An abandoned building. A dank cellar. And a cage of bones … with a horrifying secret inside. Detective inspector Phil Brennan and psychologist Marina Esposito stumble upon a shocking case with a serial killer who has been operating undetected for 30 years. As Brennan and Esposito race against time to stop the rising death toll, they realize their suspect has been hiding in plain sight all along. Tania Carver’s Cage of Bones is a gruesome, terrifying read that will keep readers holding their breath and daring to read on.
Up close, the house looked—and felt—even worse.
The back wall was covered with tarpaulin panels. Over the years, the edges had peeled away from the wood and brickwork, and now they resembled a line of hooded cloaks hanging on a row of pegs, just waiting to be worn to some sacrificial black mass.
Cam shivered again.
In amongst the cloaks were the remains of a doorway. Frame rotted, eaten away from the ground up, paint flaked off and blown away. The door it held looked flimsy enough too, missing paint showing wood that looked like shredded wheat.
‘Go on, get it open.’
Gav’s voice behind Cam.
Cam reached out, turned the handle, pushed. Nothing. Pushed again, slightly harder this time. Still wouldn’t budge. And again, more force this time. Nothing. He stopped, turned to Gav. Hoping that would be the end of it. That they could leave now. Return to the sun, the warmth.
Gav had other ideas. ‘Useless twat, give it here.’
He twisted the handle, pushed. Hard. Nothing. Anger, never far from the surface of Gav’s steroid-addled psyche, was rising within him, reddening his face, making him tense his arms. He stepped back, shoulder-charged the door. A splintering sound, but it held firm. The sound was encouragement enough. Gav did it again. And again.
The door resisted, but eventually, with a loud crack and a shriek of breaking timber, gave.
Gav stood there, bent double, hands on knees, panting.
‘Go on then, kid … in you go …’
Cam looked between Gav and the darkness. Reluctantly, he entered.
It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the gloom after the bright morning sunshine outside. And once they had, it was pretty much as he would have expected. Razor blades of dusty light cut through the gaps in the wood and brickwork of the walls, illuminating a desolate, dank space.
The boards beneath Cam’s feet creaked as he put pressure on them. He was wary about entering further in case the floor gave way beneath him. A shadow loomed behind him.
‘Come on, get movin’.’
Cam stepped further into the house.
‘Jesus Christ …’ Gav again. ‘That smell …’
Cam hadn’t noticed he had been holding his breath. He let the air out of his lungs, breathed in. And immediately gagged. The stench was awful, almost physical in its putrid power.
‘God …’ said Gav. ‘Smells like someone died in here …’
‘Don’t say that.’
Gav looked at him, about to make a joke. But Cam could tell he was becoming just as scared. Gav said nothing.
‘Let’s look around.’ Cam was surprised at the strength in his voice, the bravery of the statement. But it had nothing to do with bravery. He just wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible. The sooner this house was demolished, the better.
Cam, still wary of the floorboards, moved further into the room. The smell was overpowering. Cam hated to admit it, but Gav had been right. It smelled like someone had died in there.
There was a set of stairs off to the left of the room, leading upwards. They looked, if anything, even riskier than the floorboards. Directly ahead was a doorway through to another room. It had no door, and Cam was aware of quick, darting movements in the shadows at his feet as he moved slowly towards it. Rats. He hoped.
The remains of a kitchen were decaying in the next room, cabinets empty, doors missing or hanging by half-hinges, lino underfoot broken and missing.
‘Anything there?’ said Gav from the main room.
‘Kitchen,’ said Cam. ‘Or it was once.’ At the far end of the room was another doorway. Cam moved towards it. There was a door in this one. Closed. And it looked newer, sturdier than the rest of the inside. He reached down. The handle looked newer too.
Heart skipping a beat, he turned it.
A sudden light came from behind him. He jumped, screamed, shut his eyes.
‘It’s a torch, you soft bastard,’ said Gav.
Cam forced his heart rate to slow down. Gav swung the torch round the main room. The small black shadows scuttled away. They were rats. But something else had been there. Among the debris of the falling-apart building, the bricks, old concrete and cement, pieces of wood and broken furniture, were more recent leavings. Pizza cartons. Fast-food wrappings. Newspapers. Gav shone his torch down on them.
‘Look at that,’ he said. ‘The date. Couple of weeks ago. Recent …’
The bad feeling Cam had been harbouring increased. ‘Let’s get out of here, Gav. Come on. This … this isn’t right.’
Gav frowned angrily, fighting the fear inside himself, not wanting to show it. ‘Bollocks. Just some old tramp or some-thin’ been dossin’ down here. Come on.’ He pointed to the door. ‘What’s in there?’
Cam, sweating now, turned the handle.
It wasn’t a toilet. It was another flight of stairs, this time leading down. The darkness sucked away what light there was like a black hole.
Cam stood back to let Gav see. Gav drew level. The two of them in the cramped kitchen filled it, made the place seem claustrophobic. Gav shone the torch into the dark stairwell. The two of them looked at other.
‘Go on then,’ said Gav, licking his lips.
Dry from the steroids, thought Cam. Or fear.
Cam opened his mouth, wanted to complain, but knew it would be no use. Putting his hand out to steady himself against the wall, he began to make his way downwards.
The wall was clammy, cold. He felt damp flaking plaster and paint beneath his palm. The steps creaked as he placed his feet on them, felt soft at times.
He reached the bottom. Felt hard-packed earth beneath his boots, a low ceiling above his head. The smell was worse down here; corruption allied to a pervasive dampness that made his skin itch and tingle unpleasantly.
He crouched and looked round. Saw shadow on shadow. Behind him, Gav started to move down the stairs, swinging the beam of his torch as he did so. Cam caught flashes of illumination, made out something at the far end of the cellar.
‘What … what’s that?’ He pointed. Gav stopped descending, stayed where he was on the stairs.
‘Over there, it’s …’
Something glimpsed in the beam’s swinging light. Quickly, then gone. A construction of some sort, criss-cross.
And behind it, within it, some kind of movement.
‘Come on,’ said Gav, ‘let’s get out of here.’
‘Just a minute.’ Cam surprised himself with the strength in his voice. His heart was hammering, blood pounding round his body, but fear or no fear, he wanted to know what he had seen.
‘What d’you mean, just a minute? Come on, we’re goin’.’
‘Wait.’ Cam’s voice, stronger now. ‘Point the torch over there, in the corner.’
‘Why?’ Panic creeping into Gav’s voice now.
‘Because there’s something over there.’
Gav, grumbling, reluctantly did so. The beam illuminated a cage, built into one whole wall of the cellar. The bars were the colour of stained teeth, tied together with what looked like strips of old leather.
‘Jesus …’ Gav tried to back away, found he couldn’t move. ‘A cage … What’s … what’s a cage doin’ down here?’
Cam didn’t answer. He didn’t know the answer. Fascinated, he started to move towards it.
‘Where you goin’?’
‘Just … I saw something …’ Cam kept walking. Slowly. ‘Keep the torch pointed at the cage. Let me see …’
Something moved in the corner. Shifted. A shadow with substance and bulk.
‘There’s somethin’ in there …’ Gav, no longer hiding the fear in his voice.
Cam stopped walking. Stood rooted to the spot, staring. He glanced round, back to Gav.
‘Keep the torch there.’
Cam reached the cage. Extended a hand, touched it. The smell was worse in this corner. Animal waste, plus corruption. The bars themselves stank. Cam leaned in close, smelled them. Like old bones in a butcher’s shop.
Old bones. That was exactly what they were.
‘Come on! I’m goin’.’
The beam wavered as Gav turned, indicated the way back upstairs.
‘Give me a minute,’ Cam shouted back. ‘I just want to—’
He didn’t get to say what he wanted to do. With a clanking rattling of chains, the thing in the cage sprang at the bars, roaring. It grabbed Cam by the arm, the neck.
Cam screamed, tried to pull away. Couldn’t. The grip was too strong.
He tried to shout for Gav to help him, but the words came out as one solid block of noise.
The pain increased. He looked down, saw that the thing in the cage had sunk its teeth into his arm.
Cam screamed even louder.
Suddenly he was in the dark. Gav had left him, run back up the stairs, taking the torch with him.
Cam felt the teeth bite further into his arm, accompanied by a snarl, like a hungry dog feasting. He grabbed his own neck, felt fingers digging in, tried to prise them away.
The snarling increased.
Cam pulled harder on the fingers. Felt something snap.
An animal howl of pain. The grip on his arm loosened slightly.
He pulled another finger back. Heard another snap.
The grip on his arm slackened, the pain eased.
Realising that he wouldn’t get another chance, Cam pulled as hard as he could. His neck was freed, then his arm. Not bothering to look behind him, he ran for the stairs.
All the way up, not caring if they gave way underneath him, just desperate to be out of the house.
Then, once upstairs, straight through the kitchen, the main room and out of the door.
As far away from the house as possible.
Because, before Gav had taken the torch and run, Cam had seen what was there.
A child. A feral child.
In a cage of bones.
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