Headless monsters stormed the Tower of London.
Sergeant Radcliffe held the door open on the bridge, and waved the tourists in. “Come on! It’s safe in the Tower!” He didn’t know that, none of the Warders had any idea what was going on, but as the London skyline wriggled and reshaped around them, now burning, now ancient, now breathing, as the river seethed with alien light, the Tower grounds remained unchanged. Ghost bombs hadn’t struck inside the walls, the stone could not catch flame, and the monsters weren’t here yet.
This was not a dream. Radcliffe himself might be cracked, but he’d had enough practice in the last year, shaking through his Iraq nightmares, to learn the difference between dream and real. They’d given him this temporary post, a brief rotation as a Yeoman Warder, and a position they called relief: parade, look sharp, look British, wear this silly bright red coat, work with these kind old Warrant Officers, let tourists snap your picture. You’ve done your country proud. Let us care for you a while, before we send you out to kill again.
The last of the tourists rushed past, and behind him Creighton shouted, “Close the door!” and Sergeant Radcliffe really should have done so.
But: “There’s more of them out there!”
The headless closed in.
Many heads had rolled in the square outside the Tower, back in the old days of Jack Ketch, but the bodies never came back before. Zombies, you might call them, but they weren’t corpses, more like memories: They squeezed out of the ground through the hair-thin gaps between paving stones, their necks bare humps of flesh, wearing tattered clothes, half there, half not; a woman in a ragged robe tackled a tourist and tore at his neck with her hands until the neck pulled like taffy, and she pried the head free. The woman plopped it down on her own neck, heinously mis-sized. The tourist’s mouth gaped, gnashing its teeth.
A group of Middle Eastern tourists—a few men, two women in abayas—stood up the hill, separated from the bridge by headless; the cobblestones behind them were turning into mouths, so they couldn’t get out that way. There was a kid with them: a boy, screaming.
Creighton grabbed Radcliffe’s shoulder. “Leave ’em!”
“Give me five minutes,” Radcliffe said.
“You can’t fight through that on your own. They’ll take your head clean off.”
“Give me your spear.”
Creighton’s eyes were cold and gray. Radcliffe didn’t know how his own eyes looked. They’d been blue, once, but it had been a while since he looked in the mirror. But he felt stable now, secure, unafraid for the first time since he’d come home. Wished Mary could have seen him. Those gray eyes weighed him, and, Radcliffe knew, weighed the rumors about him that had gone round the Yeoman Warders’ table, old soldiers gossiping about who Radcliffe was, what he’d done to end up here, the way a muscle in his jaw tightened when he heard a loud snap, or a breaking stick, or the clatter when a workman let a shovel fall.
Creighton gave him the spear.
Radcliffe ran across the bridge, toward the tourists.
He’d never used a spear before, though he’d trained with bayonets. Screaming, he swung it like a bat; tripped one headless up, broke a second’s knee.
One of the tourists fell. A headless in doublet and hose reached for Radcliffe, and he broke its arm, but another headless in a wedding dress caught his side, and though there was no heat he felt his flesh ripple under her touch, felt it stick to her fingers. He hit her in the chest with the butt of the spear, shoved her back. When her hand left his side, he bled into that silly red uniform coat.