h2g2 Storytime III - Chapter XXI

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Chapter XXI

As Arthur and X turn and flee for the exits, we momentarily lift impossibly up through the roof, leaving the sprawling streets of Paris and the gathering riot far below. Once huge pieces of architecture that dominated the skyline, the buildings become an insignificant patchwork of dapple-coloured oblongs and lines. The cacophony of the rush of the air is so loud as to be noiseless as our point of view races ever-upwards.

Presently we pass through the cloud line and all is lost in a dense mist before finally we erupt fully into the sinking sun's glare and an unbelievable orange sky in the dawning of twilight — and the thunderous tsunami-rush approach of a jumbo jet, buffeting our incorporeal presence with a sudden rush of air at its approach, tearing contrails through the sky in its wake.

An audible pop as we pass with a shudder through the metal sheath surrounding the aircraft and into the pressurised cigar-tube of the passenger cabins. We drift slowly along the isle floor and slow to a rest by a pair of seats. We rise gently and recognise two faces: Sean Daltmooreby and Slepp Tonnajob, on their flight bound for Egypt. Daltmooreby has his hat drawn down over his eyes and is snoring lightly; Slepp is spinning a set square on the point of his index finger.

The curtain, separating compartments, was drawn back with a tinkling of ringlets. Viewed from the ground up, an impression of legs was pre-eminent. The slender, svelte body that was attached the upper half of the legs segued into the cabin and paused by the seats of Daltmooreby and Slepp.

'Tea, coffee, alcohol?' squeaked the twenty-something airhostess in a pin-up smile as she pushed the trolley to a rattle and a stop.

Daltmooreby woke up, a bit groggy, and tipped up the brim of his hat up to look at the voice that belonged to the legs. 'I musht be dreeaming,' he said, mouth still a bit clammy from the congealed drool on his lips.

He was pressed again for his choice of beverage.

He reached up and adjusted his trilby, which had the unfortunate effect of shuffling his hairline three inches further up his head as well. Rediscovering his ailing libido, he purred, 'Is there any chance of something to eat, miss — I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name?'

'Ivonna Jjorluvchilde.'

Slepp, in the adjacent seat, looked across at Daltmooreby, who appeared to be choking, and with an inward sigh busied himself sharpening the points of staples.

'We serve food in another hour, sir. A drink, perhaps, before then?'

Daltmooreby nodded, red-faced, in the affirmative and managed to catch his breath again. 'And will you be staying at Cairo?' he managed, a bit croakily.

'I'm due to fly out again next week. I'm staying in a hotel just on the outskirts of the airport. You know, sight-seeing.'

Daltmooreby raised his eyebrows, pushing his fringe even further up his scalp, and bared a slightly wonky, slightly yellow smile. 'I'll have a tonic water and lime, my dear.'

'Sure thing, Mister...?'

'Daltmooreby, Shawn — charmed, I'm sure.'

'No martinis, then?' needled Slepp without looking up.

Daltmooreby grimaced slightly and shot back, 'After your little stunt with the girl in the vault, I think I'm allowed a flirtation or two — or do you plan on snapping their necks, too? Why thank you, my dear,' he said, accepting the drink with an ingratiating smile.

Slepp growled and bared his teeth in irritation at the gentleman spy.

'Try not to snore, Tonnajob. I'm going to rest some.'

Daltmooreby lowered his eyes slightly. The Cairo contact — would he still want to kill him? Could he risk it? What about Slepp?

'What was that?' said Slepp.

'Hmm? Oh. Nothing. Cheers!' he said, smiling and raising his glass.

The fizz of the tonic water ticked his nose and Daltmooreby delighted in the refreshing tingle in his mouth. He downed the glass in one go, letting the ice cubes clink against his teeth. Then, lowering his trilby again, he prepared to sleep.

smiley - biro

Arthur slammed into the metal push-bar of the fire exit, forcing it open. He peered over the rail down the empty stairwell.

'All clear. X, you and Sfret — where is Sfret?'

'Erm...' said X, looking about.

smiley - biro

Sfret hadn't moved from his spot in the gallery and was still admiring the ruined visage of the Mona Lisa downstairs. So lost was he in his reverie that he did not hear the straining of the wood and the crunch of broken glass as the doors down the hall were finally forced open by the press of bodies. He remained blissfully ignorant at the clatter of the mini stepladder, followed shortly thereafter by the muffled cries of Françoise, which abruptly ceased and were instead consumed by a raucous rabble that was drawing closer. Sfret rocked back on his heels.

The steady scraping of non-responsive limbs being dragged in a sort of sideways shuffle movement over the immaculate floor of the Louvre art gallery and the low groaning of the brainwashed Parisian zombies completely failed to register with him on any conscious level. The mindless horde reared up behind him. Its fetid breath washed over him like a tide.

Sfret decided he'd admired the Mona Lisa quite long enough. 'Don't see what all the fuss is about,' he muttered and headed left towards the stairs... narrowly missing being grabbed by the lead zombie.

The lead zombie looked at the nothingness it held between its grey pallid hands. It blinked its yellow and watery eyes slightly out of parity and looked momentarily confused. Finally, the synapses firing off at random intervals resulted in a noise like 'urrrrrgh' and it lumbered off after the shuffling form of Sfret.

Arthur made his way downwards while X kept watch. He caught sight of Sfret, slowly making his way into the stairwell.

'Come on!' hissed Arthur and ran to meet him, taking the monk's arm.

'Hmm?' Sfret snapped out of his daydream. 'Yes, yes.'

Past the old man, Arthur caught sight of a small collective of zombies hurtling his way. Pushing Sfret behind him, Arthur called up to his partner, 'X, find a way out of here!'

'There's a door here that says "fire-escape".'

'That'll do. C'mon, Sfret!'

The group clattered down the rickety metal stairway that led back to the courtyard in front of the Louvre.

'Right, we've got to get back to the jet. Follow me.' Arthur took the lead.

Above them, the fire exit closed with a slam and the three failed to hear a muffled 'Ugh!' on the opposite side.

What they did hear, however, was a cheerful yet half-nervous 'That's right, follow me...' They turned and saw the Louvre's Curator being pursued by a thousand-strong army of possessed Parisians around the corner.

Deciding that there was no way they could intervene in that, Arthur, X and Sfret ran across the forecourt of the Louvre palace, past the famous pyramid and out underneath the arches.

'We'll take the jet and fly far from here, somewhere preferably without zombies.'

'You mean like those ones?' said Sfret innocently pointing ahead of them.

The jet was consumed by a crowd of zombies. They had torn off the canopy and some were sat in the seats. Others were stood on the wings and the rest just stood all around, languishing in that special way only zombies can.

'Oh dear,' said X.

'I think we're safe. I don't think they've seen us,' said Arthur.

As if predestined by leading narrative, the lead zombie looked up directly at Arthur.

'Oh, don't worry,' said X, 'the last lot were easy enough to avoid.'

A howl went up from the zombie side. Arthur disregarded the thought that it sounded almost exactly like a battle cry.

'I... err... think we'd better run,' he said, laying a hand firmly on X's shoulder.

'No worries,' X blanched. 'I've seen enough zombie movies to know that they can't....'

Suddenly, the tension in the moment passed. It was as if a downwind gust had carried their scent towards the zombified hordes, resulting in an instant and insatiable bloodlust.

'... run?' finished X, and then caught sight of the zombies as they surged forward over the bridge at terrifying speed.

'RUN!' screamed Arthur.

Behind them, the sun began to set over Paris, ushering in a blood-red dusk....

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