Fingernails slashed the ancient wooden doors of the church. It seemed odd to think of them as fingernails. People had fingers. There was no longer anything human about those things.
“Get something to secure it” Callum yelled as hooked digits ravaged the door.
“Like what?” Jake asked.
“Anything” Callum replied quickly, pressing his weight against the door. As a prop forward, he was a tough man to move. Yet with every impact against the door, he felt his body inch further from it.
“What about this?” Annie said, pointing to one of the heavy wooden pews.
“Help her” Callum shouted, straining to hold the door.
After Annie and Jake had dragged the bench in front of the door, Callum rushed to grab another, wedging it behind the first. Anything to make the barricade stronger. The three of them stepped back, flinching every time the door rattled on its rusted hinges. Thankfully, it seemed to be holding.
“Is anyone hurt?” Annie asked. She was a nurse, and so the crisis had triggered her emergency response.
“I think I might have dislocated my arm” Ian said. He’d done nothing to help the situation, mostly complaining about his own.
“Can you move it?” Annie asked. Ian nodded. “I think it should be okay, then”
It had all happened so quickly. Within a matter of hours, the town was in chaos. Several bloody tours of the Middle East meant that Callum was no stranger to violence. But in all the battles he’d fought, he’d never seen anything as horrifying as this. He could hear the howls of the dying outside. Of course, the chorus of war was harrowing, but far less drawn out. Perhaps it was because the wounded were being torn to pieces by talons and teeth instead of shrapnel and bullets.
There were five of them. Callum had found Jake battling one of those things not far from the church. As soon as he saw his neon yellow police jacket, Callum knew that Jake would be useful to have around. They’d found Annie a little later tending to a victim. Even from a distance, Callum knew that she was fighting a losing battle. The pool of blood that had spread around her was wide, and quickly growing.
After convincing Annie there was nothing she could do, the three of them had headed in search of safety. When they found Ian and Sian, the two of them were arguing, which wasn’t a good idea. Noise would attract those things. Callum intervened, astounded that neither seemed to have the faintest idea what was going on.
“I won’t stand for this” Ian yelled, jabbing a finger at Sian. “Look what she’s done to my bloody car”
“I never touched it” Sian retaliated.
“Belt up” Callum roared, channelling his inner Staff Sergeant. “There’s been an attack. Multiple casualties. Unless you want to add to that number, I suggest you follow us to shelter”
It was enough to convince them to stop arguing and follow the group. Callum’s first thought had been to head to the fire station. The building was sure to be secure and have supplies that might prove useful. Plus, if a rescue was mounted, it would surely pass through there. Unfortunately, it had already been overrun. Bloody handprints peppered the white shutter door of the station house. At that point, Ian and Sian felt the full horror of the situation.
“This isn’t happening” Ian murmured, several times.
“We need to stay calm” Callum said. “We need to find somewhere that’s secure. Thick walls. Strong doors. High windows”
Annie was the one to suggest St Mary’s. Built in the 12th century, it was one of the oldest buildings in the county and had even withstood a direct hit from a bomb in World War II. Surely, that was the safest building in the town. As they headed to it, they could hear those things growling. The sound came from every open doorway and broken window. Nowhere seemed safe. They just had to hope that the church was empty.
Perched on a shallow hill on the edge of the town, the church was surrounded by a graveyard. Most of the headstones were crumbling or, in some cases, had worn away to nothing but rubble. A paved staircase led through the graves to the entrance. The stone steps were well worn and uneven. Ian lost his footing, crashing into a heap on the ground. Callum was the only one to stop.
“On your feet” Callum ordered.
“She pushed me” Ian snapped, jabbing a finger in Sian’s direction. Callum knew that wasn’t true but decided not to comment. The approaching growls seemed far more pressing.
“Quickly” Callum snapped. When Ian realised those things were heading in their direction, he stopped complaining and scrambled to his feet. They’d barely made it inside before the things had attacked.
Inside, the church was cold and gloomy. The stained glass windows, though beautiful, let in very little light and the thick walls did well at keeping the summer heat out. Although they were all being careful to keep quiet, every whisper or breath seemed deafening.
“I shouldn’t be here” Ian cried as Callum and Jake foraged for more heavy items to brace the door. Although there were no longer claws scraping down the door, neither of them was taking any chances.
“I’m sure that none of us wanted to be stuck here” Sian grumbled.
“I was due on the course with the head of-”
“What about me?” Sian countered. “I’m only here because of some imagined damage to your precious bloody motor”
“Imagined? The bonnet ornament was missing”
“It’s a Lexus, you moron. It doesn’t have an ornament”
“This isn’t helping anyone” Annie said, not unkindly but firmly enough to halt their squabbling.
“What the Hell are those things?” Jake asked.
“I don’t know” Callum said stacking another pew behind the door.
“It was like they were possessed or something” Annie said slowly. “Their eyes. They were so…”
“Empty” Callum said, finishing her thought.
“What if they get inside?” Ian asked. Even though he’d yet to see what was outside, their howling was enough to bring a tremble to his voice.
“It’s probably just a bunch of wreckheads causing trouble” Sian said.
“Did that sound like people to you?” Ian demanded. “Well, maybe the kind of people you associate with”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Both of you, pack it in” Callum said in his most authoritative voice. “I’d wager none of us really knows what they are. But I can tell you something, the longer it stays that way, the happier I’ll be. Now, I’m going to make sure the rest of the building is secure. You lot need to find something to protect yourselves with”
“Got any more of that aftershave?” Sian asked Ian. “It’s pretty bloody repellent”
“This isn’t a joke” Callum said, rounding on her. “If you’d seen the damage they can do, you wouldn’t be acting like it was. Find a weapon or get the Hell out. Because if they get inside, I’m not going to be able to protect you all”
For a few tense moments, Callum and Sian glared at one another. She’d never shied from confrontation, but something made her hold the acid retort sizzling on the end of her tongue. Perhaps it was hearing the mixture of panic and urgency in such a big man’s voice. After he’d stalked away, though, she shot a sarcastic salute in his direction.
“What can we use?” Annie asked Jake.
“Chair legs” he said, casting his eyes around the room. “They look pretty sturdy. I think I saw some loose bricks in the back, too”
“That’s it?” Ian wailed. “Sticks and stones. Aren’t you supposed to have pepper spray or a stun gun or something?”
“They’re long gone” Jake said. As he remembered how ineffective his stun gun had been, he shuddered. Truthfully, he wasn’t sure a lump of wood would do much good, either, but would certainly feel better with something to swing in case of attack.
As predicted, the chair was extremely sturdy, and it took 10 minutes to break all four legs off it. Despite her earlier disinterest, Sian gladly took one of them, as did the others. When Callum returned, he took an iron candlestick, which was almost as tall as he was, and brandished it like a spear.
“There’s only one other way in” he explained. “It’s a small door around the back. I’ve left it unblocked but-”
“What?” Ian cried.
“I thought you said we needed to secure the perimeter?” Sian challenged in a mocking tone.
“Blocking all the exits is suicide” Callum countered. “If one of those things gets inside, we need to be able to evacuate”
“I’m not going back out there” Ian murmured.
“Fine, stay here” Sian teased.
“Listen” Jake said, waving his hands to hush them.
It took a few seconds but, eventually, they all heard it. Screaming. But it wasn’t the senseless howl of the monsters outside. It was a person, pleading for help. And it was getting closer.
“Oh my God” Annie said, rushing towards the door. “Someone’s out there”
Moments later, frantic pounding rattled the door, followed by piteous moaning. Instantly, Annie rushed to move the barricade, but had barely shifted one of the half dozen pews before a bloodcurdling scream rent the air. Hungry snarls quickly masked the screaming, followed by unpleasantly satisfied munching.
“Jesus” Annie whimpered, staggering back from the door.
“What was that?” Sian asked urgently.
Nobody replied. Their eyes remained fixed on the door until the frenzy beyond had subsided. Then, Callum approached Sian, his expression stern.
“Are you going to take this seriously now?” he asked. Too frightened to speak, she simply nodded. “Okay” he said, addressing the room now. “I need everyone to listen and listen well. We’ve no idea what these things are, their number or motivation. What we do know is that they are fucking lethal. And I do mean lethal. The way I see it, we have two choices. Our first is to settle in and keep this place locked up tighter than a nun’s knickers. The doors look solid and should probably hold”
“Probably?” Ian whined.
“Our second option” Callum continued, ignoring the interruption. “is to arm up and make a run for it”
“Are you out of your mind?” Ian cried. “If you think I’m setting foot out there, you’ve got another thing coming”
“I’ve got to agree with Lord Toffington” Sian added.
“What about you two?” Callum asked Jake and Annie.
But when he turned to face them, he realised they weren’t paying him the slightest attention. Instead, they were staring behind him, their eyes wide with fear. Even before he turned around, he knew what he would see. Standing in the middle of the aisle, barely as tall as the remaining pews, was a little boy.
“Holy shit” Jake muttered.
“How did it get in?” Annie asked.
“What’s going on?” Sian asked.
“Keep your voices down” Callum snapped.
“What’s going on?” Sian repeated.
“I said, be quiet” Callum hissed.
Silently, the five of them stared at the little boy, and he stared back. They collectively held their breath, waiting. After about a minute, Sian edged forwards, only to be shouted back by Callum, Annie and Jake.
“What’s your problem?” Sian said. “He’s just a kid”
“Not anymore” Annie replied.
“We don’t know that” Callum reasoned.
“Do you really want to risk it?” Jake said.
“Well, what do you suggest?” Callum replied.
“We need to get rid of it” Jake said.
Perhaps the tension in the room had reached such a level that nobody wanted to speak. Or perhaps it was the casualness with which Jake spoke that silenced everyone. It sounded as though he was talking about shooing a pest out of the door, not a child.
“You’re not serious?” Ian said, finally finding his voice.
“We don’t have a choice” Annie said.
“Of course, we have a choice” Sian said.
“We can’t open the doors” Callum said.
“But he can’t stay in here” Jake said.
“Well, what are we going to do, then?” Annie asked.
Slowly, Jake stepped forwards, tightening his grip on the chair leg. It was obvious what he was suggesting. And yet, none of them dared say it. It was unthinkable.
“What are you doing?” Ian said.
“It’s the only way” Jake said.
Before he could take another step, Sian blocked his path, shoving him in the chest. For a moment, it looked as though he would strike her with the chair leg, but Annie stepped in.
“He’s right” she said. “We can’t let it stay in here. It’s too dangerous”
“You don’t know that” Sian snapped.
“Yes, I do” Annie countered. “You have no idea what those things are capable of”
“Those things? He’s a little boy” Sian yelled.
“Not anymore, he isn’t” Annie replied.
As Jake made to step past her, Sian shoved him again, hard enough that he lost his balance. Annie grabbed Sian by the arms to stop her. When Jake recovered, he shot Sian a deathly glare. Ian shuffled to his feet and was hovering nearby, mumbling disapprovingly. Meanwhile, the boy stood stock still. The shadows on his face were such that no one could be sure where he was looking or the expression on his face.
“Do something” Ian yelled at Callum.
“You know you can’t just leave it in here” Annie said.
“This is fucking murder” Sian yelled.
“It’s us or him” Jake roared.
As he advanced, Ian tackled him, which was a surprisingly brave act for him. Whilst the four of them wrestled, shouting and arguing about what to do, Callum glanced between them and the boy. He knew that both sides made a strong case. Yes, it was murder. But he also couldn’t deny the risk of letting the child stay. Frantically, he thought about what to do. Kill or be killed. Although he was no stranger to that, he’d never been facing a child in that situation. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath, and stepped forward. The others watched in silence as he strode, candlestick gripped like a lance in his mighty hands, towards the boy.