About the author

Husband, father, writer

The 3 most important things in Iain's life are his wife, his son, & his fans

Iain Rob Wright is from the English town of Redditch, where he worked for many years as a mobile telephone salesman. After publishing his debut novel, THE FINAL WINTER, in 2011 to great success, he quit his job and became a full time writer. He now has over a dozen novels, and in 2013 he co-wrote a book with bestselling author, J.A.Konrath.

The three most important things in his life are his wife, his son, and his fans.

His work is currently being adapted for graphic novels, audio books, and foreign audiences. He's an active member of the Horror Writer's Association and a massive animal lover.

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Wings of Sorrow

Wings of Sorrow

Scarlet is a sixteen-year-old girl with no friends living with her single father. The one thing her life has none of is excitement. That’s until she meets a naked stranger beside the lake. Then everything changes.

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The Gates

The Gates

What will you do when the world ends? That’s a question that needs answering quickly when the gates to Hell open up all over Earth. Taking place across the globe is an apocalypse like no other. Humanity is at war.

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SOFT TARGET-FREE

SOFT TARGET-FREE

A non-stop action thriller in the vein of Jack Reacher and the television series, 24. The first book in the Major Crime Unit series is now free, so don't miss your chance to to meet the acerbic Captain Sarah Stone.

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SEA SICK-FREE

SEA SICK-FREE

Policeman Jack Wardsley is boarding The Spirit of Kirkpatrick, a cruise liner built for relaxation, but offering only doom via an unstoppable plague. The last thing Jack will get is a chance to relax.

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What other authors are saying

J.A.Konrath

J.A.Konrath

"Iain Rob Wright scares the Hell out of me."

David Moody

"Iain Rob Wright is sick and twisted."

David Moody
Ryan C. Thomas

Ryan C. Thomas

"Wholly original stories and characters to root for."

Matt Shaw

"A Master of the genre."

Matt Shaw
Aaron Warwick Dries

Aaron Warwick Dries

"An author who can build tension, atmosphere, and genuine dread out of a delicate snowflake."

The Gates

Enjoy the first 3 chapters of bestseller, THE GATES

Chapter One

Elizabeth Creasy froze.

The mother bird and her fluffy grey ducklings marched single-file from the hedge on one side of the road to the embankment on the other. When the mother noticed Elizabeth, and her agitated cocker spaniel, Boycie, she picked up speed. Her brood, in turn, picked up their speed—a cute little army marching on the double. Their feathery advance took them into the long grass where they promptly disappeared.

Elizabeth grinned. “Oh, what a lovely day, Boycie.”

Boycie looked up, tongue lolling out, but said nothing.

It was indeed a lovely day. The greens were green, and the sky was as blue as a crystal ocean. If not for a slight thickness to the air heralding a possible storm, it was the perfect afternoon.

Two years retired now and yet to become restless, Elizabeth’s daily jaunts through the fields and farms surrounding her home never failed to exhilarate her. After decades toiling in an office she’d all but forgotten the benefits of simple fresh air, and it’d been an invigorating experience reacquainting with the joyous beauty of nature. If only her beloved Dennis were still alive to enjoy it with her, but that was not to be. At fifty-eight, an aortic rupture had snatched her husband away while he drove his evening bus route. The ensuing low-speed crash had not injured anyone, but Elizabeth had been left a heart-broken widow. She lamented on the time they could have spent together—‘cuddling’ in bed all morning and spending the afternoon feeding ducks by the lake. Simple pleasures sure, but oh, the absolute best.

She hadn’t been with a man since her beloved Dennis had passed, but Lord knows she had felt the need. Lately, she’d even been considering joining an online dating site just to get a man between her legs. Only so much batteries and plastic could do for a woman of her age—and Colin Firth wasn’t cutting it anymore. She needed a real man, with real man parts.

Up ahead, the little knoll she enjoyed climbing came into view. Twelve months ago, the act of hiking up it would have assaulted her knees, but now she could assail it briskly. From atop she could gaze right across the rolling fields to the sleepy village of Crapstone where she kept a modest two-bedroom cottage. The house in Torquay she had shared with Dennis had been too painful to keep, so she’d sold up a year after his death to purchase the cosy home she and Boycie now lived in.

At the bottom of the hill, she wheezed a little. The muggy weather made it harder to breathe and she was getting out of breath. Her daily hike would have to be a little more leisurely today. You could never be too careful at her age.
“Come on, Boycie, up we go.”

Obedient as always, her cocker spaniel started up the hill at an ambling pace matching her own, and together they trampled the thick, green grass as they progressed towards the top. Birds chirped, and the sunshine was so potent that it seemed to massage her shoulders with invisible hands.

She started singing—“All things bright and beautiful…”

Boycie barked.

“Settle down, Boycie. I don’t want a duet.”

Boycie barked again.

“Now, now, Boycie, settle down.” The cocker spaniel hopped from paw to paw, floppy brown ears twitching. Elizabeth was about to scold him when she saw what had got him so worked up. “Hmm, that wasn’t there yesterday, was it, boy?”

The smooth black stone was the size of a football, and out of place up on the lonely hill. No other rocks or boulders lay around, and certainly none that were jet-black like this one. It more resembled volcanic glass than anything that should be found in the English countryside. If not for the delicate grey veins snaking over its surface, it could have been an old-fashioned bowling ball, or one of those cartoon bombs with the fuses and ACME written on the side. The closer she got to it, the less smooth the stone appeared—like how a television picture degraded when you went right up to the screen.

Boycie tugged on his lead, hard enough he almost yanked free of her grasp. She gave it a swift tug and brought the spaniel back to heel. “Behave, Boycie! What’s got into you?”
The birds stopped chirping and the warmth of the sun disappeared, yet it was still so muggy that it was hard to take a breath. A distant roll of thunder, but not a single cloud hanging in the sky.

Elizabeth’s eyes fixed on the strange black stone. The word ‘obsidian’ popped into her mind. She reached out to touch it, not knowing why other than something inside of her demanded it. Her fingertips were just about to make contact when Boycie bit her.

“Damn it!”

The leash slipped out of her grasp and Boycie fled, running down the hill full pelt like a greyhound chasing a rabbit.

“Boycie, come back here!”

“Damn it.” Her hand throbbed something terrible; a purplish-blue blotch forming where one long canine had crushed her skin. Boycie had never snapped at her like that before. Never. What had got into him?

Then came more pain.

Thwump thwump thwump…

Elizabeth turned and clutched her forehead. The delicate grey veins on the stone’s surface had started to pulse and vibrate. It was calling out to her. She couldn’t help herself. She reached out.

Pressed her fingertips against the stone.

Ice cold. Like running her hand down the inside of a fridge.

It felt… wrong. Unnatural.

Elizabeth was just about to pull away when something seized her. Her fingertips fused against the stone’s icy surface. A powerful force snatched her mind and showed her unbelievable things. Distressing images seared themselves into her soul and boiled the blood in her veins.

She saw horrors—exquisite tortures of the worst kind.

A vast legion of monstrous creatures.

She saw Hell.

The pictures in Elizabeth’s mind were so wondrous and terrifying that her eyeballs melted inside her skull and leaked down her cheeks while her heart burst in her chest like a pin pricked balloon. When her sixty seven year old body slumped to the ground it was an empty husk and her days of ambling through fields were over—her retirement irrevocably ended.

The cold black stone went back to sleep.

Chapter One

Elizabeth Creasy froze.

The mother bird and her fluffy grey ducklings marched single-file from the hedge on one side of the road to the embankment on the other. When the mother noticed Elizabeth, and her agitated cocker spaniel, Boycie, she picked up speed. Her brood, in turn, picked up their speed—a cute little army marching on the double. Their feathery advance took them into the long grass where they promptly disappeared.

Elizabeth grinned. “Oh, what a lovely day, Boycie.”

Boycie looked up, tongue lolling out, but said nothing.

It was indeed a lovely day. The greens were green, and the sky was as blue as a crystal ocean. If not for a slight thickness to the air heralding a possible storm, it was the perfect afternoon.

Two years retired now and yet to become restless, Elizabeth’s daily jaunts through the fields and farms surrounding her home never failed to exhilarate her. After decades toiling in an office she’d all but forgotten the benefits of simple fresh air, and it’d been an invigorating experience reacquainting with the joyous beauty of nature. If only her beloved Dennis were still alive to enjoy it with her, but that was not to be. At fifty-eight, an aortic rupture had snatched her husband away while he drove his evening bus route. The ensuing low-speed crash had not injured anyone, but Elizabeth had been left a heart-broken widow. She lamented on the time they could have spent together—‘cuddling’ in bed all morning and spending the afternoon feeding ducks by the lake. Simple pleasures sure, but oh, the absolute best.

She hadn’t been with a man since her beloved Dennis had passed, but Lord knows she had felt the need. Lately, she’d even been considering joining an online dating site just to get a man between her legs. Only so much batteries and plastic could do for a woman of her age—and Colin Firth wasn’t cutting it anymore. She needed a real man, with real man parts.

Up ahead, the little knoll she enjoyed climbing came into view. Twelve months ago, the act of hiking up it would have assaulted her knees, but now she could assail it briskly. From atop she could gaze right across the rolling fields to the sleepy village of Crapstone where she kept a modest two-bedroom cottage. The house in Torquay she had shared with Dennis had been too painful to keep, so she’d sold up a year after his death to purchase the cosy home she and Boycie now lived in.

At the bottom of the hill, she wheezed a little. The muggy weather made it harder to breathe and she was getting out of breath. Her daily hike would have to be a little more leisurely today. You could never be too careful at her age.
“Come on, Boycie, up we go.”

Obedient as always, her cocker spaniel started up the hill at an ambling pace matching her own, and together they trampled the thick, green grass as they progressed towards the top. Birds chirped, and the sunshine was so potent that it seemed to massage her shoulders with invisible hands.

She started singing—“All things bright and beautiful…”

Boycie barked.

“Settle down, Boycie. I don’t want a duet.”

Boycie barked again.

“Now, now, Boycie, settle down.” The cocker spaniel hopped from paw to paw, floppy brown ears twitching. Elizabeth was about to scold him when she saw what had got him so worked up. “Hmm, that wasn’t there yesterday, was it, boy?”

The smooth black stone was the size of a football, and out of place up on the lonely hill. No other rocks or boulders lay around, and certainly none that were jet-black like this one. It more resembled volcanic glass than anything that should be found in the English countryside. If not for the delicate grey veins snaking over its surface, it could have been an old-fashioned bowling ball, or one of those cartoon bombs with the fuses and ACME written on the side. The closer she got to it, the less smooth the stone appeared—like how a television picture degraded when you went right up to the screen.

Boycie tugged on his lead, hard enough he almost yanked free of her grasp. She gave it a swift tug and brought the spaniel back to heel. “Behave, Boycie! What’s got into you?”
The birds stopped chirping and the warmth of the sun disappeared, yet it was still so muggy that it was hard to take a breath. A distant roll of thunder, but not a single cloud hanging in the sky.

Elizabeth’s eyes fixed on the strange black stone. The word ‘obsidian’ popped into her mind. She reached out to touch it, not knowing why other than something inside of her demanded it. Her fingertips were just about to make contact when Boycie bit her.

“Damn it!”

The leash slipped out of her grasp and Boycie fled, running down the hill full pelt like a greyhound chasing a rabbit.

“Boycie, come back here!”

“Damn it.” Her hand throbbed something terrible; a purplish-blue blotch forming where one long canine had crushed her skin. Boycie had never snapped at her like that before. Never. What had got into him?

Then came more pain.

Thwump thwump thwump…

Elizabeth turned and clutched her forehead. The delicate grey veins on the stone’s surface had started to pulse and vibrate. It was calling out to her. She couldn’t help herself. She reached out.

Pressed her fingertips against the stone.

Ice cold. Like running her hand down the inside of a fridge.

It felt… wrong. Unnatural.

Elizabeth was just about to pull away when something seized her. Her fingertips fused against the stone’s icy surface. A powerful force snatched her mind and showed her unbelievable things. Distressing images seared themselves into her soul and boiled the blood in her veins.

She saw horrors—exquisite tortures of the worst kind.

A vast legion of monstrous creatures.

She saw Hell.

The pictures in Elizabeth’s mind were so wondrous and terrifying that her eyeballs melted inside her skull and leaked down her cheeks while her heart burst in her chest like a pin pricked balloon. When her sixty seven year old body slumped to the ground it was an empty husk and her days of ambling through fields were over—her retirement irrevocably ended.

The cold black stone went back to sleep.

Chapter Two

When Rick’s song came on the radio he winced and pulled out the plug. Few things upset him more than hearing his number 1 hit, Cross to Bear. It was fingernails on a blackboard, and its title had become more than a little apt. Its existence was his cross to bear.

Sitting in the kitchen of his vast country home, he poured himself another whiskey and switched on the wall-mounted television. Evening had not yet arrived, and the only programmes airing were a couple of convoluted quiz shows and a mock-court case with Judge Kettleby. Today, the gesticulating gavel-wielder heard a case about a stolen Xbox. Riveting stuff.

Rick slid off his stool and took his whiskey into the living room, where he ambled over to the sleek black piano in the corner. Despite the melancholic feelings playing always stirred in him, he never lost affection for his beloved parlour grand. He’d saved six long years for it back in the days before he’d acquired his fortune. The sense of achievement of finally making enough money to buy the beautiful instrument had made him cherish it even more. Now he could buy a piano worth twice as much, but it wouldn’t mean half so much.

Sitting down at the piano, Rick placed his whiskey on the coaster already on the shiny black lid. His fingers began to play automatically.

House of the Rising Sun.

Closing his eyes, he slipped away and became a vessel through which the music flowed. It was impossible not to smile against the haunting onslaught of well-played piano music. It was that feeling of peace and calm that he felt as he caressed the keys that had first attracted him to the music industry. Life contained so much misery, so if he was going to devote his life to something, it would be this—creating beauty with his fingertips.

A bum note.

He lifted both hands away from the keys in horror. The uninvited C Major had been unmistakable. His ears did not lie.

The doorbell rang again.

He sighed.

He hadn’t played a bum note after all—someone had pressed the doorbell in the midst of his playing.

He leapt up with a grunt. Unannounced visitors were not something he often received, thanks to the imposing iron gate that stood at the end of his long gravel driveway. He had no idea who would be calling on him now.

The security panel in the entrance hallway illuminated and the CCTV-controlled video feed had activated. The LCD monitor showed a man outside, dressed in a suit and tie, despite the balmy weather.

Rick activated the intercom and spoke into the microphone. “Who is it?”
The suited gentleman spotted the CCTV camera and waved. “Don’t you recognise your own brother? That tiny bit of fame must have gone to your head.”

Rick groaned. “Long time no see, Keith. Come on in.”

What the hell was his brother doing here?

He pressed the gate release and then went and unlocked the front door. He waited on the front step while a burgundy Range Rover crunched up his pebble driveway. It’d been an age since he and Keith had seen each other, so this unexpected visit was rather…unexpected.

The Range Rover pulled up next to Rick’s imported Mustang in front of the property’s detached double garage where Keith switched off the engine and got out. He looked smug and proud for no reason, but that was ordinary for him. “Hello, brother,” he said.

“Nice motor,” said Rick. “I remember you always wanted a Range.”

“Best thing England ever made. Got her last year after a particularly lucrative month.” He patted the bonnet lovingly then shot a thumb at Rick’s sky-blue 2009 Mustang. “I don’t know how you can drive that foreign abomination.”

“Seemed a good purchase at the time.” Truth was, Rick had never been much of a car fanatic and only got the American import because it felt like something rich people did. For the amount he drove it, it’d been a waste of money, but it was nice to look at and roared like a dragon on the highways.

Keith didn’t wait to be invited. He stepped through the doorway into the entrance hall where he glanced around nosily. “Place is a little big for just you, isn’t it?”
Rick glanced at his property and considered the truth of it. The Edwardian mansion, with its rough stone floors and gnarled mahogany beams, was perhaps a trifle grand for a single, essentially unemployed man, but it was also the only thing that reminded him of the success he’d once been. Win or lose, he’d made enough money to live in a massive house like this. He shrugged. “I like it here. Doesn’t feel so big after a while.”
Keith nodded, but said nothing.

They both went into the living room, which was modern compared to the rest of the lower floor which still retained its Edwardian charms. They gave each other an awkward hug.

“It’s good to see you, Keith. Take a seat, I’ll get you a drink.”

“Nothing for me, thanks. Marcy and I don’t much touch alcohol these days.”

“Really? Good on you both.” Despite his brother’s refusal, Rick went and retrieved his whiskey from the piano and gulped it down, then poured himself a fresh measure from the bottle in the kitchen. Back in the living room, he found Keith spread out on the couch like it was his own.

Rick perched on the other couch. “So, you really don’t drink?”

“Well, you know how it is. We don’t want to raise Maxwell thinking that booze is an ordinary part of life.”

“You mean like dad raised us?”

“Oh, come on, Rick. Dad was never as horrid as you make him out.”

“You’d gone to university by the time he was really bad. I was thirteen. I’m the one who got to see the bastard he turned into—I’m the one who got to watch him knock mum about.”

Keith sighed. “Mum and dad’s marriage was nothing to do with us.”

“Anyway,” Rick changed the subject, “how is Maxwell? He must be—what?—four by now?”

“Four in October. He’ll be starting school soon, though I think he’s ready now. He’s so smart, Rick. I tell you, he’ll be Prime Minister one day.”

“Must take after you. You’ve always been driven.”

Keith looked smug, and Rick chided himself for kneading his brother’s ego. Rick could be King of the Universe and Keith wouldn’t give him the slightest congratulation, so why was he throwing his brother a bone? Rick still remembered the look of devastation on Keith’s face when he’d signed his record deal. No happiness, no pride in his younger brother’s accomplishments—just resentment and anger. Rick became the rich and successful brother, and Keith detested it. When it’d all inevitably gone down the pan, Keith’s transparent glee almost ended their relationship. Perhaps it should have, but Rick had allowed himself to fall back into the old routine—Keith turning up his nose at everything he did, and him trying to act like he didn’t notice.

“So, why are you here, Keith? I haven’t seen you in over a year—since Tabitha got married.”

“Tabby’s already divorced. I could have told you it was on the cards the moment they said their vows. He was a carpenter.”

Rick frowned. “So?”

“Just saying. Chap didn’t have much going on. Tabby wanted more.”

“She told you that, did she?”
Keith shrugged. “It was obvious.”

“So why are you here?” Rick demanded. “Not to talk about our cousin’s divorce, I’m sure.”

“Can’t I just drop by to see my little brother? I wanted to check in on you, make sure you hadn’t hanged yourself in this big empty mansion.”

“Why would I hang myself?”

“Because… Well, you know.”

“What? Because I lost my record deal and haven’t been able to get another one? Or because they make funny videos on the Internet about how cheesy my one and only hit song was. Rick Astley called me the other day and thanked me for replacing him. Should I just hang myself?”

“I never said that.”

Rick knocked back his whiskey and went to get another one. “Maybe I’ll kill myself when my money runs out. Fortunately, I made a shitload of it, so that will probably never happen. Least I’m a stinking rich failure, huh?”

“Rick, come on…”

Rick stormed off into the kitchen. Once he’d poured himself a fresh drink, he placed his elbows on the counter and held his head in his hands. If Keith thought he was depressed, it was because he damn well was. Suicide, though, had never crossed his mind. As much as he hated the sour turn his life had taken, he had made it once. He’d been top of the charts and saw his face printed on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. Most musicians only dreamt of getting a shot like he had, and whether it had lasted or not, Rick had been lucky. For that reason alone, he was proud. It was just difficult finding self-respect when you were a one-hit wonder. If a man made a fortune by selling a business and retiring at thirty, he was forever successful, but if a musician got rich off one song and then hung up his guitar, he was a joke—his short career became a punchline. People enjoyed watching celebrities fall—it was modern blood sport—and while Rick had been a celebrity for all of five minutes, he had fallen hard.

“…grizzly scene discovered just outside the Devonshire village of Crapstone.”
Keith walked into the kitchen. “Hey, Rick, I’m sorry if I upset you.”

“Quiet a second. They’re talking about something that’s happened in Crapstone. That’s only a few miles from here.”

Keith pulled up a stool next to Rick, and they both watched the television while the news report continued. There was a female reporter standing at the base of a grassy hill surrounded by police tape. Several men and women in latex gloves hurried around, working on something out of sight.

“Atop this small hill, the body of pensioner, Elizabeth Creasy—a retired local businesswoman—was found dead; her eyes badly mutilated in what police are suspecting was a premeditated and personal attack.”

Rick scrunched up his face. “Poor lady.”

“She must have annoyed the wrong person,” said Keith.

“Most bizarre,” the reporter continued, “is the presence of a bizarre object found beside the crime scene. A smooth black stone was discovered right next to Mrs Creasy’s body, but all attempts so far to collect it have failed. In fact, several attempts to interact with the stone have resulted in further casualties as two police officers, first to arrive at the scene, both suffered fatal injuries shortly upon touching the object in question. A team of geologists from the University of Exeter are now examining the stone, but their initial studies are yet to provide any insight into its nature. Police are hesitant to draw any conclusions, but this has been a strange and brutal attack in one of the country’s most idyllic locations. I’m Kimberly Wilkins, back to the studio.”

Rick pulled a face. “Horrible.”

Keith shrugged.

“Somebody mutilated her eyes, Keith. I don’t know how a person can…” He sighed and took a nip of whiskey. “And that stone they were talking about… They said they couldn’t collect it. What does that even mean?”

“That it’s heavy. Who cares?”

Rick wasn’t sure why he cared. Perhaps it was because he often felt so isolated and vulnerable here on his own. He sometimes lay in bed at night hearing noises and worrying about robbers creeping around downstairs. That might be why the thought of an old lady being mutilated and murdered just miles away from his home was more than a little unnerving. “I just find the whole thing sad,” he said. “Why would someone do that to a pensioner?”

Keith chuckled. “You always think too much, Rick. I remember when our dog, Cassie, died.
You cried in your room for a week. You were such a funny child.”

Rick topped up his whiskey and exhaled into his glass, then took another long swig. He clonked the empty glass down on the counter and took a moment to study his older brother—a slightly plumper, slightly balder version of himself. His previously jet-black hair had lightened towards grey and his nose seemed bigger. “What do you want, Keith? Will you tell me why you’re here? I know it’s not because you missed me.”

Keith rubbed a hand against his stubbled chin. It was unlike him not to be clean-shaven.

“Maybe I should have that drink after all, Rick. I’ll have whatever you’re having.”

Rick poured his brother a whiskey in a fresh glass and slid it towards him. “Why are you here for God’s sake? Will you just tell me?”

Keith wrapped his fingers around the whiskey glass and stared down at the oak-coloured contents. “Because I have no place else to go. I need to stay here tonight, Rick. Maybe for a while.”

Rick closed his eyes. He could not have got a worse answer.

Chapter Three

“Come on, Mina,” shouted David. “We need to get there before the others. There won’t be room to swing your elbows soon, and I need those shots.”

Mina kept a firm grip on her camera and fought to keep up. She was fifteen years younger than David, but when there was a story to be had, the man could move like the wind. His yellow hair flowed behind him like a thoroughbred’s mane, and he slipped through the crowd like water through a sieve. All Mina caught were brief flashes of his Argyle socks. She, meanwhile, bumped into people almost every step, and received more than a few dirty looks. She couldn’t help but apologise profusely.

Even on a slow day, Oxford Street was one of the busiest spots in London, and today people were teeming through it like ants. They packed together in small groups, lining the road on both sides. The police were massively outnumbered and struggled to maintain order. The large gathering lacked the festive spirit of, say, a Royal Wedding, and instead held an atmosphere more akin to a kindling riot. People had a look of mischief about them, and several lampposts were skewed as people hung off them like chimps.

David shouted again. “Come on, Mina. I can see those buggers from The Chronicle already there. We can’t let them hog the headlines.”

Mina fiddled with her camera while trying to run. She wanted to have the settings ready for when she started snapping. Her pictures would be used in the Slough Echo, but if she produced something noteworthy, it might spread to bigger outlets, or even go viral. Maybe if she achieved that her father would finally see she was good at her job, and stop telling her to quit all the time.

Not looking where she was going, Mina collided with the square back of a man. The shaved head turned around and glared at her. “Watch where you’re fuckin’ goin’, luv.”

Mina backed up. “Sorry, I’m so sorry.”

When she heard the man mutter the words, ‘Fucking Paki,’ she was stunned. How dare he! She wasn’t even from Pakistan. How could people be so hateful?

“Come on,” David shouted for the third time. “Get moving.”

Mina wanted to say something back to the snarling racist, but instead she ended up smiling nervously and moving on. Much as she would’ve liked to confront him, she wasn’t that person. Even the thought made her stomach churn. So she put the experience behind her and focused on her job.

“I’m right behind you, David,” she shouted as she dodged around a woman with a pram loaded with shopping bags instead of a child. Up ahead, the historic Selfridges building loomed unhappily. Its sleek interior was devoid of shoppers, and the bus shelter out front had been smashed and twisted by enthusiastic oglers trying to climb it.

David pointed ahead, still dodging through the crowd with fluid ease. “We need to hurry, come on. We can’t afford to miss anything.”

“I’m right behind you,” she shouted, even though she was six steps back. They were heading for the Soho Street intersection on the east end of Oxford Street, but they had been forced to get off the tube at Bond Street as Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road were closed. It was a long walk on a normal day, but today was a nightmare. It was like squeezing through a corridor of hot, sweaty people, and when she saw Newman Street coming up on her left, she let out a moan of joy. They were only one street away.

“There! I see it,” David shouted.

Mina caught up to him and saw it too. They had arrived at a police cordon outside McDonald’s. A dozen scientists milled around inside the tape as if they hadn’t even noticed the thousand-strong mob surrounding them. They were focused on the strange black stone, curiosity at the forefront of their minds. Mina was fixated on it too, surprised at how unremarkable it was.

Since the first stone had been discovered last night in the village of Crapstone, hundreds more had materialised. Business began as usual that morning in the City of London, but it soon became evident that something strange was afoot. At seven-thirty, a double decker bus had struck a bowling ball-sized stone in the centre of Oxford Street and broken its axle. The driver got out to investigate, and died of a massive and explosive heart attack a second after touching it.

News circulated rapidly after that—panic spreading thick and fast. Identical stones appeared all over the United Kingdom, from Inverness to Plymouth to Norwich to Hull, and Glasgow too. Wales had identified more than a dozen within its borders. Word spread that anyone who touched the stones would immediately die of a heart attack, and that had been the nugget of news to set the nation on edge.

The stones were a threat.

Public alerts were issued: Do not approach the stones and report any discoveries immediately. A hotline was set up too, plastered at the bottom of every news report. New discoveries came in every minute.

The stones were everywhere.

“It’s just a rock.” Mina heard the disappointment in her voice as she spoke. “I was expecting something more… I don’t know. It’s just a rock.”

A leathery-skinned old woman grabbed Mina’s arm, madness in her rheumy eyes, and barked at her. “It’s aliens. They’ve sent ‘undreds of meteorites to Earth to colonise us. That stone is gunna crack open like a coconut and spill its load into the atmosphere, you mark me words. We’re all dead!”

Mina yanked her arm away and rubbed the finger marks left on her skin. She clung to David, but he paid her no attention, focused only on making it past the police cordon. Mina covered her mouth in shock when she saw him knee a child out of his way. The little boy fell to his knees, got up, then went crying to his mummy, arms outstretched and begging to be picked up.

“David, you just hurt a child.”

“The brat shouldn’t have been in the way. Ah, here we are, finally.”
They made it over to a burly police sergeant with a clipboard in his hands. He was grinding his teeth and taking slow, deep breaths. His wide eyes examined David and Mina with suspicion. “Stand back, please.”

“We’re with the Slough Echo,” David snapped.

The sergeant ran a finger down his clipboard and nodded. “Okay, step inside the cordon, but don’t go within six feet of the object.”

David swooped beneath the police tape without another word. Mina took a moment to thank the sergeant before doing the same.

The black stone sat in the middle of the road.

Mina’s tummy churned. It wasn’t hunger—she’d grabbed a hotdog less than an hour ago—it was something else. The mysterious object, just ten feet away from her, had killed people. It was dangerous. She’d been so intent on getting to Oxford Street, that she’d not stopped to consider the peril she was placing herself in. Had the stone been tested for radioactivity, toxicity? Was she in danger just by being close to it? The dozen scientists surrounding the thing did little to assuage her fears.

A tug at her arm pulled her away from her fears. It was David. “Get snapping, girl.”

“Yes, right.” Mina raised her camera and started snapping away, altering and fine-tuning her settings as she went. It was difficult to know how the best photograph would look until she examined the digital reel on her laptop, so she followed the photojournalist’s credo and just kept on snapping. The more pictures she took, the better the chances of getting something valuable. Different angles, different settings, different lenses, but just keep snapping.

David interviewed the police officers, scribbling away furiously on his notepad while they spoke. Usually he would use a tape recorder, but police officers were notoriously shy around recording equipment, and they gave much more away when faced with a simple pencil and pad.

While Mina tried to do her job, a pushy photographer from The Chronicle fought with her for the best angles, hustling her out of the way so often that it almost felt malicious. Mina knew she should hustle the older woman right back, but it wasn’t something she was used to. The other woman carried herself with such confidence and authority that it was hard to resist her. The police officers all smiled and chatted with her, while they had only disapproving glances for Mina. She started to wonder if she would ever find her feet in this job.

Satisfied that she had got as much as she was going to get, Mina placed her spare lenses back into her hip bag and let her camera hang around her neck. Now that she no longer stared through a viewfinder, the black stone in the centre of the cordon seemed to be alive—less a detached photographic subject, and more an imposing presence that demanded attention. From six feet away, she could see that the surface of it was not jet black, but streaked with delicate grey veins. She wondered what it would feel like if she touched it. It could kill her, she knew that, so why was she so eager to approach it? It was that same feeling she got whenever she stood on a high balcony and peered over the edge. That same voice in her head that always dared her to jump: Just do it!

A batch of shouting broke out behind Mina and made her turn around. The burly sergeant who stood outside the cordon had dropped his clipboard and had begun fighting with a lad in a red hoodie. A skinny girl batted the sergeant with both fists, yelling at him to leave her boyfriend alone. The profanity she used was impressive.
The sergeant applied a headlock, yanking the lad around. “I told you to bloody get back.”

The lad twisted and squirmed, trying to break free. “You have no right, pig! People deserve to know what’s happening!”

The sergeant released the lad’s neck and shoved him backwards. “Move away or I’ll bleedin’ place you under arrest.”

“Fuck you, pig,” the girlfriend shouted.

“Go suck a dick,” said the lad.

“Okay, that’s it.” The sergeant reached to his belt and pulled out a canister of CS gas. He pressed the nozzle and gave the young man a full dose in the face that sent him stumbling backwards, coughing and spluttering. The lad’s girlfriend screeched like a tomcat and pounced on the sergeant with her claws out. The sergeant restrained her easily with his meaty arm, and let her have a dose of the CS gas too. She fell to the floor weeping and scratching at her eyes.

The crowd ignited in anger. Hundreds of yelling voices merged into one, singular accusatory howl.

“Nazi!” somebody shouted.

“Fuckin’ pig,” came another.

The sergeant was on his radio, calling for backup, but before he got a call through, somebody threw a milkshake that exploded against his chest and covered him in pink mess. His face grew red with fury, and he started throwing punches at whoever was near. The lad in the red hoodie was pulled back by the paternal crowd, which then surged forward as a single, massive organism. Mina winced as she saw the same snarling racist who had called her Paki punch the sergeant in the face. The loud crack was like a cricket ball hitting a bat, but the stunned police officer remained on his feet and continued swinging his fists madly.

But it was a battle lost before it’d already begun.

The crowd dragged the sergeant to the ground, and the racist thug kicked his head like a football. Somebody else stamped on his testicles. Mina was glad the sergeant was unconscious through most of it. She was also glad that she had not confronted the racist. That could have been her head being kicked like a football.
The two police officers within the cordon raced to their colleague’s aid, but could not get near. The crowd was a pack of lions guarding its prey until it was well and truly dead.

“We need to go,” said David, clutching Mina’s arm.

“We need to help.”

“No! We need to get out of here before they do the same to us.”
Mina shook her head. “Why would they attack us?”

“Because we’re on this side of the cordon. Now come on.”

Mina allowed herself to be dragged, but found herself unable to take her eyes off the black stone. She got the feeling it was staring right back at her.

Police cars raced down Oxford Street, sirens blaring, but they had to stop when they encountered the thick mass of bodies. Within seconds, the squad cars tilted and rocked as people laid siege to the trapped officers. The windscreens cracked as people climbed up on the bonnets and, within seconds, the police cars had disappeared in a sea of bodies.

“This is insane,” said Mina. “They’re acting like animals.”

“Just keep moving, and don’t make eye-contact. Things are about to get nasty.”

“They’re already nasty.”

David grabbed her arm again and pulled her close. “People are afraid, Mina. And when people are afraid, their inner cavemen come out. There’s no rationality in a man when he panics. Just keep your head down and don’t stop moving.”

Mina dodged around an old woman who had fallen in the road. She wanted to stop and help her, but the crowd was a living thing, and swallowed the pensioner up before there was any chance to offer help. David dragged Mina beneath the awning of French Connection to catch a breath.

“What do we do, David?”

“We wait for the first gap in the crowd and then get the hell out of this city.”

“David, there are hundreds of those stones. What if this is happening everywhere?”

“There are thousands of them,” he corrected her. “You were there when Carol got the report. Thousands of them all over the world. I don’t think I understood the chaos they would cause until now. Hundreds of years ago, people’s superstitions kept them in line. Now, in the age of science, people don’t tolerate things they can’t understand. Until someone makes sense of these stones, things are going to get ghastly.”

Mina swallowed. “I’m afraid, David.”

“So am I, but there’ll be time to be afraid later. We need to get out of here.”

“And then what?”

“We give the public the news, and hope they don’t riot.”