Extract / Preview: Blood Red City by Justin Richards

CBP - JR May 15 2/26/42
REF: POTUS A-DIST 422602-1/H
CONFIDENTIAL – FOR DISTRIBUTION LIST ‘A’
PERSONNEL ONLY
RE: Los Angeles Incident 24 February 1942
The President has asked me to inform you that while we still have no tangible evidence of an airborne incursion it seems likely that the incident the press have called “The Battle of Los Angeles” was triggered by an unidentified aircraft.
The airplane was probably Japanese and may be connected to the submarine that shelled the Ellwood fuel facility, north of Santa Barbara, on 23 Feb. Reports that the plane manoeuvred and departed at extremely high speed and was of an unusual design cannot yet be discounted. Following that initial alert, RADAR later detected a trace 120 miles west of LA at 02:15 on night of 24/25 and tracked it in to the coast, where it was lost as it headed inland.

The positive news is that our emergency plan was operated as soon as the potential hostile was reported. A total blackout was enforced throughout the city and the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade responded with machine guns and anti-aircraft fire. In excess of 1400 shells were fired.

The all-clear was sounded at 07:21 on morning of 25 Feb.

We now know as well as minor material damage to buildings and vehicles, there were 5 fatalities as an indirect result of the incident. 2 were heart attacks, the other 3 due to traffic accidents.

Although local press sources are already announcing a cover-up, our official position, as articulated by the Secretary of the Navy yesterday, remains that the incident was a false alarm due to anxiety and war nerves. The differing opinion of Secretary Stimson and the Army is noted.

No further action.

 

***

 

CHAPTER 1

Officially, it was not a battle at all. But to Jed Haines, watching from the safety of his apartment, it certainly looked like one. He’d been up late, planning to finish notes for an article on the shelling of Ellwood. But now it looked like that would take second place as evidence of the USA’s lack of readiness for war on its own mainland.

Another shell exploded high above the city, the smoke caught like clouds in the misty glare of the searchlights. The windows of the apartment rattled alarmingly. He had lost count of the number of percussions and flashes. He’d given up taking photographs – everyone in the city must be awake, and every other newspaperman in Los Angeles who possessed a camera must be taking photos. There would be nothing special about his own snapshots.

Unless, Jed thought, he managed to get a photo that no one else could. He had a good view from the apartment – at the top of one of the higher blocks in the area and on raised ground. Maybe from the roof he’d even see one of the attacking planes.

The night was cold and bitter. Smoke drifted across the roof of the apartment block, making the air taste acrid. Searchlights intersected above Jed as he negotiated a low brick wall and made his way along a lead-lined gulley to find the best vantage point.

He couldn’t hear the planes, just the crump of exploding anti-aircraft shells and the distant chatter of heavy machine guns. Now he thought about it, although the sky was aglow with light and fire, he hadn’t seen a single airplane. Was it just some sort of false alarm brought on by panic? Or a drill for the air defences?

Jed only had the camera for the occasional portrait shot to accompany one of his pieces for the paper. Anything important and they sent out a photographer along with Jed. He discarded the flash – it wouldn’t help tonight.

He scoured the searchlight beams for a sign of anything other than smoke, taking a couple of shots that would probably be completely black. He should have grabbed a coat, but there was no point in staying here long. Give it five minutes and he’d head back inside and make coffee.

When the five minutes was up, or near enough, Jed took another photo. He might have been lucky enough to catch an explosion right overhead. Or he might not. He was too cold to care any more. He was turning to go when he saw it.

Just at the edge of a searchlight beam, off to the east. A dark shape moved smoothly through the night. It looked as if it was part of the night. Darkness given shape. Jed tried to focus on it, but the shadowy form seemed to slip from his vision just as it slipped from the beams of light. It wasn’t an airplane – there were no wings, just a stunted, oval fuselage. Its shape was defined only by what it obscured.

Instinctively he raised the camera. From here, high up and off to the side, he actually had a perfect  shot.  He clicked the shutter, wound the film on, clicked again.  And again.

Through the tiny viewfinder he saw the dark shape moving away, gathering speed.  He lowered the camera, and watched as it accelerated suddenly into the distance – inland towards the desert.

The air continued to crackle and explode around him, but Jed barely noticed. He clutched the camera like it was his most valuable possession – which it quite possibly was.

The battle, if it was a battle, continued for several more hours. Jed changed the film in the camera and snapped a few more pictures from the relative warmth of his apartment. Light and confusion, sound and fury.

When he arrived at the office next morning, calm restored, the talk was of nothing else. But Felix, Jed’s editor, was less than enthusiastic. He had already got the official story that the night’s fireworks had been nothing more than panic and nerves.

‘I called a friend who worked in London last year,’ he told Jed wearily. ‘He said, if you have to ask if it’s an air raid, then it ain’t an air raid.’

‘It wasn’t just panic,’ Jed countered. ‘They were shooting at something.’

‘Shadows and ghosts. That’s what the military say, that’s what the government say. I know because some guy from Washington called to tell me first thing so this morning. No bombs fell, right?’

‘If you say so.’

‘I say so. No bombs, no raid. No planes even. End of story.’

‘There was a plane,’ Jed said. ‘A weird one. I got pictures.’ He brandished the camera as if that proved it.

Felix frowned. ‘You sure?’

‘Won’t know for certain till the film’s developed. But I think so.’

Felix gestured for him to hand over the camera. ‘The army want any pictures we have. They don’t want people thinking the Japs can bomb mainland USA when it was all just a false alarm.’

Reluctantly, Jed handed Felix the camera. ‘If it was a false alarm, why do they want the pictures?’

‘Hey, don’t get smart with me. Because they’re the military. You may not like it, and I certainly don’t like it. But there’s a war on, so what they say goes if we want to keep publishing.’

‘You think they could close us down?’

‘They could stop giving us war news.’

‘So much for a free press,’ Jed muttered.

‘You’ve got a lot to learn,’ Felix told him. ‘Now get out of here and do something useful. Mike’s running the story about the false alarm. Help him with that, and if there’s anything good on this –’ he waved Jed’s camera – ‘I’ll let you know.’

If there was, Jed reckoned the military would keep it to themselves. But he knew there was nothing of interest on the film in the camera. The plane or whatever it was that he’d photographed was on the film he still had in his pocket. He sure as hell wasn’t giving that up.

‘Mike says you saw something,’ Cynthia called out to Jed as he passed.

‘We all saw something.’ He forced a smile.

She took off her glasses, letting them dangle on their chain across her impressive bosom, and leaned forwards across her desk. ‘I mean really saw something. That what you told him? What did Felix say?’

‘He doesn’t want to know.’ Jed perched on the other side of her desk. ‘But yeah, I saw a plane or something all right. Don’t believe me?’ he added, seeing her smile.

She looked round before she answered, her voice low and conspiratorial. ‘Had a few people phone in and say they saw something moving northeast over the city. Must have passed right over your place.’

‘Nerves and panic,’ Jed said warily. ‘Mass hysteria.’

‘That’d be it.’ She leaned back, rolling a pencil between her forefinger and thumb.

‘So what else are people saying?’ Jed asked.

‘It’ll cost you dinner.’ She tapped the end of the pencil against her lips.

‘OK. Dinner.’

‘Got one guy says he reckons this mass hysteria came down somewhere out past Pasadena.’

‘You told Felix about this?’

She put down the pencil and retrieved her glasses. ‘Like you said, he’s not interested. But I thought you might be.’

‘Yeah,’ Jed murmured. He had his hand in his jacket pocket, holding the roll of film from last night. ‘Yeah, I’m interested.’

*

The cellar was lit only by candles. The flickering light did little to dispel the shadows. Darkness clung to the edges of the chamber like a shroud, spilling out of arched alcoves across the flagstoned floor. The stone table in the centre of the vaulted space was like an altar. The figures’ faces were concealed by shadow within the hoods of their cloaks as they processed round the table, their chanting voices echoing off the brickwork.

The young woman lying on the table stared up at the ceiling, watching the smoke drift and shimmer in the flickering light. The stone was cold through the red velvet sheet draped over it and the thin white cotton dress that was all she wore. It reached down to her knees, her bare legs and feet stretching out towards the corners of the table.

As the chanting reached its peak, she blinked, and slowly sat up. Her dark hair was cut short, reaching to the nape of her neck at the back and fringed like a schoolboy’s over her green eyes as she stared into the distance. Her pale face was expressionless.

The chanting died away. The cloaked figures bowed and stepped back, moving to the edges of the room.

The leading figure pushed back his hood to reveal the bald scalp and craggy features beneath. ‘It is done,’ he said with grim anticipation. ‘Now we can only watch and learn.’

*

A wide trail was scorched through the scrubby woodland. Although it was right next to the road, Davy almost missed it. He drove past, Buster beside him with his head stuck out of the window as usual. Davy saw the damage in the rear-view mirror.

‘Hold on there, buddy,’ he said to the dog as he slewed to a halt. ‘Let’s take a look at that.’

He jumped down, Buster following, tongue hanging out as he trotted after his master. Davy stood by the edge of the road, putting his hand out for the black Labrador to lick at as they both stared into the woodland.

It looked like someone had driven a truck through. But a truck thirty feet wide and so hot it had charred the ends of the broken branches and the dry grass and undergrowth. Lucky it hadn’t started a fire, Davy thought. Whatever it was.

Walking slowly along the pathway that had been created, he examined the ends of the branches. Brittle and burned. The woodland would soon recover. A good fire could clear out and revitalise a forest. But this was something different.

The trees got taller and denser further in. Soon there was a canopy over them – the lower branches ripped and burned away, leaving the upper layers still intact. The weak winter sunlight filtered through dappling the charred ground. Unsettled, Buster kept close to Davy, making small whimpering noises.

There was something there, at the end of the trail. The scattered sunlight glinted on metal. Maybe it was a truck. Except it looked smooth, rounded, like a structure rather than a vehicle. Had it always been here, whatever it was?

Davy stopped, peering at it from a distance. He wasn’t one to get nervous or scared. He’d been farming this land, or as much of it as could be farmed, for over thirty years. He reckoned there was nothing left that could surprise him. He was wrong.

But nervous or not, there was something unsettling about what he could see. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, Davy could make out a dark patch on the curved side of the structure. An opening. Something moved in the darkness. He was aware of Buster tensing beside him, teeth bared and a deep growl emanating from the dog’s throat.

The shape detached itself lazily from the darkness, slowly approaching. Picking its way carefully through the damaged undergrowth. Eyes gleamed as they caught the filtered light, and Davy almost laughed.

It was a cat. Probably one of the farm cats wandering in search of food. This time of year, there weren’t so many mice in the barns or out in the fields. Black as a shadow, the cat didn’t seem at all intimidated by Davy and Buster. It continued towards them, eyes flicking from side to side before stopping abruptly. Suddenly alert.

Buster was still growling. The dog took a shuffled step backwards and gave a bark. Buster never barked.

‘What’s wrong, lad? It’s just a cat.’

*

She swung her legs off the side of the stone table and leaned forward. She half jumped, half fell forwards to the floor, landing on feet and hands together. The cloaked figures retreated to the edges of the chamber, giving her room. But she seemed oblivious to their presence.

For a moment the woman was still, looking round, exploring a landscape only she could see through the smoky haze. Candlelight played across her features as they contorted, lips drawn back from her teeth. Shadows elongated and sharpened her features, made her curled fingers more like claws as she scratched at the floor in front of her.

Slowly she moved forwards, on all fours. The muscles of her shoulders tensed through the thin cotton of the dress. Her body seemed to elongate as she arched her back. Her mouth opened in a hiss of satisfaction.

She moved slowly through the dim light, eyes flicking from side to side before stopping abruptly. Suddenly alert. She stretched out her arms in front of her, leaning backwards, mouth opening. Her eyes glittered as they caught the light.

*

The cat was right in front of them now. It stretched out its front legs, leaning backwards and yawning. It shook its head suddenly, as if to rid itself of fleas. Something glittered as it moved, something behind the head. A collar, perhaps?

Davy stepped towards the cat. None of the farm cats had collars. Maybe this was a pet. An expensive collar might mean a reward. He could see it now, as the cat stared back at him through unblinking emerald eyes. The collar looked heavy, dark metal inlaid with a tracery of intricate silver lines which caught and reflected the light.

Crouching down, Davy reached out his hand, encouraging the cat towards him. It stared back, eyes narrowing slightly. At the edge of his vision, Davy was aware of sudden movement.

Noise – the sudden barking as Buster shot past him. Straight at the cat.

‘No – Buster, leave!’

But Davy’s voice was drowned out by the dog’s barks and the screech of the cat. The two animals were a rolling mass of fur and claws. The poor cat wouldn’t stand a chance against the large gundog. All Davy could do was shout at Buster to stop.

*

A blur of motion in the guttering light as she rolled backwards. Her hands curled into claws, slashing at the air.

The bald man licked his pale lips as he watched, eyes gleaming.

Her face was a mask of anger and determination as she lashed out again at the invisible attacker. A red streak appeared in the front of the white dress, blood seeping through from inside, as if a knife had been drawn from her shoulder down to her navel. Another stain close to the hem. Patches of blood diffused through the white cotton.

The thin dress was soaked red, clinging wetly to her body, emphasising every curve in scarlet. Her hands were slick with blood, grasping it out of the empty air…

*

Something splashed against his cheek and Davy instinctively glanced up to see if it was raining. He wiped his hand across his face. It came away red. Blood.

The dog’s barks were howls. The cat’s screeches unabated. Somehow the cat was on top of the dog, raking its elongated claws down as Buster rolled and thrashed, desperate to throw the cat off. But it clung on with its hind legs, claws deep in the dog’s fur, biting into its flesh with unnatural strength and determination.

Fur slick with blood, the dog was weakening – losing blood from a ripped artery. It collapsed panting on its back. The cat forced its way from underneath, then suddenly it was on top of the dog again, forepaws whipping out and claws slashing across the dog’s exposed throat, where the fur was thinnest. Barks became liquid howls. The cat jumped down, arching its back as it watched the lifeblood pumping from its opponent’s neck.

Davy stared in horror, rooted to the spot, sick from what he’d just seen. The cat tilted its head slightly, staring up at him. Its fur was matted and stained and damp. Davy took a step towards it, rage building within him. He’d stamp on the bastard thing. He’d rip its scrawny head off.

The anger mixed with sorrow as he watched Buster’s frantic panting slow to a halt. Became fear as he realised he couldn’t move his leg. He looked down – and saw the dark, bulbous shape like a huge spider that held him tightly wrapped between its front legs.

Then he was falling, legs pulled from under him. His face was level with the cat’s, staring into the image of his own terrified face reflected in its unblinking green eyes. Behind the cat, another of the dark spider-like creatures scuttled through the burned undergrowth towards him.

*

Norma Wiles was dozing by the fire when she heard the familiar sound of the truck pulling up outside. She went through to the kitchen to put some coffee on for Davy.

He watched her from the doorway, silhouetted by the low afternoon sun behind him.

‘You’ve been gone a while,’ Norma said. ‘Reckon you’ll be feeling the cold.’

His reply was dry and devoid of inflection. A simple ‘No’.

Norma frowned. It didn’t sound like Davy at all.

A black cat pushed between her husband’s feet and padded into the kitchen, looking up at Norma. Its fur was matted, a thick metal collar gleaming beneath.

‘Where’s Buster?’ she asked. The dog was usually into the kitchen before its master, looking for food and water. ‘We don’t need the dog.’

Davy stepped into the light and Norma gasped. ‘What’s happened to you. Look at your clothes – and you’ve got blood across your face. Are you all right?’

‘Never better.’

‘That’s not how it looks, let me tell you.’

He shook his head. ‘You can’t tell me anything. I already know everything you do. Everything I need to know.’

He reached out for her, and she let him put his hands on her shoulders, drawing her towards him. She felt his familiar callused hand on her cheek, stroking. Down to her throat.

The cat jumped up onto the kitchen table in a single elegant movement, as if to get a better view of them. It tilted its head slightly, watching.

As Davy Wiles held his wife’s neck carefully between his hands. Then twisted.

*

She padded across the floor, hands and feet stained red. At the stone table, she paused, then jumped easily up in a single elegant movement, as if she weighed almost nothing, landing on all fours.

*

Norma’s body slumped to the floor. The cat closed its eyes and lay down on the table. It understood that it needed to rest. Soon it would start on a long journey.

*

Blood was streaked across her face, running down her chin and neck, trickling between her breasts where the sodden fabric clung to her body. The dress was as scarlet as the velvet sheet over the stone table.

Head tilted slightly to one side, she seemed to be watching something. Her bloodied mouth twisted into a cruel smile. Then her eyes blinked rapidly and she toppled sideways in a dead faint. She lay across the table, one arm thrown out over the edge, legs twisted under her. Her chest rose and fell slowly, rhythmically, in peaceful sleep. Bloodstained scarlet across crimson velvet in the dying light of the candles.

 

***

The Blood Red City by Justin Richards published by Del Rey UK for more information visit http://www.delreyuk.com/index.php/the-blood-red-city-never-war-2/ (and / or see below)

 

CBP - JR May 15 THE BLOOD RED CITY
Justin Richards
9780091955991
PB
8.99
Del Rey
THE VRIL ARE HERE.
THE WAR FOR HUMANITY HAS BEGUN
The Germans have lost control of their most deadly discovery. The alien Vril have awakened and are scouring the Earth for ancient relics.
From the Hollywood lights of LA to the bloody devastation of Stalingrad, Major Guy Pentecross and the team at Station Z must uncover the mystery and stop the Vril and Nazis alike.
Failure will mean the end of life as we know it.

 

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