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But with Sebastian, it was a clean slate. She had always loved the breed, long and sleek but well-muscled, a ridge of hair rising along the length of its back giving it a unique look. And some of the things it was bred to hunt! But Sebastian was a pure pet dog, bred for health and appearance, and Joyce felt herself admiring his perfect form, his long, easy gait, the way he carried his large, heavy head proudly, chest out, chin up.

Being a pedigree — descended from champions, no less — he hadn’t been cheap. But she had always wanted one, she earned good money, and the opportunity was there — why not take it? And so she had paid her five hundred deposit — the balance of fifteen hundred would be paid when a new litter was born and she had made her selection — and put her name on the waiting list.

She had never regretted the decision once, and it made her feel good to walk with him through the city streets, as she felt eyes turning towards them, admiring Sebastian; and in that admiration she felt mutual acclaim, the fact that she was with him making her someone to be admired — look at how that lady walks that beautiful dog, people would say, she must really have something about her.

And that was how she felt that morning, a deep glow of satisfaction within her, making up for all the other problems in her life. She would walk down the street, across the junction and then into the park, where Sebastian would have a good half-hour runaround, and Joyce Greenfield felt good. Sure, she worked long hours and hadn’t had a proper relationship since Adam, but with the sky blue and full of promise, and Sebastian at her side, her worries faded into the background.

She first felt the difference as they waited to cross the road to the park. Sebastian would normally wait patiently by her side, in a perfect ‘sit’ position, but this morning he seemed agitated by something. He started to fidget as they waited for the lights to change, then stood up and pulled forward, yanking her arm.

Surprised, she nevertheless managed to rein him back in; and then the lights changed and they crossed for the park, although Sebastian kept on pulling her. What was wrong with him? Could he smell something? she wondered. Maybe a girl doggy over in the park? She’d been meaning to have him ‘done’ for a couple of years now — after all, it was supposed to help prevent serious disease and all sort of other things — but she still thought she might breed from him one day and so had never made the appointment.

Sebastian calmed as they entered the park, and she momentarily forgot about it as they walked down the tree-lined paths towards the playing fields where she would throw the ball for him.

But then she noticed that other people walking their dogs were being jerked along by their agitated canines. As she started to pay more attention, it seemed everyone was having some problems with their dogs.

And then Sebastian pulled her again, harder this time, and she fought to correct him, but he fought back and pulled her forwards, faster and faster, towards the playing fields, and now she had no control, she was just being pulled along behind him, stumbling over herself in an effort to keep up. What the hell had gotten into him?

They were in the playing fields just moments later, and Sebastian paused, tense, as if sensing something beyond Joyce’s comprehension.

Her head snapped round at the screams that broke out seconds later, and she saw the huge dog just two hundred yards away with its jaws wrapped round its owner’s arm, blood gushing.

Over to the other side, a pair of old ladies screamed as their little toy dogs began to snap and bite at their heels, continuing their attack as the women fell to the ground, claws and teeth going for their faces with savage ferocity.

Everywhere she looked, dogs were attacking their owners, biting legs, arms, faces, necks. The green grass of the fields was stained red with fresh blood everywhere she looked.

And then Sebastian turned towards her, lips pulled back in a feral snarl. No, surely not her own dog as well, surely not Sebastian, her faithful companion?

But in the blink of an eye Sebastian launched himself at Joyce, forcing her to the ground. She cried out as in a frenzy his claws and teeth ripped her to pieces.

3

Hans Glauber looked out of the little window of the huge aircraft and stifled a yawn. Four hours already, and only halfway there.

He loved his job as head of international sales for a distinguished yacht firm, but the travel could be a real killer, hopping from one continent to the next, sometimes more than four times in a single week. He’d grown accustomed to it now of course but it hardly made it any easier.

He’d arrive at his hotel at about eight in the morning and, although the temptation would be to simply crash out and get some sleep, he knew the best thing to do would be to follow his daily routine and go to bed that night at the normal time. His body would adjust to the time difference naturally this way, and he’d be absolutely fine by the following morning, which was when the big meeting was scheduled for.

‘What’s that?’ he heard himself ask, almost without realizing.

The middle-aged lady in the seat next to him leant across to have a look. ‘What’s what?’ she asked.

Glauber wasn’t sure. He peered out of the window, looking harder.

‘There!’ he exclaimed, prodding at the glass with a pudgy finger.

The woman looked in the direction of Glauber’s finger, towards the front of the aircraft. There was movement in the sky ahead but she couldn’t make out what it was.

Glauber stared. It looked like lots and lots of tiny specks criss-crossing the sky, a long way away. Like grains of sand, moving independently of one another, coming together in small groups, then separating again. How many were there? A thousand? A million?

‘Are they birds?’ the lady asked him, and he realized she was right; they were birds, circling the sky maybe dozens of miles away, vast numbers of birds, swarming together, separating, and then swarming again.

But why?

* * *

In the cockpit, Flight Navigator Lao Che Huan turned to the pilot, Hoa Man. ‘They’re on the radar now,’ he announced, voice calm and professional. ‘They must be converging.’

Huan and Man had been observing the birds for some time; they were following the same course as the airplane. At first the men had had no idea what the specks in the distance were, but after a while it became clear that they were birds. But they behaved in a way neither man had seen before, flying apart and then coming together in larger groups. And now it seemed that they had formed one enormous supergroup.

‘How large?’ Man asked.

‘I’ve got no idea,’ Huan said, now struggling to contain himself. ‘There must be millions of them.’

‘But they’re still some way ahead of us,’ Man said hopefully.

‘Yes, sir,’ Huan answered immediately. ‘They’re about twelve… Oh no,’ he gasped.

‘What?’ Man questioned.

Huan swallowed hard. ‘They’re turning.’

* * *

In the cabin, Glauber felt the woman beside him shudder. He’d seen it too, the birds coming together into one huge group, bigger than anything he’d thought possible.

And it wasn’t just Glauber and the woman — other passengers had also noticed now. There was a collective gasp as the birds all came together, and then there were cries of alarm when the birds turned, and started flying towards the aircraft.