36

THE SECOND INVASION OF LINDISFARNE

Lindisfarne Island, Northumberland

Two hours ago

They came from the mainland, when the island’s inhabitants were curled up in front of televisions or asleep in their beds.

There were almost forty of them, emerging from the mist that wreathed the causeway, some walking along the damp road, others floating inches above it. Alexandru led them, his long gray coat flapping gently around his ankles, his crimson eyes blazing with madness.

Behind him strode Anderson, a large object wrapped in a cloth sack over his shoulder. Further back was the ragtag group of vampires that had attached themselves to Alexandru, overlooking or ignoring his sadistic extravagances for the protection his favor afforded.

Two dark, silent men walked behind the rest. They scratched at themselves almost continually, and every few minutes, they cast furtive glances at the moon. It was hours from full and hung large and bright in the night sky.

They approached the island in silence. They could already see the distant lights shining through the windows of the houses and the amber glow of the streetlights, rising up the hill from the harbor that opened on to the North Sea.

Kate Randall woke with a start.

She had been awake since five that morning, helping her father prepare bait and line, washing the small fishing boat on which he spent his days, and she had fallen asleep on her bed as soon as she had finished dinner. She had no doubt she would have slept through until the following morning if something hadn’t disturbed her.

Kate sat up on her bed and stared across her bedroom at the open window above her desk. The pale yellow curtains fluttered in the night breeze, and the cold air raised goose bumps on her arms.

It’s just the cold, she thought, rubbing her arms with her hands, trying to warm the skin. Just the cold.

But she wasn’t sure that was true.

She had heard something out there in the darkness.

Something that sounded like a scream.

Kate climbed out of her bed, wincing at the temperature. She was still dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans, but she reached for the dressing gown hanging on the back of her door regardless. As she slid her arms into the sleeves, she felt the air swirl as something moved behind her, near the open window.

She spun round.

The room was empty.

Fear rippled through her like one of the slate-gray waves that pitched her father’s boat. But she did not cry out.

Her father would be asleep by now, and if she had learned anything in her sixteen years, it was that she must not wake her father under any circumstances. This rule, this nonnegotiable law, had sunk so deeply into her that she obeyed it even now, as she stood trembling with fear in her own bedroom, no more than fifteen feet away from him.

Instead she walked toward the window.

She could smell the crisp, dry scent of a fire on the beach far below the small house she had shared with her father since her mother had died, could see a thin pillar of pale gray smoke rising above the small island, small clouds of sparks and orange embers floating lazily on the night air.

She could hear music, a classical piano piece, drifting out of the windows of her neighbors’ house. Mr. Marsden was away on business in Newcastle, and his wife was making the most of her opportunity to control the stereo. It was normally the heavy bass and driving drums of Metallica and Motorhead that echoed out of their attic sitting room, at a volume that had led to more than one complaint.

Everything seemed to be normal. But Kate could not shake the feeling that something was wrong.

A dark shape, far too large to be a bird or a bat, swooped past her bedroom window, close enough to brush the blonde hair that fell untidily across her forehead, and this time she did scream, long and loud.

Kate staggered back from the window. In the bedroom across the hall, she heard her father swear, and then the thump of his feet on the wooden floorboards. She was so relieved to hear the movement in his room that she didn’t even worry that she had woken him.

Half asleep, Pete Randall pulled a T-shirt over his head and staggered to the wooden door of his bedroom.

Damn girl, he thought. If there’s a spider in there, I’m not going to be happy.

He had no idea that his teenage daughter had just saved his life. Or that he would never get a chance to thank her.

Pete crossed the small landing, his bare feet thudding on the uneven wooden floorboards of the old house, and pushed open the door to his daughter’s room. He did not even have time to close it behind him before she flew into his arms, burying her head in his chest. She wasn’t crying, but she had her eyes squeezed tightly shut.

Christ, she’s shaking like a leaf, he thought. What’s going on in here?

“There, there,” he said softly. “You’re safe. Tell me what happened.”

Kate felt her father’s strong arms around her shoulders and immediately started to feel stupid for having woken him.

It was just a bird, she told herself. One of the big gulls. Stupid girl, scared of a bird when you live on an island. Now you’ve woken him up, and you know how hard he works, how difficult it’s been for him since-

There was a soft thump behind her, and she felt her dad’s arms tense. She twisted, looked across the room, and bit her lip, hard enough that she tasted blood in her mouth. Otherwise she would have surely screamed again.

Standing in front of her bedroom window was a middle-aged man. He was wearing a pair of tattered blue jeans, so full of holes it seemed that they were holding together through sheer force of will alone. The rest of him was naked, although very little of his skin could be seen. His emaciated body was covered in tattoos, long loops and whorls of blue-black ink that stretched up and down both of his arms, across his narrow chest and concave stomach. Words she didn’t recognize mingled with pictures of screaming faces, skeletal wings, and patterns so intricate they made her head swim. Hair hung from his head in black greasy locks that rested on his chest. His face was inhuman, with blazing red eyes that stared at her from sunken sockets.

The man opened his mouth and let out a deafening screech; Kate saw bright white fangs protruding from below his upper lip, and fear flooded into her as a series of answering screeches floated through the window on the cold evening air.

Like animals calling to each other, Pete thought. My God, what is this?

He pushed his trembling daughter behind him and faced the creature. “What do you want?” he asked, shocked at how small and weak his voice sounded. “We have no money here.”

The thing by the window twisted its head left and right, its mouth curled into a grin of pure delight, as if Pete had told the most delicious joke.

“I want you,” it answered. “I want to make you bleed.” It smiled again, then walked toward them.

“Kate, go!” shouted Pete, reaching back over his shoulder and yanking the bedroom door open, never taking his eyes off the thing that was slowly approaching, a look of terrible calm on its nightmare face.

“No, Dad,” she screamed.

“Now!” he bellowed. “Don’t argue with me!”

Kate let out a scream of pure terror and fled through the door. Pete heard her rattle down the stairs and throw open the front door.

At least she’s safe, he thought. The thing was less than a three feet away from him, its arms out before it, a look of inevitability on its face. Pete ducked under the arms, noting as he did so in the slow-motion attention to detail that comes with panic, that the fingernails on the thing’s hands were thick yellow talons. He spun around the open door and made for the landing.

One of the thin, ink-covered arms looped through the opening and slammed across his throat, pulling him back against the wood of the door, cutting off his air supply. Pete Randall dipped at the waist, then drove himself backward with all the breath he had left. The door swung in a sharp semicircle on its hinge, and he heard a satisfying crunch as the thing was driven hard into the bedroom wall. The arm around his throat came loose, and he shoved it away.

He stepped forward into the bedroom, one hand on his neck, and kicked the door closed. The thing slid down the wall, leaving a thick smear of blood behind. Pete looked down at it.

The metal doorknob had pierced the thing below its ribcage, and blood was running from the wound in dark rivers. The white fangs had been driven through the thing’s bottom lip by the impact, and crimson streamed down its chin and neck. Its eyes were closed.

Pete looked at it, breathing heavy, the pain in his throat worsening by the second. He reached for the door, ready to follow his daughter down the stairs and out of the house, when the thing laughed. It was a terrible noise, full of pain and cruelty. The red eyes opened and regarded Pete calmly.

“Stay and play,” it said, the fangs sliding out of its lip. “There’s nowhere for you to go. I’ll make it quick.” It spit a thick wad of blood onto the carpet. “Can’t say the same for the girl, mind you,” it said, then winked at Pete, who kicked the thing in the face as hard as he could. He heard its nose snap, heard it scream in pain, and then he was moving, out of the bedroom and down the stairs, through the open front door.

Kate was nowhere to be seen.

Nononononono.

Panic rose through his stomach and settled into his chest.

“Kate!” he yelled. “Where are you? Kate!”

He ran down their narrow road toward the Marsdens’ house.

She’ll have gone for a phone, he told himself. She’ll have gone to the neighbors. Please let her be at the neighbors.

He kicked open the gate and ran up the short driveway toward the house. He had reached the three wooden steps that led up to the front door when something fell to the ground in front of him with a horrible crunching thud, and something warm sprayed across his face and chest. Pete shrieked, throwing his hands up to his face and wiping the liquid from his skin. He looked down at the ground in front of him, and Mrs. Marsden stared back up at him from wide, lifeless eyes. There were two ragged holes in her throat, and the white dressing gown she was wearing looked like it had been dipped in blood.

He heard a triumphant screech and looked up. Staring down at him from the attic window was a woman’s face, the lower half smeared with red, the crimson eyes wide and devoid of humanity. The face jerked back from the window, and he heard footsteps inside the house.

Pete Randall fled. He turned and ran back the way he had come, now hearing for the first time the sounds of violence and pain that were drifting from every part of the island, a terrible cacophony of screeches, breaking glass and screams.

So many screams.

He reached the gate at a flat sprint, and when his daughter stepped out in front of him, he threw himself to his right, crashing hard onto the pavement. He would have run straight over her if he hadn’t.

“Dad!” she screamed, and then she was crouched next to him, asking him if he was all right. He sat up, ignoring the grinding pain in his right arm where he had landed on it, and hugged her so tightly she could barely breathe.

“Where did you go?” he sobbed. “I couldn’t find you.”

“I went to the Coopers’,” she gasped, crushed against her father’s chest. “I went to the Coopers’. There’s no one there. There’s blood. .. so much blood.”

Pete let go of her and stood up, unsteadily. He was about to ask her if she was all right when the door to the Marsdens’ house slammed open, and the woman he had seen in the attic window howled at them. There was an answering call, terribly close, and Kate looked around and saw the thing that had come into her bedroom walking down the road toward them, blood covering its face and neck. She scrambled to her feet, then her father took her hand, and they ran down the hill toward the center of the village.

Floating fifty feet above the top of the hill on which the village was built, Alexandru surveyed the carnage beneath him. Maybe half the villagers were already dead, and those who had survived the initial attack were fleeing toward the dock and the boats that would carry them off the island. He supposed a few of them would make it, and that was fine. They would add weight to the message he was sending.

He spun gently in the cold air and looked across the hill that formed the middle of the island, at the ancient stone building standing above the cliffs against which the North Sea crashed in plumes of white spray.

Tonight’s work has barely begun, he thought, and permitted himself a small smile. He pulled a silver phone from his pocket, and keyed a number.

“Brother,” he said, when the call was answered. “You may proceed.”

In the village streets below, panic gripped the surviving islanders. They ran for their lives along the narrow roads, heading for the small dock that served the island’s fishing fleet, stumbling in the gathering dark, staring wildly in every direction, screaming the names of husbands and wives, parents and children.

Pete Randall sprinted down the hill toward the concrete dock, hurdling the bodies that were lying in the narrow road, forcing himself not to look at them. Every one of the island’s one hundred and sixty inhabitants knew each other, and he knew that he was running around and over the lifeless corpses of his friends and neighbors. Kate ran beside him. Her face was pale, but her eyes were bright, and Pete felt a rush of love for his daughter.

How did she get so strong? he marveled. I won the bloody lottery with her.

Men and women were streaming out of the houses, some screaming, others weeping and sobbing, running and stumbling down the hill. Dark shapes moved among them, floating across the cobblestones, lifting them shrieking off their feet as they ran. Blood pattered to the ground in a soft crimson rain.

On the dock John Tremain, the island’s biggest fisherman, had reached his boat. The Lady Diana occupied the largest berth at the end of the horseshoe-shaped dock, and acrid blue smoke was pluming out of her weather-beaten funnel as the big diesel engines roared into life.

“Hurry!” Tremain yelled from the deck. He was holding the mooring ropes in his gnarled hands, ready to cast off. “I’m not waiting! Move!”

The desperate, panicked group of islanders ran toward him.

Pete and Kate were the first on to the slippery concrete of the dock. On the ground in front of them lay the twisted body of a teenage girl, and Kate slowed as they approached the corpse. Pete grabbed her wrist and hauled her forward.

“Keep moving!” he yelled. “Get to the boat!”

“It’s Julie!” Kate cried. “We can’t leave her here.”

Kate’s best friend, realized Pete. Oh God.

Kate yanked her hand out of his and skidded to a halt next to the girl’s body. Pete swore, turned back to grab his daughter, but was forced backward as the fleeing, terrified survivors cannoned into him, blindly running for the boat. He screamed and punched and kicked as hands gripped him, but the flow of people was relentless, and he was driven back along the dock.

Through the crowd, he saw his daughter kneel down next to the corpse, reach out and gently touch the girl’s face. He screamed her name, helplessly, as he was dragged over the boat’s rail, but Kate didn’t even seem to hear him.

There was a thud, and a dark shape landed on the dock, between Kate and the running crowd. She leapt to her feet, the paralyzing shock of seeing her friend’s body broken. She looked for her father and saw him being hauled onto the Lady Diana, kicking and screaming her name. In front of her was the terrible thing from her bedroom, its skeletal body drenched in blood. It flashed her a hideous lustful smile, and without hesitation, she turned and ran back toward the village.

Pete saw Kate sprint away up the dock and disappear into the darkness, and he threw his head back and howled, a scream of utter desperation. He fought with renewed strength against the hands that held him, but it was too late.

John Tremain threw the mooring ropes into the water and ran up the steps to the small cabin above the deck. He threw the Lady Diana into gear, and the big propellers churned water as the boat slowly, terribly slowly, began to move away from the island.

Pete Randall threw himself at the stern rail as the Lady Diana picked up speed and the dock disappeared into the darkness.

“Kate!” he screamed. “Kate!”

But there was no answer.

His daughter was gone.

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