Will Hill worked in publishing for six long years before quitting to write full time. His debut novel, Department 19, was published in 2011 by HarperCollins, and the second book in the series, The Rising, will be out in 2012. He loves Stephen King and Clive Barker, hates spiders and The Daily Mail, and lives in London with his girlfriend.
Follow him on Twitter (@willhillauthor), Facebook (/department19exists) and at www.WillHillAuthor.com
DEPARTMENT 19: PROLOGUE
Jamie Carpenter was watching TV in the living room when he heard the tyres of his dad’s car crunch across the gravel drive much, much earlier than usual. Jamie looked at the clock on the wall above the TV and frowned. It was quarter past five. Julian Carpenter had never, to the best of Jamie’s memory, arrived home from work before seven o’clock, and even that was only on special occasions like his mum’s birthday or when Arsenal were playing in the Champions League.
He hauled himself off the sofa, a tall, slightly awkward fourteen-year-old with a skinny frame and unruly brown hair, and went to the window. His dad’s silver Mercedes was parked where it always was, in front of the garage that stood apart from their house. Jamie could see his father in the glow of the car’s brake lights, pulling something out of the boot.
Maybe he’s sick, Jamie thought. But as he looked closely at his dad, he didn’t think he looked ill; his eyes were bright and wide in the red light and he was moving quickly, putting things from the boot into his pockets. And Jamie noticed something else; he kept looking over his shoulder towards the road, as if he thought—
Something moved in the corner of Jamie’s eye, near the oak tree at the bottom of the garden. He turned his head, gooseflesh breaking out suddenly along his arms and back, and he realised he was scared. Something is wrong here, he thought. Very wrong.
The tree looked the same as it always did, its gnarled trunk tilted to the left, its huge roots rippling the lawn and bending the garden wall out towards the road.
Whatever Jamie had seen, his father had seen it too. He was standing very still behind the car, staring up into the branches of the tree. Jamie looked closely at the tree and the long black shadows the moonlight cast across the grass. Whatever had moved wasn’t moving any more. But as he stared, he realised that there was something different.
There were more shadows than there should be.
The tree’s leaves were gone for the winter and the shadows should have been the straight lines of empty branches. But the dark patterns covering the lawn were thick and bulky, as though the branches were full of—
What? Full of what?
Jamie looked back to his dad. He suddenly wanted him in the house, right now. His father was still staring at the tree, holding something in his hand, something that Jamie couldn’t quite make out.
Movement, again, by the tree.
Fear rose into Jamie’s throat.
Come inside, Dad. Come inside now. There’s something bad out there.
The shadows on the lawn began to move.
Jamie stared, too scared to scream, as the dark patterns began to unfold. He looked up into the tree and now he could see the branches shifting as whatever was in there began to move, could hear the rustling of the bark as something – lots of things, it sounds like there’s lots of them – started to move through the boughs of the oak.
He looked desperately at his father who was still staring into the tree, lit by the red lights from the car.
Why are you just standing there? Come inside, please, please.
Jamie turned his head to look at the tree. On the other side of the window a girl’s face, pale, with dark red eyes and lips drawn into a snarl, stared through the glass, and he screamed so loudly he thought he would tear his vocal chords.
The face disappeared into the darkness and now there was movement as Jamie’s father ran up the drive towards the house. The front door slammed open and Julian Carpenter burst into the living room at the same time his wife ran in from the kitchen.
“Get away from the windows, Jamie!” he shouted.
“Just do what I tell you and don’t argue! There isn’t time.”
“Time for what, Julian?” asked Jamie’s mum, her voice tight and high-pitched. “What’s going on?”
Julian ignored her, taking out a mobile phone that Jamie didn’t recognise. He punched numbers into the handset, and held it to his ear. “Frank? Yeah, I know. I know. What’s the ETA? And that’s accurate? OK. Take care of yourself.”
He hung up the phone and grabbed Jamie’s mum’s hand.
“Julian, you’re scaring me,” she said, softly. “Please tell me what’s happening.”
He looked into his wife’s pale, confused face. “I can’t,” he replied. “I’m sorry.”
Jamie watched in a daze. He didn’t understand what was happening here, didn’t understand it at all. What was moving through the darkness outside their house? Who was Frank? His dad didn’t have any friends called Frank, he was sure of it.
The window behind Jamie exploded as a branch from the oak tree came through it like a missile and smashed their coffee table into splinters. This time his mum screamed as well.
“Get away from the windows!” bellowed Julian again. “Come over here next to me!”
Jamie scrambled up from the floor, grabbed his mum’s hand and ran across the room towards his father. They backed up against the wall opposite the window, his dad placing an arm across him and his mother, before putting his right hand into his coat pocket and taking out a black pistol.
His mother squeezed his hand so tightly that he thought the bones would break. “Julian!” she screamed. “What are you doing with that gun?”
“Quiet, Marie,” his father said, in a low voice.
In the distance, Jamie heard sirens approaching.
Thankyouthankyouthankyou. We’re going to be all right.
Outside in the garden a grotesque high-pitched laugh floated through the night air.
“Hurry,” Julian whispered. “Please hurry.”
Jamie didn’t know who his father was talking to, but it wasn’t him or his mum. Then suddenly the garden was full of light and noise as two black vans, sirens blaring and lights spinning on their roofs, screeched into the drive. Jamie looked out at the oak tree, now lit bright red and blue. It was empty.
“They’ve gone!” he shouted. “Dad, they’ve gone!”
He looked up at his father, and the look on his face scared Jamie more than anything that had happened so far.
Julian stepped away from his family and stood facing them. “I have to go,” he said, his voice cracking. “Remember that I love you both more than anything in the world. Jamie, look after your mother. OK?”
He turned and headed towards the door.
Jamie’s mum ran forward and grabbed his arm, spinning him round. “Where are you going?” she cried, tears running down her face. “What do you mean, look after me? What’s happening?”
“I can’t tell you,” he replied, softly. “I have to protect you.”
“From what?” his wife screamed.
“From me,” he answered, his head lowered. Then he looked up at her and, with a speed Jamie had never seen before, twisted his arm free from her grip and pushed her backwards across the living room. She tripped over one of the smashed legs of the coffee table and Jamie ran forward and caught her, lowering her to the ground. She let out a horrible wailing cry and pushed his hands away, and he looked up in time to see his father walk out of the front door.
He shoved himself up off the floor, cutting his hand on the broken table glass, and ran to the window. Eight men wearing black body armour and carrying submachine guns stood in the drive, the barrels of their weapons pointed at Julian.
“Put your hands above your head!” one of the men shouted. “Do it now!”
Jamie’s dad took a few steps and stopped. He looked up into the tree for a long moment before glancing quickly over his shoulder at the window and smiling at his son. Then he walked forward, pulled the pistol from his pocket and pointed it at the nearest man.
The world exploded into deafening noise and Jamie clamped his hands over his ears and screamed and screamed and screamed as the submachine guns spat fire and metal and shot his father dead.
© Will Hill, 2010
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.