James Herbert: ‘48

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James Herbert ‘48
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‘48: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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In 1945 Hitler unleashes the Blood Death on Britain as his final act of vengeance. Only a handful of people with a rare blood group survive. Now in 1948 a small group of Fascist Blackshirts believe their only hope of survival is a blood transfusion from one of the survivors. From the author of THE MAGIC COTTAGE and PORTENT.

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James Herbert


© 1996

For Kitty, who knew more than one Tyne Street. Love and appreciation from us all…



My eyes snapped open and my head lifted an inch or so from the floor; a mess of thoughts stalled any sense.

I pushed the quilt I’d borrowed off my chest and an empty beer bottle rolled across the dusty carpet when my booted foot (I’d learned to sleep with my boots on) knocked it over. The glass made a dull clunk as it struck a tiny centre table. I raised my head another inch, my body tense, hearing now acute; I looked right, I looked left, I even looked up at the fancy ceiling. Early-morning sunlight flooded through the open half of the balcony doors, butting in on a gloom caused by boarded windows. A slight breeze tainted with the musk of decay drifted through with the light

I listened.

Cagney, who’d found a dark corner to nest in – he liked the shadows; survival came with low profile – gave a mean growl, a soft rumbling that was warning rather than alarm. I brought up a hand to silence him and he obeyed; I could just make out the shine of his eyes as he watched me.

The quilt slid away when I leaned on an elbow and a sharp knife punctured the general ache inside my head, punishing me for the insobriety of the night before. There were plenty more brown bottles littering the floor around me, empty soulmates to the one I’d kicked over and counter-testimony to my long dislike of English beer. Skin scraped against jaw bristle as I wiped the back of my hand across dry lips.

Full consciousness arrived in a rush and then I was up, moving swiftly towards the light, crouched and quiet, ears and eyes alert for the slightest disturbance. I skirted the little round table and paused beside the open door to the balcony, keeping out of sight behind glass darkened by rotting blackout boards. Despite the early hour a dry summer heat maundered through the opening, its soft breeze carrying dust motes from the damaged city outside along with its sourness. I snatched a quick look into the sunlight, ducking back again straight away. Then I took another, extended look.

The last barrage balloons hovered over the battered land-scape like bloated sentinels. Much closer, directly opposite, the grey and grimed trio on the memorial plinth bowed their heads as if in shame, the words Truth, Charity and Justice now irrelevant.

Save for metal litter, the broad, tree-lined avenue behind them was deserted.

What then? I’d chosen this billet because the balcony room offered a good view of anyone approaching the main entrance; it also gave me plenty of places to play hide ‘n’ seek in. The building was a warren of rooms, halls and corridors, a honeycomb of hideaways. It suited me fine.

But someone had discovered my sanctuary; the mutt wouldn’t have growled for no reason. Maybe it was rats, skulking through the passageways, hardly afraid of humans any more. Or another dog, a cat maybe. But I didn’t think so. Instinct told me it was something else. Instinct and Cagney I’d learned to rely on.

I didn’t waste any more time.

The motorcycle was where I’d left it last night, carpet rucked up around its wheels. That was another thing I could rely on: a single-cylinder Matchless G3L, this one painted buff for desert warfare, only never shipped out. A survivor. Like me and the dog.

I moved fast, scooping up my fly-jacket from the floor and shrugging it on as I went. The added weight in the lining provided a small comfort. Out the corner of my eye I saw that Cagney was on his feet, ready for action, but waiting for me. His stubby mongrel tail was erect, expectant. Within seconds I’d pushed the bike off its stand, mounted it and was switching on. I kicked down on the starter, hard but smooth, sensing the machine the way you can if you ‘know’ them, if you love every working part, and the engine roared into life first go (I’d given this baby a lot of care and attention).

The wheels burned carpet as I took off, heading for the closed set of doors at the end of the room, doors that were just beginning to open.

I hit them hard and someone on the other side squawked blue hell as the heavy wood struck him. Paws grabbed at me as I shot through, but the Matchless was already too fast and all they found was empty air. Now I could smell ‘em and believe me, it wasn’t pleasant. One fool standing further back in the room jumped in front of me waving his arms like some demented traffic cop, so I swerved the bike and raised a boot. Groin or hip, I’m not sure which I made contact with, but he doubled up and swung round like a top, his whooshy grunt affording me some pleasure. Short-lived though, because the angle of the bike caused it to slide along the room’s big rug, ruffling it up in thick waves. A few years’ dust powdered the air as I fought to control the skid.

I lost it, though. The machine slicked away from me and I let it go, afraid of catching a leg underneath if we both went down together. I rolled with the fall, tucking in a shoulder and staying loose the way I’d been trained. I was up, crouched and ready before the bike had slithered into a fancy chest of drawers halfway down the chamber, ruining painted panels and gold carvings.

One of the intruders, his face ugly with dirt and aggression, came lurching towards me while his two pals behind the crashed doors tended their hurts. Cagney trotted into view and stood in the doorway, interested in how things were working out.

The Blackshirt, almost on me now, clutched an M1 carbine across his chest. Now either he was too crocked to aim the rifle, or he was under orders not to shoot me. I figured the second was most likely, because I knew by this time that his chief, Hubble, would prefer me alive – my blood would be better warm and runny. You see, he had a crazy use for me. Real crazy. But then I guess only the crazies were left. The crazies and me. And who said I was sane?

Well fuck you, Hubble, you and your goons. Satan’s hell-house would be cooler’n a penguin’s ass before you took me alive.

Hubble’s stormtrooper caught the glint in my eyes and changed his mind about following orders. He began to swing the weapon towards me.

His action was sluggish though, as if he had to think about the move rather than just react, and it occurred to me he wasn’t only dazed by the slam he’d taken, but by the effects of the Slow Death itself: there was a darkness around his eyes and smudges beneath his skin, bruisings that were never going to fade; and the ends of his fingers were blackish, as if the blood had jellied at his body’s extremities. That didn’t make him any less dangerous though, just a little slower.

My own weapon, a Colt.45 automatic, standard US issue, was in the holster I’d stitched into the lining of my leather jacket. Buck Jones might’ve made the draw, but I was no gunslinger. So I made the only move open to me.

I took a dive, rolling forward under the rifle barrel, head tucked in, legs curled up. As soon as my back hit the deck I kicked out with both feet, catching the goon in the lower belly and doubling him up. He almost fell on top of me, but I used my legs again to push him to one side. He gave a kind of honk and collapsed. I was on him before he had the chance to get his breath back, pushing the rifle towards him instead of pulling it away as he’d expected. The breech cracked against his jaw and his grip relaxed. In one swift action I wrenched the carbine from him and smacked the stock against the side of his face. His head snapped to the right and his body went limp.

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