Ghost Virus: Chapter 45

They clattered down the staircase, not using the lift in case the power cut out. Halfway down, they heard more shouting and a crackling volley of shots from an automatic rifle.

As they reached the first-floor landing, they saw below them a battleground. The double front doors of the police station had been smashed down flat, and a host of living clothes was swarming over them and into the reception area. A variety of coats was leading the assault, but they were followed by scores of jackets and anoraks and dresses and sweaters.

About twenty police officers were lined up beside the front desk. Five or six of them were kneeling, and pointing their Heckler & Koch machine guns. The rest were wielding batons and holding Tasers and pepper sprays. Most of the volunteer officers and clerical staff had fled upstairs.

Apart from the banging of sporadic shots, the whole station was eerily quiet. The police officers were no longer shouting, and the clothes had stopped drumming at the back doors. All that Jerry could hear was the breath-like sound of clothing as the coats and jackets came swaying across the reception area.

DI Saunders turned to Jokubas Liepa and said, tersely, ‘Go on, then. Do your god thing.’

Liepa didn’t answer him, but walked down to the bottom of the staircase and held up both of his hands.

‘I can’t see this working,’ said Jerry.

‘Me neither,’ said Jamila. ‘He was lying about something. I’m not sure what. Towards the end, his eyes went black.’

‘What? You’re kidding. Tell Smiley.’

‘What’s the point? He won’t believe me, and anyway we’ve run out of time.’

Liepa walked right out in front of the oncoming coats, still with both hands raised. For a moment, Jerry thought that they were going to keep on floating forward and beat him down with their windmilling sleeves. But then he cried out, ‘Stop! Tu mane pripažįsi, ar ne? You recognise me, don’t you?’

Although they were still swaying, the coats stopped, and hovered, and one after another they dropped their sleeves slackly by their sides. Liepa lowered his hands and walked towards them, and when he reached them, they parted to let him through. They allowed him to walk all the way to the fallen front doors, and when he was standing on one of the doors he turned around and lifted his hands again.

‘You see?’ he called out. ‘I am a god!’

With that, he walked out and disappeared into the rain.

‘Liepa!’ screamed DI Saunders. ‘Liepa! What about all these bloody clothes?’

But as soon as Liepa had gone, the clothes began to surge forward again, and three or four black duffle coats rushed up to the line of police officers together and started to beat at them with their sleeves. The police fired at them again and again, and dozens of fragments of dark cloth were blown up into the air, but the coats kept on coming, even when their hoods had been shot into tatters. They were followed by a tumultuous horde of jackets and dresses, overwhelming the officers and piling themselves on top of them, until they were lost from sight. Jerry could hear muffled screaming, and one or two gunshots, but then nothing except that strange deep breathing sound that accompanied the clothes, as if they had lungs.

DI Saunders said, ‘Back upstairs! Back upstairs! We can lock ourselves in! The SAS will be turning up in a minute!’

As she turned around to follow DI Saunders back upstairs, Jerry caught hold of Jamila’s hand.

‘No,’ he said. ‘If we go back upstairs, we’ll be trapped.’

Jamila looked down at the mass of clothing writhing on top of the officers. Some of the shirts were already stained with blood.

‘Where else can we go?’ she asked him. Her eyes were wide with fear, and she was tugging at his hand, trying to get free.

‘There – out through the door. Look at them, they’re all too busy trying to get a share of those poor bastards’ souls.’

‘Come on!’ shouted DI Saunders. ‘You don’t want to get locked out!’

Jerry held Jamila’s hand firmly. ‘We need to go now, Jamila! It’s the only chance we’re going to get!’

Jamila could see that there was a clear space between the bottom of the staircase and the front door, and if they went now, and ran fast enough, they might just be able to make it outside. But if the clothes realised that they were trying to escape, would they leave the squirming bloodstained heap and come after them? And if they did, how fast could they fly?

Without saying anything, she launched herself downstairs, pulling Jerry after her. When they reached the bottom stair, she tripped and almost fell, but Jerry yanked her upright, and together they ran for the space where the front doors had been.

Jerry didn’t turn his head to see if any of the clothes were chasing after them. Still holding Jamila’s hand, he sprinted through the doors and into the rain, and together they leapt down the police station’s front steps as if they were dancers in a stage musical.

They both stopped when they reached the pavement, and looked around. None of the streetlamps were lit and there were no lights shining in any of the shop fronts or upstairs windows. Even though it was raining so heavily, and it was so gloomy, they could see that at least a score of coats and jackets were hunched over the bodies of the riot officers, and that they looked as if they were tearing them apart. They could also see Jokubas Liepa, standing in the road at Amen Corner, watching this grisly dismemberment with his hands in his pockets. He was too far away from them to be able to see the expression on his face, but Jerry imagined that it was grim satisfaction.

You see? I am a god!

‘I don’t think he’s seen us,’ said Jerry. ‘Let’s head this way, but we should nip down a few side-streets in case he sends any of those clothes after us.’

They started jogging south towards Tooting railway station. There were only twenty or thirty cars along this stretch of Mitcham Road, and all of them were abandoned. Most of them had dented bonnets and broken windows, and one or two of them had runnels of blood down the sides of their doors. There were no pedestrians around, either, and every shop and restaurant and pub was in darkness, although some of their doors were open.

Outside the railway station entrance, they saw bodies lying on the pavement in the rain – men, women and several small children. Some of them were severely mutilated, with their heads so badly crushed that their faces were unrecognisable, and their arms and legs twisted off. One small boy had been torn in half, with his upper body only connected to his hips and his legs by yards of intestines. His eyes were open and he was staring at the pavement through spectacles with cracked lenses.

‘God almighty,’ Jerry panted. ‘Hundreds of clothes must have come charging through here. Thousands. This is like a bleeding ghost town.’

He took out his phone to see if he could make contact with the CCC – the Met’s central communication command at Lambeth Road. He knew that his battery was charged but the screen remained black. Jamila tried her phone, but hers was dead, too.

‘The landlines should still be working,’ said Jerry. ‘Let’s knock on somebody’s door and ask to use their phone.’

They looked around to make sure that they weren’t being followed, and then they crossed over to Finborough Road. As they did so, a police helicopter roared overhead, very low, with a spotlight shining along the road.

Finborough Road was narrow, with terraced Victorian houses on both sides. Jerry went to the front door of the first house and rang the doorbell. There was no response at first so he rang it again. The curtain was drawn aside from the living-room window and a pale bald man in glasses appeared.

‘Who are you?’ the man shouted, barely audible through the glass. ‘What do you want?’

Jerry took out his warrant card and pressed it against the window. ‘Police. We need to use your phone.’

‘It’s not working. Nothing’s working.’

‘I’m not talking about your mobile. I mean your landline.’

‘It’s not working. Ever since those coats came past and knocked at the door and tried to get in. Nothing’s working.’

They tried another house, further down the road. A very polite Indian woman refused to open the door but spoke to them through the letterbox. She had no electricity, either, and her landline was dead. ‘I am sorry. I would like to help. But I am too frightened. Ghosts came down this street, knocking at all of the doors, and I heard screaming.’

‘What did they look like, these ghosts?’

‘Invisible people. But wearing clothes. I don’t care if you don’t believe me. That is what they looked like.’

They tried one last house, but this time nobody answered, although Jerry was sure that he saw a woman’s face at an upstairs window.

‘Well, sarge, it looks like we’re on our tod,’ said Jerry.

‘The SAS squadron must be very close now,’ said Jamila. ‘Since we can’t make contact with anybody, let’s head in that direction and see if we can meet up with them.’

‘That sounds like a plan. The last time they got in touch they said it was going to take them about thirty-five minutes to get here. They must have reached the Broadway by now.’

‘We won’t have to go back the way we came?’

‘No… there’s a pedestrian cut-through between the end of this road and Robinson Road, and that’ll take us straight to the High Street. It’s only about half a mile to the Broadway from there.’

They jogged along the dark wet suburban streets, not talking. Every now and then Jerry took out his phone to see if he could get a signal, but the screen stayed blank. The police helicopter roared over them again, and for a split-second they were lit up by its spotlight, but it carried on flying north-eastwards, towards Streatham. Either its crew hadn’t seen them, or else they had more urgent business to attend to.

They had almost reached the High Street when Jamila said, ‘Look – on the corner – are those—’

Jerry strained his eyes to look up ahead. His optician had told him several times that he needed to think about wearing glasses, but he had kept putting it off. Although they were blurry, he could just make out four or five dark figures gathered beside a motoring shop on the corner, and from the way they appeared to be bobbing and floating he guessed they were coats.

‘Damn,’ he said. ‘We’ll have to make a detour.’

‘What about that street we just passed? Can’t we go up there?’

‘It’s a dead end. They all are, along here. The bleeding River Graveney’s in the way.’

Jerry was still trying to think of the best route to reach the Broadway without having to walk miles out of their way when he noticed that the dark figures on the corner were moving. Not just moving, but crossing the High Street and coming towards them, and quickly.

He touched Jamila’s shoulder and said, ‘I think they’ve spotted us.’

‘I think you’re right,’ said Jamila. ‘Quick – which way shall we go?’

‘Down here,’ Jerry told her, pointing to the next street on the left, Park Road.

They started running, but as they reached the corner of Park Road they could see that the coats were clearly coming after them, and very fast – flapping along the pavement as if they were being blown by a hurricane.

‘Allah, give me wings!’ gasped Jamila. But as they sprinted down the middle of the road, Jerry quickly looked behind him and he could see that the five dark figures were less than a hundred metres behind them.

On either side of the road there were nothing but two-storey terraced houses, and every window was dark. Even if they knocked and someone came to the door and was prepared to let them in, the figures would have caught up with them by then, and the house-owner would probably be killed, too, along with anybody else in the house.

About sixty metres up ahead of him, though, he saw a gap between the houses. It was fenced off from the street, and behind the fence he saw a half-demolished brick warehouse, and three parked vans, and a builders’ hut, and two workmen’s chemical toilets.

‘In there!’ he panted. ‘Maybe they won’t be able to follow us – over the fence!’

There were double swing gates in the centre of the fencing. He ran straight towards the gates and jumped at them, grabbing the topmost rail with both hands and sticking one foot into the gap beside the catch. He managed to swing his leg over the top of the gate and once he was sitting astride it, he twisted around and leaned down so that he could grasp Jamila’s hand and help her to climb up.

‘I can’t do it!’ she shrieked, but Jerry leaned over even further and grabbed her left sleeve as well as her hand, and once he had a firm grip on her he threw himself sideways. Jamila scrambled up the gate as he fell, and when he landed on his left shoulder on the ground, she came tumbling down on top of him.

Only a few seconds after they had fallen, the dark figures collided with the gate, so that it rang like bells. Jerry struggled back onto his feet, and it was then that he could see them for what they were: five black and navy-blue coats, with hoods, and flailing sleeves. The gate shook as they threw themselves against it again and again. Inside their hoods, there was nothing, only darkness.

His shoulder was bruised and he was winded, but he helped Jamila to stand up, and together they hobbled around the last remaining wall of the warehouse, so that the coats could no longer see them.

‘Do you think they can climb over?’ asked Jamila.

‘I have no idea,’ said Jerry. He was looking around for a gate or an alleyway at the back of the warehouse yard, but it was surrounded on all three sides by high brick walls, dividing it from the next-door gardens, and he could see neither. ‘I thought there might be a way out of here, but it doesn’t look like there is.’

Although they could no longer see the coats, they could hear that they were shaking the gate so violently that it couldn’t keep them out for very much longer.

Jamila took hold of Jerry’s lapels. The whites of her eyes were shining in the gloom, and the rain was sparkling on her headscarf.

‘Will they tear us into pieces, like those other people?’ she asked.

Jerry looked over at the builders’ shed. ‘Not if I can help it,’ he said. ‘Maybe there’s something in there we can beat them off with.’

‘Jerry – even if you shoot them they don’t die – and you haven’t got a gun.’

Jerry crossed over to the shed. He peered through the window but the glass was too grimy and it was too dark to see anything inside. There was a heavy padlock on the door, so he went over to the warehouse wall and picked up a broken brick. He smashed it against the padlock as hard as he could, and after the third smash both hasp and padlock dropped off onto the ground. Jerry opened the door and stepped in.

Inside, the hut smelled strongly of stale cigarettes and sweat and oil. A collection of picks was stacked up against the wall on the left-hand side, and piled on a shelf above them was a cluster of yellow and white hard hats. On the right-hand side, at least seven donkey-jackets stained with mud and brick dust were hanging from a row of pegs, and at the back of the shed there were more shelves, with long-handled mallets and crowbars and two chainsaws, one with no chain. A picture of this year’s Miss BumBum had been cut from the Daily Star and nailed to the front of the middle shelf.

Jamila looked anxiously back in the direction of the fence. The shaking sound was growing more and more furious, and she was sure that she heard a metallic creak as if one of the gateposts were giving way.

‘Jerry! What are we going to do? Maybe you could hit them with one of those picks.’

Jerry said, ‘Wait – the way we cut up that sweater and that dress, when Mindy’s parents came back to life. That worked, didn’t it? Just like your grandfather cut up that what’s-it’s-name.’

‘That jinn, yes. But maybe these are different. The sweater and the dress, they were attached to people. They were parasites. These coats, they have a life of their own.’

‘Didn’t the jinn have a life of its own?’

‘Jerry, I know that worked with Mindy’s parents, but that was a story! And listen – did you hear that? It sounds like they’ve knocked the gate down! They must be coming!’

Jerry pushed his way past the donkey-jackets to the back of the hut. He lifted up the chainsaw and carried it outside. Jamila watched him as he set it down on the ground and put his foot on it to hold it steady, although she kept glancing nervously back towards the corner of the warehouse wall for any sign of the coats appearing.

Jerry pulled out the choke lever, pressed the decompression button and then started to yank at the pull cord. He yanked it five or six times but the chainsaw still wouldn’t start, and he had the chilling feeling that it might be out of petrol.

He was still tugging at it when the five coats appeared around the side of the last warehouse wall. They were floating towards them more slowly now, all spread out, like a gang of gunfighters in a Western. They obviously realised that the warehouse yard was totally enclosed and that Jerry and Jamila had nowhere to run.

‘Please, Allah, protect us,’ prayed Jamila, laying her hand on Jerry’s shoulder.

Jerry tried pushing the choke lever back in a little, and yanked at the pull cord again. Immediately, the chainsaw roared into life.

He picked it up and stood his ground, with his feet planted firmly apart. ‘Come on, then!’ he shouted, over the buzzing of the chainsaw. ‘If you want us, come and fucking get us!’

The coats didn’t hesitate, and kept on coming. It occurred to Jerry that although they could probably sense him and Jamila, they could neither see them nor hear them. They had no eyes or ears, after all. But they were spirits. They were ghosts. They were desperate to come alive again, and that desperation must alert them to the presence of any living soul.

Two of the coats suddenly came rushing towards him, their sleeves whirling. Jerry lifted the chainsaw and one of them flew right into it. One of its sleeves was instantly ripped into shreds, and then Jerry swung the chainsaw from side to side and the coat was torn apart so violently that it looked as if it had exploded.

Jerry advanced on the second coat while fragments of the first were still fluttering all around him like a swarm of black moths. Now it was plain that the coats were either blind or suicidal, because this coat flung itself at him without any hesitation. He lopped off its hood before he zig-zagged the chainsaw all the way down it, reducing it to tattered grey ribbons.

Now I’ve got the better of you, you bastards, thought Jerry, and his whole body surged with adrenaline. He stalked towards the remaining three coats and when they came flying towards him he swung the chainsaw in a criss-cross pattern so that he could chop up all three of them at once. For almost a minute the chainsaw screamed and gnashed and growled and Jerry almost disappeared from Jamila’s sight behind a blizzard of dark wool.

At last Jerry switched the chainsaw off, and the warehouse yard fell silent, while the remains of the coats drifted slowly to the ground all around him.

He walked back to Jamila and put down the chainsaw. They held each other tightly, so tightly that they could almost feel each other’s hearts beating.

After a while, Jerry said, ‘There. It worked on jinns, and it worked on Mindy’s mum and dad, and it works on these buggers too. We need to find that SAS squadron and that anti-terrorist squad, and tell them.’

‘There is one more thing I think we should do,’ said Jamila. ‘My grandfather not only cut up the jinn into pieces, he burned the pieces, too. I believe we should do the same. Liepa said that the virus kept people’s spirits alive in the fibres of the clothes they once wore. If their spirits could survive their clothes being torn apart and spun into yarn and remade into other clothes, maybe they can also survive you cutting them up.’

‘Well, you could be right,’ said Jerry. ‘And who am I to argue with an onion?’

He went back into the shed and found a rake and a plastic container full of petrol. It took him only a few minutes to scrape up most of the woollen fragments and heap them in a metre-high pile on the warehouse’s concrete floor. Then he poured petrol all over them.

‘Don’t happen to have a light on you?’ he asked Jamila.

She stepped forward and handed him a book of matches from Samrat’s. ‘You’re lucky. I only took these today so that I could make a note of their number.’

Jerry tossed a lighted match onto the heap of rags and with a soft whoomph it burst into flame. They stood and watched it, with Jerry’s arm around Jamila’s waist, holding her close. Raindrops spat and sizzled as they fell on the fire, and the flames threw shadows on the white-painted interior wall of the warehouse.

Jerry looked up at the shadows and he was sure that he could see ghosts dancing and waving their arms, but in the state of mind he was in at the moment, he knew that he was prepared to believe almost anything.

Jamila looked at her watch. ‘Now we need to go and find the SAS and tell them to equip themselves with chainsaws,’ she said.

Jerry hefted up the chainsaw that he had left on the ground. ‘That shouldn’t be difficult. There’s a Screwfix shop on the High Street, only just up the road from here. They should have enough chainsaws in stock.’

They left the fire burning and went out through the broken-open gates. They were both shocked by their experience, and feeling detached from reality, but they walked as quickly as they could, with Jerry lugging the chainsaw. They knew that every minute could mean the difference between innocent people being spared or being savagely dismembered.

What they didn’t see as they made their way up Park Road was a fiery figure floating out of the gates and starting to follow them. It was made entirely out of flames, but it had the vague appearance of a person walking. The figure hadn’t gone more than fifty metres, though, before the flames started to subside, and the last few flickers were quickly extinguished by the rain. Then there was nothing left except a wisp of grey smoke, and that soon drifted away.

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