The area around the millennium wheel and county hall was crowded with tourists, milling around and enjoying the sights of London. The queue of people waiting to go on the wheel stretched all the way back along the waiting area.
A group of pensioners on a day trip to London were next to go on.
Lena, a retired school cook, was looking worried about getting on the wheel. ‘I don’t want to go on. It don’t look safe to me,’ she said, trying to step back out of the queue.
Her sister Lilly took her hand. ‘Don’t be daft, it’s been going round for years now. It ain’t going to fall over just because you get on it. You ain’t that fat.’
‘You’re fatter than me. That’s what I’m worried about.’
Arthur, a sprightly septuagenarian, had been organising trips out from their club for four years now, and this pair always gave him trouble. ‘Come on you two, stop arguing and get on.’
‘Oh put a sock in it you,’ Lilly snapped.
As Lilly and Lena stepped in to the pod, Lena lost her balance. Arthur quickly stepped forward to steady her.
‘Oi, watch where your hands are going. Dirty old sod,’ she giggled.
Arthur smiled. ‘Only trying to be helpful Lena.’
‘More like copping a feel you old reprobate,’ she retorted, bringing gales of laughter from Lilly and the rest of the women.
The women moved to the end of the pod and looked out across the Thames. Lena was holding tightly on to the rail, her knuckles white with tension.
The doors closed and the pod, filled with pensioners enjoying their day out, began to rise.
‘You can hardly feel it moving,’ Lena remarked.
’Lilly pointed across the Thames. ‘Look over there, Lena. St. Paul’s Cathedral.’
As the wheel turned and the pod rose higher, Arthur joined them at the rail. ‘You okay ladies?’
‘Yeah. It’s been a lovely day out Arthur,’ Lilly said. ‘I know we give you a hard time sometimes. But we do enjoy our days out, don’t we Lena?’
‘Yeah, it’s been great. You should organise more of these trips. I’ve really enjoyed myself today.’
‘Well thank you for saying so ladies, that makes it all worth the effort,’ Arthur crowed.
Lilly pointed along the Thames stretching away into the distance. ‘What’s that over there?’
‘That’s Chelsea reach,’ Arthur explained. ‘That’s where...’
‘Not that. That.’ She pointed to a dark cloud in the distance, it was moving swiftly along the Thames towards them. The pod had nearly reached halfway and all the pensioners were looking in the direction that Lena was pointing.
‘It’s not a cloud,’ Arthur said, ‘it’s moving too fast. Probably starlings or something.’
‘Look. It’s coming this way,’ said Lena.
All the pensioners jostled for a position nearer the rail.
Lena looked round at them all. ‘Don’t tip us over you lot,’ she said.
They all laughed, being well used to Lena’s funny ways.
Arthur put his face closer to the glass. ‘They’re not starlings, they’re too bloody big. What are they?’
The cloud swooped down along the Thames and headed straight for the wheel.
Lena moved away from the glass. ‘I don’t like it.’ She pushed her way through the crowd of pensioners. ‘Something doesn’t feel right.’ She sat on the bench in the middle of the pod.
‘Don’t be silly,’ said Arthur. ‘They’re just birds. Might even be bats going out to feed.’
‘I’ll be all right here, thanks,’ she said, indignantly.
As the cloud encompassed the wheel, creatures smashed into the pods, leaving blood and gore streaking down the glass. Most of the flock swooped down and attacked the people below.
The creatures that landed on top of the pods looked down at the people inside, their open grinning mouths, filled with rows of razor sharp serrated teeth, dripped long stringy gobs of saliva over the glass roofs. The tops of the pods and the wheel were covered in the creatures. The pensioners were screaming at the terrifying sight. The women moved away from the glass and huddled around the bench in the centre.
Arthur and Florence stayed looking up at the creatures. ‘Ugly bloody things ain’t they Flo? Never seen anything like them before.’
Florence was looking closely at a creature that was perched on the metal band that divided the top and bottom sections of the pod. Its mouth stretched impossibly wide against the glass, showing its shark like teeth and its huge black pulsating throat. It seemed to be sucking on the glass as its teeth grated away at it, leaving lines that looked as if they were etched by acid.
‘Reminds me off my first husband. He had a mouth like that. Too many teeth and all of them as black as park railings.’
‘I remember him. What ever happened to him?’
‘He ran off with that barmaid from the Prince Albert. She was welcome to him, ugly cow.’
As Florence stood looking at it, mesmerised by the horror of a black chasm of a throat, a thick black tongue shot out and splatted against the glass. Saliva pooled in its mouth and dribbled out from the corners of its thick rubbery lips and slid slowly down the glass. Florence fainted.
‘Arthur caught her, but struggled with her weight. Bernie, help me,’ he shouted.
Bernie grabbed her and helped Arthur lower her to the floor, they leant her up against the glass. The creature was joined by others, smashing their faces into the pod, their screams dulled by the thickness of the glass.
Lilly grabbed Arthur’s coat sleeve. ‘What are they? Oh God. They’re trying to get in.’
They can’t get in. This is toughened glass. You couldn’t break this with a hammer.’
‘I hope to God you’re right Arthur.’
The pod had reached its zenith and was now on the downward approach. Arthur and Bernie were the only ones standing, everyone else was huddled together on the central seat.
Arthur looked down at the ground. ‘Oh my God, look. They’re attacking the people down there.’
The pensioners all craned forward to look at the slaughter taking place below.
Down at ground level, people ran in all directions as they tried to get away from the relentless attack. Some ran into County Hall shutting the tall doors on those seeking refuge, others jumped into the river hoping for escape. The creatures attacked their heads as they surfaced for air, driving their claws deep into their skulls and biting off what they could before the person sank below the surface. A large group of creatures swooped down on an open top pleasure boat, attacking the tourists who were trapped and had seen the birds attacking the people in the water. The boat headed towards the bank, the pilot, no longer at the helm, was covered in creatures, biting and rending his flesh as he collapsed to the floor.
Lena looked down at the pods nearest the ground and those on the upward circuit. They were full of creatures feeding on the people inside. ‘What are we going to do? We’ll be down there soon and the doors will open. They’ll get in here.’
Arthur tried wedging his walking stick in the doors to stop them from opening. ‘It’s no good. They open from the outside. There’s nowhere to put the bloody stick.’
The pod slowly made its way towards the ground. As each pod reached the ground and the doors opened automatically, hordes of creatures flew in attacking the people who stood no chance of escape.
A loud crash came from below the river wall as the pleasure boat, covered in creatures, smashed into the bank. The boat, listing badly, drifted back out towards the middle of the river, taking on water from its damaged hull.
No one was left standing in the area below the wheel. The creatures were everywhere, fighting each other over the bloody carcasses on the ground. Creatures flew up from the sinking pleasure cruiser and joined in the fight for what remained of the flesh at ground level.
Three shocked faces appeared at the wheel operators booth windows. Two youths and a girl were crouched down in the booth taking furtive looks out the windows.
‘We have to stop the wheel,’ the girl said. ‘The doors opening are letting the creatures in. They’re killing the people inside.’
‘No Yaz, don’t.’ said one youth.
‘They’ll see you and get in here,’ the other youth cried.
‘I can’t just hide here while those people die.’
Yaz stood up and operated the controls. The wheel stopped moving.
Creatures caught sight of her movement in the control booth. The windows exploded inwards, followed by a whirlwind of creatures. Trapped in the booth they were ripped to pieces in seconds. Their blood covering the walls and ceiling of the confined space dripped off the banks of equipment to join the spreading crimson pool on the floor.
The pensioners pod had stopped four pods from the ground. Those that still contained living people stared down in horror at the slaughter. The ground below, covered in red splashes and strewn with tattered rags, looked like a piece of modern art. Bones gleaming white in the late evening sunshine only added to the effect.
‘Thank God they’ve stopped the wheel,’ Arthur said. ‘We might be trapped up here but they can’t get in.’
A creature crashed into the door of their pod, bringing yelps and screams from the terrified pensioners. It bounced off leaving trails of blood and gore streaking down the glass and fell to the ground below.’
‘See. I told you we’d be okay,’ boasted Arthur. He thumped his fist on the glass door. ‘Tough as metal.’
‘What are we going to do?’ Lena cried out. ‘Arthur, what are we going to do?’
He sat down next to her and took her hand, trying to calm her down. ‘We’ll just have to wait. The emergency services will be here soon, they’ll soon sort this out, you’ll see.’
Sirens could be heard in the distance. Police officers, fire fighters and ambulance staff came running into the south bank. They stopped dead in their tracks when they saw the creatures feeding and fighting over the scraps of remaining human meat. Before they got the chance to retreat the creatures were upon them. With the promise of new prey, others flew down from the trees and buildings to join in the slaughter.
The pensioners distraught faces stared down at this new attack. ‘Look, they’re killing them. The police. They’re killing them,’ screamed Florence.
‘Poor souls, they didn’t stand a chance,’ Lena said, as she dabbed at her eyes with a hanky.
‘We’ll just have to wait it out,’ Arthur said.
‘But we could be up here for hours. And what if those bloody things decide not to leave? What are we going to do then?’
Arthur tried to reassure her. ‘They’ll send in the army Lil. That’s what they’ll do.’
A Chinook helicopter flew across the Thames and hovered over the area. As it dropped lower in the sky the noise and down-draft from its twin rotors caused the creatures to take flight. The sky filled with creatures, casting a deep shadow over the south-bank as the flock headed towards inner London.
Armed soldiers appeared from everywhere. Commandeered boats full of soldiers came across the river towards the South Bank.
Arthur shouted with glee. ‘See I told you. It’s the army. They’ll soon have us down.’
‘Thank God,’ Lena cried. ‘But all those poor people Arthur. Those things, they ripped them to pieces. There must be thousands...’
‘More like millions,’ Arthur said.
Lilly began to cry. ‘What are they?’
Arthur put his arm around her. ‘I don’t know Lil. I’ve never seen anything like them. Maybe its those creatures from up north that was on the news.’
‘They said they killed em’ all, Arthur,’ Bernie put in. ‘They said it was all over on the news.’
‘You know what bloody liars they are Bernie,’ replied Arthur. ‘Always keeping secrets from us. Law unto themselves they are, messing about with things they don’t understand and it’s ordinary people like us that suffer because of it.’
Lilly was crying. Lena took her hands. ‘There was nothing anyone could have done to save those people Lil, there was just too many of them things. We were just lucky they stopped the wheel in time.’
Down at ground level the soldiers looked around in disbelief at the utter destruction of human life. Bones, skulls, pools of blood, and shredded clothing and limbs with scraps of flesh hanging from them lay everywhere. Major John Ashmore walked up to the booth. He peered inside then stood looking up at the wheel.
‘It’s a bloody massacre,’ he muttered.
‘Bullman. Get this wheel operating and get those people down. Stop it before the pods with the creatures in reach the ground.’
‘Yes sir. Where should we put the people?’
‘Put them in County hall until we can arrange transport for them. Then get the area cleared.’
Ashmore walked across to the river wall and looked over. There was no sign of the pleasure boat. The river was awash with floating bodies, most he noticed had suffered head wounds. Soldiers were already pulling the bodies into the commandeered boats and covering them with tarpaulins.
Privates Bullman and Walker forced open the door to the booth. Disregarding the blood and bones, Bullman studied the controls for a moment, then pushed a switch. The wheel began to move.
As each pod reached the ground the doors opened. Soldiers waiting on the platform ushered the people off and led them over to County Hall. Soldiers wearing protective suits, laden down with armfuls of body bags, began clearing up the human remains.