Scientists exploring a cave system have released a horde of blind, carnivorous creatures that hunt by sound.
Deaf teenager Ally and her family are fleeing to the country, hoping that isolation from other humans – and the noise they make – will save them…
Vesps,” I whispered. “Mum, Dad… vesps!” I pointed across the hillside in the direction of the distant, traffic- clogged road. Smoke still rose from several burning vehicles, and the military roadblock remained in place. I squinted, wondering if I was wrong and had simply imagined the worst when I saw a cloud of specks in the sky. But then I saw movement on the ground, starting at the top of the slope where the road appeared over the hillside.
People were running. They flowed downhill past parked vehicles and the hedges lining the road. Maybe they’re screaming, I thought, hoping against hope that they were not.
In the air above and around them the pale shapes flew. They flitted and swirled, spiralling above the road, dropping and rising again. People tripped and were immediately smothered in vesps. Some fled into the fields, leaving their cars and loved ones behind. The creatures darted after them, swerving back and forth before closing in and landing on their targets.
The flicker of gunfire— muzzle flashes, coughing smoke— erupted from among the military vehicles, and a cloud of creatures quickly converged on the roadblock. I’m seeing people die, I thought. I sensed movement beside me and instinctively ducked, glancing that way with a hand held up to ward off danger. Dad was reaching for me. He held my hand and pulled me gently towards the Jeep.
Mum, Jude and Lynne were already inside. As Dad climbed in behind them, I checked for Otis.
He was standing halfway between the Jeep and the rolled Land Rover, staring uphill past the Jeep with his hackles bristling, teeth bared. “Otis!” I whispered, and the dog leaped past me into the Jeep. Then we turned as one and looked back at the Land Rover. It was difficult to see Glenn from this angle. I could just see his head and arm, the stark, dark shape of the shotgun lying beside him, and the puddle of blood beneath him on the upturned ceiling. He was motionless. I hoped because he knew what was happening.
Still looking outside, I reached over and grabbed someone’s hand. I wasn’t sure whose it was. Mum and Dad were in the front seats; me, Jude and Lynne were in the back, and Otis had jumped over into the boot, already used to travelling there.
The vesps came. There were not as many as I had expected. Several flew by on the left a couple of metres above the ground, circling the Jeep and Land Rover and then moving on.
They must have echolocation, like bats, I thought, and it had never occurred to me before. If they were blind and hunted by sound, they must also have a means to navigate, feel where they were going.
And they were horrible. The size of large kittens, leathery wings perhaps twice as long as their bodies, skins or hides a pale, sickly, slick yellow, flowing tails like several split tentacles, the nubs of legs on their lower bodies, and teeth. I saw the teeth even as they flew by, because they were bared. Small but glinting, their lips were drawn back like folds of skin, mouths exposed and ready to attack, eat. And what was worst about them was their unnaturalness. They simply were not meant to be. They were like a child’s drawing of a monster given life, all whimsy stripped away, only horror and ugliness left behind. They reminded me of deep- sea fish, blind and ugly. I had always appreciated nature for what it really was. But these things… They had shattered the natural balance. A mutation. A plague. A vesp whispered along the side of the Jeep, larger than the
others. Perhaps the first few I’d seen had been infants, but this was clearly an adult. Its trailing wing left a moist smear across the windows, and Otis bared his teeth.
I touched his head and whispered, very softly, “Otis, no.” I could feel the rumble of a growl beneath my hand, and I glanced around at the others.
They stared, wide- eyed and terrified. Jude was crying. Mum held the shotgun pointing upwards.
Dad was looking past me at the dog, and when he caught my eye he mouthed, “Keep him quiet!”
I reached over into the boot and gently, slowly, hugged Otis to me. He resisted at first, then leaned into my embrace. I felt the growl rumbling deep within him, but his teeth were no longer bared.
Something hit the Jeep. I felt the impact and glanced up in time to see the slick smears on the back window. Three or four more vesps landed there, those strange tentacles on their abdomens squirming for purchase against the glass. Then they fell and flew away.
It was like the beginning of a snowstorm. Across the hillside the vesps drifted down from uphill, gliding back and forth, dodging rocky outcroppings and trees. I saw some catching birds in flight, suddenly mimicking the singing birds’ flight patterns before plucking them from the air.
One of them drifted close and gently struck the window close to Otis’s nose.
The dog started barking. “Otis, no, Otis, no!” I whispered, but it was too late, and it was as if Otis had become senseless to everything but the vesps. He nudged forward between barks, butting the glass and the creature that clung to the other side. Its wings flapped rapidly, tentacles slicking down the window before finding some purchase below. Then its body seemed to tighten and flex as muscles held it taut, and the animal’s teeth scratched at the glass, scoring it deeply. Other vesps came.
Dad grabbed my shoulder and pulled me around. “Make him stop!” he said, and I saw how scared everyone was. Jude had crawled into Mum’s front seat, and Lynne sat back with her hands to her mouth. Behind her, three vesps struck her window and started scraping.
I pulled Otis towards me and leaned into the back seat, pressing my mouth to his ear and saying, “Otis, no!” I injected as much command as I could into my voice.
The dog pulled away and jumped at the rear window where several vesps were now attached. I could just see past the creatures assaulting the Jeep, and across the hillside others were streaking towards us. They must release a signal, like bees, I thought.
“Otis, please!” I said. But the dog was both excited and terrified. His hackles were raised, his eyes dilated, and he leaped at the windows where vesps were attached. They scraped and scored with their ugly teeth, and in several places the glass was obscured by deep scratches. I could not imagine anything chewing their way into a car. It was impossible, wasn’t it?
It depended on how long they stayed. And how long they would remember the noise, when and if I eventually made Otis stop.
Something happened. I felt the tension in the Jeep shift. Everyone turned their heads as one to look downhill at the Land Rover, and several vesps dropped from the windows and darted that way. The glass was smeared with their secretions and clouded where they’d been scratching with their teeth, but it was clear that the Land Rover had now become a newer, more attractive target.
“What happened?” I whispered. There were only a few vesps left on the Jeep now, and Otis stood panting, no longer barking. “Glenn,” Lynne mouthed to me, and then I knew. “Oh, no,” I whispered. Mum and Dad were pressed to the windscreen. Past them, I could see vesps converging on the Land Rover from all directions. Many of them landed on the upturned chassis and crawled across it, their movements awkward. It seemed they only had grace in the air. Others dropped to the ground close by and hobbled forwards, while some flew straight into the vehicle’s interior through the smashed windows.
The shattered driver’s window faced uphill, and in moments it was a squirming, pale yellow mass of vesps.
A mess of bloodied parts and smoke blasted outward, smoking flesh pattering across the grass. But the gap made in the crowd of vesps soon filled again. “What did he do?” I whispered. “Shotgun,” Mum signed. “Now he’s shouting.” “Still?” But no one answered that. Lynne attempted to reach forward and cover Jude’s eyes, but he shook her off and she did not try again. To find out what happens next, pick up The Silence, out now from Titan Books ( RRP £ 7.99). Ebook also available. www.titanbooks.com