Last night in the Vole there had been urchins coughing and spluttering at every table, even after being dosed with hot rum and brown sugar. During the evening more had joined the sick-role, and Tepic had the older ones round up everyone they could find and put to bed above the old theatre. The soup was thickened with a handful of leaves snitched from the opium den, and after spooning the warming mixture down reluctant throats, most of the urchins fell into a fitful sleep.
Tepic looked around the room at the urchins still tending the others – they were all urchins who had been he more than a year, though even some of the longer term residents had sickened and were now resting. Every bunk had several urchins in it, clumped together for a little more warmth. Gradually, as the room quietened down, the helpers also drifted off, falling asleep by the bunks or slumped across the long table.
A strange snuffling sound woke Tepic, and he opened his eyes to find himself being watched by a lizard, though rather larger than the usual, and a very unpleasant dull grey colour – quite why it was also wearing Tom’s waistcoat, he couldn’t immediately grasp… It’s amazing how quickly you can react though, when a four foot lizard with claws like scythes jumps towards you with it’s mouth open, and Tepic swung the skillet resting on the table up in an arc that passed through where the lizard’s head was. An effective deterrent. The lizard toppled sideways, and the loud clang roused the other urchins.
Around the room were gasps of horror and astonishment, for there was not only one lizard, mostly still on the bunks, and the remaining sleepers were either very grey and unwell looking, or, in the case of the younger ones, curled up into a fetal position, and , strangely, surrounded by what looked like a soft eggshell…
“Zombies!” yelled one lad, “they look like them zombies last year!”
“Bloomin heck! yer right, an zombie lizards too! Blimey….. this one IS Tom!”
“Quick! before they wake! Wrap em in the blankets an tie em in!”
There was a rush of activity, several of the urchins working together to tightly wrap up and immobilise their sick friends. The ones who were still roughly the same shape were easiest, it was much the same as wrapping a shroud, though in thicker blanket material. Lizard wrapping was much more of a challenge, the sharp claws ripping through the cloth with ease, until one urchin remembered the empty bottle store – claws sipped into the bottles and tied on solved the problem, though was only possible because the lizards were still urchin sized! The youngest were no problem, it seemed that they had changed into lizards the same age they were, and it was clear they had become eggs, though rather old and zombified ones! They were gathered together on one bunk, and every now and then one of the urchins still well would turn them gently, as one had to do with live, or in this case, undead eggs.
They could fit three human zombie urchins on one bunk, or two lizard ones, stacked head and toe, and the place was soon organised. A quick scout downstairs showed the opium takers sleeping on their couches, some grey and leaky, some lizard like and rather big, and a few still vaguely human, though it was difficult to tell with some of them.. They were all sparked out though, so the urchins brought back some of the opium, and added it to the remaining soup, before spooning the warm mixture into their friends, who soon returned to their dreams, probably of fields full of fresh brains.
“Well.. seems we got another infection, guess we’s safe up here, long as we can keep this lot quiet.. we can nip out on the roof next door an keep an eye on things, an i guess one of the Docs or Profs will come up with a cure…errr… i hope…”
“Were any of us out an about?”
“Not sure, we’s can keep any eye out, any of them lizard things, if they’s small enough, or any of the zombies wearin clothes we recognises, if they comes near we can throw a blanket over em an wrap em up an bring em back, but tain’t safe ter go looking, i’m thinking..”
There was a chorus of assent, and nodding all round, every one of them remembering the terror of the previous year.
“Right, we hunkers down, batten down the hatches, an if anyone feels a bif iffy, give a yell an we’ll wrap yer up and dose yer down fer the duration!”
There was a ragged cheer, and the urchins settled down, to look after their friends and each other.