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John Sinclair - Episode 1

Contents

  1. Cover
  2. John Sinclair - A Horror Series
  3. About the Book
  4. About the Author
  5. Title
  6. Copyright
  7. Curse of the Undead
  8. Preview
  9. Looking for more suspense?

John Sinclair — A Horror Series

“John Sinclair” is a reboot of Europe’s longest running horror series. Originally conceived in 1973 and still running strong, the “John Sinclair” novellas are firmly rooted in the finest pulp traditions, true page turners with spine-tingling suspense, exquisite gore and a dash of adventure. “John Sinclair” combines the dark visions of Stephen King, Clive Barker and the “X-Files” with the fast-paced action and globe-trotting excitement of James Bond.

About the Book

There are so many ways a person can die. Sooner or later, everyone’s number is up, and no one comes back … or do they?

On a cold November night, a grieving father picks up his hunting rifle and shoots his only daughter in the head. The police are mystified. Why was the girl even at the house? Why wasn’t she at the mortuary … awaiting her burial? After all, Mary Winston had been declared dead two days before. The incident is only the first in a series of mysterious attacks in the small Scottish town of Middlesbury. Dead bodies go missing. A cemetery caretaker is devoured alive. An ancient curse is about to be unleashed …

Detective Chief Inspector John Sinclair works for Scotland Yard’s Special Division, an elite unit that deals with extraordinary cases. DCI Sinclair is a battle-hardened veteran of Afghanistan, a man haunted by the past. But nothing could have prepared him for the horrors he’s about to face. He goes to Scotland to investigate the gruesome murders but what he finds is a town in the grip of fear. The people of Middlesbury are harboring a secret. A secret that is about to explode …

About the Author

Gabriel Conroy was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1967. After high school, he joined the armed forces and was stationed in Germany for several years. He discovered his love for writing while traveling through Europe. When he returned to the States, he studied Journalism at Los Angeles City College and UCLA, and currently works as a freelance journalist, writer and translator. Mr. Conroy is married and has a dog and a cat.

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Gabriel Conroy

CURSE OF
THE UNDEAD

John Sinclair: Episode 1

All I remember is the running. The fear and the running. I’m no longer sure if it was a dream. But I don’t think it was.

I remember the woods at night, their deep shadows. The voices.

My heart was pounding in my chest. My legs hurt. It felt as if my body was on fire.

I was running.

I was too scared to stop.

If I stopped, he would catch me …

I looked over my shoulder, but in the darkness, I saw nothing but my own fear.

Then I heard the branches rustle.

He was coming …

The dreams started after my father died. I wanted him to die, mind you. He was a hard man, and I hated him, or so I believed at the time. He was a war veteran. He believed in discipline. He believed in the belt. That’s what I remember of him: His voice, the scent of tobacco and whiskey … and the belt. The creaking of the leather in the moments before. I wanted him to die. God, I wanted it.

For a brief moment, I stopped running. My heartbeat had become a steady thumping in my head. My chest was about to explode.

I stopped for only a moment, but in that moment, I saw him …

I remember that I screamed. Sometimes, at night, I still do. I scream.

I saw him and I started running again.

The tree branches hit my face as I ran. I could taste blood on my lips.

“Damn you, Johnny!”

My father’s voice.

“Come here and take it like a man!”

I kept on running.

Then I fell, hard. I could hear something breaking, and I hoped it wasn’t any part of me. Must have been a tree branch. Nothing else. I got up again. My ankle hurt. But I had to keep on running.

“Come here, Johnny, my boy!”

I ran and I ran until I finally collapsed.

I found myself in a clearing in the woods.

And that’s where I first saw him.

The Gaunt Man.

He stood by the trees, their shadows nearly hiding him. The only thing that set him apart was the white glimmer of his teeth as he grinned at me.

“Johnny, my boy,” he said. His voice was raspy and as old as the earth. Older even.

My heart was still pounding. I was gasping for air. My legs were weak. My body was sweating, and despite all that, I suddenly felt a cold chill surround me.

“Who are you?” I asked. I was ten at the time. So young. But still old enough to know.

“You know who I am,” said the Gaunt Man. “I’ve been waiting for you, Johnny, my boy. We’ve all been waiting.”

He wore a black suit and a bowler hat. His skin was white, like something long-dead. He moved like a snake. When he breathed, the trees hissed and rustled.

“What are you running from?” said the Gaunt Man.

I stared at him. My throat was suddenly dry. My voice sounded hoarse and raspy.

“From you,” I said. “I’m running from you.”

He grinned, and his sharp teeth were like razors. He came toward me. I was frozen with fear, like a rabbit staring at a snake.

“Well,” he said, “it would appear I caught you, John Sinclair.”

And then I screamed.

I still do that, you know.

I scream at night.

***

Middlesbury, Scotland. 11:51 p.m.

Shortly before midnight, Kinny Mitchell woke up in a sweat, gasping for air. His fingers were shaking. Outside, the rain was beating against his window.

A nightmare, he thought. Just a nightmare. The room was dark. He had been dreaming of the girl. Yes, that must be it. The girl.

Something about her was different. Something bothered him. He kept thinking of her body, lying next door. He rubbed his eyes. He could hear thunder in the distance. He always hated thunder, even as a child — a silly thing to be afraid of.

He sank back down on his bed and exhaled, staring into the darkness and the rain outside.

She was just seventeen. Seventeen! Maybe that’s what it was. She was too young to die. Most of the people who came here were old and sick. Some had died in car crashes, others had fallen from ladders. There are so many ways a person can die. Sooner or later, everyone’s number is up, and no one comes back.

But Mary? What had she done to deserve this? Nothing. She had always been nice to him. She always waved to him when she passed him on the road. Not everyone was that nice.

Most of the people in the village ignored him. He knew that he made people uneasy. Of course he knew, how could he not? The way they looked at him. And why shouldn’t they? He was not a handsome man. Far from it. He was ugly. And he was lonely. He liked to drink. What else was there to do?

In the evenings, he often sat alone in his room, next to the chapel, and watched old black-and-white movies on the television. He liked to pretend he was Cary Grant. Tall and good-looking. But whenever he looked in the mirror, it was a misshapen face that looked back at him. He was no Cary Grant. And there was no Grace Kelly in his life. There was no one. He was a nobody. A gravedigger. Just him and the bodies, one after another. All those who looked at him strangely, sooner or later he would be digging their graves, too. Not that he enjoyed it. It was his job, nothing more, nothing less. He was good at it. It was lonely work, and it took a lot of muscle. And nerve. You couldn’t allow yourself to be torn apart by what you saw here. Not for the faint of heart, this job.

Kinny Mitchell had been working at St. Paul’s Cemetery for over forty years. For the most part, he found that the work came easy to him, and had always enjoyed the quiet serenity of his surroundings, until tonight. Tonight he was unnerved. Something was different tonight. Mary Winston was lying in that cold mortuary, awaiting her burial.

Mary was taken from this life quite unexpectedly. Congenital heart failure. It happened so suddenly, on November 16, a sunny afternoon that offered a brief respite from an otherwise relentlessly harsh and rainy winter.

Mary’s body was found by the side of Old Marton Road. It looked as if she was sleeping, as if she had collapsed from exhaustion after a long run and decided, suddenly, to lie down on the ground. In her brief life, Mary had been a passionate long-distance runner; she had no doubt meant to use the few hours of sunlight to continue her training. No one knew of her heart condition. Her parents, Caroline and Ronald Winston, had been stunned to learn that Mary, from birth on, had carried a time bomb in her heart, an inherited genetic defect that was most likely triggered by exhaustion. The bomb had suddenly gone off, tearing Mary from this world and forever destroying any hope of happiness for her grieving parents.

And so she was brought here, and she would go into the ground like all the others before. Tomorrow, Father Darrow would say a few empty words, and they would lower her into the earth, and the earth would have her, and that would be the end of Mary Winston. No one comes back from the grave.

Kinny was breathing normally now. His fear subsided.

What am I afraid of? he wondered. The dead are dead and gone, and there is no one else here. There’s nothing to be afraid of … nothing.

And then he heard it.

A scraping sound.

Like metal on metal. It was faint, barely noticeable with all the rain. But he had heard it.

Or had he?

His eyes opened wide and he sat up in his bed again. He pressed his face against the window and looked out over the cemetery. It was too dark out there. He couldn’t make anything out. Just the pouring rain.

Maybe it was an animal? he thought. Or maybe the whiskey …

Or maybe not.

Lightning tore across the sky, and for a brief moment, Kinny Mitchell saw the cemetery gate.

It was open.

Suddenly, his heart was racing.

***

Dr. Ivan Orgoff walked carefully down a narrow muddy path toward the old cemetery chapel, his deep-set eyes fixated on the steps ahead. He hated this weather. His bony fingers were clutching a flashlight. He was accompanied by two strange and pale companions. They had been human once, but nothing was left of their humanity. They had no will, no voice, no thoughts.

In his right hand, Orgoff held a bullwhip. It was, he found, an effective way of motivating his companions. They couldn’t feel much anymore, the poor fools, but a few cracks of the whip … well, anyone can feel that. Dead or alive.

They trudged along behind him like broken toys, their feet trudging through the mud. Then, at last, they reached the mortuary door, an old oaken monstrosity, twisted by age and the elements.

Orgoff turned to the two men behind him.

“Go on,” he hissed. “Open it.”

One of them, the taller one, stepped forward and pressed his white, scarred arms against the door. Orgoff sighed. They weren’t the brightest, were they?

He cracked the whip. The tall man flinched and emitted a small moan.

“The crowbar, you idiot,” said Orgoff. “Use the crowbar.”

The other man, a short, overweight fellow, trudged up to them and pressed a crowbar in the crack between door and frame.

“Go on, boys,” Orgoff said, his patience straining. “We haven’t got all night.”

The men made no sound as they worked. And then, with a triumphant crack, the door was ajar. Orgoff stepped up to it and pushed it open.

He quickly stepped inside, relieved to be out of the rain. He ran his hand through his wet hair. Next time I should bring an umbrella, he thought.

He cleared his throat and looked around. The stone chamber smelled of death and rot. An eerie light shone on the cold marble floor, casting a glow over Orgoff’s haggard face. In the middle of the chamber, on an elevated stone platform, lay a wooden coffin.

“Well, gentlemen,” Orgoff whispered. “Showtime.”

With deliberate steps, he approached the coffin. He waved at his two companions.

“Let’s go, boys. Time waits for no man.”

The two creatures walked up next to him. The short one lifted the crowbar and started pressing. Then, moments later, with a loud clattering sound, the lid of the coffin burst open and slid to the ground.

Inside the coffin lay a dark-haired woman in a white silk shroud. Not a woman, strictly speaking. A girl. Seventeen years of age, torn from this world by a cruel fate. Tomorrow they were going to bury her forever. Orgoff was surprised. He didn’t expect her to be this pretty. Even in death. Some people, he thought, just have good genes. Or not. After all, she had died of a genetic deficiency. A shame, he thought. But perhaps he could rectify that.

Suddenly, he heard footsteps. Orgoff spun around. He heard a distant voice.

“Hello? Is anyone there?”

The next moment the mortuary fell silent again. All he heard was water dripping. And then the footsteps, picking up again. Orgoff’s mind was racing. He hadn’t considered the possibility of anyone actually being here at this hour.

A wooden door at the far end of the mortuary opened. A small man peeked through. He let out an audible gasp when he saw them. He was short and not exactly what you’d call handsome. He wore rough, dirty clothes, a raincoat and rubber boots. Very sensible, Orgoff thought. I should have thought of that.

“Who are you?” the man asked nervously. “What are you doing?”

Orgoff shook his head. He didn’t like this. He didn’t like this one bit. He had always hated violence. And he didn’t want the innocent to suffer. He never understood why people did such cruel things to one another.

“Now look what you’ve done,” he said. His voice sounded resigned. “You shouldn’t have come in here.”

The man just stared at him, wide-eyed. Orgoff sighed and turned to his two companions.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “He’s all yours.”

He cracked the whip. But the two creatures needed no encouragement. They could smell the meat. Slowly, they started shambling toward Kinny Mitchell. The man’s heart was beating faster and faster, and they could feel it, they could feel his heartbeat. They could smell his sweet, warm blood, calling them.

“No,” whispered Kinny. His mind couldn’t comprehend what was going on, but it wasn’t good. Not good at all …

The first man reached out for him. Kinny could smell the decay, a sick, sweet scent that made him gasp. He flinched and moved back. The other one was quickly upon him. They moved slowly, it should have been easy to outrun them, but Kinny didn’t understand, he couldn’t quite grasp the danger he was in.

Until it was too late. The second man grabbed hold of his arm and dug his decaying teeth deep into his flesh. Kinny's screams echoed unanswered through the dark mortuary chamber.

Orgoff flinched. He hated the sound of men screaming. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, he saw that his men were both on him, on that man, biting, feeding.

When Kinny was a child, he had been bitten by a dog once, a neighbor’s guard dog. It was a terrible sensation and one that he would never forget. That’s what he was reminded of now. That old dog. The teeth tearing at his skin. He tried to wrestle out of their grasp, but their cold, dead hands clamped tightly around him.

“Don’t!” he gasped. He still didn’t understand. How could he? There were things that men should mercifully never grasp. He saw their eyes, milky-white and broken, he smelled their terrible rotten stench, and then he was on his knees. One of them got ahold of his ear, and a sharp pain shot through his body, a pain like he had never known before. The other man bit into his shoulder and tore out a chunk of muscle. Kinny screamed and screamed until one of the creatures ripped the vocal chords out of his throat and all that came out of him now were pitiful, gurgling sounds. And blood, so much blood …

The last things he saw were Orgoff’s dark eyes. Kinny Mitchell stared at Orgoff with a look of astonishment. It was only a brief moment, but Orgoff would never forget that look, the surprise on the dying man’s face. He couldn’t bear it. He averted his gaze, as if he was embarrassed. He stared at the marble floor and tried to ignore the gurgling gasps that echoed through the mortuary. The patterns in the marble looked very nice.

“You should have stayed in bed,” Orgoff whispered and shook his head in dismay. “It’s your own fault, you know. You should have stayed in bed.”

***

Middlesbury. 04:17 a.m.

There was a scraping sound at the door.

“Did you hear that?”

“What?”

“That sound.”

Ronald Winston couldn’t sleep. He’s been lying awake in the darkness for several hours now, listening to the steady tick-tock of his old alarm clock, the one that Mary had given him for his forty-seventh birthday, because his old one was broken, and Mary was such a sweet girl, she had always been such a sweet girl.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock …

“That sound,” said his wife, Caroline.

Ronald raised himself up on his elbows. “What sound?”

“That scraping.”

He could feel his wife’s hand on his shoulder. She hadn’t slept either, he knew. How could she? How could either of them? Tomorrow, they were going to bury their only child. Caroline stared at the ceiling with a blank expression.

She felt a thick lump in her throat. But she couldn’t cry anymore. She had already shed too many tears in the last few days. They were all dried up now, all dried up.

She paused and listened.

“There it is again,” she said, and her voice was a hoarse whisper. Ronald could hear the tension in her throat.

And then he heard it, too.

A steady, subtle scraping, like fingernails on a chalkboard, but very, very quietly.

Suddenly, Ronald Winston felt cold. He clasped his wife’s hand and said: “Must be a dog.” The neighbors always let their dog run around off-leash. They’ve had many arguments about it. The dog. It must be the dog.

Mary didn’t respond. Her breathing was tense. Ronald swung his legs out of bed and felt for his slippers.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

He reached for the bedside lamp and turned it on. Caroline averted her eyes. The room felt too bright all of a sudden. But the scraping was still there, quietly but insistently. It was coming from downstairs.

“What’s going on?” his wife said. “Are you sure it’s a dog? At this hour?”

“I’ll find out.”

“Ron … I’m scared.”

Ron Winston put his hand on his wife’s shoulder.

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