“I’ve always wanted to eat human flesh. I mean, it’s not an obsession or anything. I wouldn’t go out of my way to kill, skin and cook somebody. But I’ve always been curious, wondered what it would taste like. So, when the opportunity dropped into my lap, yeah, I took it. Does that make me a bad person? I don’t think so. At least, not much badder than—”

“Worse than,” Bill-E interrupts.

“Worse!” Emmet winces. “I keep tripping on that. ‘Not much worse than, not much worse than, not much worse than…’ ”

I feel sorry for Emmet, watching him struggle to learn his lines. It’s not easy to keep a load of words that aren’t yours straight inside your head, then trot them out in a seemingly natural fashion. I used to think actors had a great life. Not any more. Not after a week on the set of Slawter.

Slawter, as Davida told us when she visited Carcery Vale, is the title of the movie and the name of the fictional town which features in it. It’s also what they’ve called the huge set which Davida’s crew has constructed. It’s an amazing place. They found a deserted town in the middle of nowhere. Rented the entire area and set to work restoring the buildings, clearing the streets of rubble, putting in fake lamps, telephone wires, signs for restaurants, hotels, bars, etc. They also erected a lot of fake buildings which look real from the front but are entirely empty on the other side. Walking down the streets, it’s hard to tell the real buildings from the fake ones—until you open a door.

There are trailers on the outskirts of Slawter—the movie veterans refer to them as the circus— where many of the cast and crew sleep, but a lot of us are staying in the old, real buildings. Since we’re so far from any other town, Davida decided to turn some of the buildings into makeshift hotels, so everyone could stay in one place, in comfort. The “hotel” where Dervish, Bill-E and I are staying looks like a butcher’s shop out front, but it’s cosy inside.

I’ve been told this isn’t the way films are normally made. Usually the crew does a bit of location work, then heads back to the studio to shoot the interior scenes. But Slawter is the studio. There are huge warehouses, built beyond one end of town, where the interiors can be shot. And since all the outdoor action in the film is set in the town, everything can be done on site. They even do the editing here, and the special effects. Often, on a big budget film, there might be several teams around the world working on effects at the same time. But Davida wants to keep total control over this project. She refuses to farm out any of the work, even though it makes life much harder for her. This is her baby, the jewel in her movie crown, and she’s doing it exactly the way she wants—damn the inconvenience!

She even insists on keeping the cast together for the duration of the shoot. Emmet’s worked on a couple of films before and explained how, if you have a small part in the movie, you only turn up for a few days, shoot your scenes, then head off. Even the big stars don’t hang around the set the whole time.

Well, here they do. All the actors, cameramen, artists, carpenters, caterers—everyone—had to agree to stay here until filming is finished. Davida kept everything secret in the build-up to shooting. Now that we’re all on set and the cameras are rolling, most of the secrets have been revealed. Copies of the full script have been circulated and we’ve seen some of the demon costumes. To make sure none of the secrets leak to the outside world, Davida arranged for everyone to remain in Slawter until the entire film has been shot.

It costs a fortune to keep us here—food and drinks are free, games have to be organised to keep people amused in their spare time, two swimming pools have been built, tennis courts, a football pitch and so on—but Davida doesn’t care. Her other movies made a load of money and she’s managed to convince her backers that this one is going to be a mega blockbuster, so she’s free to spend whatever she likes.

Not having any jobs to do, Bill-E and I have been enjoying the filming. We wander through Slawter, watch scenes being shot, check out the old buildings and fakes, hang out with some of the other kids and generally just have fun. It’s great. Reminds me of when I first moved to Carcery Vale, when Bill-E and I spent pretty much all our free time together. We’re best buddies again, breezing along in a little world of our own, no Loch Gossel or other friends of mine to complicate the situation.

You can divide the children of Slawter into three groups. There are the actors, twenty or so. Most haven’t much experience, or have only been in a few films, like Emmet Eijit, who’s our best friend here.

Then there are the actors’ relatives. It’s a big deal being a child actor. There are all sorts of rules and regulations. They can only work so many hours a day. They have to be schooled on set. At least one of their guardians—normally a parent—has to be with them all the time. And there have to be other children for them to play with. Juni’s in charge of that side of things. She makes sure the kids are being looked after, having fun, not feeling the stress of being part of such a costly, risky venture.

Finally there’s the likes of Bill-E and me, children of people working on the film. Because everyone involved had to move to Slawter for the duration of the shoot—at least three months— they were allowed to bring their families. Davida likes the relaxed family atmosphere.

We don’t have much personal contact with Davida Haym. Or with Dervish. He’s been working closely with Davida since we arrived, advising, censoring, subtly guiding her away from the workings of real demons wherever possible. He’s one of the few people to have seen inside the D workshops. That’s where the demon costumes are being created. The demons are to be a mix of actors in costumes and mechanised puppets. There will be some CGI effects, but Davida’s trying to keep the computer trickery to a minimum.

The costumes and puppets are housed in a giant warehouse, the biggest in Slawter, and access is granted only to a chosen few. Some of the costumes have been given a public airing, but most are still locked up within the D. Dervish said it’s a maze of corridors and sub-sections in there. He’s only been allowed into a couple of rooms so far, but he’s trying hard to gain access to the rest, to check out all the demonic details.

“I’ve always wanted to eat human flesh,” Emmet says again, running through his big lines for the fiftieth time today. He plays a minor villain in the film, a kid who becomes a cannibal and works for the demons. He dies about a third of the way through, having been discovered by one of the heroes while eating the corpse of their headmaster.

Davida is shooting the film in sequence as much as possible, although as on any movie, certain scenes from later in the script have to be shot early. Which means Emmet is getting to “die” a couple of weeks earlier than he should have. He’s super excited about it.

“This is my first death scene!” he raved yesterday. “Most kids don’t get to die on screen—how many films have you seen where a child bites the big one? And it’s the first visible killing of the movie!”

Later, excitement gave way to nerves. He’s been fussing ever since, worried he’ll blow his lines or not be able to scream convincingly when the demon turns on him and rips him to pieces.

“At least, not much badder than—Hellfire! I did it again, didn’t I?”

“Afraid so,” I laugh.

“Take it cool,” Bill-E advises, mimicking Davida’s on-set mannerisms. He’s been even more impressed by the whole movie-shooting experience than me. He now wants to be a director when he grows up.

“Cool!” Emmet snorts. “That’s easy for you to say. You’re not the one up there on display.”

“You know the lines,” Bill-E murmurs, then laughs like Davida when she’s trying to calm a nervous actor. “You probably know your lines better than anyone on the set, even Davida. You’re a professional. They’ll come when you’re filming. And if not, who cares? Nobody gets it right the first time. And even if they do, Davida reshoots it anyway. You’ll nail it the fifth or sixth time.”

Bill-E’s not exaggerating about the reshoots. Every scene is played out at least six or seven times, from various angles, the actors trying out different expressions and tones. Repetition is part and parcel of the film-maker’s life. I don’t know how they stand it. I’d go cuckoo if I had to do the same thing over and over, day after day.

“He’s quite the expert, isn’t he?” Emmet remarks cuttingly.

“Hey, man, I’m just trying to help,” Bill-E says, unruffled.

“For someone with no real experience, you certainly know a lot about it.”

Bill-E laughs Emmet’s criticism away. “I’m just calling it like I see it. If you’d rather I removed myself, no problem. Come on, Grubbs, let’s go and—”

“No!” Emmet pleads. “I’m sorry. I’m just all wound up. One last time, please. If I don’t get it right, we’ll quit and all go play foosball. OK?”

“OK,” Bill-E says. “But don’t forget—coooooolllllllll.”

Emmet shoots him an exasperated glance, then shares a grin with me. Focusing, he repeats his lines silently to himself, then tries them out loud and all too predictably blows them again. As soon as he breaks down, we drag him off to the foosball table and keep him there, though we can’t stop him muttering the lines as he plays.

Dinner with Dervish, Juni and some others, in the ginormous catering tent at the heart of Slawter. Everybody talking at once, a nice buzz in the air. A mime artist signals to me that he’d like the salt and pepper. His name is Chai and he’s a bit of a nutcase. He never speaks, although he’s not mute. Apparently he’s perfectly chatty when he’s not working. But throughout the duration of a shoot, he keeps his lips sealed. It doesn’t matter that he has a tiny part in the movie and will only be filming for a few days. Chai considers himself a method actor.

“How are you two faring?” Juni asks Bill-E and me. “Enjoying yourselves?”

“Totally!” Bill-E gushes. “It’s great. Incredibly invigorating and inspiring. I think I’ve found my calling in life.”

“Not getting into any trouble, are you?” Dervish grunts.

“As if!” Bill-E smirks.

“I was discussing your situation with Dervish earlier,” Juni says hesitantly.

Uh-oh! It’s never good when an adult says something like that.

“I’m worried that you’ll fall behind in your schoolwork,” Juni goes on. “Things have been a rush lately—Dervish accepting our offer, bringing you two with him, a crazy first week of shooting. Schooling arrangements have been made for the other children, but we overlooked you and Bill-E. I think it would be a mistake to let things continue as they are and Dervish agrees, so…”

“No!” Bill-E cries dramatically. “You’re going to stick us in a class? Say it ain’t so, Derv!”

“It’s so,” Dervish laughs. “Juni’s right. We’re going to be here three months, maybe longer. If you go that length of time without lessons, it’ll mean repeating a year when we get back to Carcery Vale.”

“You won’t have to do full days,” Juni promises. “We keep classes flexible, to fit in around shooting, so it’ll be a few hours here, a few hours there, just keeping you in line with what your friends are doing back home. That doesn’t sound so awful, does it?”

“Too bad if it does,” Dervish interjects before we can reply, “because you don’t have a choice.”

“Slave-driver,” Bill-E mutters, but he’s only pretending to be grumpy. We both knew this was coming. The freedom couldn’t last forever.

Juni and Dervish start talking to each other again. Juni’s been with my uncle most times that I’ve seen him recently, which is strange since they can’t have a lot of business together. Dervish is part of the inner technical circle, whereas Juni’s job revolves around the children. There must be another reason why he’s sticking to her like superglue and I think I know what it is—good old-fashioned physical attraction!

It seems incredible. If asked a week ago, I’d have laughed and said the bald old grump didn’t have a romantic bone in his body. But something’s stirring in the hidden depths of Dervish Grady. There’s a gleam in his smile which was never there before. He’s switched to a pungent new aftershave. His clothes are freshly ironed. He’s even started combing the wisps of hair dotted around the sides of his head into place. There’s no doubt about it—he’s trying to impress the cute albino!

Juni knows that Bill-E and I are friends with Emmet, so she places us in his class. Most of the other students are actors. There’s the Kane twins, Kuk and Kik, a boy and girl, small and slender, very alike in looks. They don’t speak much to anyone, going off by themselves whenever there’s a free period. They have big roles in the film as eerie, psychic twins.

Salit Smit is the main child star of Slawter. He’s a bit older than the rest of us. A nice guy but not the brightest spark. He just smiles and nods a lot in class, not bothering to apply himself, convinced he’s going to be the biggest movie draw since Tom Cruise.

I absolutely despise the other three. A clique of snobs presided over by the dreadful Bo Kooniart, a girl who was born solely to annoy. She’s been in a few commercials and thinks she’s God’s gift. Always dresses stylishly, like a model. Sucks up to Davida and anyone else with power and influence. Ignores the rest of us, treating us like simpletons or servants.

Her brother, Abe, is almost as bad. A scrawny, miserable excuse for a child. He’s not an actor but his father—the loud, obnoxious Tump Kooniart, a movie agent—insisted he be cast if they wanted to hire Bo. From the rumours, Davida resisted, but finally caved in and gave him a small part as a kid who raises the alarm when the demons are about to break through en masse. I don’t think Davida gives way too often so Tump must be good at his job. Which is just as well, because from what I’ve seen of Bo and Abe, they’re awful at theirs!

The third mini-tyrant is Vanalee Metcalf. Her parents are multimillionaires. Too busy to waste time with their daughter on set, so she came equipped with her own bodyguard-cum-servant, who glares at anyone who doesn’t grovel at her feet.

Bo, Abe and Vanalee took one look at Bill-E and me when we were introduced to them this morning, smirked at each other in a snide, superior way and turned their noses up to let us know we weren’t worthy of direct notice.

Our tutor’s a sweet but nervous woman called Supatra Jaun. I can tell within ten minutes that she can’t handle Bo and her posse. She lets them talk to each other while she’s teaching and doesn’t ever try to assert her authority. Sometimes she’ll murmur, “Now, now, Bo, please pay attention,” but without any real hope that the blonde, pony-tailed, stick-thin brat will obey.

Miss Jaun seems genuinely pleased that Bill-E and I have been added to her class, probably because we’re polite and show some interest. She chats to us warmly, finds out what we’ve been studying, takes a few notes, promises to haul us up to scratch in next to no time.

“I bet those scruffbags know a lot about scratching,” Bo sniffs.

“Meaning?” I growl at her.

“Lice, you moron!” she screeches, and Abe and Vanalee burst out laughing.

“We’ve found our nemesis,” Bill-E mutters in my ear, pegging it dead-on. “Hate her, Grubbs. Hate her good and proper.”

“Does her character die in the script?” I ask Emmet.

“No,” he says. “She ends up saving the town, along with Salit.”

“A pity,” I sigh.

“But she does fall into a pit full of demon manure at one stage,” Emmet says, and my day lights right up.

Our first session lasts two hours, a mix of history, biology and math. Miss Jaun seems to be confident in all subjects—a smart cookie. Then an assistant director pops in and says they need Bo and Salit. Miss Jaun checks her watch, says we might as well all take a break and asks those of us not involved in filming to return in an hour. It’s certainly a lot more laid back than our school in Carcery Vale.

Emmet wants to practise his lines on Bill-E and me again, but we don’t have the patience, so we leave him with his mum in his trailer. We grab sandwiches from one of the many mobile canteens, then go see if anything exciting is happening. There’s not much to keep us amused today.

Davida and her crew are setting up a tracking shot on a street, trying to get lots of actors in place and working in sync with each other. Fairly boring to watch. A lot of filming is.

“I still can’t believe we’re here,” Bill-E says as we go for a wander. “Maybe this will become Dervish’s full-time job and we’ll travel around the world on film shoots with him.”

“I doubt it,” I laugh. “Your gran and grandad wouldn’t allow it. I’m surprised they agreed to let Dervish have you for this long. Did he work some magic spells on them?”

“Nope,” Bill-E says. “They were happy to let me come. Gran loves movies, especially old flicks starring the likes of David Niven and Ingrid Bergman. She thought this was a great opportunity for me. I think she’s hoping I’ll fall in love with a beautiful blind cellist or some such guff. She believes a lot of those old films were based on true stories, that the world’s really like that.”

“Mind you, a girl would have to be blind to fall in love with you,” I comment.

“Your face,” Bill-E snorts. “My flabby nether regions. Spot the similarity?”

I get Bill-E in a headlock and rub my knuckles into his skull, but it’s all in fun. He has no idea of the real reason why he’s here. He thinks Dervish is his father, that he didn’t want to spend a few months parted from his darling son. He doesn’t know about Dervish wanting to make sure Davida doesn’t raise hell, or about Prae Athim’s interest in experimenting on him.

“I can’t wait to see the demon tomorrow—or it might even be tonight,” Bill-E enthuses once I’ve released him. “Emmet says it depends on how shooting goes today. If they finish that shot on the street in time, they’ll do his scene later. It’ll be coolio!”

“Hmmm,” I say neutrally.

“What are you moaning about, Goliath?” Bill-E frowns. Then, studying me carefully, his expression clears. “Oh. I’d forgotten. Your parents and sister…” He trails off into silence. Although Bill-E doesn’t know about his lycanthropic genes, or the battle Dervish and I fought with Lord Loss, he knows demons killed my family.

“Are you going to be OK with all this?” Bill-E asks awkwardly. Sympathy isn’t something that he does well.

“Sure,” I grunt.

“Really?” he presses. “Because they can’t keep us here. I know Dervish signed those contracts saying we’d stay until the end, but we didn’t. If you want to leave, I’m sure there’s nothing they can do about it. I’ve watched lots of courtroom movies. I know what I’m talking about.”

“No,” I smile. “I’ll be OK. I mean, we’re talking movie demons here—rubber, wire and paint. How scary can they be?”

Emmet’s nervous all afternoon, practising his lines even in class. Davida popped in to see him during lunch and told him they’d definitely be shooting his death scene tonight. The way he’s behaving—pale, shivering, mumbling to himself—I think it might take quite a few attempts to get it right!

Near the end of class, Emmet’s summoned to the makeup trailer. He won’t be required on set for a few hours yet, but they want to run some tests. It’s going to be a gory scene—Davida wants blood spurting every which way—so they need to make sure everything’s set up smoothly before they stick him in front of the cameras.

Salit and Bo return as Emmet’s leaving. “I can’t believe they’re letting you go through with this farce,” Bo says, blocking the doorway. “You’ll choke, Eijit. You know it, I know it, everybody knows it. So why don’t you just—”

“Leave him alone!” Bill-E shouts. “Meddling cow!”

“Now, Bill-E, that’s not—” Miss Jaun begins.

“Shut up, pipsqueak!” Bo defends herself, spitting venom at Bill-E. “If I want advice from a fat geek with a dodgy eye, I’ll let you know. Otherwise…”

I stand up, flexing my muscles, stretching aggressively. “You’re going to apologise,” I tell Bo flatly.

“Says who?” she retorts, but I’ve unnerved her. It’s not often that I threaten anyone, but when I do, I can make quite an impression.

I step out from behind my desk and crack my knuckles, staring at Bo levelly. “Now,” I say firmly.

Bo glares at me, then sneers and says mockingly, “I’m so sorry, Billy One-eye. I won’t point the truth out to you again.” Her gaze flicks back at Emmet. “But you’re still going to mess up. Let me know when you do. It’s not too late for Abe to step in and do the job properly.”

“Ignore her,” Bill-E says, his left eyelid fluttering furiously. “You’ll be great. Davida wouldn’t have picked you if she didn’t believe you could do it.”

“Thanks,” Emmet says hollowly, then pushes past Bo, visibly upset. Bo smirks and takes her seat.

“That wasn’t very nice,” Miss Jaun says disapprovingly.

Bo looks up at our teacher as though just noticing she’s there. “Excuse me?”

“You shouldn’t—” Miss Jaun begins.

“What was that?” Bo asks loudly, cutting Miss Jaun off. She tilts her head and pushes her lower lip out with her tongue, daring Miss Jaun to challenge her. For a moment it looks as though she will and I ready myself to cheer the timid teacher on. But then her shoulders sag and she looks away.

“Let’s get on with our lessons,” she says meekly. “I’ll finish up with the others, then take you and Salit for a couple of hours. Now, where were we…?”

“Someone should sort her out,” Bill-E storms when class has finished. “Bo bloody Kooniart! Davida should put that little monster over her knee and spank her till her hand turns blue!”

“I agree,” I say grimly, “but it’s not going to happen. She’s a star. She can get away with crap like that. To be honest, I thought they’d all be like her. I’m surprised how normal most of the others are.”

“A pity the demons aren’t real,” Bill-E grumbles. “We could feed Bo to them, and her horrible little brother. Vanalee too.”

“It would certainly make life easier,” I agree. “But they’re not real. There’s nothing we can do except ignore her. Come on.” I slap his back. “Let’s go see what Emmet looks like in his make-up.”

Emmet’s covered in fake blood. He’s spitting it out and wiping it from his eyes. “The bag exploded early,” he moans.

“You squeezed too hard,” a props person says, sliding a hand up inside Emmet’s jumper, removing an empty plastic bag which had been filled with the red, sticky liquid. “You have to be more gentle. Don’t worry—you’ll get the hang of it soon.”

Emmet goes off to be cleaned, before trying on a fresh costume and having his make-up applied again. Rather him than me. Sometimes an actor can spend most of the day sitting in a chair, having make-up dabbed on, cleaned off, dabbed on, cleaned off, dabbed…

Bill-E and I go for a swim, then head for dinner. We spot Dervish dining with Davida and Juni, but they’re talking shop so we don’t disturb them. After that we check on Emmet again. This time he’s managed not to burst the bag of blood and is ready to face the cameras.

“She’s been trying to unsettle me all week,” he says about Bo. “She thinks Abe should have had this part. Her dad does too. He told my mum I was an amateur and shouldn’t be here.”

“Charming!” Bill-E huffs.

“Mum hit the roof,” Emmet chuckles. “Told Tump Kooniart what she thought of him and to keep out of our way for the rest of the shoot. She complained to Davida, but he’s an agent for several of the actors so there’s not much Davida can do. In an argument, if it’s us or him, she has to take his side. I could be replaced easily, but if Tump walked off and told his gang to follow…”

“Never mind,” Bill-E says encouragingly. “There’s nothing they can do about it now. This is your scene. Go out there, strut your funky stuff, and leave Tump Kooniart and his brats to stew.”

Emmet laughs, then asks if he can run through his lines with us. This time we let him, and say nothing as he makes his customary mistake and grinds to a miserable halt. Then, before he can practise again, his call comes and we have to leave.


This is the first big action shot of the movie, so a large crowd of curious bystanders has gathered. Thanks to modern technology, scenes with monsters aren’t normally interesting to watch being filmed. More often than not, an actor will play out their part against a blue-screen background. The monster effects are added later, using computers.

But Davida wants the demons to look as lifelike as possible, for the action to play realistically. That means taking a less flashy approach than in her other movies, keeping it gritty and believable, using almost no computer effects.

Bill-E and I find a good place to watch, next to Dervish and Juni. The scene’s being filmed on one of the smaller, darker alleys of Slawter. There’s a manhole on the left side of the street, from which the cover has been removed. The demon will spring out of the manhole, grab Emmet and drag him underground.

“This is going to be fun,” Dervish says warmly. “Hardly anyone here has seen the demon costume. I think people will be really scared.”

“Nonsense,” Bill-E says. “How can you be scared of a guy in a monster suit?”

“Trust me,” Dervish grins. “This doesn’t look like a guy in a suit. There are engines and wires within the costume, so it can pull expressions, ooze slime like you wouldn’t believe, even…” He lowers his voice. “It smells.”

“Come again?” Bill-E blinks.

“Emmet doesn’t know this, so don’t say anything, but Davida wants to wring as much genuine terror out of him as she can. So she created a demon-type stench, to throw him off guard. She has a few other tricks up her sleeve too. I feel sorry for the kid—he doesn’t know what’s going to hit him!”

“I don’t think that’s fair,” I mutter. “He’s nervous enough as it is.”

“Don’t worry,” Juni smiles. “We talked it over with his mother. She gave us the all-clear. He’ll enjoy the joke when he recovers. It will make the scene more believable, which will make his acting seem all the more professional. That will stand him in good stead when he’s looking for his next big role.”

I’m a bit worried about Emmet despite Juni’s reassurances. I’d hate if he got so freaked out that he couldn’t finish filming the scene and had to hand the part over to Abe. I can see the moody Master Kooniart standing across from us, with Bo and their fat, leering father, Tump. I wonder if the stench idea was theirs to begin with.

I’d like to warn Emmet, but Davida is talking with him and Salit, explaining the dynamics of the scene. This is where Salit finds Emmet eating their headmaster and realises he’s working for a demon. Emmet starts to give a long speech about how the demons are going to take over the town and why he’s working for them. In the middle of it, his demonic ally pops out of the manhole and makes off with him.

“It’s important you don’t look like you know what’s going to happen,” Davida tells Emmet. “As far as you know, this demon is your best buddy and Salit’s the one in trouble. You’ll hear some rumblings, feel a few tremors. Ignore them and concentrate on your lines.”

“About that,” Emmet cuts in. “I’ve been having a few problems.”

“Oh?” Davida smiles and waits for him to continue.

“It’s the line, ‘At least not much worse than a guy who gives in to temptation and steals a bar of chocolate.’ I know the line, but I keep coming out with ‘badder’ instead of ‘worse’. If it happens, can we do it again straightaway? I’ll try to get it right, but I might…”

Davida holds up a hand. “Emmet, as far as I’m concerned, there’s not one line in the script that isn’t open to negotiation. I should have made that clear earlier. It’s your voice I want to hear, not mine. If ‘badder’ is what comes naturally to you, then ‘badder’ it is.”

“I can change the line?” Emmet gawps.


A big smile works its way across Emmet’s face. Across from us, Abe and the other Kooniarts are glowering. They couldn’t hear the conversation, but they can see the fear fade from Emmet. They’ve lost their chance to bump Abe up the pecking order. I want to thumb my nose at them and stick out my tongue. But that would be childish, so I settle for a smug wink when I catch Bo’s furious eye.

They shoot the early exchanges several times, from a variety of angles. A fake corpse is placed in the alley, close to the manhole cover. Emmet starts the scene crouched over it, pulling bits off and stuffing them in his mouth. He’s so convincing it’s hilarious, and Salit keeps laughing when he comes upon him.

“ ‘Matt!’ ” he cries, calling Emmet by his screen name. “ ‘What are you doing with Mr. Litherland’s nose in your…’ Sorry!” he shouts, doubling over. “I can’t help it! He looks so crazy!”

“Don’t worry,” Davida says, smiling patiently. “We have all night. Keep trying. The joke will wear thin eventually.” She grimaces at a cameraman. “I hope!”

Salit finally gets through his lines without laughing and they move on to the next scene. The cameras and lights are redirected, the make-up artists make sure Salit and Emmet are looking the way they should, Davida has a last few words with Emmet, then they’re ready to go.

“OK, people,” an assistant director yells. “We’re going to try and get this right first time, so we want absolute quiet!”

When everyone settles down, the technicians do their final checks, Davida looks around slowly from one member of the crew to another, then nods. A man calls out the title, scene and take, and snaps the traditional clapperboard shut.

“And… action!” Davida roars.

“ ‘How could you do it?’ ” Salit cries, in his role as Bobby Mint, boy-hero.

“ ‘What?’ ” Emmet protests. “ ‘It’s not as if anyone liked Mr. Litherland.’ ”

“ ‘But he’s human!’ ” Salit cries.

“ ‘He was,’ ” Emmet corrects him. “ ‘He’s yummy for my tummy now!’ ” Emmet rubs his stomach with a sick laugh. “ ‘I’ve always wanted to eat human flesh. I mean, it’s not an obsession or anything. I wouldn’t go out of my way to kill, skin and cook somebody. But I’ve always been curious, wondered what it would taste like. So, when the opportunity dropped into my lap, yeah, I took it. Does that make me a bad person? I don’t think so. At least, not much badder than a guy who gives in to temptation and steals a bar of chocolate. It’s not like I killed him myself.’ ”

“ ‘But you let it happen!’ ” Salit cries. “ ‘You knew about the demon!’ ”

Emmet shrugs. “ ‘What’s done is done. No point crying over spilt milk—or a butchered headmaster.’ ” He holds out a severed, bloodied arm to Salit. “ ‘You should try some, Bobby. You might like it. It…’ ” The ground begins to rumble. A foul stench fills the air. For a second, Emmet falters and his gaze flicks to the open manhole. Then he recovers and continues like a true professional. “ ‘It goes down super sweet, especially if you add a dollop of ketchup. Tastes a bit like—’ ”

That’s when the demon bursts out of the manhole and grabs him.

It happens in a blur and is so fast, so violent, so shocking, that several people in the crowd gasp aloud.

The demon is green, slimy, with fierce yellow eyes, four long arms with claws at the ends, a mouth full of fangs. There’s something wolfish about its face, long and lean, with patches of hair here and there.

The demon whips Emmet off the ground. He screams, not having to fake it, caught off-guard. Salit falls backwards, yelling with genuine horror.

My world goes red with fear. I’m thrown back in time… that night in the cellar… earlier… my old home… walking into my parents’ bedroom to find Lord Loss, Vein and Artery at work. Feeling the exact same thing in my gut now as I did then.

The demon screeches and vanishes back underground, carrying Emmet with it. There’s a moment of hush. Then Emmet’s face appears, sheer terror in his expression. “Help!” he cries. “For the love of—”

Blood erupts around him, shooting up through the hole like a geyser. The howl of the demon drowns out his final words. His eyes go wide, then dead. As his head slumps, the demon pulls and Emmet disappears again, this time forever.

It all happened so swiftly, I’m in a state of shock. So’s everybody else. Stunned silence. People with hands over their mouths and disbelief in their eyes. I sense screams building in a dozen throats, ready to erupt at once, a chorus of terror.

“Now that’s what I call a death scene!” Davida Haym roars triumphantly, shattering the spell of fear. “Cut! Did you get that? You’d better have! We’ll never top that take!”

And suddenly everybody’s laughing, relief flooding through them. They thought for a few seconds that the demon was real, that Emmet was really being attacked. Now the moment has passed and they’ve remembered—this is make-believe, horrific fun, a movie. They’re embarrassed at having been caught out, but since so many of the others reacted the same way, they’re not left feeling too red-faced.

“I told you!” Dervish laughs, clapping loudly. “Wasn’t that the most vicious, coolest thing you’ve ever seen?”

“My heart!” Juni gasps, fanning her face with one hand. “I didn’t expect it all to happen so fast!”

“That was amazing!” Bill-E exclaims. “Did you see it, Grubbs? That spray of blood—like it was coming from a fireman’s hose! It was… Grubbs? Are you OK? Hey, Dervish, I think there’s something wrong with Grubbs. He looks like…”

I block out Bill-E’s words and the other sounds. I experienced the same sense of terror that many of the people around me felt. The same jolt of fear. The same moment of belief that this was real. But whereas they’ve got over that moment, I can’t.

Because I’m remembering the look of the demon. Its movements. The hate in its eyes. The effect it had on me.

And I’m staring at the open manhole, all the blood around it, no sign of Emmet or the monster.

And I’m thinking… every part of me is insisting…

That was no damn guy in a suit.

That demon was real!


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