“We’re too late. He won. The bastard won.”
Kane turned his gaze from the street to Arika. She was sitting on the edge of the sofa, cleaning her gun with one of his father’s brown chequered handkerchiefs. Now the danger had passed, she was uncharacteristically quiet. Perhaps she was reflecting how she’d shot several people in the head tonight. Zombies or not, they still bled.
“Doesn’t look like any more are coming.” He took another look outside. “Also funny no police have come. Surely the neighbours must have heard the gun shots.”
She rubbed the barrel hard, not looking at him.
“Maybe I should go talk to them; blame it on the TV or something.”
“We should leave. Before they get here. Denial is the best policy.”
He watched her cleaning the gun. “Where did you get that thing anyway?”
She laid it aside. “Simon.”
Kane raised his eyebrows.
“He was worried about me – living alone in Northside with all the dealers and hookers.”
“And now he’s sending zombies after you. That guy is seriously stuffed.”
“That wasn’t Simon.”
“It wasn’t Waite,’ he huffed. “You think it was Dylan?”
“No.” She picked up the gun and began cleaning it again. “I think – Waite had friends … acolytes. They’re taking up where he left off.”
Kane was having trouble believing there were crazies out there as reckless and homicidal as Waite. You don’t send a bunch of zombies to someone’s house without expecting murder and mayhem, and you need a special kind of sociopathy – the Waite kind – to do something as rash and dangerous as that. But who knows how many henchmen it took to keep those dungeons going? It wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that Waite’s mania would rub off on some of them. Kane figured it didn’t take too many immortals to be created every few years to add up over the course of a couple of centuries. Snyder and Gilles were hardly likely the culprits in this case, but they were also hardly likely the only sociopaths in Waite’s circle of friends.
“I need to find Dylan,” he said. “Before this gets any worse. And we need to get away from Quorn, like, tomorrow. We –”
A thud sounded at the back door.
Arika rocketed off the sofa. Kane picked up the baseball bat he’d left resting against the wall.
The thud sounded again. There was silence for two seconds, and then began a dull knock that continued at a slow, regular pace. Boom – boom – boom – boom. Though it wasn’t particularly loud, it felt like the whole house was shaking.
Kane crept towards the kitchen. Long chills ran down his spine with every thud. He was convinced it was more zombies sent to finish them off, but it could also be a crazy like that Snyder dude playing mind games with them, trying to unnerve them.
Boom – boom – boom – boom.
Arika touched his arm, startling him. “Kane, be careful. There could be a whole army of them out there.”
He kept walking. Whatever was on the other side of the door needed dealing with – now – by whatever means necessary. Like with the muscle-bound doctor following him up the tree, there was no alternative but to tackle this head on.
Arika followed him into the kitchen, holding her gun in both hands. At least there was a fresh clip in there, which meant – what was it? – ten bullets? He glanced at the gun and she nodded, as if she’d read his mind.
He approached the door, hand outstretched, bat raised.
The knocking stopped.
He turned to Arika and their eyes locked.
Silence. The only sound was the ticking of the clock on the wall. It was almost worse than the knocking.
Stepping close to the door, Kane took a firm grip on the handle. Part of him hoped that whatever it was, it had given up and gone away. But that would only mean it could come back later, maybe when they weren’t as prepared, when they were asleep or too exhausted from lack of sleep to put up much of a fight. It was best to face whatever was out there and get this over and done with.
“Ready?” he mouthed, nodding at Arika.
She blinked her reply and raised her gun to head height.
Kane put his foot against the door and opened it a crack. It was dark outside, but there was enough light to see that no one was there.
Heart pounding, he opened the door a little wider and squinted into the garden. As his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, a dread built inside him – almost a premonition – that monsters were about to race out of the shadows, descend from the sky and crawl out of the earth. He stood for a moment in two minds: should he take the offensive and go out in search of them, or shut the door and barricade the house until dawn, when hopefully the monsters would return to their black pit of hell and they could go find Dylan and escape this godforsaken town?
A gust of wind blew a foul odour into the kitchen. Kane coughed, clamped a hand over his mouth and nose, and glanced down. A brown lump was lying on the doorstep, leaning against the jamb. It was clearly the source of the stink. Opening the door wider, he leaned out and bent closer. The thing looked like a ventriloquist’s dummy, small and shrunken, wearing an over-sized brown trench coat, woollen scarf and burgundy fedora hat.
As he watched, the shape moved. One of the coat’s arms stretched out. It was holding a page torn from a notepad.
He reached out and took the note. It was smudged and dirty and it said in large, scrawly writing: ‘Kane. Help me. Wilfred Waite has stolen my body.’
The world went black. Kane backed away, feeling dizziness in his head and vomit churning in his stomach and rising in his throat. He bumped into the kitchen table and kept backing away as it screeched across the floor.
“What is it?” Arika asked, lowering the gun.
The tiny figure waddled into the room, leaving a brown smudge on the tiles in its wake. After a few paces it collapsed. Its hat rolled away, revealing the decaying face of Wilfred Waite.
After making Dylan comfortable in his bed, Arika sat next to him and watched in silence as he drank iced coffee through a straw. He sucked it up greedily and she realised he probably hadn’t eaten in a while. When the sucking went on and on, she wondered: Do dead people get hungry? Then: Is he dead or alive? After getting tangled up in these thoughts, she realised this was something they hadn’t seen before: a living person in a dead body. A dead body that stank to high heaven.
When he was finished, she took the glass off him, put it on the bedside table and stared worriedly at the door. After a while, she said, “I’ll be back soon,” smiled at him and got up from the bed.
Downstairs, Kane was staring through a crack in the curtains. His back was bent and he was standing at a funny angle. Sighing, he moved his weight from one hip to the other.
“Hey there,” Arika called from the other side of the room, not wanting to alarm him by creeping up on him.
He turned to her. “He okay?”
“As much as anyone can be in that situation. He drank some milk so he’s still functioning … still alive.”
“How did he get like that?”
“The immortality spell seems to be able to transcend death.” When he looked confused, she explained, “Waite did die that night, but his soul – or consciousness or whatever – survived. And somehow he was able to continue living inside the dead body.”
“That’s insane. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“My guess is one of his henchmen found him in the basement and cast some kind of spell to keep his body animated. Like a zombie, but with his consciousness intact.”
“You’re saying Dylan is a living zombie?”
“That’s one way of looking at it.” She shook her head. “I could understand a bit of what he said, Kane. He was locked in a dark room most of the time. He doesn’t know how long he was there.”
“That was – what? – three days ago.”
“They kept him alive. They must have known if he died, it might pull Waite back and he’d die in that body.”
His face lit up. “And Dylan would get his body back?”
She sat on the arm of the sofa. “I don’t know. Possibly. But it’s just as likely Dylan would be the one to die. Or maybe they’d both die. We just don’t know.”
“So we’re in the same boat as Waite. We have to keep the dead body alive until we’re sure.”
“Until we can get Dylan back in his own body.”
Kane turned back to the window. “So Waite has Dylan’s body and he’s been conspiring with Orwell at the farm. Dammit! We should have known!” He wiped away the fog his breath had made on the glass. “How did Dylan get here? He’s in no shape to walk.”
“That’s the interesting part. Snyder brought him here.”
He spun around.
“He took him to the hospital, picked up those zombies, then drove them all here.”
“I can’t even … What was all that about?”
“Getting the book back.”
“Or murdering us.”
“Then why leave Dylan here?”
“Is that what he said?
“Snyder left him on the kerb. Like some kind of delivery.”
“On the kerb?” He shook his head and sat next to Arika on the sofa. “Is he playing some kind of game?’
“Mind game? Could be. Trying to distract us, keep us occupied with an invalid while him and Waite do God-knows-what.”
“Probably finish the body swap spell.”
Arika rubbed her eyes. “But giving us Dylan runs the risk we could do something to reverse the spell. He must have known we’d try even harder to get his body back when we saw him like this. We wouldn’t sit here watching him wither away and die. We’d go after him. Whereas if they kept Dylan hidden, we wouldn’t know what to do. Even if we went to the farm and found Waite and brought him back, what would we do with him if we didn’t have Dylan as well? If I was them, I would keep both Dylan and the book. They’d have everything; we’d have nothing.”
Lost in thought, she didn’t notice Kane had gone quiet. When she glanced at him, she saw he had his face in his hands. He was breathing heavily, as if each breath required a superhuman effort.
She laid a hand on his back. “Are you okay, Kane?”
He took a while to answer. “I’ve never felt so … helpless. So frustrated – and scared.”
“It’s a shock, I know.”
He looked at her with wet eyes. “What are we gonna do?”
She moved her hand to the back of his neck and tightened her grip. “Switch them back, of course.”
He made a strange gurgling noise in his throat, then coughed and said, “He won’t last much longer.”
“So we better get started.”
“He came to see me. He said this was happening. I told him he was imagining things.”
“How could you have known Waite was still alive inside his dead body? That’s crazy town.”
“We’re too late. He won. The bastard won.”
She took her hand away. “We are not too late.”
“We don’t know where he is. We don’t have the book. Dylan is falling to pieces before our eyes.”
“We need to stop the decomposition. He could probably last a year as long as that body stays in one piece.”
“What if it doesn’t? How long can he live inside a rotting corpse?” Leaping up in a burst of violence, he went back to the window.
Arika watched his back as he strove to control his breathing. At the thought of the pain he was feeling – the terror that the last of his family was about to die yet another awful death – her anger rose to boiling point. “That monster is not going to win,” she announced, loud enough for Dylan to hear through the ceiling.
Getting up, she took Morgan’s card from her pocket and tapped it on her palm. “Time for reinforcements.”
Morgan stormed into the office and flicked on the light. “No more waiting!” he bellowed at the empty room.
Henri was not far behind. She stepped into the office, palms raised. “Act in haste, repent at leisure.”
Stopping at a bookcase, he squeezed his forefinger and thumb hard against his chin, then swept his hand across the books on the middle shelf. They made a surprising amount of noise as they crashed to the floor.
“Whatever those mental cases are doing, I want it stopped … now!”
“Sam, we need more time.”
He moved close to her, so close their shoes were touching. “Time for what? To see more of my friends die?”
Stepping away, Henri went back to the door. She turned and stared at him from across the room. “Is this about Cleo?”
He threw out his arms. “What –? What do you –?”
His phone rang, and he glared at her as he pulled it from his pocket. The caller was Arika Livingston.
“Not now!” he barked at the screen, and threw the phone on his desk. He glared at his watch, then said to Henri, “You’ve got twelve hours. That’s how long it’ll take to get mobilised.”
“Twelve hours. And then we’re going out there with the biggest arsenal I can muster to erase Waite’s farm and everything in it from the face of the Earth!”