When a family goes to all the trouble of burying you with a nice, expensive funeral and all your relatives present for the occasion, it is generally regarded as impolite to gatecrash. Mark Forrest had never had a problem with ignoring etiquette however, so when he broke through the lead lining of his coffin and began tearing into the vicar, he was really only being true to form.
The sole survivor of the event, a woman in her late thirties who had been sat near the back of the service and had been able to run faster than the other attendees, had described the resulting massacre as a total bloodbath.
Forrest had torn the vicar to pieces in a matter of seconds, then turned on friend and family alike. Mourners had fled the room, only to be chased down by a savage corpse that could run as fast as a gazelle, and smell out its prey as well as any bloodhound.
The resultant carnage was severe enough that Tom Carter ordered mandatory counselling for every member of his staff who were unfortunate enough to have been on call the day the investigation began. It had taken six hours to track down and neutralise the creature.
The response team had liaised with the media from the moment they got on the scene, at first claiming the incident was a terrorist attack; then muddying the waters later by leaking reports of a lone psychotic wreaking havoc in a funeral.
By the time eye witness accounts and photographs were available to the press and television crews, the idea of a supernatural monster rampaging through a small English town was as far from the ordinary citizen’s mind as it was possible to get.
Which made the next evening’s attacks a lot easier to cover up.
Tom Carter stepped out of the nondescript black Ford he had checked out of the Ministry’s car pool and surveyed the scene. A corpse had woken up in the Chapel of Rest of a small, family-owned funeral home, smashed up the room and then managed to escape into the street, only to be hit by a car. The driver was on her way to hospital for the treatment of whiplash and some minor cuts as a result of the accident.
An officer had gone along with her to explain what the Ministry wanted her to believe had happened; rather than what had actually happened. No doubt the poor woman would be very grateful to hear that she had not run over a rampaging undead monster after all, just a trained animal in a costume that had been spooked on a film set. Carter knew he certainly would be if he were in her place.
The clean-up crew were already on site, preparing to remove as much evidence from the area as possible before locals or the media had a chance to poke their noses in too closely. Carter looked over at his new partner to check he was handling things well so far. The new guy looked a little green around the gills.
‘Not what you were expecting for your first day on the job?’ asked Carter.
Collins, the new guy, shook his head. ‘Induction training made it look like all we did was talk to nutjobs who thought they’d seen a UFO. I didn’t expect… whatever this is.’
Carter patted Collins on the shoulder as they walked up to the funeral home. ‘Welcome to the Punishment Patrol. Never the same day twice.’
‘Punishment Patrol?’ said Collins. ‘You didn’t get this assignment on your own volition?’
‘Nobody does,’ said Carter. He stopped walked and turned to the new guy, a grin breaking out on his slightly overweight face. ‘You didn’t apply for this assignment, did you?’
‘So, what, you actually believe in ghosts and monsters and aliens?’
‘Not necessarily, no. I’ve always believed there’s something out there and I thought I saw a ghost when I was a kid but-‘
‘Oh my goodness! I’m amazed you got past the front door.’
‘Oh well thank you for making my first day so pleasant. I must say, I’m really enjoying the genuine sense of team spirit.’
‘You know you’re the first person in the history of this department to transfer in actually believing in the shit we’re supposed to look at?’
‘That can’t be true.’
‘Oh really? All right, then. I’ll bet you twenty pounds that by the time we’re finished writing up this case you won’t have found a single person to have ever worked in Special Defence who actually thought monsters were real when they joined.’
‘If nobody thinks they’re real, why have the department?’
Carter started walking again. ‘Two reasons. First, it’s very hard to fire a civil servant. There are a number of reasons – they often know things their departments don’t want made public by a disgruntled former employee, and also because it’s too damn costly. Second, the Ministry of Defence is required to investigate all possible threats to the United Kingdom; even if they sound utterly stupid. So they kill two birds with one stone by making a department for investigating ridiculous claims by any idiot who walks in off the street, and they staff it with people other departments want to get rid of.’
‘You’re a real cynic, you know that? So how did you end up here?’
‘Oh, the usual way. Shagged the boss’ daughter while drunk at a Christmas party. Got my transfer papers by New Year’s, been here ever since.’
‘Ever tried to transfer out?’
‘You thinking of leaving us already? I don’t blame you. Get out while the getting’s good.’
‘No, just curious.’
Carter shook his head. ‘I did at first but after what happened last year, I don’t think you’ll find anyone in the higher ranks who wants to leave.’
‘What happened last year?’
Carter opened the door of the funeral home. The stench of putrefied meat hit him like a steamroller. Both men recoiled instinctively. Collins bent double and vomited onto the grass. Carter closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths of clean air, then fumbled in his jacket pocket for the small tin of gel that he had started carrying with him for field work.
He coated his fingertips in the gel and rubbed it over his nose and upper lip. The gel quickly set to work, blocking out the stench and preventing him from smelling anything at all. He handed the tin to Collins. The younger man cleaned himself up with a couple of tissues, then rubbed the gel on.
‘You feeling okay now?’ asked Carter.
Collins nodded. He still looked a little green, but it was a lighter shade.
‘Let’s take a look inside.’
The two men stepped into the building. Inside looked more like a war zone than a funeral home. The floor was littered with the fragmented remains of furniture. Papers were scattered everywhere. A smashed computer monitor hung limply from the ceiling fan, held in place only by the precarious way its plug had caught between two of the fan blades.
Holes slightly larger than Carter’s fist were dotted around every wall. The door between the reception and the Chapel of Rest was in pieces; part of the frame barely clinging to the loose hinges. Blood and congealed liquids Carter did not want to even begin to consider identifying covered everything.
‘What the hell happened here?’ asked Collins.
‘Zombie,’ said Carter. ‘Or something similar.’
‘You’re joking with me, right?’ said Collins. ‘You said none of that supernatural shit exists.’
Carter turned to face the other man, his expression blank. ‘No, I didn’t. I asked if you believed in them.’
‘So they are real? Zombies, ghosts, werewolves and all that?’
‘I’ve never seen a ghost,’ said Carter. ‘Or a werewolf for that matter.’
‘But zombies? The walking dead? Good god man, this is ridiculous.’
‘Good man. Keep an open mind. Just remember that almost everything you know about the undead is untrue. Films, books, all that shit? They’re mostly wrong.’
‘You know you never did tell me what happened to you all last year.’
‘We met a vampire. Two, actually. That was the first time anyone in the Department had actually uncovered something genuinely supernatural, rather than some other unusual activity that got mixed up with superstition and blown out of proportion.’
‘A vampire. Oh lovely. First we get walking corpses, now there’s blood-sucking monsters as well. So what happened?’
‘One of them was involved in a drug cartel. We thought we were going to be able to strike a blow against organised crime and do something useful for a change. We didn’t know he was there, controlling things from behind the scenes and making our job hard. The other vampire was hunting him down. We teamed up with her and took down the gang. She caught her guy and then killed both him and herself.’
Collins’ brow furrowed. ‘Why on earth would anyone do that? That makes no sense.’
Carter shrugged slowly. ‘Apparently he had killed her family a long time ago. I think she didn’t want to live without them.’
‘You make her sound almost human.’
‘She seemed decent enough.’ Carter turned his attention back to the wreckage around him. ‘So, what do you think happened here, then?’
‘Looks like someone went on a wrecking spree,’ said Collins. He pointed to the door through to the Chapel of Rest. ‘Suspect came in through that door – literally – and set about smashing up everything in sight. He most likely started with the furniture closest to the door and worked his way around. Exited through that door over there, into the hallway leading out through the back of the building.’
‘Why not just leave by the front door?’
‘Good question. Want to see what’s out back?’
Carter stepped out into the hallway, noting more smashed furniture and fist-sized holes in the walls. The creature had not tried any of the doors on either side of the hall. It had gone straight for the exit at the end. The door was smashed to pieces, with glass scattered in a wide arc.
A running shoe lay on its side a short distance from the smashed glass. The ground had been disturbed only a few paces further from the shoe. A picture formed in Carter’s mind.
He turned to Collins. ‘I think I have our answer. Get on to missing persons, see if they have any new cases.’
Collins reached into his jacket for his mobile phone. At that moment, both his and Carter’s phones chimed.
Carter pulled his phone from his trouser pocket and read the message. ‘Shit. Code 99-Red. We have to go.’
He ran back into the building, heading for the car. Collins hurried after him.
‘What about missing persons?’ asked Collins.
‘Call them from the car. We have to get back to the office right now.’
‘What’s Code 99-Red mean anyway?’
‘Don’t they teach you the codes in Induction any more?’
‘Barely. There are 104 of them. We’re expected to learn on the job.’
Carter threw himself into the driver’s seat and started the car. Collins jumped into the front passenger seat and slammed the door behind him.
‘So what’s the hurry? What’s the code mean?’
’99-Red means the office is under attack.’