For the first time in her life, Jessie felt like a real FBI agent. It was like being in a cop movie.
Ripping down the high street in convoy. Sirens blaring and lights flashing as their wheels roared over cold tarmac. The sheriff’s truck in front, Deputy West’s squad car behind, Jessie’s pickup bringing up the rear and the other deputies riding shotgun. Radios chattering and weapons loaded.
I’m a special agent with a whole team of law enforcement officers at my back. Melcom doesn’t stand a damned chance this time.
She gave a grim smile and pressed her foot down harder on the gas pedal, her teeth gritting together as the engine’s hum rose to a throbbing growl. Another thought interrupted her determined yet bitter ecstasy.
Melcom’s dead. Doc said there’s no way he could’ve survived. And the look on his face when I told him what I saw at the funeral home. But Tom said he’s alive… What the Hell is happening here?
They pulled up in front of Roiville County Library, a red brick structure rising up from the row of shops and restaurants. It looked like one of the town’s oldest buildings, in the Georgian style with tall windows and white-painted arches. There was something sticking out near the top. A black shape against the pale clouds above.
Jessie hit the brakes late, screeching to a stop alongside the squad car and feeling a smug sense of satisfaction as Deputy West gave a slight start.
He needs to watch more cop shows.
A crowd of onlookers had gathered, pointing up and shielding their eyes. Fire department volunteers formed a chain in front of the library doors, pushing the residents back. Creating space for the body to land, Jessie realised.
Tom waved to her and West, shouting at the others to help disperse the crowd. The three of them ran inside. It was empty, rows of shelves filled with books and magazines. Not a soul in sight.
Taking the stairs two at a time, they climbed to the fourth floor. It was much like the other floors, but the ceiling sloped inwards on two sides under the gable roof. Jessie saw a woman standing by an open window, speaking out into the wind. She was attractive, Jessie thought with more than a touch of jealousy. Young, a few years out of college, with chestnut hair and a not-quite-slim physique.
‘Is he outside?’ Tom asked, pulling his weapon and striding towards the window.
‘Oh yeah, sheriff. He’s out there, but he’s not talking much,’ the girl replied, her voice shrill with excitement.
Deputy West took her by the arm and pulled her towards the stairs. ‘Get away from there, Emma.’
He sounded angry at the girl and Jessie realised he was more than just worried about a civilian being hurt. But Emma didn’t seem afraid. Slapping the deputy’s hand away, she spoke to the sheriff again.
‘He just ran in here while I was stacking shelves and made a beeline for the window. I never had a chance to ask him why or try to talk him out of it. That’s what I’ve been doing, but he doesn’t say a word back.’
Jessie eased her revolver out of its holster and walked past the two young lovers, not sparing them a second glance. Her eyes were on the open window and Tom’s face. He hadn’t spoken yet. Not a word uttered to the man outside.
It’s not Melcom. He’s dead. It can’t be him.
The pistol seemed to grow heavier as she raised it, one finger quivering over the trigger. She was at the window. There were deep lines scoring Tom’s brow. Confusion, perhaps? Jessie had never been good at reading faces.
Leaning out, she pointed the short barrel at the dark shape standing on the ledge. No, it wasn’t standing on anything. It was clinging to the rough brickwork like its fingers were made of glue. Perched there like a lizard basking on the side of a rock, head tilted upwards and half its face visible.
His face… It’s him.
A voice in the back of her mind shouted ‘Shoot!’ but her finger remained a hair’s breadth from the trigger, shaking as she fought the urge to blow a hole in the man’s temple. There was something wrong with how he stared up at the sky. Not moving. Not even seeming to draw breath. Utterly still. Frozen against the wall of the library.
The hammer of Tom’s revolver snapped back as he raised it over her shoulder. His breaths were fast and heavy in her ear. Smelling of stale coffee and salt beef.
‘Watch him. He’s moving,’ he said. It wasn’t fear in his voice, but something deeper. Was it the same gut-wrenching sense of wrongness Jessie felt?
‘Is it him, sheriff?’ Deputy West asked from inside.
Sniffing the air. Why? Melcom’s nostrils twitched, the only movement Jessie had seen so far. His face turned a fraction, shifting his gaze towards her. Yellowed eyes creeping in their sockets. Dust-grey skin. Lumps like boils under his cheeks and brow.
Her hand steadied around the grip of her pistol, ready for him to make a move.
Do it, Melcom. Lift one finger and I’ll blow your God-damned head off.
His head twisted round again on his swollen neck, every movement painfully slow. Eyes fixed on her now. Seeming to bulge out of their sockets in sick fascination. Jessie’s skin crawled.
Then her heart stopped. Time slowed and ground to a halt. The excited shouts below faded into a whispering hum. She was looking Melcom straight in the eyes, both eyes. His bloated cheeks. Blackened gums. Thin, mangy hair.
Flaps of skin and shredded muscle hanging out from the crater in the far side of his face. White bone showing through it. Ear hanging by a thread. No blood, no pulse, no drawing breath. Something like the flight of an arrow jutting out from the top of his skull. Soft, covered in tiny hairs which rippled in the wind.
He’s dead. He’s a corpse. He’s looking at me.
Jessie felt the nausea well up in her stomach. A thick choking sensation rose through her gullet and into the back of her throat. Something moved under Melcom’s shirt.
Tom’s hard grasp hauled her back inside as she vomited down her front. He slammed the window closed, letting off a shot through the narrowing gap. It was an instinct. Somehow, his body knew what his mind could never have guessed.
The bullet flew wide, never touching Melcom’s corpse. But, for a second, Jessie thought it had. His back burst open, bulging skin ripping open along the seam of his spine. Blood spouting out in thick gouts and then a fine cloud of red mist.
It’s not blood.
Ragged lumps of rotten flesh showered down onto the crowd below, landing in the street with sickening splats or pelting their upturned faces. What followed was closer to dust than blood. Clouds of red spores swirled and danced in the wind, battering against the window and descending like a flurry of red snow on the high street.
Jessie, Tom, Deputy West and Emma watched in horrified silence as Melcom’s decayed corpse dropped from its perch. Heard the foul crunch as it met the hard stone of the sidewalk, collapsing in a mound of bone and loose skin.
Screams below, shouts of confusion. A shot rang out and then another. Jessie looked down at her hand. Smoke trailing from the end of her .38. She stared at the glass clattering down from the shattered window. Red spores billowing through it.
‘Run!’ Tom shouted.
I promised you more weirdness. Did I deliver?