Thinking about it later, Graham Hunter could not quite work out the series of events that had brought him to this stage.
He knew that his initial promptings had been concerned with the mythical NuNation and had spent that evening a few weeks before trying to find its existence. To his current knowledge, he had never found it. To his disgust, he had memories of having watched videos, sick and twisted creations that documented the pains and agonies which a succession of unnamed victims had been put through. He had been enthralled by these things until three in the morning when the screaming had begun.
Even now, even though he knew it was not screaming but the sound of the telephone, he still thought of it as a scream, one that would issue from a madman trapped in his own hell. There been nobody on the other end of the line. Again he paused to question himself, there had indeed been someone there, there had been something at the end of the static yet there had been no communication. Whoever, or whatever, had called him that night had saved him from the videos that he felt would have trapped him forever in their dreadful delights.
Graham Hunter had not gone near his prized computer since that incident. He could not even bring himself to look at it, so stopped going into his study altogether. The evenings stretched out without his usual routine of writing and he found himself twiddling his thumbs, at a loose end and bored. Graham had never been bored even when he had been the kid from the estate, the original single-parent kid before such phrases were acceptable.
In the stillness of the dusk, he looked at the place where his old television had been and, through latent memory, leafed through the newspaper to the TV guide. This is what you could have been watching, he said to himself in a strangled American accent and snorted a laugh.
He looked at his bookcase filled with volumes of worthy writers, each one loaded with the opinions and analysis of famous historians. He had always treasured the musings of these thinkers and had dreamt that one day he too would be able to write his name alongside theirs. This would never happen, he knew. Nevertheless, he continued to write.
The thing didn’t even have a proper working title and was so far out of his own expertise that it was a wonder he had started it in the first place. As a child, a post-war baby, he had grown to be fascinated by the events of the War. As he was growing up, the Battle of Britain with its Spitfires and Messerschmitts was replaced by a more complex tale of good and evil. It was the Holocaust that directed him towards the study of history. His private academic endeavour had taken him to the roots of twentieth-century Fascism and the anti-Semitic undercurrents that had often culminated in acts of organised murder. Today it was called ‘ethnic cleansing’ whereas, in earlier times, it could be called a pogrom or just God’s will.
Like many others of his age, he turned to history for the answers and occasionally thought that he had found some. Surely the events of the Holocaust were so horrendous, so very tragic and insane, that mankind would learn the evil of its ways and choose to avoid it happening again? Vietnam, the Cultural Revolution, Cambodia, the Balkans. They all said NO! Evil Happens.
He had gone off at a tangent again avoiding the main question. That’s what his wife would have said if she had not sought a divorce. Thirteen years and she had left him without so much as a mini discussion.
“What’s the point? You never answer the bloody question. You’re married to teaching not to me.”
“What about the children?” He looked at Susan and Howard, twins who had come as a shock.
“They’re coming with me. They don’t recognise you.” And she was gone.
So he thought to himself, in an attempt to get back on track, what started me off with this Black Death stuff? No matter how hard he tried to push the question, the answer refused to come to him. What he did know was that he had been involved in this for over four years and had collated a veritable library of information that he was only just moulding into an authoritative investigation.
The Black Death, the spread of Bubonic Plague, was the single most catastrophic event to be visited upon the shores of Europe. It decimated the populations and economies of each and every state that belonged to that continent in a fashion that a nuclear Armageddon would have been proud of. One in three of the entire population were gone. If that happened today that would mean… perhaps he would be dead.
He thought about the simple statistics of such an event and of the problems that would be faced by the survivors. Who would bury the corpses? Who would want to go near them? What would happen when they inevitably corrupted and seeped into the water supply? He knew and did not answer. The entire possible future of a continent had been changed in a few short years leaving virtually nobody untouched. In some places, towns and villages that had existed for over a thousand years were gone, wiped out, scattered to the winds. Perhaps it was this apocalyptic vision that had ensnared his imagination. Like a bush fire, the plague had descended on the mess of humanity and had wiped it away. Yet as with any landscape ravaged by such a natural event, there would always be fresh shoots of hope and new directions to follow. After the death of his son from a heroin overdose, he too needed a new direction.
He sat there wrapped in the early chill of night and wept. He wept for his son, his daughter and his ex-wife. He wept for all of those who had been swept from the arms of their loved ones and murdered. More than all of this, he wept for himself, an old man lost to the rest of the world.
He would start his work again in the knowledge that it was important, if only to himself.
The history teacher did not know the real importance of the work and how it had come to him, how in a dream he had been taken on a journey and how he had been shown his task. His guide that night had been a boy, not his own, whom he would have wanted, but a boy who had come out of the darkness to lead him to what must be done. He had not dared to look at the features of this thing that was his companion, had not chanced to see whether it was a dark angel or just some human boy, and had turned away in awe when he spoke. If he had looked, he would have recognised something, but he didn’t.