooftops of the cars that were jammed along the Mitcham Road. Those drivers who hadn’t been dragged out of their vehicles remained trapped, cowering, behind the wheel, although many of them had managed to climb out of their cars and run away down Southcroft Road.

The sergeant shouted to his men, ‘Let’s have you all spread out across the street! We need to push these buggers back, OK? Move forward slowly, keep your shields together, and don’t let any of them get behind you!’

‘OK, sarge, but what the fuck are they?’ called out one of his PCs.

‘That doesn’t matter! Just push them back and keep on pushing them back!’

The riot squad lined themselves up to face the coats, drawing their batons and shuffling themselves close together so that their transparent shields overlapped. Almost as if the weather could sense the drama of this confrontation, it began to rain again, suddenly and heavily.

Jamila said, ‘I think this is when we pray.’

The first clothes began to float eerily forward, with hundreds more clothes massing behind them. The drumming stopped. There was no sound now except for the pattering of rain on the tarmac, and two distant sirens warbling, and somewhere a woman’s voice calling out ‘Help me! Help me!’ although it was hard to tell where it was coming from.

As the coats approached, the riot police moved to meet them, until they were only ten metres apart, when they both stopped.

Although he couldn’t see their faces, Jerry could guess from the way in which the riot police were uncomfortably shifting their boots that they were deeply unnerved. In front of them, in the drifting rain, they were confronted by parkas with empty hoods, as well as dripping sweaters with nobody in them, and long dresses that were twisted like tied-back curtains. All of these clothes were swaying inches above the roadway, and it was impossible to imagine what was keeping them up.

‘Come on, advance! Push them back!’ the sergeant shouted. He was almost screaming, which showed that he was just as frightened as his men.

The riot police took another few hesitant steps forward, but as soon as they did so the clothes rushed at them with the force of a tidal wave. They collided with the line of riot shields and knocked almost all of the officers off their feet. Some of them fell backwards onto the wet roadway, their shields clattering on top of them. Some of them staggered sideways, but were instantly jumped on by hooded coats and rain-soaked sweaters and dragged down onto the pavement. They started shrieking in fear and agony as the clothes wound their sleeves around their arms and legs and started to wrench them out of their sockets.

DI Saunders hesitated. It was obvious that he didn’t want to look like a coward and abandon all of these officers, but now a whole army of clothes was pouring down the road towards the police station and there was no chance that any of them could be saved. Even the riot squad’s sergeant turned around and started to run. He was almost halfway back to the police station when a grey raincoat came slithering along the ground and entangled his ankles and then a bronze padded anorak with a thick furry collar leapt onto his shoulders. He fell to the ground face-first, his forehead hitting a kerbstone with a crack.

DI Saunders didn’t have to give an order to run. Jerry and Jamila and DI Saunders began to bound up the steps that led to the police station’s front doors. A PC was holding the left-hand door open for them, but Jerry had the horrible feeling that if the clothes caught up with them before they could reach it, he would slam it shut in their faces.

They had nearly reached the top of the steps when Jamila let out a piping scream. Jerry turned to see that a long dark brown dress had caught hold of her arm, and was starting to wind one of its sleeves around her upper arm.

He seized the sleeve and prised it off her. It was so wriggly and strong that it nearly twisted itself free, but he clenched his left fist firmly around it and wouldn’t let it go. Then he reached over with his right hand and snatched at the other sleeve.

For a few moments the two of them were locked in a struggling dance. The dress tried to pull Jerry back down the steps, and he tripped and almost lost his balance, but he managed to steady himself, lean back, and heave the dress back up again.

‘Jerry!’ shouted Jamila. ‘Let it go!’

Jerry was struggling so hard to keep hold of the two wet woollen sleeves that he could only grunt. But he could guess what would happen if he let it go. It wouldn’t try to fly away – it would launch itself at him even more fiercely and wind its sleeves around his neck and try to choke him, just like that duffle coat.

Still gripping the right sleeve, he pushed his fist down between the two white iron handrails that ran up the centre of the steps. Then he forced the left sleeve underneath the nearer handrail, so that he could knot the two together.

The dress struggled against him so fiercely that it took every ounce of strength that he could summon up, but with his teeth gritted he managed to tie one wet sleeve around the other and pull it tight. The dress was now fastened to the handrail, and even though it flapped and curled and lashed against the steps like a landed manta ray, it couldn’t get free.

‘Jerry!’ shouted Jamila, and this time she sounded almost hysterical. He backed away from the furiously struggling dress, catching his heel on the top step behind him so that he sat down, hard, jarring his spine. As he stood up again, he saw that the clothes had reached the bottom step, a sinister crowd of dark hooded coats and jackets, and that they were already floating up towards him.

He turned and with three gazelle-like bounds that would have made him laugh if he hadn’t been so terrified, he reached the front doors of the station and staggered inside. The PC who had been holding the door open immediately slammed it shut, and shot the bolts across it, top and bottom. Two seconds later, the doors thundered and shook as the clothes piled into them.

DI Saunders looked grey. ‘Thought you were done for there, Jerry, like those other poor bastards.’

Jerry stood there, panting, trying to get his breath back. He was tempted to say, It takes more than a wet brown dress to get the better of me, Smiley. Instead, he simply nodded. He felt a sharp pain in his left thumb and guessed that he might have sprained it when he was tying the sleeves together.

Jamila came over and without any hesitation or embarrassment she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him.

‘You saved my life, Jerry,’ she said, looking up at him, and her dark brown eyes were glistening with tears. ‘I would have died if it hadn’t been for you.’

The reception area was crowded with sergeants and acting sergeants and PCs and PCSOs and other station staff, and they were all milling around looking frightened and utterly baffled. They were being besieged by clothes? All Jerry could do was pull a self-deprecating face to show them that he wasn’t a hero and that he hardly understood what was happening any more than they did. He didn’t want them to realise that he was still trembling from fear and physical strain and the sheer unreality of fighting a dress that had been determined to tear him apart.

The lift doors opened and Inspector Callow quickly walked out. Jamila let go of Jerry and stepped away, but she gave his hand a last affectionate squeeze, right on his twisted thumb, so that it was as much as he could do not to yelp out loud.

Holding up his hands for attention, Inspector Callow said, ‘It’s hard to accept, I know that. It seems like science fiction. But as most of you are now aware, some unknown force has enabled all kinds of clothing to come to life. Coats and shirts and sweaters and dresses: they can walk and run as if they have people wearing them, even though they don’t. Even more alarming than that, they seem to be determined to attack and kill every person they come across.’

DI Saunders said, ‘From what we’ve seen first-hand on the streets and from CCTV, they may already have killed and injured as many as two or three hundred – possibly more. Innocent shoppers and cyclists and motorists and bus passengers, not to mention the entire riot squad team that was sent down from Wandsworth to give us back-up.’

‘Right now, they’ve surrounded the station on all sides,’ said Inspector Callow. ‘They’ve broken some windows at the rear of the building but of course they’re barred and they haven’t been able to gain access. I’ve called for more reinforcements and they should be arriving within twenty to twenty-five minutes, including anti-terrorist teams and a specialist SAS squadron. Meanwhile there’s not a lot we can do except sit tight and repel any attempts to break in.’

He hadn’t finished speaking before the front doors thundered again. The clothes had collided with them with such force that plaster dust sifted down from the lintel.

‘Don’t let’s lose our nerve,’ said Inspector Callow. ‘I fully realise that we’re up against a threat that’s unlike anything we’ve ever had to face before. Infinitely greater in numbers than any jihadi attack. Infinitely more aggressive. And infinitely more difficult to counter.’

Sergeant Bristow raised his hand and said, ‘Do we have any idea why they’re attacking us, sir? I mean, why would they want to go for the very people who have the best chance of stopping them?’

‘I can’t answer that, sergeant,’ said Inspector Callow. ‘But perhaps that’s the reason. They want to neutralise us so that they can be free to cause whatever havoc they have in mind. Although that suggests, doesn’t it, that they have minds, and that they can think, and communicate with each other? They’re nothing more than fabric. How can cotton and wool and nylon think for themselves? Because that’s all they are.’ He turned to DI Saunders and Jerry and Jamila. ‘Let’s go back to the control room. We need to keep a close eye on what they’re doing, these – clothes.’

They all went upstairs. On the CCTV screens in the control room they could see that the building was completely surrounded, and that at least a dozen hooded coats were relentlessly beating at all of the outside doors with their sleeves. They could hear the dull thumping sound of it, even up here in this soundproofed room.

DI Saunders stared at the screens for almost a minute before he said, ‘What if they can’t be stopped? We know they can’t be Tasered, and they can’t be shot, and they haven’t got eyes or lungs so tear-gas isn’t going to work, is it? What if they manage to break the doors down and get inside? What the hell are we going to do then?’

‘I have been thinking about this, too,’ said Jamila. ‘In the stories my grandmother used to tell me in Pakistan, evil spirits were usually banished with religious incantations. But we don’t know if these spirits have any religion, and if they do, what religion it might be. We can’t even be sure that they are spirits, or ghosts, not in the sense that we usually understand them.’

‘Well, let’s hope we can hold out until the SAS get here,’ said Inspector Callow. ‘I’m sure they can work out a way of dealing with them, especially if any of them have experience of fighting ISIS and the Taliban.’

Jerry said, ‘Those clothes at Mindy’s parents’ house… they came to life, didn’t they? But they didn’t stay alive for long. They just about made it down the stairs and that was as far as they went. And all three of our suspects at Springfield told us that the personalities that have taken them over are dying. Maybe these clothes are going to do the same and simply run out of steam.’

There was renewed thumping on the back door that led out to the car park. Then they heard a grinding crash, too, and when they looked at the CCTV screens they saw that a cluster of clothes had heaved a patrol car onto its side and were smashing the windows and denting the doors.

‘Running out of steam?’ said DI Saunders. ‘Not this lot. Not yet, anyhow.’

‘Anti-terrorist unit are just passing Wandsworth Common,’ said the radio operator. ‘ETA twelve minutes.’

It was then that the CCTV screens died and turned black, and immediately afterwards, all the lights went out.


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