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Zom-B Circus

Darren Shan

  Darren Shan

  Zom-B Circus

  Little, Brown and Company

  New York Boston

  Begin Reading

  Table of Contents

  A Sneak Peek of Zom-B Family

  Copyright Page

  In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher is unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at [email protected]. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.


  The real Cat(herine) Ward—more ruthless than this version by far!

  Editorial ringmaster:

  Elv Moody

  Agenting jugglers:

  the Christopher Little clowns


  “There are no second chances in life.”

  That was Cat Ward’s motto, and she looked around the classroom with a serious expression as she rolled it out, trying to lock gazes with her students.

  “If you don’t work hard now, you’ll be a failure later,” she continued. “You have to seize every opportunity that you can. This world punishes the weak and indifferent.”

  They didn’t care. They never listened. They just yawned and scribbled in their books.

  Cat decided to give it one more try. “The future can be whatever you make of it. You can carry on being failures, or you choose to change and make the most of the chances that we’re providing you with.”

  To her surprise, a hand went up. Cat started to smile, until she realized the hand belonged to Becky Smith. A wretched girl, rude and aggressive, but smarter than a lot of the others. She was the one who had given Cat her nickname—Ward 6, which was the psychiatric ward in their local hospital.

  “Yes, Becky?” Cat said, forcing a smile.

  “What you’re saying,” Becky sniffed, “is that if we work really hard, and seize all the chances that come our way, we can be a big success like you.”

  “Well, I wouldn’t say I was that successful,” Cat chuckled modestly.

  “You’re saying,” Becky continued with relish, “that we can work in a dump like this and spend all our days trying to drum mathematical equations into the heads of people who don’t give a damn.”

  Cat’s smile faded.

  “You’re saying,” Becky went on, “that we can be a laughing-stock, work crazy hours for rubbish pay, and spend our long holidays wondering why we feel so bored and useless.”

  “That’s enough,” Cat snapped.

  “What chances have you taken in life?” Becky responded.

  “I’m warning you,” Cat snarled.

  “What?” Becky grinned. “Will you send me to the principal’s office?”

  Cat trembled with frustration. She knew the principal had a soft spot for Becky Smith. If she complained about the girl, she’d probably be assigned extra duties as punishment.

  “Forget about it,” Cat finally said stiffly. “I wanted to help, but clearly my help isn’t appreciated. Let’s carry on with the lesson.”

  The rest of the period was horrible, Cat going through the motions, unable to get Becky’s taunt out of her head. The worst thing was that Cat did feel bored and useless. As a child she had wanted to be an experimental physicist or nuclear engineer. Instead she had become a droning mentor to a pack of simpletons and thugs.

  It wasn’t fair. She’d always been in the top two or three in her classes in school. Her specialty was mathematics. She’d grown up thinking the world was hers, that she would do wonderful things in her chosen field, become the twenty-first century’s Newton or Einstein.

  Then she went to university and realized she was no genius. She was in the top ten or fifteen percent, but no better than that. Academic fame would never be hers. At best she would become a lab assistant to someone more gifted than her.

  Losing interest in her career, Cat’s standards slipped. She no longer challenged herself, but merely breezed along, angry and bitter, taking the easy options.

  Teaching was by no means an easy job, but it was easier to go down that route than to look for a less stable position in the world beyond. Cat knew that she would be able to glide along on autopilot as a teacher. It wasn’t what she had dreamed of as a child, but it was safe and secure, so she went for it.

  She had been teaching math to surly teenagers like Becky Smith ever since. It had only been five years, but already it felt like she had served a life sentence. She could feel her hair turning gray. Every day was the same, lecturing lifelessly to her students, making small talk with the teachers in the staff room, watching soap operas and reality shows on TV when she went home.

  As the annoyingly intuitive Becky had guessed, she didn’t even make use of the long holidays, just sat around moaning to the few friends that she was still in touch with, dreading the start of the new term but doing nothing to break the cycle. Her only moments of contentment came when, several times a day, she would sneeringly tell one or more of her charges that there were no second chances in life, that they were blowing their futures.

  As class ended and Becky trotted off with her friends to crow about the points she’d scored over their teacher, Cat had to admit that she was in a low and lonely place.

  “Something has to change,” she whispered to herself. “I can’t go on like this. I’m better than other people. I just need to be given a chance to prove it.”

  Perhaps some higher force was listening, or maybe it was coincidence, but Cat was to be provided with the chance to prove what she was made of just a few days later, when the zombie apocalypse shook the world to its core and the living dead ran wild through her school.


  Cat was on her lunch break when the zombies came storming through the building. There had been rumors of undead outbreaks in Ireland and other countries prior to this, so it didn’t come as a complete surprise. Cat had even been joking about the subject with her sister Jules a few nights earlier, and had said that she didn’t think she’d notice a difference if all of her students were turned into zombies.

  Still, like most sensible people, Cat had dismissed the rumors. She hadn’t been expecting an invasion, and like the majority of her fellow teachers and their students, she froze when she spotted the monsters streaming through the school.

  Cat had been on her way to the staff room, but had stopped when she’d seen a group of girls hanging out in a chemistry lab. They shouldn’t have been there. Cat thought about saying nothing, but a few of the girls would be in her class after lunch and she was worried that they might sneak in some combustible materials and start a fire—it wouldn’t be the first time. So, with a sigh, she went in to chase them out.

  It should have been a simple eviction, but the girls only laughed when she told them to leave. “We’re not doing any harm, miss,” they protested.

  “Out,” she insisted.

  “But why?” they whined. “It’s quiet in here. We can do a bit of extra studying.”

  She spent several minutes arguing with them. She could have threatened to report them to the principal–all of the students apart from Becky Smith were wary of Miss Reed–but that would have been a sign of weakness. She had learned very quickly that if you were to stand up to these little savages, you had to stand by yourself.

  The girls had almost given up and were at the point of leaving when the screams rang out and they caught sight of the first wave of zombies.

  Cat knew with a single glimpse that these were genuine members of the living dead. They were ripping open throats and skulls, lashing out at anyone in reach. They had long fangs and there were bones s
ticking out of their fingers and toes. They hunted like predators. Each one of them would scratch or bite a few passersby, then target an individual and bring the victim down before cracking open the poor person’s skull and digging into their brain.

  Cat and the girls watched the slaughter with horror. Cat wasn’t surprised to see the students who had been wounded start to turn into zombies themselves. It had always been that way in the movies.

  Then a few of the zombies set their sights on the group in the chemistry lab and lumbered through the doorway.

  That was when Cat came into her own. Reacting instinctively in line with her motto that there were no second chances in life, she grabbed one of the girls and threw her to the advancing zombies. As the girl screamed with terror, Cat grabbed two of the other spiteful cows and pushed them after the first.

  The rest of the girls shrieked and ducked out of the way of their teacher, but Cat didn’t care. The zombies had stopped to feast on the three she’d propelled at them, giving her a chance to break free before any others came in.

  Dashing to the rear of the lab, which overlooked a small courtyard, Cat smashed the window to pieces with a chair. Then she leaped through and set off for the front of the building.

  She never looked back, or called to the terrified, helpless girls in the lab to follow her, or spared a thought for the three she had condemned. This wasn’t a time for pausing. It was a time for action. Those who seized their chance might get away. The rest would be lost. And Cat Ward had no time for losers.


  The fugitive teacher only barely made it out of the school. It was sheer chaos, the undead running wild, the living thrashing around in a blind panic. It took a cool head to navigate the mayhem, and that day Miss Ward lived up to her name and was one of the coolest Cats in London.

  She tossed a few more students to the zombies as she fled, along with one of her fellow teachers who was trying to organize the children and lead a gang of them to safety. The sacrifices served to distract the hunting killers and she looked for opportunities at every turn. A couple of times she sent young kids flying into walls when there were no zombies present, hoping to knock them out so that they would attract any brain munchers who might chance along the way later—better they stop to eat the brains of the dazed students than carry on and catch up with her.

  It wasn’t much quieter on the streets outside. London was a city caught in the grip of an undead menace. Zombies were running wild everywhere. Cat couldn’t understand how they had spread so swiftly, but she didn’t stop to try and make sense of it. Picking a direction at random, she took off as fast as she could, sparing not a thought for those who were being butchered all around her.

  Cat never noticed the strange, semi-human figure that stepped out of the school to stare after her as she fled. If she had glanced back she might have spotted him, a man standing in the shadows, like no other she had ever seen, with pustulent, peeling flesh, no fingernails, gray hair and yellow eyes.

  But even if she had seen her sinister observer, she was already too far away to have heard him when he muttered, “Interesting…” And she definitely wouldn’t have noticed when he stepped inside, whistled to one of his colleagues and nodded at him to follow her at a distance as she ran.


  The following weeks and months were horrendous, not just for Cat Ward but the entire world. Zombies had swarmed the planet and wiped out civilization as it had been known. Pockets of the living still existed in most places, but they were under constant threat, having to hole up at night when the undead came out of hiding and went on the prowl.

  That was the only positive, Cat mused to herself one sunny afternoon as she explored the streets and shops of north London, searching for food and supplies. Zombies were sensitive to sunlight. It hurt their eyes and caused them discomfort. If they had been able to roam in the daytime as well as by night, it would have been impossible for survivors like Cat to operate.

  As it was, Cat had learned to get along nicely. The first few days and nights had been the hardest, when she’d had no idea where to go or what to do. Should she stay in the city or head for the country? Set up camp in an apartment in a tower block or in a house in suburbia? Team up with other survivors or keep to herself?

  She’d made mistakes in those early stages, but just about everybody had. The difference between her and those who succumbed to the zombies was that she learned from her errors and corrected them.

  One mistake she never made–and it was a mistake that cost lots of people their lives–was to put the welfare of anybody else before her own. Cat faced countless zombie attacks over the first couple of weeks. Each time she grabbed the nearest human and threw them to the undead lions, creating time and space for her to get away.

  Cat felt no guilt. As far as she was concerned, this was a dog-eat-dog world. The people who had died so that Cat could live were proof of her motto. If one of the fools had seized their chance and thrown her to the zombies before she could do it to them, that person would be standing here today instead of her. Since they hadn’t, she had prospered and there would be no second chance in this life for any of the others.

  Cat stretched and smiled. She was actually enjoying this new period of her life. She had found fresh strength and resolve since that day in school. She wasn’t drifting along aimlessly. She was a survivor, one of the few with the courage and daring to flourish in these dark, deadly times. Where others had crumbled, she had stood firm and emerged a powerful, purposeful woman.

  “No more math for me,” she giggled, but softly, so as not to alert any zombies who might be sheltering in the shops around her.

  But maybe it wasn’t the end of her teaching days. Perhaps she could set up a survival school, teach other people how to thrive in this new, dangerous world.

  She smiled again at the thought. Money wasn’t worth anything now, but respect and admiration would be payment enough. She could also get her students to hunt for her, bring back food and drink, clothes and weapons. She liked it out here on the streets, but a day would come–not for a long time yet, but it paid to think ahead–when she would get old and slow. It might be a good idea to prepare for such a time as far in advance as possible.

  Besides, if she surrounded herself with eager students, she would have lots of bodies to lob to the zombies if she got cornered.

  Chuckling under her breath, wondering what she might name her school, Cat headed back to base. It was still early, but hungrier zombies sometimes came out while the sun was still in the sky. After Rule One–seize every chance in life–came Rule Two in the Cat Ward guidebook to surviving a zombie apocalypse—it doesn’t pay to dawdle.


  Cat was staying in an old house in Muswell Hill. It had been deserted before the zombie attacks, the doors and windows on the ground floor all boarded over from the outside. She’d found a ladder in the back garden of a house a few streets away–you couldn’t go into the hardware stores anymore, as almost all of them were packed with EIY (Eat It Yourself) zombies–and used that to get up and force open a window on the upper floor at the back of the house. The rooms were musty but clean, and she’d set up home there, maybe for a few days, maybe weeks—she would decide as she went along.

  Cat picked up the ladder where it was lying in the garden, set it against the wall and climbed. She knocked it over once she’d let herself in, as she always did. If zombies saw it standing there during the night, they’d investigate. They might be brain-dead beasts but there weren’t entirely clueless. You didn’t have to be a genius to outwit them but you couldn’t underestimate them either.

  In the morning, Cat would simply drop to the ground and go about her business. She was always careful to choose a room on a low floor. No penthouse apartments with spectacular views for her. The most important aspect of any home these days was that you were able to get out of it quickly and easily if you had to flee.

  Cat laid out the goods that she had brought back–tins of food, a few bottles
of water, a couple of sharp knives–then retired to a small bedroom. The windows weren’t boarded over here, but there were heavy curtains on them.

  Cat sat by the bedroom window, parted the curtains carefully, just enough to let through a crack of sunlight, then settled down and picked up one of the many books that were lying nearby. She read until the light faded completely, then set the book aside, let the curtain close and lay down for the night.

  These were the worst hours, before sleep came, when there was nothing to do. There was a larger bedroom at the front of the house, and a street lamp shone outside it—though many of the lights in the city no longer worked, some still did. Cat could have gone in there and carried on reading. But she was afraid that a zombie would see her shadow moving. It was safer in the darkness.

  Cat found herself thinking about her sister Jules and her family, her husband Paul and Cat’s nephew George. They were the only people she really cared about. George had celebrated his eighth birthday just a week before everything went to hell, and Cat had helped organize his party. She often thought about that day, the fun she’d had, the way they’d all smiled as they posed for a photo together.

  Cat had gone looking for her sister once she’d adjusted to life in a zombie-run world. She’d worked her way across to their house, spent several days in the neighborhood, found some survivors and asked if they knew anything about Jules Bearman and her loved ones. Unfortunately, like so many others, they’d disappeared without a trace, and while Cat hoped for the best–that they had escaped London and found shelter in a settlement outside the city–she feared the worst.

  Cat would have liked to base herself in her sister’s house, but that would have been dangerous. She had come across dozens of corpses in their homes during the course of her travels, people who had been overly attached to their possessions, who hadn’t run when the chance presented itself.