Authors: Barry J. Hutchison
Detective Inspector Martin Marshall stared at the naked teenager on the floor. He didn’t bother checking for a pulse. There was no need. She was dead, no two ways about it. The cause of death, though, was a little harder to pinpoint.
Her head was turned almost 180 degrees on her shoulders. That was the most likely culprit, of course, but there was also a deep tear running right across her throat from one side to the other. From the pattern of blood on the floor and walls around her, it must have sprayed out of the wound like a fountain.
Marshall looked up. The ceiling was a nicotine yellow, but there was a spattering of crimson, too, showing how high the blood spray had reached. He kept staring at it for a while, pretending there was something really fascinating up there and giving his stomach a chance to settle.
Steeling himself, he looked down at the girl again. Her bare skin was awash with blood, but through it Marshall could see what looked like bite marks on one of her breasts. Fiery red scratches ran down both sides of her face, visible on her snow white skin even through the blood-slick.
The girl’s eyes were open, staring hopelessly upwards as if begging some higher power for help. Marshall moved to close them, but a wave of revulsion flooded his stomach, and he found himself stumbling towards the broken remains of the window for fresh air instead.
He’d seen enough human wreckage by now that the sight of it rarely bothered him, but the smell… The smell always reminded him that what was now just a burst sack of shit and organs had once been a functioning human being.
Marshall got as close to the broken window as he dared and sucked in a few deep breaths. The way the block was facing meant he couldn’t see much of the city, but there was an orange glow and a whiff of smoke that suggested something was burning somewhere. Sirens screamed, and even in the small area he could see, three or four blue lights raced along the streets.
He breathed deeply. The cold air pushed back against his rising nausea. Just a couple of hours ago, the remains of TV weather presenter, Lacey Crane, had been found. The poor cow had been carved in half from top to bottom, and had all her organs removed. Their whereabouts, as far as he knew, were still unknown.
As he’d stared down at her, Marshall had come to the conclusion that this had to be it. This
to be the single worst thing he’d ever see. After this, he’d thought, there’d be no worse things to witness.
But as he stared out into the dark, with a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl spread out behind him like a broken doll, Marshall began to worry that he might be wrong, and that there might yet be worse things out there than the halves of Lacey Crane.
Marshall jumped and let out a little gasp of fright. He turned to see Leanne standing in the doorway, now cleaned up and dressed in fresh jeans and a fluffy brown hoodie designed to look like Chewbacca from Star Wars. She had a rucksack-type schoolbag slung over one shoulder, and a fucking enormous kitchen knife in the opposite hand.
“What’s that for?” Marshall asked her. He felt his pulse quicken. From what he’d been able to gather from talking to Leanne downstairs, there had been four people in the flat just half an hour ago – Leanne, the girl on the floor, and two boys who’d both taken a nose dive through the window.
Everything else he’d seen that night had led him to believe her story about one of the boys going crazy and killing the others, but now here she was standing in front of him with a dirty great knife, and suddenly he remembered she wasn’t just a witness to what had happened in the flat, she was also the prime suspect.
“Self-defence,” said Leanne, looking down at the blade. It was easily eight inches from tip to handle, and reached down past her knees.
Marshall swallowed. “And what do you think’s going to attack you? A rhino?”
Leanne gripped the knife and chewed her bottom lip. Her eyes turned shiny with tears. “I don’t know,” she tried to say, but it came out as a croaky whisper. “But I’m not taking any chances.”
Marshall held out his hand. “Give me the knife, Leanne. You don’t need it. I’ll keep you safe.”
Leanne snorted. “You? Sorry. You almost shat yourself when I came into the room.”
“I’m in the police, you know that. I can look after you. Give me the knife.”
Leanne shook her head. “You’re not getting the knife,” she said, and her voice went from shaky to angry. “Look, I saw him. I was there when Owen threw Ashleigh
through a fucking door
and when he tried to chew Dagan’s arm off then pushed him through the window. Not
She turned her head, showing Marshall the three sticking plasters he’d used downstairs to cover the gash on her cheek, and the darkening bruise that was now covering almost a quarter of her face.
“He did this. He nearly shoved his thumbs through my eyes. He killed Ashleigh, he killed Dagan, and he nearly killed me!”
“And now he’s dead,” Marshall reminded her.
is!” Leanne admitted. “But what about everything else that’s going on? Hmm? What about none of the TV channels broadcasting? What about the phones not working? You told me yourself, that guy off the news was lying dead in the studio, and no-one was coming to help him. Why not? Why was nobody coming, unless they were dead, too?”
“We don’t know that,” Marshall protested.
“Exactly. We don’t know anything,” agreed Leanne. “And that’s why I’m keeping the fucking knife.”
Marshall opened his mouth to argue, then thought better of it. He glanced out through the broken window behind him. There was a squeal in the distance which might have been an alarm, or might have been someone screaming. Whatever it was, it was silenced almost immediately.
“OK, take the knife,” Marshall said. He shifted awkwardly on his feet. “But I don’t suppose you happen to have another one?”
Marshall zipped up his jacket and tried to tuck the knife Leanne had given him up inside his sleeve. The blade was much smaller than hers was, and he was able to conceal most of it, at least.
“You ready?” he asked.
Leanne stood behind him at the foot of the stairs, her hairy hood pulled up over her head. She nodded abruptly, her eyes staying fixed on the heavy security door that was currently keeping them cut off from the world outside.
“My car is in the car park. It’s only a hundred yards away. Just a hundred yards, that’s all,” he said, trying to convince himself as much as the girl. “We’ll get to it, we’ll get to the station, then we’ll find out what’s happening. It’s going to be OK. OK?”
Leanne gave another nod. She had the knife clutched flat against her chest, pointed downwards, her knuckles white on the handle.
“OK, three, two, one…” Marshall turned the lock and pulled open the door. He jumped back, as if expecting someone to come rushing in at them, but all that came in through the gap was a swirl of cold air, and a faint smell of burning. Marshall and Leanne both breathed out at the same time.
Marshall leaned around the door and looked in both directions. Far off on the left, just beside the corner, he could see broken glass on the tarmac. There was something else there, too. It took him a moment to recognize it as a hand. The arm, and the body it belonged to, were mercifully hidden by the rest of the building.
“Coast’s clear. This way,” Marshall said. He began walking quickly towards the car park on the right. There were five or six other cars parked a little closer, but he always made a point of parking his under the street lights in an attempt to dissuade any random pricks who might otherwise think about breaking into it. Right now, though, he wished he’d just parked the bloody thing closer and taken the risk.
Leanne glanced around anxiously as they took a shortcut across the patch of grass – Dog Shit Field, she always used to call it – between the car park and the flats. Outside, the sounds of sirens and alarms and distant shouting were much more in-your-face, and the longer they were exposed to it all, the faster her pulse began to race.
“What one is it?” she asked, keeping her voice low.
“There,” said Marshall, pointing ahead to a dull grey Renault that looked mostly orange in the glow from the street light hanging above it. “Not much further. Don’t worry.”
“Martin,” Leanne hissed. She caught him by the back of his jacket and tugged hard. “Look.”
Marshall turned in the direction Leanne was staring. They were level with the rear side of the flats now, and in the gloom Marshall could make out a group of people all huddled together.
“Come here,” he whispered to Leanne, and they both ducked down next to the first car in the car park. They watched the group for several long seconds in silence, before Leanne finally spoke.
“What should we do?”
Marshall looked around them, then back at the group. It was hard to tell for sure, but there seemed to be around eight or nine of them there. He thought he could just make out the old woman from downstairs – God, what was her name? – standing there in a dressing gown.
“They don’t seem violent or anything,” Marshall said. “We should talk to them.”
Leanne’s eyes went wide. “Are you fucking nuts?” she whispered.
Marshall frowned. “What? Of course I’m not, but look at them. They’re not doing anything. Look, that’s the woman from downstairs. What’s her name? In the dressing gown. She’s, I don’t know, in her eighties. I hardly think she’s going to cause us any trouble.”
Despite Leanne’s hissed protests, Marshall straightened up. He glanced around again, then began walking quickly towards the group.
“Martin,” Leanne whispered, keeping low. “Martin, come back.”
“Hello, there,” Martin called, as he drew closer to the crowd. Almost at once, he realized his mistake. Every head snapped towards him as one, and in the faint orange glow of the street lights, he could make out their faces. Twisted. Snarling. Wrong.
The crowd moved together, lurching from stationary to sprinting in a split second. Marshall hesitated, transfixed by the jerky movements of the old woman from downstairs as she powered towards him on her bare feet.
From behind him, Marshall heard Leanne shout his name, and at last he began to run. The air at his back was filled with a chorus of frenzied screeches and screams as he hurled himself across the grass and raced towards his car.
Leanne was running ahead of him, head down, her knife flashing in the light as her arms pumped the air.
The car was close now, but the screaming and the gnashing and the thudding of running footsteps sounded closer still. Leanne slammed up against the passenger door and yanked on the handle. Locked.
“Open the door!” she shrieked, and Marshall fumbled in his pockets for his keys. His heart leapt into his throat. No keys.
Frantically, he swapped the knife to his other hand and checked the pocket on the other side. His fingers brushed against metal and he let out a high-pitched sob of relief.
Yanking the keys free, he pushed down on the remote. The lights blinked and Leanne dived inside.
Marshall chanced a look back over his shoulder, and his body went tight from the arse upwards. The mob was right at his heels, hissing and spitting and snarling like animals, their hands grabbing and clawing for his back.
The sight of them pushed him harder. There was no time to make it all the way around the car, so he screamed at Leanne to move over, and she hurriedly clambered into the driver’s seat.
With a final desperate dive, Marshall hit the passenger seat and pulled the door shut. The charging crowd slammed into the side of the vehicle at full speed, and for a brief, horrible moment, Marshall felt like it was going to tip sideways.
He pushed down the lock on the door and thrust the keys into Leanne’s hands. “Drive.”
“I don’t know how!” Leanne yelped.
A figure pounced onto the front of the car and began scratching at the windscreen with her crooked fingers, her dressing gown flapping open in the wind.
, that was her name. Marshall felt a strange sense of relief at finally having remembered it, but then the car rocked sideways again and the feeling passed.
He pulled on his seat belt and nodded in the direction of the ignition. “Then I hope for both our sakes you’re a fast fucking learner.”
Abbie Hume flicked open her eyes, then lay there for a moment wondering why. She slid her hand across the sheets, reaching for Mark, but his side of the bed was cool and smooth. Night shift, she remembered. Wouldn't be home for hours yet.
She wriggled around, turning her back on the rest of the bed. The LED display of the alarm clock flashed 00:11 at her, blinking on and off like a warning light. Through the fog of half-asleep it took her a moment to realize the power must have tripped out. Police sirens had been wailing along the street all evening. Maybe the power cut had something to do with that.
The flash of another light caught her eye. One of the little red dots on the baby monitor flickered on and off again. It was little more than a blink, but enough to tell her that Imogen was restless.
Abbie held her breath, not daring to move. Immy had been sleeping better these past few nights. They'd almost dared to believe that the months of sleep-depravation might be about to come to an end, but that tiny flicker from the monitor was enough to throw the whole dream into doubt.
"Don't wake up," Abbie whispered. "Please don't wake up."
She stared at the baby monitor, as if she could make Immy stay sleeping through sheer force of will.
She could hear her breathing – not the rhythmic sighing of sleep, but the louder huffing in and out of the wide awake and restless.
The little red dot flickered for a fraction of a second. Abbie tensed and gripped the duvet. This was still salvageable, she told herself. Immy may still fall back asleep. The night wasn't necessarily a complete write-off yet.
She sat up and leaned in closer to the monitor, trying to get a better understanding of what was happening down there. Were Immy's eyes closed or open? Was she sitting up or lying down? If she could figure that out she'd know what the odds were of her darling daughter dropping back off.
The baby monitor buzzed softly in Abbie’s ear. She could still hear Immy breathing, but there was another sound, too. A scuff of footsteps on carpet. Abbie’s stomach tightened and her lungs seemed to stop working altogether as she realized with complete clarity that her daughter was not alone in her room.
She’d never thought of herself as a brave woman, and even as she leaped from her bed and raced into the hallway in her pajamas, she still didn’t. Her baby – her daughter – was in danger. Nothing else mattered but that.
Immy’s room was on the ground floor, but Abbie didn’t even notice herself flying to the stairs, or taking them in bounds of two and three.
Snatching a heavy wooden candlestick from the sideboard, she barged into the room, throwing the door wide and screaming like a woman possessed.
“Get away from my baby!”
“What the Hell?” yelped Mark, ducking and holding up his arms to protect himself from his wild-eyed wife. “It’s me, it’s me! Abbie, it’s me!”
Abbie dropped the candlestick and covered her mouth with both hands. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks and she let out something that was halfway between a sob and a laugh of relief.
“Oh God! Oh God, Mark! I almost brained you,” she said between big, gulping breaths. “I thought you were a burglar or, I don’t know, someone. With all the sirens outside tonight, I thought…”
Mark stepped in and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her in close. “Ssh, it’s OK. It’s OK.”
With her head pressed in against Mark’s chest, Abbie could just seem Immy’s face. Her eyes were wide and sparkling as she reached up for the mobile dangling above her. There’d be no getting her back to sleep now, but for the first time in weeks, Abbie was happy about that.
“What you doing home, anyway?” Abbie asked, still content to stay snuggled in Mark’s bear hug.
“Strangest thing happened,” said Mark. “I’d picked up some guy in Blackhill and run him out Dumbarton direction. About, I don’t know, couple of hours ago. So I pull up, right, and he pays me in cash.”
Mark stopped. “I’m not sure that qualifies as ‘the strangest thing’,” Abbie said, but with her head against her husband’s chest, she could hear his heart pounding much faster than normal. “What is it?” she asked. “What happened?”
“It’s just… As he was handing me over the money, this… thing fell out of his sleeve, right onto my hand.”
Abbie drew back so she could see Mark’s face. His eyes darted left and right, as if searching for a memory he couldn’t quite track down. “What do you mean ‘this thing’? What thing?”
Mark’s eyes stopped shifting and fixed on her. “A bug,” he said. “It was a bug.”
“A bug?” Abbie frowned. Her whole body convulsed involuntarily. “Jesus. What sort of bug?”
“A… a big one. I don’t know. Not something I’ve ever seen before,” Mark said. “It was big and black and shiny and I knew I should be freaking out, but… it was so weird. I wasn’t.”
“You weren’t? I would have been. I mean, Jesus, I’m freaking out about it now,” Abbie said. “What did you say?”
“To the bug?”
Abbie smiled and slapped him gently on the chest. “To the passenger. The guy whose sleeve it fell out of. I mean, as tips go, that one’s not great.”
“Oh, him. Um, nothing. I don’t remember where he went after that.”
“What about the bug? Did you kill it?” Abbie asked.
Mark stiffened. “What?”
“Did you kill it? The bug?”
“Of course I didn’t fucking kill it,” Mark snapped, his voice suddenly filled with venom. “Why the fuck would I kill it? What kind of question’s that?”
Abbie stepped back in surprise. “OK. Jesus, I only asked. No need to be a dick about it. I thought you’d have killed it. What did you do with it?”
“Nothing,” said Mark, the anger in his voice now replaced by an even flatness. “I didn’t do anything with it.”
“Then where did it go?” asked Abbie, frowning again.
Mark stepped closer. His breathing seemed unnaturally loud in the dark. “I think… I think it went inside me.”
Abbie snorted a laugh. “Inside you?” she said. She searched his face, but saw nothing there to suggest he was joking. “What are you talking about? How could it have gone inside you?”
“I don’t know,” Mark admitted. “But I can hear it.”
“Hear it? The bug that went inside you, you can hear it?”
Mark nodded slowly. “It thinks… It thinks we should kill the baby.”
Abbie felt her stomach tighten for the second time in the space of five minutes. “Shut up, Mark. That’s not funny.”
Mark stepped forwards and wrapped his arms around his wife again, pinning her own arms to her side. He pulled her in close, squashing her hard against his broad chest. “I don’t want to, babe, I don’t want to,” he whispered. “But we have to. The bug says we have to.
“Let go of me,” Abbie said, struggling to break free of Mark’s grip. “Mark, you fucking let go of me right now.”
“We don’t need it. We were fine before it came along. We’ll be fine again once it’s gone,” Mark said.
, Mark, and this is not funny. I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but the joke is fucking over. Let me go
Over in her crib, Immy began to cry. Abbie felt a scream of rage well up inside her. It burst from her lips as she brought one knee up sharply, driving it deep into Mark’s groin. He groaned and stumbled back, clutching his balls and looking like he might throw up.
Abbie ran for her crying daughter, but before she could reach Immy, Mark caught her by the arm and spun her round. “You ungrateful fucking whore,” he growled, his face twisted into an expression Abbie had never seen before in all their years together.
His fist hit her like a wrecking ball, spinning her to the floor. She landed awkwardly on the carpet, her wrist twisting painfully beneath her.
By the time she’d rolled over, Mark was over the crib, reaching inside. “We don’t need it,” he whispered. “We don’t need it. These are the things a good daddy does.”
Abbie was on her feet before she’d even thought about moving. Her arm drew back, and she was surprised to see the candlestick in her hand, swinging towards her husband’s head. It hit not with the hollow
she’d been expecting, but with a nauseating
that she felt more than heard.
Mark spun around, hissing like a demon. He flew at Abbie, but her arm came up all by itself again and the heavy base of the candlestick connected just above his right eye. He staggered and fell, a curved line of blood already appearing where the edge of the rounded base had struck him.
he hit Immy’s toy box, his forehead slamming against the side of the lid. A sound, like bubbling water rolled from between his lips. He twitched violently, then seemed to deflate into stillness. Abbie hesitated, fighting the instinct to check on him. Instead, she wrapped Immy in her blanket and pulled her in against her chest.
She was half way to the door when she heard Mark stir. Without looking back, she raced out into the hallway and made for the front door. She had to get outside, flag someone down, get help, get away. Mark was clearly having some sort of breakdown, and much as she loved her husband, she’d kill him before she let him hurt their baby.
The street outside was empty, and much darker than she’d been expecting. The street lights were out in both directions, but there were more lights on in the other houses than was normal for that time of night.
Bare-footed, Abbie ran past the first house, which was in darkness. She hammered on the frosted glass door of the next one, where lights blazed in every window. “Please,” she whispered, knocking rapidly. “Please, someone be up. Someone be up.”
There was a sound from somewhere inside the house. Abbie glanced back at her own front door and held the crying Immy close. There was no sign of Mark yet, but it was only a matter of time.
A shape appeared through the frosted glass of the door. “Open up, please,” Abbie said. “I need help.”
The flat of a hand slapped against the inside of the glass. There was a long squeak as the hand slid down, leaving a streak of blood on the door.
Abbie stepped back as the hand became a fist and began to pound at the glass. The person inside the house squealed and screeched as he kicked and punched and threw himself at the door. Abbie backed away further, past the parked cars and into the road, watching the distorted shape thrash harder and more violently against the glass.
Mark staggered from inside their house, blood painting both sides of his face. He was partly hunched over, his fingers curled up like claws. As he spotted his wife and child, he lurched towards them, his mouth gnashing at the air.
“No, please, Mark, no,” Abbie sobbed, backing all the way to the other side of the road. Mark broke into a run. His movements were jerky, his face now twisted almost beyond all recognition. Abbie clutched Immy tightly against her chest, shielding her. Whatever happened. Whatever Mark did, he wouldn’t let him hurt their baby.
“No, Mark, please, stay back,” Amy whimpered, then she squinted in a sudden glare as Mark was silhouetted by two powerful beams of light.
A white delivery van hit him like a battering ram, sending him skidding along the road on his face. For a moment, Abbie could only stare at his unmoving body in shock. But then his foot twitched and his fingers curled, and, to her amazement, he began to sit up.
, the van’s passenger door was pushed open. A young man with dark skin and darker eyes leaned over from the driver’s seat and beckoned urgently to her. “Hey, lady,” he called. “You getting in or what?”