In the crypts of St. Martins in the Fields, Patrick was asleep in one of the conference rooms that had been turned into sleeping quarters. The exercise mats from the keep-fit centre had been laid along both sides of the room with an aisle running down the centre. He had been back and forth to shops all night and now they were empty. They had everything they needed to survive, at least for some time.
Molly, his eldest daughter, was sleeping beside him on a mat, she was lightly snoring. Mary, his youngest, was sitting on the mat opposite Patrick, and Sean was standing over her. Mary went to wake Patrick, but Sean stopped her.
‘No Mary. Let daddy sleep. He’s been working all night with all the others.’
‘But I want to show him,’ Mary insisted.
‘Come away now. We’ll show him when he wakes.’
Mary began to cry as Sean tried to get her up.
Patrick flipped one eye open. ‘What’s wrong Mary?’
‘I told her not to wake you daddy, but she wouldn’t listen to me.’
‘That’s okay son.’ He picked Mary up and sat her on his lap. Her crying stopped but she sat pouting.
‘What’s wrong sweetheart?’
‘I don’t like it here daddy. I want to go home. I want Mummy.’
‘So do I, but we have to stay here for a while. Just until those nasty birds go away. I miss mummy too, but she’s safe in Ireland and we have to stay safe for her. Look at Sean, he’s being a brave boy about all this now, isn’t he?’
Sean smiled and cuddled up to Patrick.
‘I miss my toys,’ Mary said. ‘There’s nothing to play with here.’
‘Well, I’ll go out and get you some new toys tonight, and some for Sean and Molly, as well as the other children. How’s that?’
‘Oh that’d be great daddy. Can I have a Barbie? I miss her so much.’
‘Of course you can. And what about you Sean? What would you like?’
‘I don’t mind, anything,’ Sean said, trying to appear older than his seven years.
‘Well that’s settled then. Now, what’s this you wanted to show me?’
Mary looked at him, a little puzzled at first, then she remembered. Her face lit up in a smile that couldn’t fail to melt Patrick’s heart.
‘I found a little animal. The poor little thing was starving, so I gave it some biscuits and a drink of milk and now it’s gone off to sleep.’
‘What is it?’ Patrick asked. ‘A kitten?’
‘No, it’s not a kitten, I don’t know what it is. It was crying, and it was so hungry it gobbled up all the biscuits in a flash.’
‘Did you see it Sean?’
‘I did. It looked like a small... I don’t know what it was to be honest. Will I show you?’
‘No, I will,’ Mary shouted. ‘I found it.’
‘Hush now, you’ll wake Molly. Why don’t you both show me,’ said Patrick, ending the quarrel before it started.
‘Okay,’ Mary agreed. She jumped off Patrick’s lap and grabbed his hand. ‘Come on then,’ she said trying to pull him up. ‘It might wake up and run away.’
Patrick picked up his torch and the children led him through the restaurant and out into the corridor.
‘It’s this way,’ Mary said.
The passed through the kitchens where the meals used to be prepared for the homeless and on to another corridor.
‘It’s the door at the end,’ Sean said. ‘We found it when we were exploring.’
Mary pulled a small torch from her pocket and switched it on. She let go of Patrick’s hand and ran down to the door. She pushed it open and ran inside the dark room.
Patrick shone his torch inside and found a row of light switches. He ran his hand down them, illuminating the room as Fluorescent tubes flickered into life. He could see it was workshop, probably for the maintenance people. It was a large room, almost fifty feet long with a vaulted ceiling and was filled with all manner of building materials.
‘It’s down here daddy,’ Mary shouted, running to the end of the room. She squeezed in between some shelving and shone her torch around.
Patrick and Sean followed her. He was hoping it wasn’t a rat, he couldn’t stand the bloody things, they made his skin crawl.
‘It’s gone,’ Mary cried.
‘Let me see.’ Patrick knelt and shone his torch around but there was so much stuff on the floor he couldn’t see very much.
‘Oh daddy, the poor little things gone.’
Patrick could see a grating in the wall had fallen off. Maybe it’s gone through there, back to its family,’ he said, trying to placate his daughter.
Mary screeched with delight. ‘It’s back, and it’s brought some little friends with it.’
Patrick shone his torch, trying to see past Mary, to see what it was. When his torch beam picked out a group of small animals a cry rose to his throat. The creature was the size of a large rat but with its misshapen head and body, its wide mouth full of sharp pointed teeth, and its tiny feet tipped with razor sharp claws, Patrick knew this was no rat.
‘Mary,’ he said, quietly. ‘Come out. Come out now.’
Mary turned to him. ‘What’s wrong daddy?’
‘Come out Mary,’ he said, his voice more insistent.
As she turned to come out from between the shelving the hole in the wall became alive with small creatures. Dropping his torch, Patrick rushed in to get her as a thick stream of creatures came pouring through the hole. He picked Mary up as the creatures flowed over him.
‘Run Sean,’ he shouted.
Sean backed away to the door. He stopped and stood frozen to the spot as he saw the creatures envelop his daddy and sister. They flowed along the floor towards him.
The creatures may have been small, but the bite they inflicted was enormous. They streamed up Patrick’s body tearing off chunks of flesh. The blood pouring from the bites only seemed to incense the creatures more.
Patrick made a run for the door with Mary in his arms. She was screaming as the creatures tore in to her bare legs and clawed their way up her body.
Soon, Patrick and Mary were covered in them. Sean was also under attack as the stream of creatures pouring through the hole in the wall seemed ceaseless.
As Patrick collapsed to the floor under the vicious onslaught, Mary’s cries died away as the creatures devoured them both. Sean stood frozen to the spot as the creatures covered him like a cloak, then fell under the weight of them. Within minutes, nothing remained of Patrick and his two children, just a mound of creatures squirming on the blood slicked concrete floor.
They poured into the corridors and rooms, killing and devouring everything in their path, such were their numbers.
They had been living and breeding in sewers and basements, feeding on rats and mice and each other. The rat and mouse population had soon been depleted. They needed food and came to the surface in their millions.
It wasn’t long before the crypts were devoid of life. Everything had been consumed, even the food supplies. The creatures chewed their way through the doors and poured up the staircase and into the church. The thick oak church doors presented no challenge to their sharp teeth, and soon they flowed through the holes they had made and out into a bright sunlit square.
The bird creatures saw them. Hungry, now their human prey had been exhausted, they attacked, ripping them apart or swallowing them whole.
The smaller creatures were no match for them and soon their population dwindled. Those that escaped the insatiable appetite of their larger cousins fled into neighbouring buildings where they made their way back into the sewers and basements. Silence descended on the square. For that night there were humans were left to go foraging for food.