The borderkind, p.1
The Borderkind, page 1part #2 of The Veil Series
Fire engulfed the church, radiating such heat that the snow falling around it was vaporized instantly. Julianna Whitney stood a moment and stared at the flames eating their way through the roof and licking fiery tongues from the shattered remnants of stained glass windows. Four inches of fresh snow had fallen since the storm had begun, but this close to the fire it was melting away. The dusting of flakes on her hair turned to beads of moisture as she glanced around the little island village.
The church was not the only building on fire. There was another large structure that might once have been an office or shop, whose elegantly detailed front porch had now been burned black, embers glowing in the wood. A couple of small cottages were also ablaze.
A handful of people—no more than a dozen—had gathered in the center of the village to watch the conflagration. They hung back as though afraid the fire would engulf them. None of them so much as looked at Julianna, but she frowned as she studied them. She had seen dozens of small houses and cottages. Admittedly, some of them had looked abandoned, but could there really be so few people living on this island?
The gray sky hung low and heavy, and with the blanket of snow muffling all sounds, the whole island had a claustrophobic feel. When the sound of cracking wood split the sky, Julianna jumped as though it had been a gunshot.
But it was only the roof of the church buckling. Red embers sprayed into the sky.
A strong hand grabbed her arm and pulled her backward, and she turned to glare at the man who’d taken hold of her. It was Halliwell, his sad eyes dark with confusion.
Julianna shook herself free. “Don’t do that, okay?”
Halliwell gave her a look as cold as the storm. “You were too close. ”
Before she could respond there came another crack of wood and then a splintering noise, accompanied by the hiss of the fire. Julianna spun to see the church roof give way and the steeple start to fall. It snapped in two, part of it crashing down inside the blazing ruin. But the top of the steeple struck the ground only a few feet from where she had been standing, the fire sending up tendrils of steam as it hit the snow.
For a moment she could only stare at the ground, then she let out a shuddering breath and glanced at Halliwell. “Thank you. ”
The detective replied with an almost imperceptible shrug, then turned to survey the village, as though he was back in Maine and this was just another case. Halliwell was thus far doing an excellent job of pretending he was undisturbed by what they had seen as they arrived at Canna Island. They’d come halfway around the world in search of Oliver Bascombe on a journey financed by the law firm of Bascombe & Cox. Halliwell was a homicide detective, moonlighting for the firm because Oliver was wanted for questioning in connection with the murder of his father. Julianna was an attorney working full time as a case investigator for the firm.
Oliver Bascombe was her fiancé.
He had disappeared shortly before his father’s murder—gone missing in the middle of the night, in a snowstorm far worse than the one currently assailing Canna Island. Then, on the night of Max Bascombe’s murder, Oliver’s sister, Collette, had gone missing as well. There was so much more—theories that Halliwell had, imagined connections to the mutilation murders of dozens of children around the world—but there could be no answers to any of those questions until Oliver was found. The murder of one of its founders had been ugly enough; if there was to be more bad publicity, the firm wanted to be in a position to do some spin control.
Julianna and Halliwell had tracked Oliver here and paid a local man an absurd sum of money to take them out to the island in the midst of the storm. On their arrival, they had been rewarded with a brief glimpse of Oliver as he strode toward them—toward the dock—with the fires beginning to burn in the village behind him. But Oliver had not been alone. He had been accompanied by a man with blue feathers in his hair, an Asian woman wearing a copper-red fur cloak, and a man made entirely of ice.
She and Halliwell had not discussed that particular topic, but she was not prone to hallucination. She knew precisely what she had seen, and that man had not been a mirage.
Then the ice man had stretched out a hand and drawn a kind of oval; the air there had begun to shimmer, and Oliver and his companions had simply stepped out of this world, disappearing one after the other.
Halliwell spoke her name. The man was a curmudgeon by nature, gruff and distant. But somehow the events of the previous few minutes had created a connection between them that had not existed before. For when he spoke to her now, Halliwell seemed almost gentle.
“Focus,” he said.
Julianna did. “What happened here?”
The detective glanced at the islanders who had gathered. “No idea. ” He turned to face them. “My name is Ted Halliwell. I’m a police detective from the U. S. Anyone have any idea how these fires began?”
Blank faces stared back at him. Several people began to whisper to one another. Others started to walk away, eyes averted, as though the last thing they wanted was for Halliwell to talk to them.
Halliwell shook his head as he turned back to her. “Had a feeling that was going to be useless. I know from back home that islanders are xenophobic as hell, but this is different. I think they saw something, all right, and it isn’t just that they don’t want to talk to outsiders about it. They don’t want to talk about it at all. ”
Julianna glanced at the people. Some of them were no more than gray shapes in the storm. More had begun to drift away, going back to their lives. She wondered if any of them had had their homes destroyed, and what they would do about it. No one was coming from the mainland in this storm.
Embers floated and danced with the falling snow.
“Let’s keep looking,” Halliwell said. He stared at Julianna, waiting for her reply. When she nodded, the detective started around the church, moving toward the large building whose beautifully carved porch was little more than charred kindling now.
“Wait!” a voice called.
A lone woman strode toward them even as the other islanders retreated into the storm. Her grim features were cast into even sharper angles by the firelight.
“Do you know what happened here?” Halliwell asked her.
The woman ignored him, focusing on Julianna. “You’d be looking for them what came before. The young man and his friends—the fox girl and the others. ”
Julianna shivered and hugged herself, the thick coat suddenly not enough to protect her from the cold. Or perhaps this chill came from within.
“That’s right,” she said.
“Ma’am, could you tell us what you saw?” Halliwell urged. “It’s not a difficult question. ”
But the woman only narrowed her eyes and gazed at Julianna. “They’ve gone. Came to see the professor, and this is what comes of it. Maybe that’s the end, though. No more strangers on the island. Better for everyone if you just let us clean up the mess. Turn round and go back to the mainland. Those you seek have gone. ”
Halliwell sighed and gestured to indicate that since the woman was ignoring him, Julianna should ask the questions.
She narrowed her eyes and gazed at the woman. “What professor? Where is he?”
The woman scowled and pointed. “Continue on the way you’re going if you must, but you won’t like what you find. ”
Then she turned and strode away without a single backward glance. Julianna watched until she had left the main square, then turned to find Halliwell watching her expectantly. She took a breath and let it out slowly.
“Let’s go,” she said.
Halliwell nodded and together they continued on toward the building whose
The burning church was behind them now, along with the two other houses of worship and a number of cottages. Julianna felt the chill of the storm, the snow whipping around her face as the wind picked up, but as they neared this other fire, its heat made her feel as though the skin on her face was stretched too tight.
“What is that?” Halliwell said, his voice barely audible over the hungry roar of the blaze.
Julianna picked up her pace. Her boots slid in the slushy melting snow. To the left of the burning building was an old rock wall that ran out of the village square, the stones piled up decades—or perhaps centuries—earlier as some sort of boundary. It lined a path. In the firelight they could clearly see a cottage at the end. The little house had been destroyed recently enough that there was only a dusting of snowfall on the shattered interior, now exposed to the elements.
Fire had not been the culprit here. At first glance she thought an explosion had taken place, but then realized that much of the debris had caved inward rather than blowing outward.
Yet she spared only a moment’s thought for the cottage.
It was the carnage that drew her attention. In the diffuse daylight that filtered through the storm and the bright glare of the fire, they could easily make out motionless figures scattered on the ground, shrouded in a thin layer of fresh snowfall. Dark stains spread out from the corpses, and already a frost was beginning to form on the puddles of blood. There was something odd about the corpses, but Julianna could not focus on them long enough to determine what it was that unsettled her.
Because there was another corpse in their midst that made her breath catch in her throat. She could only stare at the creature—for she could not think of it as a man—impaled upon jagged stalagmites of ice that jutted from the ground. Thin, frozen blades punctured the creature’s leg and side, shot up through its chest and belly and skull…and wings.
Julianna could only stare. Though it had the shape of a man, its upper body and head were that of some giant bird of prey, and its wings were enormous, dark-feathered things.
“My God,” Halliwell rasped beside her. “This can’t be real. None of it. ”
He started forward and knelt by the nearest corpse, brushed away the snow to find orange-and-black fur beneath, and a snout full of deadly fangs. The dead man was not a man at all, but some kind of tiger that walked like a man.
“You mean like the ice man we saw with Oliver? And the way he and the others just disappeared, like they were stepping right out of the world?” Julianna asked, staring at him. After a moment she glanced at the tiger-man again, and then at the bird-thing impaled on the ice. “You said we’d follow, wherever they went, Ted. You’ve got a whole lot of mysteries on your hands, not just with Max Bascombe’s murder and the little girl in Cottingsley, but with the other children you think are connected to this killer who’s removing their eyes. I’m having just as hard a time with this as you are, but you can’t turn back now. ”
Halliwell’s expression darkened. “Who said anything about turning back? I’m not going anywhere. I just…the world isn’t supposed to be like this. ”
Julianna swallowed. Her throat was dry and tight and she didn’t think it was from the fire’s heat.
“Let’s go inside,” she said.
The detective nodded and they started for the ruined cottage. As she passed the dead things scattered around her, she tried not to look too closely, but could not help herself. Some were missing limbs, at least one figure beneath that thin blanket of snow had no head, and one of the things on the ground had horns. There was even a creature that was no larger than a dog, with wings folded against its back.
Julianna hurried on.
She reached the front of the cottage. Where the door had been there was a hole, with no sign remaining of the frame. For a long moment she studied the wreckage, trying to determine how she might safely enter. In the midst of the ruined home, she saw snow-dusted legs poking out from beneath a portion of collapsed roof. Jagged, broken beams jutted out of the ruin, and Julianna thought that perhaps they had come as far as possible. Whatever they could learn about what happened to that cottage, they would have to determine from outside.
“Julianna,” Halliwell said.
She turned to see him crouched a short way back along the path and off to the left. The snow there had been disturbed, and as she walked over to join him, she saw that in addition to a small pool of frosted blood on the ground, there was a spattering that seemed more recent, even fresh.
Halliwell touched the spots of blood and lifted his fingers to show that they were smeared with red.
Since they had arrived on Canna Island she had been nearly numb. Wonder and confusion and horror had swirled in her mind, but this was the first time she had been afraid.
“One of those things…”
Halliwell nodded. He gestured to the ground and she saw that the path of broken snow—where one of these things had crawled or dragged itself on the ground—went around the side of the ruined cottage, past one of the walls that was still standing. Halliwell started to follow the trail.
“Wait. Ted, please. I don’t think we should—”
He shot her a dark look. “What did you just tell me about finding answers?”
Julianna moistened her lips. Her pulse was pounding in her temples as she nodded. “All right. ”
Halliwell went around the corner of the house. Julianna followed warily, peering into the ruin of the house and looking carefully at the stone boundary wall to make certain there was nowhere for anyone to hide. But the trail continued, the broken snow sprinkled and streaked with fresh blood.
The wall went on perhaps fifty yards past the house, where it intersected with another at a tiny structure built of the same stone, with a roof of cracked and faded tiles. The little building might once have been an outhouse or some kind of storage—perhaps even a workshop—but its two small windows were cracked and covered with grime.
The heavy wooden door hung open. The trail ended there.
“Ted,” Julianna whispered.
by Christopher Golden / Horror / Science Fiction & Fantasy have rating 2.5 out of 5 / Based on15 votes