Brian Lumley is the author of the bestselling Necroscope series and many other novels of science fiction, horror and adventure, including Khai of Khem, the Titus Crow series, the Psychomech trilogy, and the tales of the Primal Land. In 1989 Brian won The British Fantasy Award for his novelette Fruiting Bodies, and in 1990 the Fear Magazine Award for Necroscope III: The Source. He and his wife live in Torquay, UK, by the sea and you can visit his site by clicking here. We are proud to present the prologue of Necroscope: The Touch published by Solaris Books, available from all good bookstores and from Solaris direct by clicking here
It was a transit hotel, ten minutes off the M25 and twenty from Gatwick Airport. Ideally situated, it was used by air crews and passengers alike as a sojourn and watering hole before, between, and after flights; a busy place usually. But at 4:30 on a misty November morning, normally it would be fairly quiet.
Not now, however, for the crying of a child—its piteous wailing and intermittent shrieking from one of the rooms—had warranted the night security officer’s investigation. Following which, and despite that he was in shock, shaken to his roots by what he’d discovered, he hadn’t been able to get to a telephone quickly enough.
Inspector George Samuels of the Metropolitan Police—twenty-seven years old, seventy inches tall, raven-haired, with large ears, piercing grey eyes, and a small cynical mouth; a man who preferred wearing his uniform to casual “civilian” trappings—was referred to caustically by his fellow officers as “a highflyer” and “something of a whizz kid,” if not in the detection of crime. His father had “connections,” and it was an accepted fact that having risen rapidly through the ranks—by what his peers generally considered suspect means or machinations—the young Inspector still wasn’t above blowing the whistle not only on police officers of like or lesser rank but also on his superiors, or taking credit for the work of his juniors, or greasing up to anyone perceived as a possible future rung in the ladder of his ambitions.
As a practical policeman, however, he lacked that certain something and would usually go by “The Book” because his hours on the beat had been drastically curtailed by his accelerated promotions. But as anyone who did it the hard way would surely attest, “The Book” (notoriously long on chapter and verse) is almost by definition short on experience. For example: “blood,” probably the most important aspect of evidence, is referred to objectively and clinically, becoming just another word in “The Book.” But as a physical, tactile reality, blood is sticky, has a disturbing smell, and is invariably terrifying to victims and observers alike when it pulses in dark crimson spurts from the sliced arteries of warm, shuddering bodies...
Tonight the Inspector had tasked himself with “visiting” (in fact spying upon) late-shift commanders in various police stations in the city’s suburbs and outlying districts, and had conveyed himself in an unmarked police vehicle as far out from the centre as Reigate, where moments after four-thirty he had entered the local station right on cue, albeit inadvertently, as the call for police assistance came in.
The mobile patrols and standby were already busy, dealing with two traffic accidents and a domestic dispute, and so the Inspector was obliged to cover the incident himself. The scene of the problem, whatever the problem was—about which the Desk Sergeant was uncertain, because according to him the telephone message had been badly garbled by the shocked, babbling, almost inarticulate caller; though Samuels suspected that this lack of pertinent information was more likely due to gross inefficiency on the part of the Desk Sergeant himself—was a transit hotel serving Gatwick Airport from a site only a few minutes away.
Since an ambulance had already been called by someone at the hotel, which seemed to suggest that the unknown problem had resolved itself in all but the business of an actual investigation, Samuels returned to his vehicle, clapped a strobing blue light on its roof, and set off into the night. Should the case turn out to be “awkward”—more problematic than he would wish—he could always call in a Scenes of Crime squad to deal with the messy or intricate details. And finally, however it worked out and if there was anything of profit in it, he would ensure that he received all the kudos worth garnering...
At the Tangmore Transit Hotel, Samuels found the night security man, a sixteen-stone, thirty-something bruiser in a uniform two sizes too small for him, shivering and wringing his hands where he waited under flickering white neons in the hotel’s entrance. That alone—the size and physical presence of the man compared to his state of funk—must surely have alerted most policemen to the likelihood that something was well out of order here … but not Samuels, who was checking his white gloves, setting his hat straight, and dusting down his uniform; while wide-eyed and pale as a ghost, the security man introduced himself as Gregory Phipps, and without offering his hand, in something of a hurry, made to usher the Inspector inside.
At which point the blaring klaxon of an ambulance sounded, its lights ceasing to flash and its siren growling into a lower register, then abruptly shutting off as it slewed to a halt at the curb. Two uniformed paramedics got out and threw open doors at the rear of their vehicle. Experienced and proficient, their senior member—a short, mature man with broad shoulders, sharp eyes and features, and a very abrupt manner—wasted no time in addressing the Inspector:
“We must be on the same job, sir. So what’s happening?”
“I’ve only just got here,” Samuels replied. “It seems that Mr. Phipps here has called us in to … well, to assist in whatever the problem is.” And turning again to Phipps: “So then … what is the problem?”
Phipps licked his lips, ushered the three into the almost empty foyer and toward the elevators, and finally said, “I got some information from reception late yesterday evenin’. Nothin’ ter cause concern … so I thought. It was just that a nervous, ’arassed-lookin’ bloke ’ad checked in wiv an infant—but wiv no wife or other woman—gone up ter his room, ’adn’t come darn again. This ’ad been a little arter 4:00 P.M.; I didn’t get ter know abart it until ten o’clock just as the girl was goin’ orf shift.”
The elevator arrived; the four got in; Phipps’s finger was shaking as he pressed the button for the second floor.
“Well then, go on,” said Samuels, examining his immaculate fingernails and adding, before Phipps could continue, “Oh, and by the way, I’m of the same opinion as you: that there doesn’t seem to be too much out of the ordinary in what you were told. Surely it isn’t unusual for a man to check in with a child—even an infant—when he could simply be waiting for his wife, a girlfriend, or even a nanny, to arrive from overseas? I mean, he might have been expecting someone off a plane early in the morning. Or he could have made arrangements with a partner to meet up here before catching some outbound flight.” Shrugging, he looked to Phipps for an explanation.
Phipps’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he moistened his throat. “Right, but this girl—I mean the receptionist—she’s the observant type, you know? She was worried abart this … well, this babe-in-arms, who she said was lookin’ pretty sickly. And no wife or woman on the scene, and nothin’ ’eard from room 213 right through the arternoon and evenin’. So I thought the same as you: bugger all ter worry abart. So I told myself, ‘Greg my lad, don’t you go lookin’ for trouble. If trouble’s in the air, it’ll find you.’”
“And did it?” Samuels asked as the elevator halted with a slight jerk on the second floor.
Not entirely with it—having said his piece and then gone back to his own thoughts—Phipps blinked and said, “It?”
“Trouble.” The Inspector sighed, doing his best to contain his impatience. “Did it find you?”
Phipps’s Adam’s apple bobbed again. “Lord, yers!” he said, gruffly but quietly. “Yers it did! Abart ’arf an hour ago, when I figured the kid ’ad been cryin’ long enough and banged on the door ter see what was goin’ on, got no answer and went in—and then called you lot.”
Leaving the elevator, he pointed along the corridor with a scarred, big-knuckled hand that was still trembling like a leaf in a gale. And: “Room 213, yers.” He nodded, indicating the way while yet holding back. “It’s just along ’ere.”
“Lead the way,” said Samuels, who was only now beginning to feel or experience something of the security man’s anxiety, his trepidation … his fear? But a big man like Phipps? A man who could obviously take care of himself, as well as manhandle others? He was all that, yet now someone who seemed unmanned.
The receding string of subdued lights in the corridor’s narrow ceiling were flickering and buzzing; they seemed on the point of shorting out. It could be the same problem Samuels had noticed in the neons at the hotel’s entrance, but it loaned the corridor a surreal, almost alien dynamic where the walls seemed to shift in and out of perspective. It was an eerie strobe-like effect that had the Inspector blinking and feeling confused and dizzy. Moreover, the harsh, oddly wheezing or choked wailing of a child—one who had been crying for quite a long time—was now clearly audible.
The crying got louder as they approached room 213, where Phipps stopped short, handed a duplicate key to the Inspector, and stepped back a pace. “That’s it,” he said. “This is as far as I goes. It’s … it’s all yours now.” He shook his head, as if to deny all responsibility from this time forward.
Inspector Samuels, taking him by the elbow and giving him back the key, said, “No, you open it.”
But the senior paramedic said, “Hang on, sir! Not so fast. First he must tell us what’s in there. We’re completely in the dark here!”
Turning on him, Samuels snapped, “What? Are you fundamentally deaf or something? Can’t you hear what’s in there? It’s a stressed child. A child in trouble. And—”
“—And,” Phipps at once cut in, his voice shuddering and almost breaking, “there’s a lot more than just a kid in there. But don’t arsk me, ’cos I can’t rightly explain what it is that I saw. And ’avin’ seen it the once, well that was quite enough, thanks very much. So I’ll just stay out ’ere if you don’t mind. But as for openin’ ’er up: I should at least be able ter manage that for you, yers.”
Reaching out, he turned the key in the lock in the silver metal doorknob, turned the knob, and pushed the door open.
“Wait!” said the senior paramedic a second time. “What do you mean, you can’t explain what’s in there? Is it dangerous?”
“Dangerous?” Phipps shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. Not anymore, if it ever was. But ’orrible? Oh, yers.”
“Right,” said Samuels with a curt nod. “A crime scene. So in we go. But you two,” he spoke to the paramedics, “don’t you go touching anything. We may have to call in Scenes of Crime.” And he pushed the door all the way open and stepped through it—into darkness.
The paramedics came close on his heels as the Inspector found the light switch to one side of the door just inside the room. A ceiling light flickered into being, but then continued to flicker, while from the corridor Phipps said, “They’ve been like that for a couple of hours now—the lights I mean. Most of the rooms is okay, but it’s really bad in the corridors and just ’ere. Somethin’ must ’ave blown out at the mains. There’s a ’lectrician darn in the cellar right now tryin’ ter find and fix it…” His voice tailed into silence.
The main room was L-shaped, with the bathroom on the left and the long leg of the L containing a bed, bedside tables, and a telephone. The infant, a boy no more than fifteen months old, was sitting on the floor with his back to the bed sobbing, but quietly now. He’d filled his diaper and it had leaked onto the floor where crisscross trails told of his wet wanderings. His eyes were sore from crying, his face pink streaked with brown. There was a lot more brown in his hair and on his chubby little body. It looked as if he’d been trying to clean himself up and make himself more comfortable, but had only made things worse. At least he didn’t look ill or sickly, just tired, frightened, and very unhappy.
Samuels turned, shot an accusing glare out of the door at Phipps where he’d backed up against the opposite corridor wall, indicated the child, and asked, “Why didn’t you take him out of here?”
But the security man only shook his head. “Didn’t want to touch anyfing. Reckoned it best to leave fings exactly as they was. Figured you wouldn’t be too long gettin’ ’ere.” And then, with a nod of his head: “You … you’ll find it just round the corner there.”
“Phew!” said the younger paramedic. “Like, if that’s just baby shit, well God bless his poor little arse!”
“I’ll see if I can find a woman to see to the kid,” Phipps said from the corridor, and made to go off. But:
“No, you’ll wait right there!” Samuels snapped. And moving along the foot of the bed—avoiding the dark-stained trails and small brown blobs on the carpet—he turned the corner into the short leg of the L. There he saw a writing desk, a glass-topped table, two chairs … and something on the floor in the farthest corner of the room.
The light in that sitting room was even worse than in the long L; flickering and buzzing, it made the room a kaleidoscope of changing shapes and shadows. But as the Inspector came to an abrupt halt, then started forward again around the table, closer to the thing slumped in the corner—and as the light flickered yet more violently before steadying up however briefly—“Jesus Christ!” he choked the words out.
The paramedics came to flank him. The junior man carried a torch that he shone into the corner. At which Samuels stepped back on legs that were suddenly rubbery, bumped into the table, and croaked, “What the … what the hell is that!?”
Down on one knee, the senior paramedic looked closer. “It can only be one thing,” he said, gaspingly. And in the light of the torch he stared at but didn’t touch a man-sized, almost man-shaped mass. “These are human or large animal remains,” he went on in little more than a whisper. “But what in God’s name … I mean, what could have done this to him, or it?”
Pushing the glass table aside, Samuels forced his legs to move him forward again. But as his flinching gaze followed the torch’s beam where it moved along the length of the—body?—so his lips drew back in an involuntary snarl of horror.
Its upper half was propped against the corner walls where they formed a right angle, while its lower half, lying flat to the floor, radiated raggedly outward. The walls behind it and the carpet beneath it were soaked black, which would be crimson under more normal lighting conditions. Its skeleton of flensed white bones lay partly hidden in or under it while its innards and viscera in general slumped or dangled externally, hanging there like various lengths of sausage or so many red and purple loaves of meat. The pulp of its brain clung to the empty skull.
“It … it’s a man!” said Samuels, staggering to and fro, and beginning to breathe faster as his gorge rose. “It’s a man, and he … he … he…”
“He’s inside out!” breathed the younger paramedic, beating the Inspector to it. “And look! That pipe thing is moving!”
The “pipe thing” he was pointing his torch beam at was in fact a convulsing alimentary canal whose puckered anus suddenly opened, voiding itself in a twenty-inch surge across the carpet. At which the heart—it could only be—started up and throbbed six times with a desperate, pounding beat before fluttering to a standstill as the upper half of the mess toppled and slopped sideways down onto the floor.
Hissing their mutual horror, the paramedics literally flew back away from the impossible thing they had witnessed, and the junior man gasped, “That thing—that bloody unnatural fucking mess—it was alive?”
“Well, if it was,” the other found the strength to answer, “there was nothing we could have done for it.” And backing out of the short L, he tripped on something—in fact on the prone, unconscious figure of Inspector Samuels—and almost fell. And regaining his balance, in more ways than one, he said, “Get on down to the wagon. Take that security bloke with you and bring back a body bag and a stretcher. I’ll stay here, use the phone to call out a Scenes of Crime crew, and maybe a policewoman to look after the kid. But until they arrive we won’t be touching anything … well, except that.” And grunting his displeasure, he nudged Samuels’ sprawled figure with the toe of his boot.
“Not much of a cop, was he,” said the younger man, making it less a question than a statement of fact.
“He was all wind and piss,” the other agreed. “The sooner we stretcher him out of here the better. We can just thank God he’s not typical of the breed.”
Out in the corridor, security man Phipps was well pleased to accompany the young paramedic down to the ambulance. And no one noticed that throughout the hotel the lights were all back to normal.
As for the baby boy: he was fast asleep and snoring…
© 2007 Brian Lumley
Necroscope: The Touch published by Solaris. Available from all good bookshops and www.solaris.com
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.