A Department 18 novel
Published mass market paperback
NOW Amazon Publishing 2013
Available on AMAZON KINDLE STORE UNDER MAYNARD SIMS
There is a race of vampire like creatures. The species is called Spiraci from the Latin to breathe. They are called Breathers. They feed on human souls. They have existed since before Man walked the Earth.
They have evolved over centuries and in the 21st they are split into two factions. Both groups are a threat to humanity.
In London, the story begins with Robert Carter investigating suspected poltergeist activity in an apartment block. The reality is far worse.
From the cover
Department 18: Government agents specializing in the paranormal and associated psychic phenomena, including hauntings, poltergeist activity, demonic possession and other unexplained occurrences. All files highly classified.
“Maynard & Sims know what makes a horror story tick.” —Shivers
They have existed since before Man walked the earth. They are the Breathers, a species of vampire-like creatures that feed on human souls. They have evolved over the centuries and now are split into two warring factions. Both are a threat to mankind. As the battle lines are drawn, Robert Carter and Department 18 are caught in the middle. They are all that stand between the two sides and their unsuspecting prey. Us.
“Maynard & Sims are a horror duo that know how to scare the reader.” —The Horror Review
“Amazing. One of the most frightening books of the year.” —Famous Monsters of Filmland on Black Cathedral
& Sims make readers accept terrible denizens from nightmare as casual fact.”
Excerpt from Chapter 1
A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its
loveliness increases; it will
Barbarous nations breathing pure air and eating simple food enjoy immunity from its ravages.
Dunster House, Docklands, London, England
Robert Carter pulled up behind Department 18’s black SUV and switched off the engine of the Lancia. The rain was beginning to ease. As he stepped out of the car he saw Frankie Morgan sheltering in the doorway of Dunster House, the very exclusive apartment block he’d been asked to investigate.
He sketched a wave and stared up at the building. Twenty-six floors of cold concrete and glass. He remembered a time when this area of London was a run down part of the city, with streets filled with slum dwellings backing on to the River Thames. But that was before the London Docklands redevelopment program transformed the place. Millions of pounds injected by astute businessmen who saw the potential of riverside dwellings for the upwardly mobile men and women who were flooding into the area to be closer to their workplaces in the City and Canary Wharf. Now the place was unrecognizable from the dark side of the town he’d known as a child.
‘Frankie, what have we got?’
‘Didn’t Crozier brief you?’ Frankie Morgan was thirty, pretty with fair hair tied back in a pony tail from a round, open face.
‘He left a message on my answering service asking me to get down here. He mentioned poltergeist activity; said you’d fill me in.’
‘Not very helpful,’ she said.
‘When is he ever?’
‘You look flushed,’ she said.
‘I came straight from the squash club. Are the others inside?’
‘Yes. And I think it’s a little bit more than poltergeist activity. The police evacuated the place yesterday after the third fatality.’
‘On whose authority?’
‘The Home Office.’
‘So the place is empty?’
‘Apart from the ghosts,’ she said with a smile.
‘Let’s get out of this rain,’ Carter said and pushed open the door to the apartment block.
Inside the others were waiting. There were three other people in Frankie’s team, all of them young and fairly inexperienced. Adam Black, Chris Baines and Ellen McCrory. Frankie made the introductions.
‘So Crozier thinks we can’t handle this on our own. Great vote of confidence.’ Baines said petulantly, glaring at Carter. Baines was in his early twenties and had an attitude that bristled with antagonism.
‘It’s not like that,’ Frankie said.
‘I’ve handled poltergeist cases before,’ Baines said.
‘So have I,’ Ellen McCrory said. ‘And I really don’t think we need a babysitter.’ At thirty-two Ellen was the oldest of the group.
‘In my experience poltergeists don’t kill people,’ Carter said. ‘How many fatalities have there been, Frankie?’
‘So it’s unlikely we’re dealing with a poltergeist,’ Adam Black said. Black was in his mid-twenties but looked like a teenager. Carter had read his file and had been looking forward to meeting him. Adam Black’s upbringing was similar to his own. A child prodigy when it came to clairvoyance, giving readings from the age of eight. A domineering father with a God fixation who pushed his son relentlessly to the point of a nervous breakdown. Carter could sympathize.
‘Unlikely, but not impossible.’
‘So what do you think it is?’ Baines said.
‘No idea. I’ve only just arrived. Frankie, where was the first fatality?’
‘Apartment 53. Fifth floor.’
‘Ok. We’ll start there. I suggest that, until we have a clearer idea of what we’re dealing with here, we all stick together.’
‘Oh, for Christ’s sake!’ Ellen McCrory said. ‘We know what we’re doing.’
‘And we have the details of your next of kin on file, do we? Just so we know who to contact if you get killed,’ Carter said.
Ellen McCrory glared at him.
Carter held her gaze until she looked away. ‘Right. Let’s get on. Are the elevators working, Frankie?’
‘Yes. All utilities are functioning. The police just cleared the residents out and left everything else alone.’
‘What were the residents told?’ Carter asked her as they walked towards the two elevators set into the south wall.
‘Asbestos alert,’ Frankie said. ‘They were told that routine maintenance had uncovered asbestos in the roof and they had to be evacuated until it was cleared. We fed the same story to the local media. Didn’t want a circus down here.’
‘Good idea. And all the residents swallowed it.’
‘Most of them,’ Frankie said. ‘There were one or two who didn’t believe a word of it, but they were the one’s who’d had other experiences here, and they were only too happy to have an excuse to leave.’
With a hiss one set of doors opened. ‘Okay. Fill me in on the details on the way up,’ Carter said and was about to step into the elevator when the main door of the building opened and a young man wearing an Armani suit and an angry expression strode into the foyer. ‘Would one of you mind telling me what the hell is going on here?’
Frankie Morgan stepped forward to intercept. ‘I’m sorry, sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave. For your own safety.’
‘The young man raised his chin pugnaciously. ‘And who the fuck are you?’
‘Doctor Frances Morgan, Environmental Heath. And you are?’
‘Jonathan Lassiter, Braxton Developments, the company that built this block. What’s all this crap about asbestos? There’s no asbestos here. The building’s only a year old.’
‘Be that as it may, Mr. Lassiter, but I’ll have to ask you to leave until the matter has been properly investigated.’
‘Tough. I’m not going anywhere. Let me see some identification.’
Frankie glanced back at Carter, uncertain how to proceed.
Robert Carter sighed and walked across to join them. ‘Do we have a problem, Doctor Morgan?’
‘Identification,’ Lassiter said. ‘Now, or I call the police.’
Carter reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his pocketbook, flipping it open and letting Lassiter read his ID card.
‘And what’s Department 18?’ Lassiter said, looking at Carter quizzically.
‘Part of the Government. We’ve been called in by the Home Office to investigate three suspicious deaths that have occurred here in the past week.’
The color drained from Lassiter’s face. ‘Three deaths? Nobody told me. What are you, police?’
‘We work in conjunction with the police and the security services and, as Doctor Morgan said, the Home Office. So, if there’s nothing else, for your own safety, you should leave now.’
Confusion clouded Lassiter’s eyes. ‘I’m not happy about this,’ he said.
‘I don’t care,’ Carter said. ‘Go away, and leave us to do our job.’
Lassiter hesitated for a moment, then spun on his heel and stalked from the building.
‘Thanks,’ Frankie said. ‘I wasn’t sure what to do when he asked for identification.’
‘Always tell the truth, Frankie,’ Carter said. ‘Within reason,’ he added with a smile. ‘Come on, let’s get to work.’
Carter was thirty-five, tall and slim with an athletic physique he owed to the four hours a week he spent at the gym, combined with regular games of squash and rackets. The exercise was complemented by a healthy diet, apart from far too many cigarettes, a light intake of alcohol, and occasional sex with willing partners.
Frankie turned the key in the door of apartment 53 and pushed it open, reeling back as the stench hit her like a physical blow. She clamped her hand over her nose and mouth and struggled to prevent herself from gagging. ‘Jesus! What is that?’ she said.
‘I can’t smell anything,’ Baines said.
Ellen McCrory shook her head. ‘Nothing.’
Robert Carter was watching them. He worried about Frankie Morgan sometimes. She was too open; her senses too attuned. She needed to protect herself more. He lowered his defenses slightly and sniffed the air. Yes, she was right. There was an odor; something rank and fetid; something long dead. He stepped through the doorway.
‘Very nice,’ Chris Baines said as he followed the others into the room. ‘Wouldn’t mind a place like this myself. Look at the size of that TV.’
‘Concentrate,’ Carter snapped at him. ‘Frankie, are you okay?’
She was last into the room and now had a handkerchief pressed against her nose. ‘It’s fading,’ she said. ‘The smell’s nowhere near so strong once you’re inside.’
From his pocket Carter took a small black box with a dial at its center and a small white dome on one end. There was a switch on the side. He flicked it on. The needle jumped across the dial. ‘Strong electro-magnetic residue,’ he said. ‘Be careful.’
‘The death occurred in the bedroom. Melanie Fry, thirty-two, commodities analyst,’ Frankie said.
‘How did she die?’
‘The autopsy was inconclusive. Four puncture wounds to her thorax, but small, not enough on their own to kill her. The pathologist could find no other injuries. In his words, it was as if she had just been switched off. As if someone had thrown a switch and she just died.’
Carter walked through to the bedroom and looked around. It was smart and neat with a low, oak-framed, king-sized bed taking up the center of the room. The rest of the furniture was modern and plain, Shaker style. ‘There’s nothing here,’ he said. ‘I’m picking nothing up.’
‘How do you explain the smell?’ Frankie said.
‘An echo, I suspect. Nothing more.’ He held out the meter in front of him and scanned the room. ‘Are you sure this is where she died.’
‘She was found in bed. Naked, spread-eagled. Looked like she’d been enjoying a sex session when she died.’
Carter shrugged. ‘I’d expect there to be more residual energy than I’m picking up.’ He slipped the meter back into his pocket. ‘Okay. The second death. Which floor?’
‘We go up,’ Frankie said. ‘Apartment 120. Seventeenth floor.’
‘Right, let's get on,’ Carter said.
Chris Baines had already left apartment 53 and was making his way to the stairwell. Ellen McCrory was close behind him. ‘Where are you going?’ she said.
‘Up,’ Baines said. ‘I’m getting nothing on this floor, but something’s nagging me to climb. Coming?’
‘And you don’t care if you upset Carter.’ It wasn’t a question, and the grin on her face encouraged him.
‘Come on then.’ He pulled open the door to the stairwell and started to climb the stairs two at a time.
By the time they reached the tenth floor Ellen McCrory was panting for breath.
‘It’s time you quit smoking,’ Baines said.
‘What are you, my father? Why didn’t we take the elevator?’
‘Not safe,’ Baines said, every nerve in his body tingling.
‘But we just used it.’
‘Well it’s not safe now. Trust me. Come on.’ He pushed open the door to the tenth floor. He stood for a moment, eyes closed, letting the random impressions flood into his mind. Black shapes slithering across the floor, coalescing, becoming a much larger mass, rising up and moving through the apartments. A woman’s scream. Pain. Death. ‘This way,’ he said, his eyes snapping open.
Ellen watched him nervously, her maverick spirit starting to dissipate. She’d worked with Chris Baines before and knew he was a risk taker. She found it an attractive attribute and, if she was honest with herself, a bit of a turn on, but she was beginning to have second thoughts about leaving the others behind.
She was getting her own impressions of the place and they weren’t good. Not good at all.
‘Did you see that?’ she said, squinting her eyes and peering along the plush, carpeted corridor.
‘See what?’ Baines said. He was looking from door to door, trying to focus, to feel where he should lead them next.
‘Something black, moving, down at the end of the corridor. It went into one of the rooms.’
‘Describe it,’ he said, turning his attention back to her.
‘Like a black sheet, blown in the wind, but not as substantial. Like gauze.’
He grinned at her. ‘Come on. Show me the room.’ He strode off down the corridor, Ellen following tentatively a few paces behind.
‘Where are McCrory and Baines?’ Carter asked as he came out of the bedroom and saw Adam Black standing alone in the lounge.
Black shrugged. ‘One minute they were here, the next they’d gone.’
Carter swore and wheeled on Frankie. ‘Are your team always this undisciplined?’
‘No, Robert,’ she said bridling. ‘But they’re used to carrying out these investigations unsupervised. They’re both strong psychics and they're more than capable of looking after themselves.’
‘Let me be the judge of that,’ Carter said. ‘We don’t know what we’re dealing with here yet, and until we know what the danger is I don’t want anyone taking unnecessary risks. Come on, let’s find them.’
‘We’d better check floor by floor,’ Frankie said trying to wrest back some element of control from Carter. She knew why he was so angry. A routine investigation he’d been heading a few months ago had ended tragically with the disappearance of his assistant, Sian Davies. Some members of the Department were convinced he’d never really got over it. ‘We’ll take the stairs and search thoroughly.’
‘Up or down?’ Adam Black said.
Carter turned to the young man who was scuffing the toe of his shoe on the deep-piled carpet in a mixture of anxiety and embarrassment, and avoiding eye contact. ‘Pardon?’
‘Up or down,’ Black said again. ‘We don’t know which way to go.’
‘Up,’ Carter said.
Carter fixed him with a cold hard stare. ‘Because I say so.’
‘You’re the boss,’ Black said without malice.
‘And I just wish people would remember that,’ Robert Carter said and walked from the apartment.
Jonathan Lassiter was seething. He walked backwards and forwards on the street outside Dunster House, punching numbers into his cell phone and wallowing in the frustration of not being able to raise anyone significant at this time of day. The frustration was feeding his anger. He couldn’t believe he’d been dismissed from the block in such a high-handed way, as if he were nothing more than an errant schoolboy caught loitering indoors during recess.
He snapped his phone shut and dropped it back into the pocket of his suit jacket. He suddenly became aware of the rain, soaking his hair, his Armani, and his Gucci loafers. This was intolerable. He turned on his heel and pushed open the door of Dunster House and walked inside out of the rain.
Once inside he looked around for someone to vent his anger on, but the foyer was deserted. He swore savagely and crossed the marble tiled floor to the elevator, punching the call button, tapping his foot impatiently as he waited for the elevator to descend. Once the doors slid open he stepped inside, staring at the panel of buttons for a long moment before making a decision. Finally he pulled his bunch of keys from his pocket, inserted one into the panel and twisted it, at the same time hitting the button for the penthouse.
As the car started to ascend he leaned back against the wall, taking out a handkerchief and dabbing away the rain from his face. He’d only been up to the penthouse twice before and that was pre-occupation. Now the luxurious apartment was owned by an Asian businessman who had made his fortune in the clothing trade.
It would be interesting to see how the mega-rich lived. It was a lifestyle he aspired to but knew he was a long way from attaining. He also wanted to be up at the top of the building when the bunch of morons from the Home Office, or wherever they were from, arrived there. He’d show them he wasn’t fazed by their scare mongering and that Braxton as a company stood by the quality of their developments.
The elevator juddered to a halt between the twenty first and twenty second floor. He twisted the key and pressed the button again but the car didn’t budge. He ran his hand over the panel, hitting all the buttons, but nothing happened.
He was suddenly aware that the temperature in the car was dropping. A few seconds later his breath started to mist in front of his face and he shivered. He sniffed the air and recoiled as the stench of rotting meat filled his nostrils.
As the first black shape slithered in under the door Jonathan Lassiter felt a tremor of disquiet. What the hell was going on?
Chris Baines hesitated outside the door of apartment 85 and rested his hand on the door. There was something inside. He could sense it.
‘Well?’ Ellen said, catching up with him.
‘Can’t you feel it?’
She shook her head, chewing pensively at her bottom lip.
‘You betcha,’ she said. ‘I’m not leaving myself open to attack. Three people have died, Chris.’
‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Stay behind me.’ He slipped the key-card into the lock and turned the handle.
It was dark inside the apartment, despite the onset of early morning. He slid his hand across the wall and located the light switch. He flipped it but the room stayed dark.
‘The lights should be working,’ Ellen said, a tremor to her voice.
‘Relax,’ he said and pulled a flashlight from the bag he had slung over his shoulder. He switched it on and swung the beam around the room, drawing in his breath when the light flickered over a figure sitting in a chair by the window. He pulled the beam back, aiming it directly at the chair but he couldn't see any more clearly. There was a figure there, but it seemed to be absorbing the light, sucking it in like a black hole.
‘We should go back and fetch Carter,’ Ellen said, clutching the sleeve of his jacket,
‘Shhhhh! Hello!’ he called to the figure in the chair. ‘I’m Chris Baines; this is my assistant, Ellen McCrory.’
The figure in the chair remained silent and unmoving.
‘We were told this building was empty. Would you mind telling us what you’re doing here?’
Ellen tugged at his sleeve. ‘Chris? Chris! Let’s get out of here.’
As she spoke the figure in the chair started to rise. They still couldn’t see properly. It was just a shape, the build of a large man, darker than the surrounding darkness.
They took a step backwards. Ellen clamped a hand across her nose as a foul odor hit her like a physical blow.
‘God! I think I’m going to be sick.’ She started to retch.
Baines focused the flashlight, willing the beam to glow brighter, but it was useless. The light was being swallowed. There was a sound, like dry autumn leaves blown across concrete, and the shape exploded, fragmenting into a hundred smaller shapes that skittered across the floor, flapping and flailing like disembodied blackbird wings. The shapes moved past them, plucking at their clothes, slithering over their skin.
Chris Baines dropped the flashlight and sank to his knees, folding his arms over his head as he was buffeted by the shapes.
The apartment door slammed and it was all over. The stench and the shapes had gone.
Baines gradually uncurled his arms from his head, picked up the flashlight, and stood upright. He shone the beam around the room. Ellen was standing at the window with her back to him as if staring out at the street below. ‘Ellen? Ellie?’
She didn’t move; didn’t acknowledge him at all.
He took a few steps forward, reached out and touched her shoulder. ‘Ellie?’
At his touch Ellen McCrory crumpled to the floor, deflating like a burst balloon.
The flashlight’s beam took in the withered skin of her face, the bleached white, cotton-candy texture of her hair. Her mouth sagged open and Chris Baines watched as her teeth crumbled to dust and fell away.
And then he screamed too.
He was still screaming when the others found him five minutes later.
WHERE NIGHT SOULS CAME FROM…
Over the years we have written many novels, parts of novels, and thought of and dismissed ideas for novels.
The majority have never seen the light of day. Or if they did, if we ever pulled them out, looked at them and thought, “That’s not too bad,” they soon objected and ran squirming back under the rock where they’d been hiding ever since we abandoned them.
Some were foetal stage, a few pages and no more; others were fully grown infants, completed at 90000 words or more. Most were fully written but seemed to only come in at about 70% of that length; too long for novellas, too short for novels, too much in need of revision to be shown in polite company.
So we’ve used bits of them from time to time. Borrowed ideas and some scenes in our later work. Shelter, Demon Eyes, Black Cathedral, www.maynard-sims.com all contain the odd piece of an earlier creation, though re-written to today’s standards, which we can only hope get better as we go on.
Amongst the retained unrevised scripts are a few crime thrillers, and adventure thrillers, from the times we’ve stepped outside the comfort blanket of our supernatural thriller writing. There is enough there to create an alter ego, a pseudonym, where a trilogy of crime thrillers, and the first in some standalone adventure thrillers can be written by elongating the 60000 words into a decent length and in revising them fully, perhaps actually make them readable. No, that’s unfair; they aren’t too bad, just not good enough without some work on them.
Anyway that gets us to Night Souls.
It’s in supernatural thriller territory, and some. What happened was we wrote Black Cathedral to contain Department 18, the Government unit that investigates paranormal and supernatural events. www.dept18.com Leisure liked the idea and so did all the reviewers and readers. Department 18 and Robert Carter are sure to attract a loyal following… I think Department 18 is going to do really well, and would make a great network series on TV… I think that they have themselves a franchise in the works with the characters that make up Department 18…
So, it was pretty much a given that the next book would be a Department 18 book. Demon Eyes had been left with an open ending that seemed to need a sequel. Either that or it was a short story ending that should have been revised but hey, we started a sequel. The characters from Demon Eyes were placed in bed – figuratively and literally – with the Department 18 characters, but something wasn’t gelling. There was no sexual chemistry. They looked good together, the idea was a winner on the ideas board, but as a book it was fast disappearing up it’s own exhaust pipe.
What to do? We had written a fair few words, or at least one of us had. We stopped, or he did. We did what we always do when we reach a blockage in the writing process – we panicked. Len, help me, Mick. Mick, help me, Len. Don, help us…And he did. Not a quote as such but his advice was simple, “Don’t do a Demon Eyes sequel (yet).”
So we had a few beers, a couple of pizzas, watched a bit of TV, and reviewed the plot we had come up with for DE2. It was pretty good, and do you know it wasn’t actually dependent on it being a sequel. In fact it didn’t need the characters from DE at all. In fact, once we were on a roll with the ideas, the new plot and story we came up with was far better.
So as we usually do, the writing was passed to the other one. The 50000 words written were revised and changed for the new story. A new beginning was added, Carter was inserted, careful ladies, and chapters added at various intervals to add depth to the plot and create a level of pacing that worked for the new idea. A few scenes that originally happened at night were changed to morning or afternoon, so that the story spreads out over a three day period.
People seemed to really like Department 18 in Black Cathedral and the book was enjoyed by most but a few people commented that the ending rushed up on them unexpectedly fast. We were conscious of that, and with Night Souls we did something different. The one writing the bulk of the book, Day One and Day Two as it happens, carried on and wrote those – about 80000 words (containing much of the original 50000) – while the other one was tasked to write a long ending, Day Three.
We’ve tried for a fast told story but with no exposition. Characters drive the narrative but the story enfolds naturally with no deux de machina. What happens is often a surprise but it’s not manufactured for the sake of suspense.
And it’s a Department 18 novel pure and simple. Something happens, they investigate it, and then it all kicks off, all Hell breaks loose, people die.
It touches on the subject of modern day slavery, and the figures quoted are accurate, as far as can be guessed at. Millions of men, women and children trafficked around the world for profit and gain. That’s a real life horror.
But it’s a supernatural thriller, and it’s entertainment.
The original title was going to be Breathers but we changed that to Dancers. Leisure didn’t like that, sounded too much like, well, a dance manual. So after some thought we came up with Night Souls because that just about describes what they are without giving anything away about the story. We then came up with a back story mythology about them being an alternative race to humans. The Spiraci was born.
Novel three for the Department is already planned out, so here’s hoping people like novel two, NIGHT SOULS.
Len & Mick, England, 2009.
Copyright © 2012 L.H. Maynard & M.P.N. Sims