“Zombies don’t exist. You told me they don’t exist.”
“There’s a corpse clawing its way out of a grave over there. I’m open to the possibility that I may have been wrong.”
I see dead people.
And I’m not the only one. They’re even on Facebook.
The dead are rising, and if we don’t stop them before the infection spreads any further, we’re going to be knee-deep in the zombie apocalypse before you can say mmm, brains.
The only problem is, we don’t know why they’re rising, who started it, or how to stop them.
But G & C London, Private Investigators, are on the case. Just as soon as we get through dealing with disapproving reapers, irate magicians, zombie-fied chickens, and a small internal case of undeadness.
Edit: A Contagion of Zombies has, of course, been out for a wee while now. Which means that you can head straight over to your favourite retailer and grab it in ebook or paperback today! Just make sure you’ve got some bite-proof gloves on …
Lovely people, Gobbelino London’s second adventure is very nearly here! I had so much fun writing it, and I can’t wait to share it with you.
It’s going to be hitting shops on Friday 22nd, and if you’d like it to arrive all magic-like (nice magic, not raise-the-dead magic) on your e-reader for only 99p, get your pre-order in at your favourite retailer now!
As always, of course, I wanted to give you a little bit of a taster first, so read on for the first chapter.
Happy reading, and mind the, ah, body parts…
Gobbelino London & a Contagion of Zombies
Chapter One – Scattered Sunshine & a Chance of Body Parts
It was a spring morning of the postcard sort, all soft warm light and newly minted flowers, and we were in a cemetery. For pleasure, not work. Which probably says something about our social life.
Gentle sunshine was angling across the cemetery in those shafts of light that make everything a little magical, painting the stained grey headstones gold and turning the tatty plastic flowers nestling among them into soft-edged, pastel bouquets. Real blooms were emerging along the gravel paths, pinks and blues and reds of varying hues, and the trees were covered in a pale fuzz of new shoots. Even the slowly subsiding crypts with their leaning walls looked hopeful, the rust on the gates atmospheric rather than neglected. A car revved hard on the road outside, but it sounded distant and unimportant, less immediate than the chatter of sparrows in the trees.
I padded through the graves, smelling the deep cold musk of dead things under the fresh new grass and cool earth, the sun warm on my dark fur. Someone had left a bunch of daffodils in a cracked blue vase wedged at the base of a marker, and I stopped to investigate them, wrinkling my nose at the whiff of stale water and enjoying the fact that no one around here was likely to start throwing things at me. It was all terribly peaceful and pleasant, and I really should’ve been more prepared for things to go apple-shaped. Orange-shaped? Fruit-shaped, anyhow.
I caught the thunder of feet roaring across the grass behind me too late to turn and face them down. I lunged forward, heart surging into my ears, and a solid thump to my hindquarters sent me nose first into the daffodils. I gave an undignified squawk as I tripped over the vase, flowers and slimy water spilling everywhere, and something whuffed just over my ears, hot breath fluttering through my fur.
I ducked behind the headstone and peered around it at my attacker, who just whuffed again, and tried to follow me.
“Get away, you cornflake,” I snapped, jumping to the top of the marker and perching there to glare down at a large, three-legged, and very familiar dog. Cyril. He whined and shoved his filthy wet snout at me. I bopped it, keeping my claws in. His human worked at our local greasy cafe and was generous with the bacon. One had to make allowances in these sorts of situations.
He whuffed again, dropping to the elbows of his front legs and nudging a stick toward me.
“Seriously? What the hell do you expect me to do with that?”
He rolled his eyes, his tail wagging so hard he was in danger of losing his balance. So unfair. I mean, dogs got the ability to eye-roll? Cats need it a lot more. You’d be amazed how often we’d like to be able to roll our eyes.
“That stick’s bigger than me, mutt. What d’you expect me to do with it?”
He nudged it again, looking at me pleadingly, then got up and tried to shove his nose in my face.
“Get out. Old Ones take you, you slobbery garden snail. What’re you doing?”
He jumped up and bounced in a circle, like I’d just paid him the best compliment in the world, then did the elbow thing at me again. I sighed, and looked around. There was a collection of decorative pebbles lined up around me on the top of the marker, printed with things like Love, and Believe, or painted in primary colours. I’d already knocked a few off in my scramble to safety, but there were plenty left. I tapped one experimentally. It wobbled, and I looked at Cyril.
“Ready? Ready? Go! Good dog!” I belted the pebble as I spoke, and it shot across the grass, spinning neatly. It didn’t go far, but it was far enough to give me time to jump down and leg it in the other direction while Cyril lunged after the stone, giving little excited whines as he tried to pick it up.
I scooted down the next row of graves and jumped onto a headstone where I’d be able to see him coming. I didn’t fancy any more dog drool on my neck. He wasn’t far behind me, galloping across the grass at a surprising pace for an animal missing a quarter of his ambulatory equipment. He rushed up and carefully deposited the pebble on top of the marker next to me. P.B., it said, in wobbly black paint on a background of red and orange stripes. I wondered if it was meant to be a sunset and who P.B. was, then looked at Cyril, who was staring at me with his tongue hanging out and his nose quivering.
“I’m not best suited to this,” I told him. “You should find someone who can throw further.”
He whuffed, wagging his tail at me.
“Sit down,” I suggested. “Stay. Roll over. Play dead.”
He cocked his head to the side, his wagging easing.
“Too much, huh? Alright.” I looked at the slimy rock and sighed. “So gross.” I hit it, getting a bit of spin on and sending it flying across the next row of graves before it arced to the ground out of sight behind a marker. “Fetch!” But he was already off and running, ears flying goofily. I abandoned my perch and raced across the headstone-cluttered grass, heading for an intersection of the paths where I could see Callum talking to someone, his hands in the pockets of his jeans and his tatty old jacket hanging from one arm. I couldn’t tell from here who his companion was, but given the sudden appearance of Cyril, it had to be Petra of the warm hands and extra bacon.
I shot up to them, my ears back and the sun running sleek fingers over my fur.
“Hey,” I called as I got closer. “I’m not a dog-sitter, you know—”
Callum exploded into a coughing fit, glaring at me, and Petra looked from him to me, her forehead creased in confused lines. Humans never really hear cats, just as they never really see the more obviously magical Folk. The bus driver can’t have wings, the baker can’t have horns, and cats can’t say more than meow. These are the rules, according to humans, so that’s what they experience.
But, you know. Petra wasn’t most humans, not after last autumn, when she’d ended up in the middle of one of our cases. It had involved some fairly alarming issues with reality, and while she might not remember it, it did mean she might be a little more sensitive to talking cats than most people. So I just said, “Meow?”
She blinked at me, then looked at Callum and said, “Are you alright?”
“Sure,” he said, giving a last, rather theatrical cough.
“You should really stop smoking,” she said, and I snorted. She didn’t notice, but Callum gave me another glare.
There was the now-familiar thunder of doggy feet behind me and I shot forward, scrambling up to Callum’s shoulder as he yelped a complaint. Well, he should be wearing more than a T-shirt. It wasn’t that warm.
“Drool,” I hissed in his ear. “That damn dog’s just a drool factory!”
He bopped my nose lightly with one finger and started to whisper something, then Petra said, “Cyril? Cyril, whatcha got, boy?” Her voice had funny, frayed edges to it, and we both looked up.
Cyril danced in an uneven circle, then dropped his prize in front of Petra and nudged it toward her, his eyes big and brown and begging for approval in that doggy way. She scrambled to her feet and took a step back, her hands covering her mouth. It would have seemed almost theatrical if not for the small moan creeping out of her. It was a moan that wanted to be a scream.
Cyril dropped to his elbows, hooked his nose under his trophy and flicked it in the air. Petra gave that funny little moan again, and I said, “Holy soggy Weetabix.”
Cyril had fetched us an arm.
Callum didn’t even shush me. We just stared at the dog and his new limb as he snatched it up and shoved it at Petra. She jumped back before it could touch her and tried a breathy “Drop it!”
Cyril completely ignored that and shook his head happily, like he was a terrier with a rabbit rather than a three-legged mongrel with a slightly whiffy body part that didn’t belong to him. He was gripping it somewhere around the biceps, below the point where it ended in a ragged, bloodless fringe of flesh surrounding a nub of shining white bone. A few rings and a bracelet still clung to the hand end, the pearls caked with dirt. As Cyril shook the arm, the bracelet ran back and rattled off his teeth.
“Cyril, drop it,” Callum said, his voice a little more authoritative than Petra’s, but no more effective. Cyril just panted at him and tossed his head a bit. Callum made a grab for the dog’s collar, but Cyril shot away, prancing in a circle with the hand waving jerkily at the end of the arm.
“I might be sick,” Petra said. She still had one hand over her mouth, her eyes a bit wide and stare-y above it. It was probably a good thing she couldn’t remember certain portions of last year. This was pretty low key in comparison, even given the body parts.
“It’s alright,” Callum said, not sounding like it was very alright at all. “I mean, it’s not fresh.”
She made a noise that suggested she was less than reassured by this fact.
“It’s not that old, either,” I hissed. “It’s, you know. Solid.”
“Shut up,” Callum muttered, and Petra gave him a funny look. He tried for a bright smile, which hardly seemed to suit the situation. “Don’t worry. We’ll sort it out.”
She dropped her hands finally, took a deep breath, and turned to Cyril. “Sit,” she said, her voice firm. Cyril stopped his lopsided prancing and looked at her, his tail drooping. “Sit down,” she repeated, pointing at him with one long finger, the nail cropped short and the cuticles reddened from hot water and harsh soaps. Cyril sat, his floppy ears as pricked as they could be.
“Drop it,” she said. He whined, and she put her hands on her hips, glaring at him. He dropped it. Callum hurried over and bent to pick up the limb, then hesitated. Cyril whined at him.
“Stay,” Petra said to the dog, then added, “Get it away from him!”
“Um, yeah,” Callum said, straightening up again. “I just …” he waved at the arm.
Petra gave a slightly exasperated sigh and dug in her pocket, pulling out a little bundle of white plastic bags. “Ew,” I muttered under my breath as Callum took them. Although I guess they weren’t used, so it was better than just grabbing a dismembered limb.
Callum wrapped a bag around his hand and picked up the arm, his cheek twitching slightly. The thing stank of mulch and chemicals and some weird perfume, and he held it away from his body as he took a step back. Cyril watched him go with mournful eyes, and I stayed on Callum’s shoulder despite the stench. The ground suddenly seemed far less inviting than it had.
“How the hell did he get hold of that?” Petra asked. “He can’t have dug it out of a grave. Out of a coffin.” With the offending item removed, she crouched next to Cyril and rubbed his ears, giving him a treat from her pocket. I looked at Callum hopefully, but he was still staring at the arm.
“Um. No. I don’t think so,” Callum said, still holding the arm away from him and staring at it dubiously. “Maybe there’s a grave still open or something?”
I snorted, and he shrugged his shoulder at me. “Seriously?” I whispered. “What, you think they just leave them all uncovered and fill them in every second Friday?”
Petra apparently shared my doubts, because she frowned at Callum as she found Cyril’s lead and clipped it on. “That doesn’t seem very likely.”
“I suppose not,” Callum agreed with a sigh. “I don’t know, then. But we should probably put it back.”
She frowned. “Shouldn’t we tell someone?”
They looked at each other, Petra with the smell of cooking oil and old coffee still baked into her skin, underlying the lonely scent of anxious nights. Callum scratched his stubble.
“We could tell someone,” he agreed. “But would it really help anything?”
Petra pulled Cyril a little closer. “They should know, though. If the graves aren’t filled in right or something. I mean, that shouldn’t happen, right? An arm, like that?”
Callum gave a funny little one-shouldered shrug. “Stuff happens, right? And it was an accident, Cyril digging it up.”
“I know.” She looked at the dog, then back up at him. “Do you think he’s even allowed in here?”
“I didn’t see a No Dogs sign,” Callum said, sounding a bit doubtful. I felt a bit doubtful, too. I mean, no one wants to think of dear old gran’s gravestone getting wee’d on by a dog, even a three-legged one. “But it doesn’t matter,” he said. “We’ll just put it back. We don’t need to tell anyone.”
Petra wiped her mouth with the back of one hand, looking around the cemetery as if expecting the boneyard police to pop out of a crypt, waving handcuffs and a writ. “Are you sure? I feel awful. But he didn’t mean it. And I can’t afford a fine or … or anything. What if they fine me? Or arrest me?”
Cyril looked up at her and whined.
“We’ll just put it back,” Callum said. “Really. It’ll be fine.”
Petra fiddled with Cyril’s lead, examining Callum’s face. “Alright,” she said finally. “Let’s see if we can find where it came from.”
We surveyed the rows of graves, rank upon rank of the long dead and newly deceased, lying shoulder to shoulder like soldiers waiting to rise. The hair on my tail shivered slightly.
“It can’t have been that far away,” Petra said. “He wasn’t gone long.”
“Two rows to the right,” I whispered to Callum. “That’s where I was. So he might have been another row over? Maybe?”
“Let’s try this way,” Callum said to Petra. “I think I saw him over there.”
“Alright,” she said. “As good a place to start as any.”
Callum led the way down onto the gravel path, the arm still held well away from his body, and headed for the row I’d suggested. I glanced around to make sure we were still alone, and movement caught my eye, a flash of red trundling toward us.
“Callum,” I hissed. “Near the gates. Look.”
He looked around, swore, and said to Petra, “Hang on.”
She turned to ask why, then nodded and pulled Cyril closer to her. He seemed pretty keen to head back to the site of the arm discovery, which was making me wonder if Callum had a point about the open graves. That seemed kind of careless, though, even for humans.
We waited, Petra and Callum pretending to look at a headstone, and the movement resolved itself into a little red car. It trundled steadily down the path toward us, Petra growing twitchier and twitchier as it got closer.
“Do you think they saw?” she whispered to Callum, as if the driver might hear her. “Is it a guard, d’you think?”
“I don’t think there are cemetery guards,” he said. “Or not during the day, anyway. I’ve never seen any. And I can’t imagine there being cameras here. I’m sure it’s just someone visiting a grave. They’ll stop soon. You’ll see.”
But the car just crept closer and closer, until even I could see that someone had put those ridiculous plastic eyelashes on its headlights, and there was a sunflower stuck to the stubby little antenna on the roof. A shrunken woman with a halo of white hair peered over the steering wheel with great concentration, and didn’t even look around as she passed us. Callum tucked the spare arm behind his back anyway, still trying not to actually touch it, although the plastic bag just wasn’t that big. He made a gagging sound as his fingers slipped off it.
The car stopped a couple of rows beyond us, not too far from where I thought Cyril might have found his latest chew toy, and the woman got out. She was shorter than the car was, and almost vanished behind the headstones as she opened the boot and started pulling out a quite astonishing collection of flowers and foliage, singing rather tunelessly about not feeling like dancing. We watched her for a little while, then Petra looked up at Callum. She had Cyril pulled so tightly against her side he had one paw on her trainers. She had her hand on his back, and he kept peering up at her with a furrowed brow, as if he could taste her fear.
“What do we do?” she whispered. “We can’t just wait here. It looks really suspicious.” She’d sprouted matching lines to Cyril’s on her forehead, and deeper ones were surfacing around her mouth. I wondered how she’d ended up here, with the old scars of oil burns marring the warm olive skin under her eye, smelling of lingering loss and working in the rundown cafe with its greasy windows and tattered floors. Our neighbourhood wasn’t somewhere you came. It was definitely somewhere you ended up.
Callum lifted a hand as if he wanted to touch her shoulder or something, then let it drop, and nodded. “We’ll just go,” he said.
“Go?” she asked. “But what about …” she nodded at the arm.
“We’ll put it under a bush or something, and I’ll come back later and sort it out.”
“But what if someone finds it?”
“No one’s going to be hunting through the bushes,” Callum said. “We’ll come back later and work out where it came from, and bury it properly. Me, I mean. I will.”
“I’ll come too.” She didn’t sound very enthusiastic.
He shook his head. “You don’t have to. This is more our – my line of work, anyway.”
“What, grave digging?” she asked, a hint of a smile starting around her lips.
“No, sneaking around in the night.” He grinned at her and led the way toward the gates, detouring into the trees and patchily maintained undergrowth that lined the stone walls to stash the arm. I stayed on his shoulder and watched the old woman filling vases with flowers, doing what the living do to honour the gone. Put dead things on their graves.
We walked back to our apartment block, the cracked pavement warm beneath my paws although the air was starting to feel sticky and heavy with rain on the way. Petra and Cyril walked part of the way with us, and we stopped where their road split from ours. She looked at Callum with those tight lines still on her face.
“Are you sure this is okay?” she asked.
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “I’ll put the arm back, and that’ll be it.”
She looked at him for a long moment, then touched his hand with her fingertips. “Thank you.”
He looked uncomfortable, like he wanted to pull away but didn’t want to be rude. “It’s no problem. Really. I didn’t have any plans tonight anyway.”
She stared at him for a moment, then grinned and said, “Sure. Okay. I’ll buy you breakfast next time you’re in the cafe.”
“Cool,” he said, and gave her a weird wave/salute thing as she turned and walked away, Cyril hobbling next to her and occasionally looking up at her with that soppy adoring look dogs get.
“Dude,” I said. “You get worse.”
“Shut up,” he said, shoving his hands in the pockets of his ancient jeans.
“No, seriously. You should talk to people more. Or even date one? Maybe more than one? Any variety will do.”
“I’m not taking life advice from a cat.”
“You should,” I said, and easily dodged the gentle kick he aimed my way. “I mean, we’re way better at it than you lot are.”
“You also think biting’s a valid form of communication.”
“It communicates what I want it to very clearly,” I pointed out, and ran ahead of him as we headed deeper into the decaying rows of old warehouses and mills that formed the broken heart of our neighbourhood.
And pop back next week for Chapter Two!
Now tell me, lovely people – where’s the most unusual place you’ve had a picnic (hopefully no missing body parts were involved)? Let me know below!
Then grab your copy from your favourite retailer, and join the adventure.