Dark Days

Caitlin Kittredge

St. Martin's Paperbacks

CHAPTER 1
 

Everything tastes like ashes. The air above London is black no matter the time of day, smoke billowing from the burning districts south of the Thames. Sirens scream, echoing from building to building. People scream as hungry things chase them through the street, now the graveyard of cars long abandoned.
Not all people are victims. Some roam the darker, narrower parts of the city in packs, falling on man and creature alike.
Jack Winter watches the fires as they flourish and die. He watches the wraiths flit out over the water. He watches the zombies and the gangs alike feast on the flesh of men.
He tastes the ashes, the only thing that remains of a world that was once daylight and free of the knowledge that things like this existed, nearly close enough to touch.
But that wall fell, like all walls do, victims of time or pressure or circumstance. Now there is no division, no dark and daylight. There is just this world, burning and broken, and in it Jack Winter is alone.
*   *   *
Jack hated waking up. At times, he would keep his eyes pressed shut and imagine that when he opened them he’d see the ceiling of his old flat, stained and blank. That instead of a car fire or raw sewage, he’d smell coffee and a fry up. That instead of the constant sirens and blared announcements from the Territorial Army tanks roaming the streets, he’d hear his daughter and his wife laughing.
He opened his eyes. He could see straight through to the sky. It was as black as the rest of the place, and he sat up and looked around at the hundreds of other bodies scattered across the floor of King’s Cross. Some slept, some smoked or ate tinned food with furtive expressions.
A few aid workers walked among them, and one started toward him with a vile meal-replacement bar that was quickly becoming the only thing you could reliably find to eat in London, if you weren’t into roasting stray cats or cannibalism.
Jack waved her off. The other poor bastards in this place needed food a lot more than he did. King’s Cross was one of the last safe zones in London, surrounded by holdouts from the army who hadn’t cut and run when they started getting ripped apart by lycanthropes and zombies.
He hated the safe zones. Nothing but sad civilians, dirty and battered, always with fear in their eyes as they scoured each individual face for signs that it did, in fact, belong to a human.
The psychic frequencies in King’s Cross were calm, though, and it was the only place he could get any sleep. Whitechapel used to blank out his second sight with the sheer volume of static from the many bad deeds wrought on its earth, but now it was alive with ghosts, poltergeists, and wraiths—guaranteed high-octane nightmare fuel for someone like Jack.
Besides, he didn’t want to go back there. Lily and Pete had been there. And now …
“Are you sure you’re not hungry?” The nurse held out the wrapped bar to him. Jack caught a whiff and wrinkled his nose.
“Food’s not really a priority these days, luv.”
She shoved the bar against his chest, until he was forced to take it or let it drop and shatter. He had to hand it to the civilians—they’d figured it out pretty quickly. Chop the head off a zombie, ward your safe spaces against the dead, and don’t make skin-to-skin contact with anyone. Magic, especially black magic, used touch as a contact point, and everyone in the city had taken to swaddling up.
“Try to keep your strength up,” the nurse said, and moved on.
They all believed in it so quickly, Jack thought, watching a little girl sitting next to her sleeping parents, reading a coverless book with burnt edges. In magic, in the people who used it, in the creatures it spawned.
Sure, it had caused a mass panic and destroyed London as they knew it, but they all believed.
He could never have imagined such a thing when he was the girl’s age, still realizing that seeing and speaking to the dead wasn’t something every snot-nosed brat could do.
She caught his eye. She and her parents were Indian, but he could see Lily in her face.
Who am I kidding, Jack thought. He saw Lily in every little girl’s face.
“Here.” He gave her the protein bar. She frowned at him.
“Don’t you need this?”
Jack stood up and shouldered his kit, the stuff he’d managed to grab from his flat before they had to run. Before …
“No, darling,” he told the girl. “Not where I’m going.”

 
Copyright © 2013 by Caitlin Kittredge