Lindsay Church sat at the dining table in a grand room with impressive bay windows and an ocean view, picking at her dinner. Her mother had said it was chicken in some sort of sauce that Lindsay had already forgotten the name of. But to her ten-year-old eyes it looked like chicken dumped in vomit. Lindsay thought she’d rather take a walk into town and grab a burger from that nice little place on the seafront. After all, they were supposed to be on holiday, but her mum and dad had insisted on a nice family dinner, something that was a rare occurrence these days.
Lindsay looked around. Her father, Paul Church, a greying man in his early fifties, sat at the end of the table nearest to the door—no doubt so he could make a quick exit—ignoring his food and his family as he thumbed the screen of his phone. She wasn’t quite sure what he did for a living, something to do with science, but she knew he was rich. She also knew that he spent most of his days at work and hardly any time at home with his family; especially his two children. Lindsay didn’t mind so much. She didn’t particularly like her dad. He was moody and bossy, thinking he was in charge even though he was never around. And he was never interested in anything that she had to say. Sometimes she wondered if he forgot he even had a daughter.
It hadn’t always been that way. There had been a time when she was younger, when he’d get home in time to read her bedtime stories. There had been a time when he had been interested in her thoughts and ideas, even the strange ones. Then there’d been all that trouble last year and her dad’s face had been in the newspapers and on the television. He hadn’t been the same since.
Lindsay’s gaze shifted across to the other end of the table, where her mother, Donna Church, sat not eating and staring unhappily at her husband. Lindsay wondered if her mum felt the same as she did: what was the point of a family holiday if they were all going to continue ignoring each other? That was just another day in the Church family. She’d overheard her parents arguing last night. Her mother had wanted to know why they even owned a second home in Cornwall when it sat empty fifty weeks of the year. Her father had called her mother ungrateful, which hadn’t gone down well.
Sitting across from Lindsay was her brother, Todd, who had recently turned seventeen, which apparently made him think he was an adult now, even though everyone knew you weren’t an adult until you turned eighteen. Being seventeen also made Todd think he was better than Lindsay. She sneered in disgust as she watched him shovel food into his mouth, his eyes on his phone just like their father. She didn’t much like her brother, either. All he ever did was whine and complain at her. Don’t go into my room! Don’t touch my stuff! Don’t interrupt me! Et cetera, et cetera. Moan, moan, moan. Lindsay didn’t know what else he expected from her. She was ten years old. Anyway, she still hadn’t forgiven him for the dead arm he’d gifted her with yesterday when their parents weren’t watching. He was always doing that—giving her a quick jab to the ribs or a punch to her upper arm, all because he didn’t like her playing with his phone. It wasn’t her fault that her parents wouldn’t let her have a phone of her own, and it certainly wasn’t her fault that he’d taken puke-inducing naked photographs of himself and left them in the pictures folder for anyone to see.
Lindsay stared at her food again. Puffing out her cheeks, she set down her fork and turned to gaze out the large bay windows at the far end of the room. In the near distance, the sky was turning all shades of orange, red, and purple. It looked like a big bruise, Lindsay thought. Like the one on her arm thanks to her stupid brother. Beneath the sky, the sea was calm and flat and growing darker by the second.
They’d been here for three days now and still hadn’t gone to the beach, even though it was just across the road. Dad had spent most of the time working in his study, while all Mum wanted to do was explore boring towns and go to boring galleries. Lindsay only ever got to see the ocean once a year and she desperately wanted to dip her toes in it. Living in London, she got to see the River Thames sometimes, but it wasn’t the same. The Thames was dirty and disgusting and surrounded by concrete, and if you dipped your toes into it, you’d probably never see them again. The ocean was like a mysterious beast, rising and shifting as far as the eye could see. If she had to suffer a week’s holiday with her annoying family, couldn’t they allow her, just for once, to do something she wanted?
“Mum?” Lindsay said.
Donna heaved a shoulder, shifted her gaze to her daughter. “Hmm?”
“Tomorrow, can we go to the beach?”
“I thought we could go to Truro. Do some shopping and visit the Cathedral.”
“We can go shopping any time.”
“Oh, Lindsay, you know I don’t like the sun. It brings me out in hives. Besides, what about sand flies?”
Lindsay sank into the chair and stuck out her lower lip. She didn’t care about sand flies. She wanted to go swimming.
“Maybe your brother can take you,” her mother suggested.
Across the table, Todd glanced up from his phone and snorted. “Don’t get me involved.”
“I thought you’d be first on the beach,” Donna said. “I thought that’s why you’ve been working out so much lately—so you can show off your abs to the girls.”
Lindsay wrinkled her face. “Gross.”
“Shut it, brat.” Todd shifted his attention back to his phone. “Anyway, I can’t tomorrow because I’m meeting some friends.”
“What friends?” Lindsay said. “You don’t know anyone down here.”
“Mind your own business.”
Lindsay sighed and picked up her fork again. “Must be a girl, then. Maybe she’ll take me to the beach.”
“What girl?” their mother asked. “When have you met some girl?”
Todd rolled his eyes. “There’s no girl! We’ve been coming here for five years now. There’s a bunch of guys I’m friends with and tomorrow we’re going surf—”
Lindsay sat up, eyes sparkling. “Surfing? You’re going to the beach? Then I can go with you.”
“No way. I don’t want you hanging around and bringing down the mood.”
“I won’t, I promise. I won’t even talk to your so-called friends! Mum, please say I can go with him?”
She stared at her mother with begging eyes. Donna sipped her wine.
“Take your sister with you,” she said.
Todd shook his head. “Forget it.”
“Please, Todd!” Lindsay whined. “I promise I’ll be on my best behaviour and I won’t try to embarrass you or anything.”
“You’d embarrass me just by being there.”
Lindsay narrowed her eyes. Why did big brothers always suck?
At the far end of the table, Paul Church, who had been quiet until now, glanced up from his phone.
“Take your sister with you,” he said.
Todd’s face reddened. “No, that’s not fair. I—”
“It’s not up for debate. You want to be treated like an adult, you need to act like one. Take some responsibility.”
Lindsay watched as her brother’s face crumpled, then twisted into a grimace. He glowered at her across the table. Lindsay swallowed and stared at her food.
Great, she thought. Now I’m going to get another dead arm. But at least she was going to the beach.
Picking up her fork again, she speared some chicken and popped it into her mouth. It tasted gross but she swallowed it down. Tomorrow, when she was at the beach, she’d go to the burger bar on the seafront and use some of her pocket money to get a big, fat, greasy hamburger. Maybe she’d even get one for Todd, so he didn’t hate her so much for ruining his day.
At the end of the table, Donna picked up her wine glass and returned to staring unhappily at her husband. Todd sat, silently seething and staring at his phone like he wanted to smash it into smithereens. Paul had already zoned out from his family and still hadn’t touched a bite of his meal.
The drone of the front door buzzer cut through the silence.
In unison, the Church family looked up, stared at each other, then turned their heads in the direction of the open dining room door.
“Who could that be?” Donna said but made no move to find out.
Paul shook his head. “Probably charity collectors. They’ll try their luck anywhere. Just ignore it.”
Lindsay didn’t want to ignore it. No one ever came knocking at the door of their holiday home. Probably because it stood empty fifty weeks of the year. She wondered who it could be. She stood, scraping her chair on the polished floorboards.
“I’ll get it,” she said.
Her father arched an eyebrow. “You’ll do no such thing. Sit down and eat your dinner.”
Lindsay sat down, glancing at her father’s untouched plate.
The door buzzer sounded again.
“What if it’s one of the neighbours?” Donna said. “I don’t want to seem rude . . .”
Her husband heaved his shoulders. “You don’t even know the neighbours. Besides, half of the houses around here are holiday homes. They’re probably empty.”
Whoever was at the door started knocking, making them all look up again.
Paul muttered something under his breath and shook his head. “Todd, make yourself useful and answer the door.”
Todd opened his mouth to protest. A withering look from his father made him shut it again. Huffing, he grabbed his phone from the table and stood up.
Lindsay watched him stomp across the floorboards, then listened to his feet stomp along the hall. A second later, she heard the snap of the door latch as Todd opened the front door.
And then . . . nothing.
She waited to hear voices. But there were none. Which was weird. She waited a few seconds more, then glanced at her mother, who shrugged a shoulder and stared at Lindsay’s father. The silence continued.
“Who is it, Todd?” Donna called.
All eyes were fixed on the open dining room door. A stillness fell over the room that was as hot and stifling as a blanket on a summer’s day.
Lindsay shifted uncomfortably, suddenly feeling as if her clothes were too small and her skin had been stung by nettles. She looked at her mother and father again, noticing their faces shared the same perplexed expression.
“Todd?” Donna called out. She shot another uncertain look at Paul, who shrugged but made no move to get up.
Lindsay’s gaze returned to the open door, the silence rushing in like rolls of thunder. Her mother got to her feet.
They heard movement from out in the hall; footsteps coming towards them. Todd was not alone.
Lindsay watched as her brother entered the room.
Except it wasn’t Todd.
It was the Devil.
Eyes growing wide, Lindsay stared at the man standing in the doorway, taking in his dark clothing and the terrifying mask that hid his features. It was the Devil’s face. Red skin. Yellow, reptilian eyes. A wicked grin brimming with shark’s teeth that stretched all the way up to two barbed horns.
The Church family stared at the man. Confusion quickly turned into fear. Fear into terror. Then Lindsay’s mother’s hands flew up to her mouth and her father’s jaw fell open. Frozen, Lindsay just stared, her eyes moving from the horrific mask to the glistening butcher’s knife in the man’s hand.
More footsteps. Three more people entered the room. All dressed in the same dark clothing. All wearing the face of the Devil. All clutching sharp blades.
Paul slowly got to his feet.
“What is this?” His voice trembled and he didn’t sound at all like Lindsay’s father.
The four devils stood silently in the doorway, their red masks grinning from ear to ear.
Across the table, Donna’s complexion had turned a deathly grey.
“Todd?” she whispered. “Where is Todd?”
“I said, what is this?” Paul’s voice was louder this time. He was trying to regain some control. “Where’s my son?”
Lindsay’s eyes flicked back to the four intruders. An invisible hand pressed down on her bladder.
Slowly, their leader lifted a finger to his masked mouth.
“Shhhhh . . .” His finger moved from his mouth and pointed at Paul’s chair. “Sit down.”
Donna let out a strangled cry. Paul remained standing, his eyes flicking from masked face to masked face. In the doorway, the four devils grinned.
“I will not sit down!” Paul said, puffing out his chest. “I don’t know who you are, or what you want, but you don’t come into my house, making demands.”
The pressure was building in Lindsay’s bladder. Her temples had started throbbing. Realising that she was holding her breath, she let it out with a gasp, then sucked in more air. The devils remained, unmoving.
“If it’s money you want, there’s some in my wallet upstairs,” her father continued. “But that’s all you’ll find. This is our holiday home. We don’t keep anything of worth here, so—”
The Devil darted forward. In one fluid movement, he brought the hilt of his knife smashing down on Paul’s nose. There was a sickening crack and a spurt of blood. Paul stumbled backwards, crumpling into his chair. Across the table, Donna drew in a sharp, horrified gasp.
The intruders moved into the room now, grinning red masks burning nightmares into Lindsay’s mind. Their leader—the Devil himself in her eyes—nodded. One of the intruders left the room, while two more circled the table until one stood behind Donna and the other behind Lindsay.
A scuffing sound came from the hall. The sound of something being dragged. The intruder who had left just a moment ago returned with two more—three red devils dragging Todd’s semi-conscious form into the middle of the room.
Lindsay saw her brother’s bruised and bloodied face. She watched mutely as he was forced onto his knees. Then she felt a hand roughly grab the roots of her hair and wrench her head back. Tears stung her eyes. Cold metal bit at her collarbone. Her bladder released itself. Her legs grew warm and wet as she shifted her terrified gaze towards her mother. Lindsay saw that she was in the same horrific predicament.
“Please!” Donna hissed. The devil who had hold of her hair gave it a short, sharp tug. “Please, don’t hurt my children!”
Paul was leaning forward on his chair, hands pressed to the bridge of his nose, blood spilling over his fingers. The Devil leaned over him and tapped the top of his head with the hilt of the knife.
“Paul Church,” the Devil said, and Lindsay was immediately struck by how young he sounded; not like a grown-up, more like a teenager. Someone Todd’s age. “You are charged with the murders of three young children. Luke James, Carla James, and Isiah James. Three innocent lives stolen before they’d had a chance to shine.”
Paul looked up, red eyes growing wide and round. “Please,” he begged through his hands. “It’s not true. I was found innocent!”
The Devil grinned. “Three innocent lives smeared across the pavement beneath the wheels of your flashy car.”
“The court ruled their deaths an accident! A stupid, tragic accident!”
“Please,” Donna begged. The intruder who held a knife to her throat, pulled her hair so hard that she screamed.
“An accident!” the Devil roared. “Three innocent children are dead, while you sit here in your fancy second home. Unpunished.”
The Devil straightened. Lindsay watched him turn and nod to each of the intruders. Then she felt blinding pain as the devil behind her twisted her hair at the roots, tearing the scalp. The burning pain was quickly followed by a sharp sting as the tip of the blade pierced her throat. A single drop of blood dribbled over her collarbone.
“Stop!” her father cried. His hands were in front of him, pleading. His nose had swollen up like a balloon. “Don’t hurt my family. It’s not their fault!”
The Devil stood watching him, the frozen grin seeming to come alive. “Then choose. Your life as penance for the lives of those poor children. Or the lives of your flesh and blood.”
Lindsay’s father stared up at the mask in wild bewilderment. “What? No, you can’t—”
“Five seconds or I’ll choose myself.”
Lindsay’s mother started to wail and beg, the knife against her throat scoring a thin red line into her skin. Lindsay stared at her brother, who was still kneeling on the floor, his swollen eyes spilling tears over blood and bruises.
“Please!” Paul Church begged. “Please, don’t do this!”
Donna was shrieking now, the knife pressing deeper into her throat. “Oh God, please don’t hurt my babies!”
The Devil slowly lowered his head. “Out of time.”
Lindsay’s father sucked in a ragged breath. When he spoke, his voice was hysterical and high, stretched like elastic. “Why are you doing this? I don’t even know you! I didn’t go to prison—that means I’m innocent! Innocent!”
The Devil nodded to one of the masked assailants, the one who had brought Todd to his knees. Then he leaned down until his face was inches from Paul’s.
“You are a selfish, disgusting man. Letting another child die to save yourself—your own flesh and blood.” He stood up again and straightened his spine. “We are the Dawn Children! This is our New Dawn!”
Lindsay caught her brother’s gaze and it chilled her to the bone. He no longer looked seventeen. He was a scared little boy, sobbing and dribbling. Behind him, the masked assailant raised his knife. Todd squeezed his eyes shut. His mother continued to scream and thrash.
Lindsay watched the knife cut through the air and plunge into her brother’s neck. She saw it pull out again, saw arterial sprays of blood arcing through the air and raining down on the floorboards, the table, her father. Then she watched her brother crumple to the ground.
Her mother shrieked hysterically. “No! No! Oh, Jesus, no!”
Lindsay tried to turn away. Squeezed her eyes shut just like her brother. Because she knew what was coming next. She heard the swish of steel slicing through flesh, followed by the choking gurgles of her mother’s dying breaths. She heard her father whimper and wail, his screams reaching up to the ceiling. She squeezed her eyes shut, tighter and tighter, until the blackness began to sparkle with lights. Then everything went blank and silent. Like she’d fallen asleep without realising.
When she looked up again, she felt strange and empty. As if someone had pulled the plug on her emotions and they’d all drained away. A young man’s face swam in and out of her vision. He was kneeling before her, bright eyes burning through the fog like storm lanterns. She didn’t know if she was still at the dining table or if she was floating through space. All she saw was the young man’s eyes and all she knew was that he was not her brother.
“We have spared you,” he said. “You’re an innocent. A child of the New Dawn. One of us.”
The young man smiled and everything went dark again. The last thought Lindsay had before she fell back into the void was: now, I’ll never go to the beach.