Authors: Dean Vincent Carter
Convulsions rocked the man's body. He glanced pleadingly
up at Sean, shook his head, then his eyes rolled around
and his mouth gaped open to give a low moan and a
sound like a distant hissing. Sean could only watch in
horror as something black and slimy wriggled out of his
mouth; it slid out, then fell with a splash into the foul
mess the man had just disgorged.
He rose to his feet, staring at Sean, and said: 'The . . .
the centre . . .' before falling backwards into the raging
water with a huge splash.
Sean was all set to rush to the water's edge to try
and help the man out – but then he noticed the black
slug-like thing move. In two minds, he glanced at the
ferocious torrent and realized that he couldn't have saved
the man anyway – even if there had been any life left in
him. He looked down again – and screamed as the black
thing started sliding, snake-like, towards him . . .
Also by Dean Vincent Carter:
The Hand of the Devil
The Hunting Season
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A CORGI BOOK
Published in Great Britain by Corgi Books,
an imprint of Random House Children's Books
A Random House Group Company
This edition published 2009
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Copyright © Dean Vincent Carter, 2009
The right of Dean Vincent Carter to be identified as the author of this
work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
This book is dedicated to Tenbury Wells.
Home is where the heart is.
Thursday 14 September
I managed to steal another hour in the laboratory
tonight to examine the specimen before retiring to
bed. I am beginning to understand that I have in
my grasp something quite unique but potentially
dangerous. I must keep checking my equipment to
ensure everything is secure. If the specimen is as
intelligent as I suspect, then it needs to be properly
Holland is like a leech – he won't leave me alone,
always asking what I'm up to, what my plans are . . .
He hangs around like a bad smell. It's not like he has
nothing to do, and the recreation room is full of books
and DVDs. I wish he'd find someone else to pester. I
doubt he knows what I'm doing though. I hope not.
I get the feeling he wouldn't be able to keep a secret,
especially one as important as this. It has become
necessary to keep an eye on him at all times.
Friday 15th September
I introduced the specimen to a trout from the lake
today. Incredible! I was dumbstruck and could do
nothing but stare at it for several minutes. It entered
the trout through its mouth and just disappeared
inside. The specimen reminds me a little of a hagfish,
or one of those ghost slugs that turned up in Wales
last year and because of this I assumed it might
attempt to eat the trout from the inside, but then
the fish started to behave oddly. Its swimming
pattern was erratic, clumsy, as though it was learning
to swim for the first time. It would repeatedly
attempt to leap out of the water. I had the
impression that the fish was no longer in control of
its body, and that the specimen was somehow in the
The trout started to die after only an hour or so.
Its colour changed dramatically and its life ebbed
away. It was in an awful state – seemed to have
practically liquefied. I wonder if the specimen
infected it with something. The creature emerged from
what was left of the trout and actually started to
swim in the water like the fish, something I hadn't
seen it do prior to its invasion. Had it learned? Had
it absorbed information from the fish during its
occupation? I'm going to try it on one of Sally's
snakes later. It'll end in death for the poor creature,
but Sally need not find out. It is in the interest of
science after all. Perhaps the specimen will learn from
the snake too and be able to imitate it. God, I can't
wait to find out. I've never been so excited. I must
remember to sedate the snake first in case it tries to
attack the specimen. I must also see if the specimen
can survive out of water, though I don't want to risk
harming it at this exciting stage.
Amazing! Success. As I'd hoped, the specimen did
indeed pull the same trick with the python. The
gestation period was again brief, but when it emerged,
it slithered along the snake's tank, just like its host
would. I was stunned. What is this thing?
Just before bed I noticed a shadow outside my
room. It disappeared before I could discover its owner.
It must have been Holland though. I should have
words with him.
Saturday 16 September
Rain today. I didn't have any courses, but some of
the others did. They cancelled them. Pointless going
into the woods or near the lake in weather like this.
Most of them decided to watch films in the recreation
room so I managed to get some more time to myself in
the lab. We have to leave the centre by next Thursday
so the maintenance people can come in. I must finish
my initial research by then in case anything is
disturbed or broken while I am away. It is not normal
procedure, but I may even try to sneak the specimen
home with me. I'll be in trouble if anyone finds out,
but I hate the idea of my work being interrupted.
I still have no idea where it came from, and my
searches by the lake for more have been fruitless.
I decided to confide in young James about my find,
since he is the most trustworthy person here. I asked
him to look for more examples of the specimen while I
was busy with other work, but so far, he has had no
luck. I might ask him to try again next Wednesday
when he is back. Perhaps this creature is alone in the
world. Perhaps there are no more.
Holland has a habit of bumping into me late at
night and asking me about my day, making it clear at
the same time that he already knows. What the hell is
his problem? Has he been stalking me? I wish he would
find something productive to do instead of bothering
me all the time.
I can't believe it. The specimen has gone! I don't
know how it could have freed itself – the container
was sealed tight. My God – what if this thing gets
into a human being? It could be lethal. If I find it,
I might have to destroy it. I don't know if it is safe
to keep it here any more.
I am convinced Holland stole it. I haven't seen him
for hours. Sally says he's locked himself in his room.
I went and banged on his door several times but there
was no answer. He has to come out sooner or later.
When he does, there'll be trouble.
Sunday 17 September
He turned to see his brother James jogging towards
'How are you feeling, mate?'
'Yeah, not bad,' Sean replied, wiping his forehead
with the back of his hand. 'It's pretty hot though –
reckon some people will find it difficult.'
'Yeah. Lucky to have a break in the weather though.
Would have been miserable if it had been raining again.
The ground seems to have dried out a bit.'
They stood at the edge of the large green meadow by
the car park, watching all the other entrants warming
up and drinking the free water provided by the race
'Mum and Dad not arrived yet?'
'No,' James replied. 'They'll be here though. Dad
wanted to finish painting the fence before they left.'
'I had a jog around the lanes earlier. Injury's getting
better, but the foot still isn't back to normal. Wish I
was doing the race with you. I should have been more
careful in that half-marathon.'
'I'd have only tried to keep up with you anyway.
And that wouldn't have been a good idea.' They both
Just then an announcement came over the public
address system, calling for the runners to assemble at
the start line.
'Right, well, better get over there. See you at the finish
if you're sticking around.'
'Yeah, course,' James replied. 'Good luck.'
Sean made his way through the crowd of other runners,
some still stretching muscles and limbering up. He was
starting to feel thirsty again, but knew there were water
stops on the way, and besides, he'd run in the heat before
and had no problems. Still, he should have had more to
drink beforehand, it was common sense. He wandered
into the middle of the large group and waited for the
horn. Looking around at the other competitors in their
different coloured running tops and shorts, he started
to feel excited – and confident too. He hadn't done
the annual Orchard Wells ten-kilometre run before, so
although he knew the area well, he wasn't too sure of the
route; however, he'd studied the map, and it looked like
there were only a couple of hills to deal with.
The countdown began. Sean could feel the heat and
the anticipation of the crowd around him. Everyone
was quiet, tensed; then the horn sounded and they
began cheering. Sean started his stopwatch and set off,
running with the others when a gap opened. The group
soon spread out further as the faster runners at the front
moved ahead. As they left the meadow and surged across
the car park, Sean turned to wave at James who raised
his hand in return.
He picked up a little speed as they climbed the hill,
ready to slow down if the ascent became too tough,
but the ground levelled out and then sloped down. He
found a pace he was comfortable with and stayed with it,
keeping his eye on his stopwatch and the mile markers
that cropped up along the way. Three and a half miles
in, he reached the first big hill. He took it at a slightly
slower pace, and was able to get to the top without too
much trouble, his breathing heavier but not a problem.
There was a water station there, so he grabbed a cup,
drank half of it while still moving and poured the rest
over his head. He was disheartened to see another
large hill up ahead, but he tried to keep up the pace,
reluctant to slow down and walk like many of the other
runners. He pushed on, perspiring, panting, driving
himself forward, until eventually the top of the hill
came into view.
Five miles gone, the end was in sight, but Sean was
struggling. He was finding it harder and harder to
stick to the pace he'd set himself, and his muscles were
aching. He had forgotten to take on enough water, but
he pushed on, determined to get to the finish without
slowing down. He kept up with a runner in front, then
pushed harder to overtake. His throat was paper dry
and his running vest felt soaked.
I must be nearing the
, he kept thinking, wondering how one mile
could seem so long. He carried on, gasping, veering
off course a little every now and then, until he saw
the other competitors leaving the road and heading
down a narrow tree-lined lane.
, he thought.
He decided to speed up now that the end was near,
pushing his body as hard as he dared despite the pain in
his lungs. He turned off the road and hurtled down the
lane, trying to control his body at the increased speed.
Suddenly something felt very wrong: his feet seemed
detached, his body heavier and his vision cloudy. He felt
like someone or something had hit him on the head
and he swerved to the side, colliding with a loose iron
railing, nearly falling, but somehow managing to stay on
his feet. He heard the railing crash to the ground and a
nearby sheep bleat in surprise, but there was no time to
worry about that now.
He looked at his watch again, finding it hard
to focus: this could be his best time ever. He had to
speed up and use every last ounce of energy if he was
going to make this race count. It was no longer a
casual race, a bit of fun; it was everything to him,
He emerged from the lane into the large field – a
crowd of people were clustered around the finish line
at the far end. His feet still felt like foreign objects, and
he now realized how much he was weaving to and fro.
Something was definitely wrong, and it was more than
just exhaustion, but he was still ignoring it, pushing
himself to the limit. To the spectators he looked like
a drunkard, or someone staggering injured from a
Thoughts swam in his head. He finally understood
that there was a problem, but he had no idea what. He
lurched on, seeing what looked like people running
towards him. Was that James at the front? It looked
like him. In seconds his brother was right in front of
him, telling him to stop: he was still moving though,
resisting his brother's attempts to halt him, but then
it registered. He was in trouble. All at once a black
car appeared next to him. Where had it come from?
And Mum was there too now. James was telling him to
Then they were getting him into the passenger seat;
the owner of the vehicle – a man he didn't recognize
– was asking him if he was all right. He didn't know
though, he couldn't really tell. They drove off to the
other end of the field. He saw other runners finishing.
Not him though. For some reason he wasn't allowed to
finish the race. Voices merged into each other, his vision
swam and he started to panic.