Chapter 2 - Statuesque
To start with there were a few isolated reports of group fatalities of children. Something was tearing its devastating, fatal and lightning fast path through the younger population. Authorities closed primary schools in a bid to stem the flow of infected. Mortality was over ninety percent for kids, and that was just in the first few days following that mad doctor’s confession. Parents were advised to stay home with their children until they could identify how this thing spread.
As a sort of silver lining to this particular cloud, it would be a great time to go shopping. As far as James was concerned it was a bit of a blessing. Not that he had anything against kids as such, one day he envisaged being a dad – in fact he and his girlfriend Claire had one in the oven already - but other people’s kids were a large part of his daily hassle, that’s to say the lackadaisical mums were the real problem. Lost, throwing up, mothers letting them poop and pee in corners and side corridors (what was that all about, he wondered?); they made his life hell on a daily basis. When he was told his job was about cleaning up the mall he had no idea of the reality. Security officer. Yeah, right. Anyhow, it was becoming a lot less like that in the last few days. So that was good.
“’Arris!” George, the supervisor, shouted in his ear. James jumped, caught out again. “Get your arse out there, your turn to do the rounds.”
James Harris, in spite of his deep annoyance at his supervisor’s childish little trick of creeping up behind the stiff working the monitors and making him or her jump, was relieved enough to get back out there and pounding the floor not to react by punching the bastard in the throat. As soon as his application to get into the police was approved he’d be out of this place like a shot, perhaps in time finding a way to make the supervisor’s life a little miserable in return. James believed in karma and the Fat Controller, as he liked to think of his boss, was going to get his.
Donning his peaked hat he took the stairs down to the concourse five or six steps at a time, swinging happily downwards on the rails. Slowing to a more dignified walking pace he pushed open the swing doors into the public area and stepped out. He had already noticed on the monitors that the walkways were uncharacteristically bereft of shoppers, but being down here though, it felt more than a little creepy; it just wasn’t natural.
Considering it was lunch time the rush had refused to start. Lunch was a time when the super liked to stay out of the way of actual work by pretending to be busy on the monitors; in truth he was sitting there and adding to his significant girth by consuming Big Macs and slurping on tall milkshakes. James hated it when his time in the monitor room coincided with the super’s lunch because the sounds the odious pig made while eating was akin to nothing James had ever heard before - a real appetite killer. At least it was one way of staying slim.
His radio crackled as Robby’s voice came over the airwaves calling for assistance. James’ heart raced as adrenaline flooded his system; this was why he did this job. Running to the exit Robby had detailed in his call, he found his colleague and sort of friend, standing off to one side watching a group of what looked like mime artists. Much as he disliked those mime weirdos James was pretty sure they didn’t warrant an emergency call.
Disappointed he slid to a halt next to Robby. The strangely still and silent visage made him use a reverent tone.
“What’s going on?” he whispered in conspiratorial undertones.
Robby didn’t answer immediately, his face showing uncertainty.
“This lot,” he began. “They won’t move on. They just ignore me.”
James peered at the half dozen people. He was pretty sure he’d seen pictures of this sort of thing before in the papers, up in Manchester, was it? And more recently down here in London. Some designer drug, Spice, the so-called zombie drug. At the thought of zombies James stiffened, suddenly apprehensive. A silly reaction, he knew, but nevertheless…
“How long have they been like this?” he asked of his colleague.
“A few minutes.”
“Have any of them threatened you?”
“Duh, how can they?” Robbie responded, his bravado returned now he had his mate beside him.
James stood back, studying the scene, trying to work out if there was a chance of being attacked. They certainly looked passive enough. Robby walked over to the closest of them, a bearded old man in a scruffy greenish coat. Prodding the man on his shoulder and getting no reaction, Robby took it further and poked the man’s cheek. James reacted.
“Hey! You can’t do that, it’s assault.”
Robby seemed not to hear and landed the man a slap across his face.
“Come on Robby. Lay off him.” James started to walk towards his colleague but stopped. The old man hadn’t reacted at all.
“This is real creepy, innit?” Robby asked. It was more of a statement than a question. James agreed.
“Don’t touch them, Robby. You don’t know what’s wrong with them. Maybe it’s a biological attack.”
As part of their initial training they were warned of the signs of a biological or chemical attack - several people suffering the same symptoms simultaneously being the most obvious. This incident certainly met at least one of the criteria.
Together they stepped away, Robby nervously wiping his offending hand on his trousers as if that would make a difference.
James keyed his radio.
“Zero-four-one to base. We need additional support and ambulances. Suspect some sort of drug situation here.”
“Base to zero-four-one, what are you talking about?” James could almost hear the food stuck between the man’s teeth.
“Look on the monitors,” he barked back, frustrated at the Fat Controller’s lack of professionalism. The fat git had probably responded from the crapper while making room for more food.
“Oh. I see it.”
Finally, James fumed to himself. There were days when this job could not be considered good work experience.
Sirens could be heard in the distance, much to James’ relief.
“They said they are at least twenty minutes out, stand by.”
“Well that wasn’t very bloody helpful, was it Robby?” James turned to his friend.
Robby’s face flushed for a moment and then paled, his eyes now fixed on a remote point in the distance.
“Robby?” James whispered. About to put his hand out to touch his friend’s shoulder, he drew back, some instinct kicking in at the last moment. “What the fuck?”
It seemed his friend had become the one thing he despised in all the world - a mime artist.
Looking around nervously to re-assess the overall problem, James could see that there were dozens of other people further down the hallway as well as out on the main road, all in the same state, their clothing flapping gently in the breeze like a covering on a statue. Looking more closely he couldn’t see a single normal person on the streets. No cars either, it was as if someone had pressed a pause button on the world.
Turning on his heels James ran back to the control room, suddenly preferring the supervisor’s eating habits to this.