In just over a week, Michael Wood’s A Room Full of Killers, the third gripping crime novel in the DCI Matilda Darke series, publishes in ebook. But we have an exclusive sneak peek just for you!
Manchester. Tuesday, 7 January 2014
I was in agony. The pain was immense. I couldn’t believe it. I looked across at the alarm clock and saw that it was just after 1:30 a.m., and I hadn’t been to sleep yet. How could I when all I wanted to do was vomit everything I’d ever eaten.
I managed to roll out of bed and practically crawled to the bathroom. I made it to the toilet just in time. The sick was never-ending. I honestly thought I was going to bring up an organ. There was so much of it. It was like that scene from The Exorcist.
I must have woken my sister, Ruby, because I looked up to wipe my mouth and she was standing in the doorway. She had her hands on her hips and a serious look on her face like she was going to tell me off. If I hadn’t felt like I was dying I would have laughed. How could she try and look mean and threatening when she was wearing Hello Kitty pyjamas?
‘Could you be any louder about it?’
‘Sorry, Ruby, did I wake you?’
‘No, I always go for a walk around this time.’ She looked at her wrist as if there was a watch there.
‘Sorry. I don’t think I should have reheated that curry I had for my tea.’
‘Have you made yourself sick so you don’t have to go to school in the morning?’
‘No. Why would I do that?’
‘Because I heard you telling Dad you hadn’t done your science homework.’
‘I’ve not made myself sick, Ruby. Go back to bed.’
I managed to pick myself up off the floor, although I felt dizzy and the sweat was pouring off me. I had to steady myself against the wall. I was shaking and hot but I felt cold at the same time. I had no idea a chicken korma could cause such agony.
‘Do you want me to wake up Mum and Dad?’
‘No. It’s OK. I think I’ll go downstairs and see if we’ve got anything to settle my stomach.’
‘Are you going back to bed?’
‘Yes,’ she said, folding her arms.
‘Go on then.’
‘I’m waiting until you’ve gone downstairs. I don’t want you to fall.’
I went to go downstairs and kept looking back at Ruby, who wasn’t moving. I knew what she was going to do. I would have made some kind of sarcastic remark but I was frightened of opening my mouth and being sick again, because Dad had just polished the floorboards. He’d kill me if I splattered regurgitated korma all over them.
I was halfway down the stairs when I heard Ruby tap on Mum and Dad’s bedroom door. ‘Mum, I had that dream again. Can I come in with you and Dad?’
I smiled to myself. Ruby had promised that she’d sleep in her own bed all through the night. It was her New Year’s resolution yet she’d broken it within three days. She hated sleeping on her own, God knows why.
As soon as I opened the door to the kitchen, Max jumped out of his basket, tail wagging, and thought I wanted to play with him. He started jumping on his back legs. As much as I loved the little dude, playing with a Fox Terrier at two o’clock in the morning was not my idea of fun. He ran over to the back door so I let him out.
I left the door open while I looked for something to take. Dad suffered really badly with his stomach. He only had to look at a jar of beetroot and he got indigestion. He was bound to have something that could stop my stomach doing somersaults.
I found a small tub of Andrews Salts and made myself up a glass. I swigged it back in one gulp and shuddered at the taste. It was nasty.
Max came running back into the kitchen with a tennis ball in his mouth and dropped it at my feet. I wasn’t going outside to play fetch in the garden. It was bloody freezing out there. I made him go back to his bed, locked the back door and went into the living room. I didn’t have the strength to walk up the stairs.
I curled up on the sofa, pulled the blanket around me and tried to get comfortable. Whatever was in that medicine seemed to be working as there was no gurgling sound coming from my stomach. I wasn’t shaking as much either.
I was shattered. I looked at the clock – 02:15. I’d never been up this late before in my life. I was just nodding off when Max came in and licked my face. He lay down in front of me on the floor. He could tell I was ill and was looking after me, bless him. He was snoring in seconds. I wish I could fall asleep so quickly.
Max started licking my hand and barking. I briefly opened my eyes but, as it was still dark, I nudged Max away and pulled the blanket over my head. If he wanted to go out again he’d have to wait. I was finally warm and comfortable.
Another bark. This time he was nuzzling my hand and trying to pull the blanket off me with his teeth. He may be a cute dog and able to get away with a lot of things, but there was no way I was getting up for him now.
‘Max,’ I whispered loudly. ‘You’ll wake everyone up. Go to sleep. Now!’
I waited. I heard him groan, walk around in a circle a few times then drop to the floor. Thank God for that.
It seemed like only minutes later that he started fussing me again. He was yapping, barking, tugging at the blanket, and licking my face. I threw the blanket off me and stood up to turn on the living room light. I can’t remember what I was saying to Max but as soon as the room lit up I saw exactly why he’d been behaving so oddly.
There was a leak coming through the light fitting in the middle of the room. It didn’t make sense. The bathroom was above the kitchen, not the living room. My eyes adjusted. Shit! It wasn’t water pooling on the coffee table. It wasn’t water dripping and splashing all over the cream carpet. It was blood. I looked up at the light; the surrounding ceiling was a mass of blood. It was dripping down, splattering against the glass, bouncing off and soaking the carpet. This wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. I was having a nightmare caused by my fever, surely.
Max barked. I looked down at him and he was speckled with blood. His paws were covered in it. Oh my God. This wasn’t happening. Surely, I was running a fever from all the vomiting and having a nightmare.
I ran out of the living room and up the stairs, two at a time. ‘Mum, Dad, wake up,’ I called out. It was pitch-black and still early so my voice echoed around the house. I didn’t care if I woke up the whole street.
I knocked on their door but didn’t wait for a reply. I grabbed the handle and pushed. I flicked the light switch on.
‘Mum … ’
That was the moment everything stopped. My life ended right at that second as I looked into my parents’ bedroom and saw a scene of horror. All I could see was red. The walls, the ceiling, the floor, everything was covered in red. Huge sprays of blood covered every surface.
I could feel my heart pounding hard in my chest as if it was about to erupt. No. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be real.
I walked further into the room and looked at the bed, trying to make sense of what my eyes were seeing, but my brain hadn’t caught up yet. The bed was a tangled mess of limbs and everything was dripping. It was like a scene from a torture porn film. I didn’t know if anybody was on the bed or not. Then I saw it. Dad had given Mum a really expensive watch for Christmas, just a week or so earlier. She’d loved it and spent most of Christmas Day staring at her wrist. She was still wearing it but the face was smashed. Her arm was covered in blood, but it wasn’t attached to her body. I swallowed hard to keep the bile from rising in my throat. I saw Dad’s leg with the Manchester City football shield tattoo. Like Mum’s arm it was splattered with blood. And there, in the middle of the bed, I saw the worst horror of all: the blood-stained white face of Hello Kitty winking at me.