The muffled cries shook him from his sleep.
He had raised himself and had popped his head around the corner of her bedroom door. What had greeted him shook his senses, almost smashed them.
His mother was sleep-talking. She was sitting bolt upright in bed, eyes wide open, speaking into the grey air of the morning. Her face was contorted. There was a loathing that he had not seen before and then, ever so slowly, she had turned deliberately toward him. As soon as her eyes met his, the indistinct light sliced through with unearthly ease, Michael saw that the hatred was directed at him.
“Get away from me, get away from all of us, you murderer!”
She had hissed and then she had loosened her gaze and fell back onto the bed.
He had watched her, making sure that she was sleeping before closing the door.
Michael then walked around the house, his bare feet hushing his progress. The sounds of the city, waking up and going about the mundane business of the day, were beginning to assert their tenure outside. Indoors, the veil of normality was being pulled away. He heard the heavy sobs of his youngest brother, sobs that heaved upon the air, but when he checked, Pete was sleeping soundly. Along the hallway, Chris uttered, as if in conversation and Michael wondered if the whole world had not begun an internal conversation.
His own dialogue was working away, asking question after question, looking for answers. Nick’s journey had thrown them all into confusion and Michael wanted to speak. He descended the stairs and entered the living room only to find the sleeping bag empty and the back door unlocked. Sometime during the night, Nick had left.
This was a bad sign, Michael was sure of that. His mother’s reaction to him was bad too. She had not just been dreaming. When she had spat out those words, they had been directed at him. She had called him a murderer and had meant it. Something had crept into their lives and was working its way around their sanity. His mother showed the signs of stress, the same ones he had seen carved across her features after his father had died. The thing was that she had been all right. She had recovered from those times and had lately started to smile again, a real smile. Something, or someone, had gotten to her.
Was it just him or had the world decided to lose all of its reason?
When she finally entered the kitchen, she appeared calm. She even had a smile and a kiss for Pete. His little brother looked up towards her, attempting to gauge his mother’s mood, but the contact was broken as she made her way towards the kettle. Laura had, without knowing it, feasted upon a handful of the tablets the good doctor had given her. Although the rigours of her sleep were still at work on her body and mind, she felt better.
“Mum,” Michael said, “Nick’s in trouble.”
His mother never wanted to hear that voice again, but she managed to look in the direction of the thing that called itself a son. The faintest of smiles, a brush of familiarity ran across her face.
“Nick? Who’s Nick?”
Her son did not give an answer.
Flowers watched the Leatherman.
For now, it was sitting in the armchair where all this had started. The thing that had been James Harrison was no longer. This thing was better. Liam studied its features and wondered what mayhem he could cause with this at his behest.
So far, he had contented himself with mere party tricks. The thing with the knife had amused him immensely and he had absolutely adored seeing the look on Podrall’s face. Podrall was a good soldier. He was able to learn what was required quickly and to respond to the demands that were placed upon him. There would be a place for him in the new world.
Flowers also thought about The Piper and how much he had given to him. He knew that he was destined for great, great things in the time to come and there were occasions when he wondered if he would not stop developing his own talents. The Piper had been the key and had enabled Liam to open up those doors that were closed to ordinary humans.
On the other hand, Liam had ceased to think of himself as an ordinary human. There had been a mark on his ankle. Hadn’t that been there since his birth and could it not be said that he should be here at this time?
He told the Leatherman to stand and it did so. He told it to sit and it did as it was bid. Flowers was getting bored. He wanted more than this. He wanted to play and what better place was there to play than at school?
There was the thing he had been working on with hypnotism.
He wanted to see if it worked on the teachers. Teachers and leathermen were more or less the same with the latter having more going for them. Part of him wanted to take his new toy to school, but that would be a little previous wouldn’t it? What about this business with public transport? He hated travelling with other people. The kids could be so rowdy and the old folks, well they just whiffed terribly. Babies pissed their pants because they knew no better and old people pissed their pants even though they did know better. In between this was the age of enlightenment in which the young experimented with new ways and adventures. He would not travel by bus. He would call his old mate, the social worker, and get him to provide a taxi.
The world could be such a good place if you knew how to work it.
Fifteen minutes later and the honk of a taxi signalled his day out. The sunlight caused him to blink even though it was now late November. He had not been about during daylight for many months and he relished the sensation of being amongst the real somnambulists. He listened to the driver’s uninteresting talk and decided to make a note of his taxi licence so that he could make a call on him later. Another waste of a life and body, another meal for his hordes.
He strolled into the school grounds two hours later and noticed the incredulous looks on the faces of the teachers as he made his way to his favourite subject: History. He positively hated Mr Hunter and wanted to see him become a part of the subject that he taught. Heads on spikes, that was the answer. Heads on spikes.
It didn’t take long for one of Podrall’s boys to get the message that Flowers was back. Indeed, there was a general chatter that had started which was similar to a Mexican wave. Even the teachers were not immune from such telepathy. Flowers was back and everyone felt they knew what that could mean.
Michael and Chris arrived in school early that morning.
Michael was still smarting from the incident with his mother. Of all the times he had seen her lose it this one was the most disturbing. He had seen real hatred in her eyes and that was what had perturbed him. For a moment he thought that she was someone or something else.
Michael glanced secretively at Chris to check if he hadn’t changed. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but there was something wrong with his brother. He wasn’t speaking properly. He wasn’t telling the truth. There had been something in the way that Pete had looked at him that told Michael that things were not as they seemed. Pete, the baby, saw through them all yet couldn’t articulate what he saw. Pete had been there to pull them all together when Dad had gone and now Michael was certain that Pete was still the fulcrum around which they all revolved.
The last few weeks had been relatively quiet at school. Since the initial attack, there had been nothing directed towards them. Okay the school was still SHAGNESS, a byword for savagery, but the brothers had been avoided. Michael would go so far as to say that they had gained a certain amount of respect from the other kids: Podrall’s crew had kept their distance.
There had been no repercussions from the fight. The lad who had to be taken to hospital had only suffered from concussion. He didn’t take the matter any further. There were no detentions and no warnings as to future conduct. Everything appeared to have been swept under the carpet as if nothing had really happened. That was schools for you.
They separated and went to class. Between the normal low-level disruptions that were designed to get at the teachers and stop the lessons from going anywhere meaningfully, Michael was able to learn that Othello was a negative version of Romeo and Juliet and that his overpowering love was which drove him over the edge and into murder. Sometimes love, or the thing that fills the void when it is not there, can be one of the most destructive forces in the universe.
He also learnt that Flowers was in school. As none of the other students still did not care to speak to Michael, he had to be content with picking this information up through the bits that he was able to steal from the conversations of others. What he was able to glean was that Flowers was one of those kids who was special.
He scared people, both teachers and students, but carried with him a legendary status that marked him out from the rest. If the government had a ‘gifted and talented’ category for the stuff that Flowers had, they would probably produce some of the most feared and respected leaders in the world.
He was thinking about this when the door to the classroom opened and in walked Flowers. It had to be.
The entire class fell into silence for the first time that morning. The English teacher stopped what he was writing on the board and turned in unconcealed reverence. You didn’t need a sign up to tell you to beware. He was a kid not unlike Michael. They could have been brothers. Michael saw this straight away and a rhyme popped into his head,
Twas the night before Christmas and all around the house
Nothing was stirring, not even a mouse.
Flowers looked around the room, spotted the empty desk at the side of Michael, half smiled to himself, and walked over to it as the teacher started to amend his register.
“You may continue now, sir,” he announced to general titter from the class.
The teacher coughed to clear a throat that had suddenly gone dry. He flourished his board pen in a fashion that suggested he may even act out the rest of the scene and Flowers put his folded arms on the table as a makeshift pillow and went to sleep.
He had reached another audience.