Island of Fog and Death
A Sci-Fi / Horror Thriller
Meet Peri Carlton as she investigates strange events on the Island of Fog and Death.
A monster stalks 1st Century Britain.
Confined by the Roman Army – and then forgotten.
Awakened in the 21st Century – desperate to escape and feed.
A celebrity archaeologist is following clues to a Roman mystery that lead him to a tiny Welsh island. When a UN official’s body is fished from the sea, Peri Carlton is sent to find out what happened by a boss that suspects Peri is somehow not quite human. Just who and what is Peri Carlton?
Peri finds the mysterious foggy island strangely quiet – what happened to everyone? There is more than one monster hunting on the Island of Fog and Death.
Read on for an excerpt from ‘Island of Fog and Death’
Copyright (c) 2018 David Wallace
Britannia: Land of the Deceangli tribe, Pridie Ides Martius in the year 823 ad urbe condita
The ancient forest was uneasy. The birds, the rodents, the insects, all of them sensed that something unnatural was happening. The light was odd. The smell of the air was weird. The forest seemed to crackle with sinister energy. The focus of the phenomenon was a small clearing where an ash tree had toppled to tear a gash in the leafy canopy, and where lush ferns were taking advantage of dappled sunlight reaching the forest floor. Tiny spheres of energy hovered, sparked, repelled and attracted each other in a random dance.
Some hours passed.
The randomness of the dance steadily diminished. Tiny energy packets, attracting each other, were forming larger parcels, and these in turn were overcoming repulsive forces to grow, dance more slowly, and merge into something greater. The pungent smell of ozone filled the clearing, and reactions with nitrogen and carbon compounds caused flickering chemiluminescence and consumed nitrogen and oxygen gases out of the atmosphere, disturbing the balance and blackening leaves.
A low rumble became audible to those forest creatures that had not fled. The ground trembled and soil loosened. There was a sudden sharp rise in pitch, culminating in an unnatural scream, and the luminescent blobs of energy abruptly coalesced into a huge glowing sphere, which blew outwards with a loud crack. The soil had all but liquefied around the roots of younger trees, and the force of the explosion sent them tumbling away.
Silence and darkness fell.
A single beech tree still stood, surrounded by a clearing that was now considerably larger. A squirrel clung, trembling, to a limb of that tree, looking down at the forest floor. Although the mysterious energy had vanished, something had been left behind. Something the squirrel sensed was unnatural, and which left it shaking in fright. Surrounding trees were too far to leap. The squirrel’s beech had long been stripped of food sources. Its claws gripped the bark of a tree branch and the squirrel quivered with the effort of trying to remain as still as possible, hoping not to be noticed.
It took nearly three days for the squirrel’s hunger to drive fear of the unknown from its brain, and it cautiously descended the trunk. It held a vague memory of something dangerous down here, a memory that had been driven back by its need to eat. Close to the ground, it looked round warily for signs of danger, darting a little way up and then back down the tree, tilting its head to and fro. Seeing nothing alarming, the squirrel darted across the leaf mould towards a tree at the edge of the clearing.
As it reached the bottom of the trunk, something long and black suddenly lashed out with such force that the squirrel burst apart in a splash of gore,
Tendrils wrapped themselves around pieces of squirrel, and drew
them slowly into a patch of ferns and sharp, sharp teeth.
North-west of Canovium, Nones Iulius in the year 825 ad urbe condita
A group of men made their way carefully and slowly across the foggy floor of the ancient forest of the Deceangli. They were taking exaggerated steps, lifting their feet well off the ground, and placing them down with great care to avoid cracking twigs and rustling leaves. In this they were very successful, because the forest was totally silent. The men were clearly warriors, all carrying swords and axes, and some carrying bows. They were dressed in a variety of garments, of wool or leather, but all of a dull brown that it made it difficult to pick them out against the backdrop of the forest. They were fanned out in a dozen pairs, forming a wide arc roughly a Roman mile across. And they were hunting something.
A low whistle cut through the silence, and the whole troop stopped and waited. Their chief whistled again, a warble at a higher pitch, and his men made their way back towards him.
“Your whistling through that bush on your face is going to draw something to us, Chief,” someone grumbled.
“Quit your whining, Bix, it’s more likely that shiny head of yours will gleam in the sunlight and give away our position,” the chief responded. There were quiet chuckles all round. It was not just that Bix and Barba were constantly poking fun at each other’s hair. Or lack of it, in Bix’s case. It was also that – despite this being the height of summer – the ancient forest was cold, gloomy and foggy. Sunlight? What sunlight?
Barba had gathered the men into a broad clearing where the fallen trunks of ash and alder trees lay scattered near a solitary birch. He stood quietly for a few moments, studying a blackened patch in the centre of the clearing, wondering at the cause. He stirred it with a toe. It was not fire.
“I hate this place,” Bix grumbled. “Ain’t natural. It shouldn’t be this cold, and that fog just don’t smell right. And where are the animals and birds? Haven’t seen one since we left the Auxiliaries’ fortlet!”
“That baby-faced Batavian decurion was wise to ask for help,” said Barba. “We’ve seen no sign of missing peasants, no birds, no animals, no nothing. Shit, Bix, I can’t even see or hear any insects. I tell you, I’m inclined to follow the Batavians’ lead, and also ask for help.” He sighed. “We can tell ourselves we’re doing the hunting in this forest, but let’s face it, the opposite is the case. The place has been stripped bare of every living thing except trees. We’re the only prey left.”
“I wasn’t going to mention feeling we’re being watched. You feel it too?”
Without lifting his eyes from the blackened ground, Barba observed, “Cei and Naldo aren’t back.”
“Here they are now,” Bix said, inclining his head towards the far side of the clearing.
“That’s Cei,” replied Barba. “Incapable of moving quietly.” He looked up, and softly asked, “So, Cei, where’s Naldo?”
Cei looked back, confused, and said, “Right behind – shit! Where is he?” He cupped his hands round his mouth and called out, “Naldo! Come on, you slug! Where are you?”
The men winced at the noise, and Podri hissed, “Quiet, fool.”
“No need for stealth now,” said Barba. “I’d say that thing knows exactly where we are, and has done since we left the Batavians behind.” He rose to his feet. “Right. Enough is enough. We’re low on food and there’s bugger all to hunt, so it’s time to go.”
“But Naldo -?” Cei started.
“We’ll see if we can pick up some trace.” Barba pointed to one of his men. “Cato, you and Garros double-time it to the rear and help Bod and Scarface break camp. Trust me, I don’t intend to be far behind you. The rest of you – skirmish order, ten pace spacing, sharp things out and we’ll backtrack Cei.”
Barba drew a Roman spatha with his right hand, while a double-headed axe filled his left. His men produced a variety of swords, some simple spathae and some Celtic long-swords with animal shaped bone handles. They spread into line and started forward.
As they left the clearing, the combination of fog and trees reduced visibility. Barba called out, “Close up! Keep your neighbours in view!”
“But don’t get so close you stick each other,” Bix added, which drew nervous laughter from the troops.
After a few dozen paces, it was Bix the Bald who again spoke up. “Chief! Over here! Blood!”
“Give me a perimeter,” said Barba, moving over to join Bix as the rest of the troops formed into a circle with weapons facing out. “Artio! Watch your front, man! Never mind what I’m doing, just watch your front!”
Barba dropped to one knee by a dark stain on the earth, brushing his waist-length beard to one side, and growled, “It’s blood, all right, and an unhealthy lot of it. But no body.” He stood and looked all round. “Everyone, look for tracks leading away, and call out if you see any. Naldo isn’t small, so it can’t possibly carry him off without a trace.”
Nobody called out.
“Shit! Where did it go?” Cei said.
Barba leaned against the trunk of a tree, bowing his head, and muttering a few words commending Naldo to the intercession of his gods. Something hit the sleeve of his jerkin. He looked at it and frowned. “Blood,” he murmured. He looked up into the tree, and saw it: dark, wet stains on the branches.
“It went up!” he shouted. He realised then that leaves high in the trees just a few dozen paces off to the north were whispering, yet there was no wind. “It’s in the trees! Going north!”
The half dozen men with bows were already notching arrows to strings. The whole troop turned north and started running, looking up into the leafy canopy above, whooping and shouting to each other. Barba let them run for a minute, then let loose a piercing whistle.
“Let it go, lads. It’s faster and it knows where it’s going. If we go on, it’ll pick us off one by one. Back to camp! Let’s get out of here.” His men drifted back to him. “March order, keep closed up, watch each other’s backs.”
Bix fell into step beside him. “This is bad, boss. The lads want to catch it. This thing needs to be ended, and the boys are gutted that we’re turning tail.”
“I know, old friend. But we need help to do it. A couple of regiments, I’d say. We need to seal off its escape routes, and pin it back. We won’t do it with a double handful of scouts, no matter how good we are at what we do.”
“We set out with thirty-two men, Bix. The best in the whole damned province. Maybe the whole empire. There are twenty-three of us today. It took out nine of my men, and we haven’t so much as set eyes on the fucker. We haven’t come close. We don’t even know what it is!”
“Fucking flying invisible man-eating squirrel?”
Barba snorted. “That’s good. We’ll be back to gut this magical squirrel. Make sure the lads all know. We’ll be back, with more men, and better intelligence.” He scratched his beard pensively. “I’ll tell you what else, Bix. When we get back to the Batavians, we’re going to find us a wise man.”
Bix stopped dead, a look of shock on his face. “A wise man? Do you mean what I think you mean?”
“Probably. Depends what you think I mean.”
“You know what the Romans think of fucking Druids, you stupid hairy bastard! Do you want to get us all fucking crucified?”
Barba chuckled. “Well, my bald little friend, we’d better make sure the Romans don’t find out, hadn’t we?”
The column of warriors vanished in a swirl of fog, under the
watchful eyes of something in the trees behind them.
Lutzen, Saxony: 6 November 1632 by the Gregorian calendar
The big man lying on the ground suddenly blinked awake. He instantly knew something was wrong, because the noise of battle had faded into silence and the sharp sulphurous smell of burnt powder had disappeared. Strange.
He sat up, and was surprised to find that his wounds no longer ached. He looked around himself, confused, but could see nothing but the white smoke of gunnery and the fog. The damned fog, that had delayed the army of the Protestant Union and gave the Imperials and the Catholic League time to entrench along the Leipzig road.
He poked a finger into a hole in the left sleeve of his moose hide coat. It sank in and he felt warm, wet blood and broken bones, but no pain. When he pulled the finger back out, it was clean and dry. Strange, again. He wondered if he was dead.
“Leather has its deficiencies when employed as armour,” said a soft voice.
Startled, he looked up and saw a tall, thin, grey-haired man with a surprisingly large dog.
“A Polish trooper put a ball in my shoulder, so I can’t wear plate -” He stopped abruptly. “That is not important. Tell me, am I dead? What is this place?”
The older man smiled. “The answers are, ‘Not yet,’ and, ‘We stand – well, to be accurate, I stand and you lie – on the battlefield of Lutzen.'”
“Then where has the battle gone?”
“It remains all around us.”
“Cease your riddles, man, and tell me plainly, what has happened!”
The older man looked thoughtful, as if trying to find a good way to explain. “Think of it like this… Time is a river, ever flowing by, and you and I have stepped away to stand on the bank for a few moments.”
“Or perhaps… Yes, this will work: consider that we occupy the space between the tick and the tock of the universe’s clock.”
“Are you saying that you have stopped time? That cannot be possible! If that were possible, we would all be doing it!”
“No, I am saying that we are taking a brief sojourn outside of time as -” He waved a hand. “As everyone else is experiencing it.”
“You make my brain hurt!”
“On the contrary, my lord, while you tarry with me outside time, you feel no pain. Your brain does not hurt in the slightest. Neither does your arm, your chest, or your back, which have all suffered grievous wounds.” He shook his head, as if amazed. “Leading a cavalry charge yourself, if I may say so, is a little self-indulgent when your army needs leadership more than it needs heroics.”
The wounded man rose to his feet and looked all round. “My right wing was in peril of collapse. My judgement was that this was a moment for heroics! If the men see their king slinking away, their hope would slink away with him!” He peered into the fog. “How do they fare? Are we destined to be defeated? Or the reverse?”
“You were wise to make Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar your second. He will conceal your death from the bulk of the army, lest they lose heart and, as you put it a moment ago, slink away. Bernhard will stand firm. It will be a very sanguinary affair, but he will overrun the Imperial artillery at dusk, and then it will be Wallenstein who slinks away, to Leipzig.”
“Excellent! But wait … I am doomed to die, then? So, what are we doing here? Is this God’s antechamber?”
“We are all doomed to die, my lord, sooner or later. We are here because I am minded to offer you a new position.”
The wounded man drew himself to his full height, and with all the dignity at his command, he said, “I do not want for position, sir. I already have all the position any God-fearing man could want.”
“For the next second or two,” the old man replied. “A god-fearing Catholic dragoon stands poised in the act of blowing your brains out. This is the day and the hour of your death.”
The wounded man sat down heavily. “So, I am reduced to choosing your position, am I, or dying on this battlefield?”
“Yes,” was the blunt reply. “In two hours’ time, your men will find your dead body, stripped of your fine moose hide jacket and leggings by the enemy. The only question remaining is, will it be your body, or will it merely be identified as your body?”
“Who are you? Who are you to be able to be able to offer me life or death? Are you some emissary of the Almighty?”
The dog and the old man exchanged a look that the wounded man could not interpret.
“A magician, then.”
The old man smiled. “The cataphracts of my youth would be amazed by your artillery. They would, I am sure, immediately think of magic as the obvious explanation for your ability to hurl cast iron balls such an unnatural distance.”
The wounded man snorted in derision. “Magic has nothing to do with it! The sciences of alchemy and natural philosophy have been mastered and only the ignorant would think of magic.”
“Ah, thank you, you have made my point in a most telling manner.”
“I see what you are hinting at,” the wounded man said with a sigh. “Your mastery of natural philosophy is so far beyond mine that your actions are, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable from magic. Who are you, man?”
“In my youth,” the old man said gravely, “I was named Flavius Belisarius.”
“Belisarius? The Byzantine general? Impossible! That would make you -”
“More than one thousand years old? Yes, indeed it would. So, you will have no difficulty understanding how tired I am. It is long past time for me to retire, and finally to die.”
The wounded man shook his head, but looking at the fog surrounding them, he realised that he believed this strange man. “What position is it that you offer me?” he asked.
Belisarius grinned. “I need someone to look after my dog.” He patted its head affectionately. “Hey, boy, meet your new guardian. This is Gustav. Gustav, meet Tash.”
Gustav thought nothing else could surprise him, but the dog
looked him in the eye, and inside his head he distinctly heard, “Hey,
Gustav. Got anything to eat?”
Corner of Hongfeng Road and Jinxiu East Road, Shanghai, China, eight years ago.
It was hot and sticky, humid and oppressive. The air was dusty and heavy with fumes from the incessant Shanghai traffic. A westerner was walking along the pavement, ignored by Shanghai’s cosmopolitan residents, but gawped at with either curiosity or hostility by visitors from the countryside. She had olive skin and jet black, frizzy hair that the humidity had rendered untameable. Her skinny frame was clad in black, baggy clothes, and she was wishing she had had the sense to wear a colour that did not absorb the light and heat quite so well. She was walking, and wishing also that she had had the sense to catch a bus. It might have been hot and armpit-fragrant, but at least she would not have been walking. She was making for the China Europe International Business School, and wondering to herself – again – why on earth she had chosen to walk the long way round from her apartment. She halted to wait for the traffic lights to change so that she could head up Hongfeng Road towards her first lecture of the day.
The lights seemed to be taking an age to turn in her favour. The pavement adjacent to the junction was becoming increasingly crowded, and motorists waiting for a green light were becoming increasingly impatient. She knew from experience that the interval granted by the idiosyncratic traffic lights for pedestrians to cross was all too short, so she wormed her way through towards the front of the crowd. She kept her head down, watching where she was putting her feet – she had concluded that Shanghai was a city of spitters – and she had headphones in her ears and a CD in her Sony Discman. So, she neither saw nor heard anything amiss. But, somehow, she felt it.
The crowd started to surge forward. The lights had not quite changed in their favour, but seasoned pedestrians knew that the ones to watch were those controlling the motor vehicles, not the flow of pedestrians. So, the surge was not quite synchronised with the lights. A taxi driver, impatient to get round the junction, raced for the corner in defiance of the changing traffic lights, and instantly had to slam on his brakes and slap his car’s horn because of the pedestrians in the roadway.
The girl in black, somehow, knew something bad was happening. She felt a lurch in the pit of her stomach and a flash of light behind her eyes, illuminating an image of a taxi hitting a small boy with a splash of blood. She blinked and the image was gone, but somehow…
She stepped quickly forward, and there, ahead of her, was a laughing boy running onto the road. And there off to the side, a taxi driver’s face twisted in anguish as his car skidded, wheels locked, straight at the boy. She acted reflexively, not consciously. She grabbed the boy round the waist and pulled him off to the side, away from the taxi, and to safety. She felt the thud of the taxi hitting her in the side. Somehow, she rolled across its hood and found herself face down on the tarmac of the road. Her headphones came off and for the first time her ears registered shouts and screams, the squeal of tyres and brakes, and the crunch of cars hitting cars.
Dazed, she rolled over and looked around in confusion, not quite sure of what had just happened. Then the image of the laughing boy surfaced once more and she looked for him. She found she could not stand and crawled to the front of the taxi. Suddenly, people were clustered around her, asking was she hurt, did she need help. A man in an expensive looking suit asked, in perfect English, “Please remain still, miss, and tell me where does it hurt?”
She blinked, found it hard to get her answer together in English, and replied in standard Mandarin. “I believe I am unhurt.”
The man switched to Mandarin too. “That may be shock. I am a doctor, and if you have no objections I can check you quickly for broken bones.”
She nodded. As the doctor ran his hands down her limbs and gently palpitated her rib cage, she asked, “The boy?”
Another voice cut in. “Come, come, please step away, all of you, please step away. Let the medical technicians through. Are you a doctor, sir?”
The doctor answered, “Yes, I am. This young lady does not appear to have any serious injuries, but I recommend the ambulance gets her to the emergency room for x-rays and tests. There may be minor fractures and possibly a concussion.”
A man in the blue uniform of Public Security Bureau loomed over her. He glanced at the doctor, and asked if she spoke Chinese. He looked down at her, and said, “Miss, can you please tell me what happened here?”
With the doctor’s help, she managed to sit up. “The car – I think the driver drove through the traffic light as it turned red. It was going very fast and I saw the boy running ahead of everyone else on the crossing. I just reacted. I ran forward and pulled him out of the way.”
“Yes,” said the policeman. “That is what other people are saying, too. You moved very fast! You had the boy out of the car’s way before half these people realised what was happening. I think the boy owes you his life.”
The policeman gestured to one side, where she saw the boy in a bear-hug in the arms of a hysterical elderly woman – his grandmother, she guessed – who was alternately weeping and scolding over him. The elderly woman caught her eye, and pointed, babbling away in words that the young woman could not understand.
“What is she saying?” she asked the doctor. “I don’t understand her dialect.”
“She is from the countryside. I doubt if she speaks Mandarin. That is probably Huizhou dialect that she is speaking. Her accent is strange, and I am only getting a few words. She is rambling about a mother goddess.”
The old woman was jabbing a finger repeatedly in the direction of the young one, and addressing herself to the doctor.
“She is saying something about her prayers to Guanyin having brought you here. That is a goddess of mercy, in the old Taoist beliefs. And she keeps mentioning Peiyang Niangniang, who is a mother goddess according to superstitious country dwellers.” The doctor grinned. “So, it seems that you are a goddess!”
The policeman intervened. “Goddess or not, we will need a statement for our investigation. When the hospital releases you, please come to Zhangqiang Police Station in Longdong Avenue to sign a statement. Can I have your name?”
“Let me write it for you,” she said.
He handed over his notebook, and she wrote: ‘Peri Carlton’.
Captain Li Lixia glanced out of the window of her office, and the dark sky and street lamps told her it was later than she had realised. She stood up and stretched, and walked around her tiny room. Almost time to head for home. Just one last thing to do: the evening mail bag would have arrived a couple of hours ago, so she walked to the mail point in the corridor outside to see if anything had come in for her.
There was her weekly beige envelope from the Public Security Bureau. Captain Li’s duties included liaising with the Shanghai civil authorities to ensure the security of her building and the staff working there. The building was one of several in the Pudong New Area and greater Shanghai used by the People’s Liberation Army. This one housed a secretive unit administered by the Third Department of the PLA Joint Staff Department. The sensitive nature of the work carried out here was of interest to foreign intelligence agencies, so naturally the presence of foreigners in the vicinity was of interest to Captain Li.
She opened the envelope and quickly scanned its contents. There were lists from the PSB’s Entry-Exit Department, of newly registered foreigners, departing ones, and re-registering ones. She put it aside for the morning. Then there were summaries of incidents – crimes, accidents or other occurrences that had come to the attention of the PSB. There were few of them this week. Some lost – probably stolen – passports; the usual pickpocket reports; a couple of hotel rooms ransacked; and a British student who had saved the life of a boy crossing a busy road.
“Well, good for you, Miss -” she said aloud. She read the name again and frowned in concentration as she worked on the pronunciation. The letters ‘R’ and ‘L’ were especially hard to render flawlessly. “Miss Peri Carlton.”
The summary was sloppy, and she shook her head in disgust. First the British woman was a ‘student’, but two sentences later she was an employee of the British Government. Li sat at her computer and tapped a few keys to get into the PSB database, logged in, and started browsing the reports.
Miss Carlton, it seemed, really was a student, attending the China Europe International Business School, but the courses she was enrolled in were being paid for by the British Department of Trade and Industry. She was a government employee, too. Li pondered that, and decided it was plausible.
Miss Carlton was a fluent Mandarin speaker, and had opted to take courses exclusively in Mandarin although there were English language options available.
“Why are you making life difficult for yourself, Miss Carlton?” she said aloud. But she guessed the answer. Miss Carlton wanted an immersive experience because her first objective was the language skill, not the business skill. “Are you -” she started, then switched to English. “Are you a spook Miss Carlton? I bet you are a spook.” She made a note to open a file on the girl.
She read some of the witness statements, enough to know that nobody had seen anything of the little boy’s rescue. Curious. She came to the grandmother’s superstitious ramblings about goddesses. Bizarre. There was a witness statement from the traffic division supervisor, describing what had been caught on the CCTV camera monitoring the road junction. Basically, it said little more than, there was a car, it blew through a red light, and we should prosecute the driver.
Her curiosity aroused, she started poking around the PSB’s traffic video archives. It was an unfamiliar system, but she managed to find what she was looking for, and played back the few minutes of video, before and after the incident, that the traffic division had archived as evidence for the prosecution of the taxi driver. She frowned, and played it back four more times before figuring out how to move through frame by frame.
She sat back in her chair, unwilling to believe what she had seen. There was a frame showing the boy running out ahead of his grandmother, and Miss Carlton back on the pavement, standing still. In the next frame, the British girl had an arm wrapped around the boy and was starting to pull him away. She had moved a good four, maybe five, metres between frames. She knew it was common for video to be recorded at 24 or 30 frames per second, meaning that the girl had covered the distance at well over one hundred metres per second.
Li turned back to the grandmother’s statement, and this time, she paid closer attention. Setting aside the nonsense about praying to Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, and Peiyang Niangniang, the protector of children, it seemed that the woman knew it had been divine intervention because, she said, the girl had a blue aura, which only supernatural beings ever had.
Li shook her head, impatient with herself. Superstitious nonsense!
And yet … more than one hundred metres per second from a standing start? Ten times faster than the best Olympic athletes? She opened a file on Miss Peri Carlton.
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