The Dead Road by Seth Patrick is the third and final installment in the genre-bending Reviver Trilogy, which delivers chilling twists as a forensic detective revives the dead to exhume a world-changing conspiracy (available February 27, 2018).
Opening with The Reviver and continuing in Lost Souls, this genre-bending series has been described as CSI meets The Sixth Sense. The trilogy takes place in our world, but with a chilling twist: certain people have the ability to wake the recently dead for testimony that is accepted in courts worldwide. The use of these so-called Revivers has long been a routine part of police investigation. But things are changing … something vast and dangerous is hiding in the dark, just waiting to wreak havoc on our world.
The Dead Road is where it all comes to an end―maybe literally.
The house was old, and it looked it.
The man Kendrick was going to see had lived there for almost five decades now, isolated in a valley in the north of Arkansas. He owned most of the valley, too. All that wealth was inherited – the kind of sums that tended to push people one way or the other, either in an obsessive quest to enlarge that fortune, or towards the indulgences and eccentricities that only the rich could afford.
Virgil Drayton had gone the latter route. At seventy-two, the man had the visual appeal of a walking corpse, the product of decades spent avoiding leaving his house. Drayton’s eccentricity of choice was paranoia, and it had taken its toll.
Kendrick parked up on what had once been an opulent gravel driveway, a ludicrous fountain in the middle that hadn’t seen the flow of water in years. Within the fountain was an elaborate raised pool now clogged with weeds. Above the ornate centrepiece, an ugly rusting sculpture was barely holding together. It stood as a reminder of where all that wasted money had come from: steel.
Drayton had explained it to him the first time Kendrick had been here – the sculpture was inspired by the steel skeleton of the vast buildings that had contributed so much to the company his grandfather had created. The artist had intended it to embody the notion of potential, the optimism of the times. Now, red and decayed, it looked more like a jumble of used hypodermic needles, or nails loaded with tetanus spores.
The gravel of the driveway was a patchwork of invading vegetation. The once-lush landscaped gardens had long abandoned any pretence at obedience, and gave the impression of a green army laying siege to the building they’d once been ordered to guard.
The building was vast, three floors and eighty rooms, but hardly any of it was used now. Kendrick had been shown perhaps a dozen of them by Drayton and his sole companion, a butler. All the rooms had appeared well-kempt but with plenty of visible wear and tear.
There was an unmistakably musty smell to the place. The one time he’d managed to look around a little more when his hosts had been distracted, he’d found room after room of mouldering junk, the infrastructure of the place almost rotting before his eyes. He’d been cautious about where he’d placed his feet, in case the rot had spread to the floor.
Drayton, childless and (paid help aside) friendless, seemed to have been content for the house to keep pace with his own physical deterioration. His death would be unnoticed and unmourned; the house would die with him.
Kendrick wondered if Drayton’s butler was implicated in this. Surely some of Drayton’s fortune would make its way to him in the end, so why let his master waste large portions of it trying to salvage the old homestead? Assuming, of course, that there was much of the fortune left. Drayton’s paranoid fantasies hadn’t simply kept him from venturing out into the real world for the last three decades. He’d been far more hands-on than that, actively (if remotely) seeking out those he considered experts in the areas that most interested him, and funding them through various indirect means. Drayton claimed to have the most complete library in the world on hidden conspiracies and fringe theories. He didn’t denote the subject matter as that, of course – he called it suppressed truth, and referred to his library as The Grail.
It didn’t seem to matter to Drayton when theories clashed, or made no sense at all. He believed every word, however outlandish it seemed, and his obsession was precisely the reason Kendrick had sought him out. The man had money and contacts, and Kendrick needed both. At first, Drayton had denied all knowledge of his involvement. The money and paper trails connecting him to his carefully chosen experts had been very well disguised. The idea that he’d been found out terrified him, but Kendrick had won him round. Kendrick’s own history and his extensive knowledge of the underbelly of democracy managed to pique his interest.
That was when Kendrick had laid it out.
‘Winnerden Flats,’ he’d said. ‘What do you know about it?’
Drayton looked at him with greedy interest, an unnerving wheezing audible with every breath. ‘The revival research facility the Afterlifers supposedly destroyed?’
Kendrick nodded. They had been sitting in Drayton’s study, and even though it was only his first time here Kendrick had the feeling the man kept this room exclusively for guests. Somehow, it didn’t seem inhabited. Old photos of dead ancestors stared out defiantly from frames on every table and shelf. Drayton was wearing an ill-fitting black suit, which Kendrick presumed was also just for the benefit of guests. The man seemed almost dead as it was; with the suit, the corpse-in-a-coffin look was complete.
Drayton shrugged. ‘The official story is this. They took all the best revivers to a research lab out in the desert, everyone got excited and hoped we’d find out what revival actually is, and boom! Sabotaged by a group of Afterlifers. The place is blown to hell and back, but the only things the public sees of the destruction are some satellite images.’
‘And did your “grapevine” give you any alternative theories?’
‘I heard some things,’ said Drayton. ‘The first one is that they faked the deaths so they would have the revivers to themselves.’
‘“They” being…?’ said Kendrick.
‘The Elite! Whatever you want to call them. It’s a dumb theory, since most of the best revivers were always working privately anyway. The Elite don’t need elaborate shit if they can just buy what they want. Anyway, a more likely theory claims it was nothing to do with the reviver research. Their presence was just incidental. Michael Andreas, the guy who ran the facility, was obsessed with beating death at its own game. He was developing a virus to stop the aging process. It got out and turned lethal, killing everybody in the building, so the military torched the place with a bomb about ten times bigger than a standard MOAB.’ He gave Kendrick a testing look. ‘A MOAB is almost as powerful as a mini nuke but without the radiation.’
‘I’m aware,’ said Kendrick, with a sly smile. ‘The bomb actually used was called a MOLEK. Only the US military has anything that powerful, but they’d never admit it.’
Drayton’s face lit up. It was exactly that kind of detail which had convinced him Kendrick was on the level.
‘So, what do you believe?’ said Kendrick.
‘Well, I also heard that the Elite intentionally doctored the virus because they already had their own version and didn’t want us poor bastards to get a hold of something similar. Now that sounds about right to me!’
The irony of Drayton including himself in the category of ‘poor’ was almost enough to make Kendrick laugh, but he controlled himself. He leaned forward. ‘Let me tell you what really happened,’ he said, as Drayton looked at him eagerly.
Kendrick had explained it: an ancient evil had used the revivers to break through into our world, aiming to destroy or subjugate everyone on the planet. To achieve this, the evil needed a human host, a vessel to channel its power into.
It had been defeated, and the vessel killed, but it had been a close call. Those people who had already succumbed to its influence had carried dark shadows with them – shards of the evil entity, parasitic and controlling. Some of those shadow-infested followers had perished when the vessel had died, but most had simply vanished.
Presumably, they were still out there, and they would be seeking another way to complete their goal – to find another vessel and bring their master back.
It was a story so insane that even Drayton struggled to believe it.
It also happened to be the truth.
* * *
That first meeting with Drayton had been sixteen months ago. Now, Kendrick walked to the front porch. There was a grand old bell-pull by the door, but he’d learned the first time he’d come here that it didn’t work. Instead, there was an intercom box hidden in a recess, the plastic faded from age.
He pressed the button. ‘Mr Wellborough,’ he announced. It was the false name he’d been using for his meetings with Drayton. After a minute the door was opened by the butler, Ferris. The man had the nimble posture of someone who rarely sat still, and while he was only a decade younger than Drayton, it may as well have been a century.
‘Ah, Mr Wellborough,’ said Ferris, inviting him in. ‘Mr Drayton will be with you in a few minutes. Please make yourself at home. Drink?’
Ferris led him to the study. ‘Can I take your bag?’ He held out his hand, ready to take the satchel Kendrick carried over his shoulder.
‘No,’ said Kendrick. ‘I have things Mr Drayton should see.’
Ferris still had his hand out. ‘I must insist on looking,’ he said. ‘Security.’
Kendrick nodded, but rather than pass the bag over he opened the top wide and let Ferris rummage around in the folders of paperwork.
Soon enough, Ferris seemed satisfied. He poured Kendrick his drink. ‘I’ll go and see if Mr Drayton is ready for you,’ he said, and left the room.
Kendrick toyed with his bourbon as he wandered around the study, all the dead ancestors glaring out at him. This was where he’d always met Drayton – four times so far. He’d spotted the locations of the two hidden cameras within minutes of the first meeting. As casually as he could, he turned to hide his actions from the cameras and slipped a package out from the hidden pocket at the base of his bag. It was heavy, which was why he’d been so careful not to let Ferris handle his bag directly – the weight of it would have given away the fact that something was amiss.
A little more wandering, and Kendrick was in place to slip the package behind the sideboard, again out of view of the cameras.
* * *
For months, Kendrick had almost believed there was some kind of God on his side; that the Beast they’d faced had truly died. Every single person they had known to be carrying one of those parasites had either died or vanished; Kendrick had pressed the reviver Jonah Miller into service for six months afterwards, looking for indications of survivors. Miller was the only one who could actually see those things, those dark shadows, on the shoulders of their hosts – parasites, living off willing victims, steering them to allow the power they served to ascend to a level of global control.
They found none. They started to think it was over.
If only it had been that easy.
An attempt on Jonah’s life brought their complacency to an end. He’d been run off the road, the attacker pulling a gun but fleeing after it jammed. Inept as the attempt had been, it had scared Jonah badly, and had made him far more reluctant to help in Kendrick’s operations.
Kendrick thought about Jonah. He’d liked the young man. Admirable, in many ways. Courage like that was often punished. He wondered if Jonah’s eventual fate had been inevitable …
And so Kendrick’s tentative hope had been crushed. There were still followers. They were still out there. They needed another vessel, and their goal might be attainable again. Kendrick’s new hobby had formed at once: locate these people and kill them, whenever they popped up. He didn’t have Jonah Miller any more to determine whether they were actually hosts to the evil or just fanatics, but even if the latter was the case, it didn’t mean they wouldn’t stumble onto a means of achieving their dream.
Drayton’s network of researchers had been set the task of keeping an eye out for suspicious activity, and they’d found it more than once. Each time, Kendrick had taken care of it.
Those he had dealt with so far had varied hugely in their sophistication. Some had been dabbling in the kind of magical tosh more suited to a teenage party; others had found their own low-level revivers and were attempting more sinister things.
He’d killed them, either way. He wasn’t going to take risks. Fiery deaths were his preferred method, just in case they did carry shadows with them. Those things could try and make anyone a host, if they needed to. Kendrick had personal experience of that, and he was damned if he’d let it happen again. None of the kills were close-quarter, certainly.
Ferris returned to the study.
‘Mr Wellborough? Mr Drayton requests that you join him downstairs.’
‘Downstairs?’ said Kendrick. ‘You mean The Grail?’
Ferris gave a sly smile. ‘Mr Drayton mentioned it?’
‘Many times,’ said Kendrick. ‘I wasn’t sure I’d ever have the honour.’
‘Then today’s your lucky day,’ said Ferris. He led Kendrick down the hall to a small stairwell. ‘Go on below,’ said Ferris. ‘I’ll buzz you in.’ He reached into his pocket and took out a remote handset that had the same aging-plastic look as the intercom on the door.
Kendrick went down the short flight of stairs and glanced back; Ferris pressed a button and the door lock disengaged.
‘Mr Drayton is sorting through some papers, I believe,’ said Ferris. ‘Just go on until you see him.’
Kendrick went through the door and found himself in a small plain-concrete storage room, cardboard boxes of cleaning fluid and cans of food stacked around the wall. There was a strong stench of artificial pine. The room seemed off to him – too new, for a start – but he immediately understood what it was. ‘When does the hidden door open?’ he said.
From far behind him, Ferris answered. ‘Pull the outer door closed first,’ he said.
It made sense that Drayton would have put in some effort to hide his Grail. Kendrick did as Ferris said, and heard a click from his right. Part of the wall moved, and he pushed at it to reveal the inner entrance.
Within was a corridor, which looked like the original stonework of the building foundations. It was dimly lit by a solitary light-fitting just above him. There was a single door thirty feet away. The stench of the cleaning fluid was just as strong in here, he realized.
Kendrick clenched his fist a few times, uneasy, and started to walk to the other door.
When he was halfway, a rattle of metal behind him made him spin round, just in time to see a frame of bars come down to block his way out. Kendrick ran back to them and kicked the bars to test their quality. They were disappointingly solid.
‘I’m afraid Mr Drayton insisted,’ came the voice of Ferris, over tinny intercom speakers. ‘You know how he can be.’
Kendrick said nothing. He gave the bars a derisory glance and headed to the other door again. Yes, he did know how Virgil Drayton could be. It didn’t make him feel any more comfortable about allowing himself to be trapped like this.
He reached inside his bag, to the second hidden pocket – a padded one, where he’d put his gun. He took it out, and felt a little better. Then he opened the door, and everything got so much worse.
‘Fuck,’ he said. The room ahead was perhaps forty feet across. Archive boxes were piled high by the walls, and there was another doorway at the far side. This was Drayton’s Grail, certainly – a conspiracy theory nut could spend a lifetime revelling in the lunacy here.
The most notable feature, though, was the chair in the middle of the room, and the man who was tied to it, his mouth duct-taped.
Drayton was looking at him with terror. Kendrick stepped forwards and carefully peeled the tape from his mouth, dragging a cry of pain from the old man. He stepped away again and let Drayton get his breath back, his ragged wheezing worse than ever.
‘They … they brought it here,’ said Drayton.
There was a terrible stench in the room, fighting with the overwhelming artificial pine he’d already smelt – Drayton had soiled himself, certainly, but there was more.
‘When?’ said Kendrick. ‘How long have you been down here?’
‘Two days,’ said Drayton, desperate. ‘I’m sorry … They must have drugged me. I woke up like this.’
Kendrick frowned. ‘You keep saying “they”. Be specific.’
‘Ferris is part of it, that’s all I know. I have no idea for how long.’ Drayton stared at him, eyes wide. ‘I wasn’t sure, you know? When you told me about the shadows. I didn’t…’ He shook his head, tears falling from his eyes. Then he turned suddenly, looking at his own shoulder as if it frightened him. ‘It’s on me…’ he said, and Kendrick felt his guts twist. ‘I can feel it burrowing in.’
‘Jesus Christ,’ said Kendrick. He took another step away from Drayton.
‘I’m fighting it, but it’ll get me in the end! Oh God, kill me.’ He nodded to Kendrick’s gun. ‘Kill me. I’m an old man. I can’t hold out. This will take my soul.’
Kendrick shook his head. ‘If I kill you, it’ll try and get me.’
Drayton crumbled, sobbing. ‘But … but I told you,’ he said. He met Kendrick’s gaze, and there was absolute horror in his eyes. ‘They brought it here.’
A chill crept into Kendrick’s mind. ‘They brought the thing on your shoulder,’ he said, hoping that was what the man meant.
Drayton shook his head. ‘No. They brought the thing it came from.’ The old man turned his head to the door in the far wall. ‘It’s through there. I hear it breathing sometimes.’
There was ice in Kendrick’s blood now. ‘They found their vessel,’ he said, and Drayton nodded.
The intercom crackled. ‘I’m afraid your efforts to stop us have been in vain,’ said Ferris.
‘You’ve worked for Drayton for two decades,’ growled Kendrick. ‘How come you turned on him so easily?’
‘Oh please,’ said Ferris. ‘How can you know how easy it was? It’s only a matter of time before a man accepts his fate…’
Kendrick took a long breath. ‘You carry one,’ he said. ‘You carry a shadow.’
Ferris laughed. ‘Of course. When the vessel perished, not many shadows survived. They hid. When they found out about Mr Drayton’s new interest, it made sense to get an insider’s point of view. My point of view.’
Drayton couldn’t bear to listen. ‘You son of a bitch!’ he yelled. The effort left him coughing.
‘We know who can be tempted,’ said Ferris. ‘And we know who can’t. Mr Drayton was the latter. Bringing him into the fold will be long and difficult. I was more willing. Mr Drayton will be useful if he survives. You’ll prove to be more of a challenge, I imagine, but we have plenty of time for you to get acquainted.’
Kendrick reached into his bag one last time. In the padded pocket was a small device, something he’d never considered he would have to use so early; he took the device and put it in his pocket. When he’d been in the study before, the package he’d positioned had been placed in a carefully chosen spot, because the wall it now rested against would allow the fire to spread within the wood-slatted cavity. It had been placed as an insurance policy, just in case Drayton had become a liability. He had another package, still in the hidden compartment in his bag, which he’d hoped to place elsewhere in the house before leaving.
Change of plan.
‘You’ll be glad to know your efforts to stop us were irritating,’ said Ferris. ‘A new vessel has been harder to find than we ever thought possible, especially when you kept interrupting the work. But we did it at last. A blank slate, that was the trick. A tabula rasa. Uncorrupted by something as mundane as morals. Free of a sense of humanity.’ A buzzing came from the far door, and it opened fractionally. ‘Perhaps it’s time for you to meet your new god.’
Kendrick started to walk towards the door.
‘Don’t,’ warned Drayton. ‘You don’t want to see it. Just kill us both, and end it.’
Kendrick ignored the old man. He wasn’t ready to give up, not yet.
As he neared the door, the smell he’d not quite identified got stronger. He placed it now: the stench of rotting meat. He looked back at Drayton and imagined the dark bloated creature that pulsated on his shoulder, forcing its way into his mind. Kendrick wouldn’t let that happen.
He could hear something now – something heavy, a slow shuffling step coming nearer. He reached out for the door, ready to throw everything he had at the slim chance of survival.
But whatever happened, he’d keep one bullet for himself.
Copyright © 2018 Seth Patrick.
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Seth Patrick was born in Northern Ireland. An Oxford mathematics graduate, he spent thirteen years working in an award-winning games company before becoming a full-time author. He lives in England with his wife and two children. He has written three previous novels: Reviver, Lost Souls, and The Returned (the novelization of the International Emmy Award winning TV series).