TRAVIS LINDSAY HAD NO SENSE OF PASSING OUT.
Had it been presented to him as an option — “Look, kid, you can either keep staring at this grisly sight or you can be unconscious” — he would have happily volunteered to black out and crash to the floor in front of the rest of the Screech Owls.
But he’d had no choice whatsoever in the matter.
One moment Travis was staring at the naked, bloodied body swinging from the rope, its desperately clawing hands tied behind its back, and the next moment he was sinking into oblivion, darkness drawing over him like a welcome comforter.
He could take no more of the Chamber of Horrors.
Travis was not aware of Muck and Mr. Dillinger grabbing him and carting him off to the first-aid room. He did not see his so-called best friend, Nish, snickering so hard it seemed his big tomato of a face was going to explode. He did not know that Sarah Cuthbertson, too, had staggered, and would have gone down had Sam and Fahd not grabbed her.
And he certainly did not hear the tall woman in the uniform say, “It happens all the time,” her red lipstick splash of a smile seeming horribly out of place in a room where a beaten and naked man was swinging from a rope, where bloodied heads were on display beside the terrible contraption that had lopped them off, and where, to the sounds of agonizing screams and creaking machinery, a heavy wheel was crushing the very life out of a nearly naked young man with long flowing hair.
Travis had felt fine as the tour guide for Madame Tussaud’s waxworks museum took the team through the rooms filled with look-alike figures of movie and rock stars — he’d borrowed Data’s digital camera to take a shot of Nish with Nish’s great hero, Elvis Presley — and he’d been fine as Muck lingered over all those boring figures from history like Napoleon and Horatio Nelson and more kings and queens than you’d find in a pocketful of British change.
And he had even been okay, if barely, when they first entered the Chamber of Horrors and heard the spine-tingling, gut-wrenching sound effects rising from the corner where the young man was being tortured on the wheel.
He’d survived a look at Vlad the Impaler, the first figure on display as the Screech Owls had crowded into the eerily lit room. He’d listened patiently as the tour guide calmly explained how old Vlad used to get his kicks out of tossing women and children onto sharpened stakes and laughing as they slowly died. He’d looked, not once, but twice, at the longhaired, moustachioed ruler as he stood by a bloodied stake holding up a severed head like it was some trophy bass he’d just caught.
He’d survived a peek at Joan of Arc, the pretty teenager burning at the stake, and all the various kindly-looking British murderers who used to do nasty things, such as drown their wives in acid baths or brick them into their kitchen walls.
He had even coped with the realistic sight of Madame Tussaud herself as she stood in a Paris graveyard, a lantern raised in one hand as she searched for the severed head of Marie Antoinette so she could capture the French queen’s surprised look just as the guillotine fell.
But Guy Fawkes he could not handle.
In all his life, in all his many nightmares, Travis had never seen a sight so horrific. The body of Fawkes hung from a rope — his naked skin slashed by knives and whips, his hands tied behind his back — as his dark-bearded executioner regarded him with stern delight.
The sight had been bad enough, but the tour guide’s description of Fawkes — spoken in a lovely English accent that might as well have been talking about floral arrangements — had been the final straw.
“You come from Canada, where you celebrate something called Hallowe’en, I believe . . .”
“Just had it!” shouted Fahd.
“Yes, well, in this country we have Guy Fawkes Day, which will happen later this week. It’s sort of like your Hallowe’en. There will be bonfires all over Britain on the night of November 5, all in memory of this gentleman you see here swinging from the rope . . .”
“No way!” said Derek.
“Guy Fawkes was hanged in the year 1606 — that’s about four hundred years ago — after he and several other men were caught plotting to blow up the Houses of Parliament. He was, many say, the world’s first terrorist. And to set an example to anyone else who might be thinking of committing such an act, he was given the most awful punishment imaginable. The hanging you see here was the gentle
part of it . . .”
“Sick!” said Sam.
“Very sick,” the guide said, her lipstick smiling. “Guy Fawkes was sentenced by the British courts to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. He would be hanged until almost dead — this is what we have on display here at Madame Tussaud’s — and then, while he was still barely alive, they would take a sword and disembowel him, burning his entrails before his face as he was forced to watch.
“The last sensation he would ever feel would be the executioner’s broadaxe coming down upon his neck.”
“I’M GONNA HURL!
” Nish shouted out, laughing like a maniac.
The tour guide held up a long finger, with a perfectly manicured nail at its tip.
“That would not be the end of it,” she said, still smiling primly. “Even after his head was cut off, the punishment would continue. His body would be quartered by tying the arms and legs to four workhorses and driving them in four different directions until it split into pieces — that’s what they mean by ‘hanged, drawn, and quartered’ — and the quarters would be dragged through the streets of London and displayed on stakes in prominent places, most often London Bridge. The dignified public of London would stroll across the bridge to see the heads of the latest criminals that had been executed. Often they would be left there until the birds had picked the skulls clean.”
“Gruesome,” said Simon.
“Sweet,” said Nish.
“Sickening,” said Sam.
“Awesome,” said Nish.
“I want outta here,” said Lars.
“I wanna be
here!” said Nish. “My very own display — ‘Wayne Nishikawa — the World’s Most Twisted and Evil Hockey Player’!”
Excerpted from Attack on the Tower of London (#19) by Roy MacGregor. Copyright © 2004 by Roy MacGregor. Excerpted by permission of Screech Owls, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.