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Authors: Anne Rooney

Dead on Arrival

BOOK: Dead on Arrival
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With thanks to Kate and Hannah Frew, Mary Hoffman, Shahrukh Husain, Dr Alison Cluroe (Addenbrooke’s Hospital) and Steve Rooney.

Hungary, August …

Juliette, Omar, Finn, Ruby and Alistair find a dead body in the forest …

… Twenty-four hours later, they tie the murderer, Ava, to a tree, as one by one they fall sick …

… When they wake, they are vampires, and that murderer looks rather appealing …

… Mysterious nobleman Ignace, 400 years old and more sophisticated than is good for him, prevents them snacking on her …

… But that dead body isn’t as dead as it looked …

… They go to Ignace’s castle for a crash-course in being a modern vampire.

And so their adventures begin.

This
is Alistair and Ruby’s story …

‘He’s been here all night. Stone cold – no pulse,’ the paramedic said, looking at Alistair’s body slumped in the road, his head slammed against the kerb.

‘There’s not much blood,’ he said. ‘I guess the rest must have washed away in the rain.’

The woman who had called the ambulance stood on the footpath with both hands raised to
her mouth. Two paramedics loaded Alistair’s body onto a stretcher and pulled the blanket over his head. A police officer took a statement from the woman, while her dog tugged at its leash and sniffed his boots.

The ambulance drove off, without sirens or lights.

* * * * *

Ruby tried her brother’s mobile again and again, but it went to voicemail every time.
It must be out of battery,
she thought. It was so unlike Alistair – he always kept his phone charged. He’d gone to Ben’s for the night. She wished she had Ben’s number.

Ruby made toast and flicked the TV on, trying to distract herself. She was alone in the house.

By eleven, she couldn’t stand it any more. The rain started again, and was falling hard by the time she passed the police tape at the end of Ben’s road. She hurried on, head down. Ben answered the door in his dressing gown. He was surprised to see her.

‘Alistair? He didn’t come. I thought he’d just changed his mind,’ Ben said.

Ruby’s mouth was suddenly dry.

‘No. No, he really wanted to come,’ she said.

‘Come in a minute.’ Ben held the door open for her.

* * * * *

Alistair opened his eyes. He was cold. And he was on some kind of trolley. Panic rose in his throat like bile, and his head hurt. A bright light
from a tube shone in his eyes. He couldn’t move his head without it hurting.

Hospital,
he thought.
I must be in hospital. I hurt. Hurt people go to hospital.

He tried to speak, but his mouth wouldn’t work. People moved around the room, but he couldn’t see them. He wanted to call to them. How many were there? Two? Three? Their voices sounded fuzzy at first, but then words started to creep out of the mumbling:

‘Looks like a hit and run … no ID … doesn’t match any missing persons …’

His eyes closed again, and he drifted somewhere else. Somewhere he couldn’t hear the voices, but somewhere his head still hurt.

When he next opened his eyes the room was silent. He hurt all over. He touched his head. His fingers felt the edges of a cut and he winced. The room was cold. The arm he had lifted to his head was bare – no wonder he was cold. He was naked. Why?

He struggled to remember where he was and what had happened. He had gone to see Ben. They were going to play on the Xbox all night. It had been dark and rainy.

… Now he remembered. Car headlights coming round the corner, just as he stepped off the kerb. Trying to step back, but twisting his ankle and the car still coming. He didn’t remember it hitting him, or being hurt. But here he was, so he must have been hit.

He pushed himself up on one elbow. There was a sheet over him, but no blankets. He’d expected to see a hospital ward, but that wasn’t what he saw. He was in a room with bare trolleys, not beds. The end wall was covered in large metal handles. And there were no doctors or nurses. There was someone on the next trolley – an old woman. She had her eyes shut.

She must be asleep
, he thought.
I’ll be quiet
.

His clothes weren’t near his trolley. There wasn’t a chair, or a table for his things, or a TV. There wasn’t even a button to push to make the nurse come. It was nothing like the hospitals he’d seen on TV. Maybe because he mostly watched American hospital programmes – perhaps they were very different in England.

Further along the room there was a desk with a computer on it and a jumper draped over the back of the desk chair. Alistair didn’t like to take someone else’s things, but he was so cold.
I’ll bring it back,
he thought.
I just need it until I find my clothes.

The jumper was very big, and came almost to his knees.

He glanced at the computer screen. There was a photo of his face, with his eyes closed and a form, partly filled in. The fields for his name and age were blank. He was about to fill them in, but thought he’d better not touch it.

And then he saw the notes under his photo: ‘Unidentified white male; dead on arrival. Hit and run. Criminal investigation.’

How do you feel when you’re dead? Surely not the same as before. Surely his head shouldn’t be hurting if he was dead?
I don’t want to be dead
, Alistair thought.
Am I dead?

It was hard to tell – he hadn’t been dead before, so how would he know?

If he didn’t fill in his name on the computer, perhaps he wouldn’t be dead. Perhaps someone
else would be dead, or perhaps no one would be. What if he filled in someone else’s name? Would they be dead?

He looked around the room. No wonder it didn’t look like a hospital ward. The other people in the room were dead: the old lady who wasn’t moving, and a shape under a sheet. It was a morgue – he was in a morgue. That wasn’t good for someone who didn’t want to be dead.

He had seen on
CSI
what happens to dead people in a morgue – how scientists make a Y-shaped cut from the person’s shoulders to their groin and take the insides out.

His palms went sweaty with panic. He had to get out of the morgue before someone came with big knives to cut him open.

Alistair’s legs didn’t want to move, but he forced them to. He stumbled to the door, but something flapped about near his foot. He looked down. There was a label on his toe. He’d seen that on TV, too. They put a label on the toe of each dead person so they don’t get the bodies mixed up.

He stooped to pull it off, but it was fixed with a plastic band like a cable tie. He had to hop on one foot and cut it off with scissors from the desk. He hid it in the bottom of the bin in case he got into trouble for being alive and taking it off.

He opened the door carefully, just enough to peek out. A hospital man in green scrubs was walking towards him. Alistair held the door still until the man had gone, then he looked in both directions.

To the left an arrow pointed to ‘Food Court’. He’d been there with Ben once when Ben had had an operation. They’d gone to get pizza because Ben didn’t like the hospital food. Ben had worn his pyjamas and there were other people there in dressing gowns.

Perhaps no one would notice Alistair there. Perhaps no one would know he was supposed to be dead.

* * * * *

Ruby’s stomach turned over and over. When Alistair hadn’t turned up, Ben had texted him, but got no answer. He just thought Alistair had changed his mind, or forgotten.

‘But he doesn’t!’ Ruby cried. ‘You know he doesn’t just change his mind or forget. Why didn’t
you call me?’

Even as she said it, she knew it was unfair to blame Ben. Ben stared past her at the wall.

‘What should we do?’ he asked. ‘Shall we call the police?’

Ruby was about to say ‘yes, call them,’ but then she was unsure. You can’t just phone the police and say a vampire is missing.

She knew she wouldn’t be able to get hold of their mum. Should she call their vampire mentor, Florence? After they became vampires in Hungary, Ignace had assigned Florence to look after them both, as they each got used to being a vampire.

Maybe she
should
call Florence, Ruby thought. If Alistair didn’t have any ProVamp capsules with
him, then soon he would hunger for blood. But she couldn’t tell Ben – they weren’t allowed to tell people they were vampires.

‘Um, no, not the police,’ she said. ‘Maybe he got mixed up. Perhaps he went to Jake’s instead.’ It sounded lame and she knew it.

‘Let me know, right?’ Ben said, as he let her out.

Ruby hugged her arms around her in the cold. At the end of the road she stopped. The police tape. She’d thought nothing of it on the way to Ben’s house, but now it was scary.

She asked an officer taking photos what had happened.

‘Hit and run,’ he said.

‘Who?’

‘Some kid.’ He sounded annoyed, as though he didn’t like people asking about accidents.

Ruby’s heart lurched.

‘My brother – he’s missing,’ she said. ‘What did the kid look like?’

The officer suddenly took an interest.

‘I don’t know, I didn’t see him. They took him to the hospital. You should go there.’

Ruby would have to go home, get money, wait for a bus. It was impossible that something so important, so urgent, should have to be done in the same way as everything else – as slowly as if she wanted to go shopping.

‘Can’t you take me?’

‘No, I have work to do here. Don’t you have parents?’

Not what you’d really call parents
, Ruby thought.

‘Yeah, I’ll get a lift.’

She went home to get bus money.

At the hospital, Ruby went straight to A&E – Accident and Emergency – where they took people who came in by ambulance. She spoke to the nurse at reception.

‘No trace, sorry,’ the nurse said. ‘Have you reported him missing? He’s seventeen? Couldn’t he just be at a friend’s house? Seventeen-year-old boys, they’re not good at keeping in touch. Perhaps he had a bit to drink?’

The nurse was trying to be kind, but it didn’t help. She didn’t know Alistair.

‘He’s not like other boys,’ Ruby said. She didn’t want to go into the ways Alistair was different – him being Asperger’s, and a vampire.

At that moment a doctor walked past the check-in desk. He half-heard, stopped, and called the nurse over. Ruby watched the woman’s face change.

‘You’re looking for your brother?’ the doctor asked.

Ruby nodded.

‘What does he look like?’

Ruby described him, trying to remember what he was wearing. She searched the doctor’s face for clues, but he let nothing slip. He just asked her to
wait.

It was five minutes before he came back, his face serious. He and a nurse led her into a side room.

‘Is anyone with you?’ the doctor asked. Ruby shook her head.

‘Anyone at home we can call?’ She shook her head again.

‘A young man was brought in earlier today who had been involved in a hit-and-run accident. We haven’t been able to identify him.’

‘Is he OK?’ Ruby asked, but she knew the answer already.

‘I’m afraid not. He was dead on arrival.’

Ruby clasped her hands together so tightly her
fingers turned white.

‘It might not be my brother.’

‘No, it might not. But I think you should be prepared for the worst. Would you like to see his possessions?’

‘His possessions?’

‘His clothes and so on.’

‘You mean he’s not wearing his clothes?’ Ruby asked.

The nurse laid a hand on Ruby’s arm.

‘His clothes have been removed. That’s usual. We have to work out why someone has died.’

‘I have to see him!’ Ruby jumped up, suddenly horrified. They couldn’t cut him open, do a
post-mortem. He might not even be dead.

‘Of course you may see him,’ the doctor said calmly. ‘But are you sure you want to do it alone? How old are you?’

‘You haven’t started cutting him up, have you?’

‘No. Goodness, no.’

‘Did you try to revive him?’

Ruby was frantic, but not just for the reasons the doctor and nurse thought. Who knows what harm they would do him if they tried to make his vampire body return to a normal heart rate and breathing?

‘There was no hope of reviving him,’ the doctor said. ‘He was cold. He wasn’t breathing, and his heart wasn’t beating. He’d been like that for a long
time. Many hours.’

‘He was hit by a car?’ Ruby asked.

‘It appears so. I’ll arrange for you to see him.’ And the doctor left the room.

A few minutes later, he returned, suddenly flustered and alarmed.

‘I’m sorry, there’ll be a delay. Would you like some tea? Coffee?’

‘No, thanks. What’s wrong? Where is he?’ Hope and panic struggled together in Ruby’s mind. The doctor saw it.

‘He’s been moved. I’ll have to find the person who moved him. Please don’t be alarmed.’

But how could she not be alarmed?

BOOK: Dead on Arrival
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