“You’ve no idea! You’ve gotta help me! They’re out of control!”
The photos on the mantelpiece showed boys playing cricket in a tree-lined park; a bride and groom in a sun-lit garden, hugging in front of red and white rose bushes; two faded children in blue school uniforms; a large-nosed woman with a blonde perm in a glamour pose; a man with a camera bag on his shoulder pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. More framed photos clung to the walls like beetles. A Barry Manilow record cover (Mandy, its cover scuffed with use) was leaning against the fireplace. The mantelpiece bricks were painted off-yellow, the wallpaper a series of thick green and orange stripes, the shag carpet mottled blue and green, like the sea. All the sofas, chairs and coffee tables had been pushed against the walls to make room for four white folding tables, on which were spread computers, monitors, files, folders, binoculars and various-sized black, white and stainless steel boxes.
Cameras in each of the windows pointed down the hill towards a distant farmhouse, which from here was the size of a Monopoly house. It was just after nine and the sun had set long ago, but the clouds were lit bright by the moon and it was possible to see, in addition to the farmhouse, a barn and a small village of huts. All perfectly normal – if this was a productive farm with labourers and animals to house. But none of those were evident, or expected.
Henri picked up the wedding photo. She guessed the picture was thirty or forty years old, but the joy of the bride and groom was frozen in time and oozed through the glass. Henrietta Appleby was a fifty-nine-year-old classical librarian, divorced seventeen years ago after her husband ran off with one of her junior assistants, and the sight of a happy couple always made her nostalgic and a little bit mad. The picture made her wonder where Norman was now. What was he doing? – and was he doing it with her twenty-three-year-old former assistant?
“Where did you send them?” she asked, waving the frame at Cleo Grieves.
Grieves was at the window, where she’d been for almost an hour, staring at the tiny farmhouse. Every so often she would cross to a monitor and stare at a green night-vision version of the farmhouse, and then return moments later to the window. She didn’t seem to hear Henri, or was too preoccupied to respond.
Henri returned her gaze to the photo. She could see her image reflected in the glass: long grey hair, twisted into a side braid; red-framed glasses with rectangular lenses; an average nose, thin maroon lips (her favourite shade), nice eyes. Everyone always said how nice her eyes were: small and hazel and kind. Shame they hadn’t seen what her husband was up to in the six months before he ran off with that man-thief Jenny Borutski!
Putting down the frame, she stared at Sam Morgan, who was sitting at one of the folding tables listening into black, sound-blocking earphones. He was so intent on listening it was like the rest of the room didn’t exist. The table was laden with sound equipment, two laptops and scattered hand-written notes of what he’d heard to date.
“Appleby!” he yelled, leaping up so fast his chair fell backward.
“Ooh!” Henri cried, rushing over. “Movement at the station!”
She righted his chair, then pulled up another close to a speaker. Morgan turned up the sound, Grieves joined them, and together they cocked their heads and listened. It sounded like two or more guttural voices were chanting in unison.
“If I’m not mistaken, it’s a spell,” crooned Henri, stroking her braid; “a summoning spell. They’re calling something.”
Morgan squinted at her. “What?”
She listened some more. “Something … dead.”
Leaning close to Grieves, he whispered something in her ear. She nodded, grabbed her bag and left the room.
Henri raised her head. “Where’s Cleo going?”
“Find out what it means,” he replied, pointing to one of the laptops. “I wanna know what those two are up to.”
She frowned at his impudence. He seemed to think she was one of his lackeys. “I need to listen some more. It’s a dialect I can’t pin down.”
“Well, hurry the hell up.”
They listened. Before long a low rumble arose, and it quickly became evident it wasn’t coming from the speakers. As the chanting continued, the rumble grew to a roar that shook the house, before receding to a dull murmur. It seemed to originate from above them, from the cloud-filled sky, but it sounded nothing like thunder. Meanwhile, the chanting went on, a monotonous drone that was almost soothing.
A yell sounded outside.
“What’s that?” Morgan asked, getting up.
They went to the window and immediately spied a sickly green glow seeping from the farmhouse windows. Grieves was standing beneath them, in the moonlit driveway, staring in the same direction. She glanced at them, looked back at the farmhouse, then continued on to her Jeep.
Morgan collected two pairs of binoculars and handed one to Henri. Together they stared hard at the distant farm.
Henri was the first to notice something weird. “It’s leaving the building,” she said. She was referring to the green glow, which appeared to be creeping up the side of the farmhouse.
“What the –?” breathed Morgan, craning his neck forward. “What the hell are they up to?”
The glow advanced like a liquid dripping upwards. When it reached the roof, it continued rising into the night air.
Henri moved the binoculars away from her eyes. “My guess,” she said, “is that they’re up to no good.”
The morgue smelt awful. The walls were the colour of old urine and they were gouged and scuffed from countless encounters with trolleys, shoes and body parts. As expected in a regional hospital, the equipment was dated and the grey-and-white linoleum squares on the floor were scratched and broken.
The morgue often lay empty, but today there were three bodies on the trolleys. The three – an older man and woman, along with a middle-aged man with the face of a boy – were dressed in grey uniforms. They wore bands on their ankles that stated their names: Claude Barry; Lila Barry; Ormond Barry. The bodies had arrived two hours ago. The police report stated the probable cause of death as double-murder-suicide: each had a single gunshot wound to the chest. The presiding theory was that the older man had gunned down his wife and son before turning the weapon on himself. There was a history of mental illness in the Barry family – everyone knew about it: social isolation; random threats of violence; the son’s inappropriate staring at young girls whenever he was in Quorn. It appeared the father and husband had snapped following some never-to-be-known incident, and just like that, a longstanding local family had been extinguished from the face of the Earth.
The morgue attendant gazed down at them, his face placid. He stroked the bloody moon symbol on Lila Barry’s forehead, the same symbol that was etched into the forehead of the two men. In life, Mrs Barry had been an attractive woman in her early sixties. She had a trim build and shoulder-length blonde hair, with hardly any grey, whereas her son and husband both had large, soft bodies and receding hairlines.
“A shame we didn’t meet in better circumstances,” Kenny Snyder whispered in her ear, stroking her hair. “I do love me an older woman.” He glared at her dead husband. “You wouldn’t have had to stay with that dolt if I was in your bed. No, ma’am. We’d have had ourselves some good old times. Maybe I should have waited awhile before shooting you.”
He was moving his caress down her cool cheek when the chanting began. It was almost a non-sound, coming from inside his head if anywhere – but he knew straight away what it was.
Stepping away from the table, Kenny fingered the charm around his neck: a five-pointed black metal star with purple stones along its length. He eyed the bodies closely, listening as the chanting grew in volume until it filled the room. “Come on, come on,” he urged, leaning forward, running his eyes up and down the bodies.
As if responding to his urging, the youngest of the three bodies twitched.
“Yee-aah!” yelled Kenny. “I did it! I did it!”
Standing with rounded shoulders, he watched in amazement as the corpses shook with life: his creations; the living proof of his growing talents. One by one they turned their heads and stared at him with glazed, half-closed eyes.
Tripping to the door, he propped it open with a metal chair, then returned to the bodies. “This way,” he ordered, holding up the charm.
The three Barrys moved with difficulty, flapping their arms and jerking their legs and their bodies with increasing violence as they tried to respond. They weren’t able to sit up, but eventually they rolled off their trolleys and fell to the floor in a succession of heavy thumps.
With no apparent pain or panic, they pushed themselves to their feet.
“Ooh yeah! Ooh yeah! I did it! I did it!” Kenny chanted, punching the air.
The Barrys stared dully at him, awaiting instructions. He stopped his song. “Alright then, this way,” he said, and herded them with the charm towards the open door.
The corridor was deserted. Kenny was the only one on duty tonight and visitors to the morgue were rare. All he had to do was get them to the exit where his truck waited, and then it was up to the three born-again bloodhounds to do their work.
But as he waved the bodies along, a bell dinged and Kenny turned to see the lift opening. Frozen, he watched in horror as a trolley emerged, then a body under a sheet, then a hospital orderly pushing the trolley into the corridor.
“Oh shit,” he swore, and reached into his pocket for his garrotte.
As the trolley turned towards them, the three Barrys grew animated. They grunted and jerked their bodies, excited by the sound or smell of the new arrivals.
“No, no, no!” Kenny screeched as they spun around and staggered after the orderly. “Stop! I command you to stop!”
But the dead Barrys were operating by instinct and the charm was no longer having an effect. Ignoring Kenny’s shouts, they mobbed the terrified young man, pulling him to the ground and tearing the flesh from his face and his arms with their teeth and fingernails. He screamed and grunted and flopped about on the linoleum floor, while Kenny yelled and the family of zombies bit and tore and chewed and swallowed and sucked up the blood which now seemed to be everywhere.
Ripping the chain off his neck, Kenny held the charm high. “No! No!” he yelled. “Get off him!” He rubbed the charm furiously on his shirt and held it up again. “Obey me, you damn stupid minions! Obey! Obey! You have to obey!”
They were too busy eating to take any notice – if indeed they even understood English anymore.
Kenny pulled his phone from his pocket and with shaky hands dialled Wilfred. “Mr Waite!” he cried as soon as the voicemail message kicked in. “You’ve no idea! You’ve gotta help me! They’re out of control! The charm doesn’t –”
At this point, he glanced up to see the last of the family entering the lift. It dinged as it closed.
The mutilated orderly sat up and stared at him.
“Oh – shit!”
Ten minutes later, Morgan hung up and turned to Henri. His face was white. “Get your things. We gotta go. Something’s happening at the hospital.”