The explosion confirmed their deepest fears.
The boys had made it to the prearranged classroom just before the blast.
Graham could see that a change had come upon both of the lads. Something had stolen the last ounce of their youthful optimism. It was the same something that was preying upon them all and, if it was not checked, it would have them.
“This is where we begin,” said their teacher.
With that, he led them along the corridors whilst the screaming and shouting permeated the walls. When they heard the gun shots, they stopped dead in their tracks.
“I think this is going to get worse before it gets better,” Mr Hunter offered.
“This is nothing to what will come,” added Michael knowingly.
They had devised a plan and were praying for it to work.
The basement had been rigged with petrol bombs and fireworks. There were fuses running everywhere and, as Mr Hunter had said, it would take just one spark to send the place sky high. However long they had been planning this, they had done it well. If it had not been such an act of – and he thought about the word he was about to use – terrorism, yes terrorism, then he would have been amazed at the work they had managed to accomplish. Some planning and organisation. However, what he did feel was revulsion.
“What about the police?”
“Sir, I don’t wish to be rude but the police probably won’t arrive. We think that some of them are in on this. Haven’t you noticed that there is an awful lot of violent crime going on every day without anyone doing anything about it?”
“So, if the police don’t come, it’s just down to us?”
“Us and whoever else is left that’s not on the other side.”
It took a while for this to reach its mark, but when reality, or this thing that was masquerading as reality, set in he became more resolute.
“Well then let’s do it.”
They were moving downstairs when another set of shots rang out. Their looks of concern met briefly and then they were back to their jobs. Mr Hunter used his key to open a store cupboard and then let himself and the boys in. Once inside, he locked the door behind him and turned on the light. He moved to the back of the space and started to pull at a loose parquet tile. It moved and he was able to lift it out of its place. Then he grabbed hold of a short piece of rope that lifted a two-by-two foot section out revealing a ladder that reached down into the bowels of the building.
“Another throwback to the War,” he smiled and started to climb down. “This will lead us to the basement. There is another storeroom, the one that you slept in I think. If we can get in there, we might be able to get them out.”
“We have to get them all out sir. We can’t leave any to those bastards,” the voice of Chris snarled.
The older man looked at him briefly.
This is what it does to us, he thought, this is what we become.
Laura jerked forward in her seat as she heard the first explosion.
A plume of smoke rose quickly into the indifferent morning air as she watched from the car.
“What the hell was that?” she asked turning to Nick.
“That’s how it always starts; with a bang. They’re out to make a statement. They want to show their followers their vision and the means by which to achieve it. The explosion is pure Hollywood. It’s for effect, but worse will follow.”
As they waited in the car deciding on their next move, they heard the first rapport of gunfire. After the next short burst, they were out of the car and moving quickly towards the gates. Around them, moved the occasional curtain with a face standing far back. It struck them that most people just did not seem to be home.
“Oi, you stop.”
It was a young voice calling from behind them.
Laura spun round and saw that the voice belonged to a child no older than thirteen. He was out of school uniform and had one of those hoods pulled up so that no one could see the whole of his face properly. With a mixture of fascination and horror, Laura noticed a gun being swung in front of the boy.
“I heard the explosion,” she started, “and I wanted to get to see my boys. They go to that school.”
“What’s their names?” the boy asked.
“Andrews. Michael and Christopher Andrews.”
At this, the boy let out an elongated phew of exclamation.
“Andrews. So you’re their mother? That is a bit of luck. Mr Flowers will be pleased with what I’ve got him. Now, you can meet the boys.”
He pointed the gun in the direction he wanted her to follow.
Unfortunately, he had not noticed Nick walking quietly around his blindside. He had been aware of something, but it had been vague. Nothing to worry about was the thought that passed through his mind as a single blow landed on a pressure point at the base of his neck. All he felt was a thud and then a tingling sensation as his body was guided to the ground.
Nick had already taken the gun and was checking it. He was moving an expert eye over its workings and didn’t notice the way Laura was looking at him.
“What’s the matter?”
“It’s you,” she said. “How did you do that?”
“That boy never even saw you. I saw you but he never once looked towards where you were standing. How did you do that?”
“It’s them. Many of them can’t see me. I think that they may not really want to see me. Denial or something. I am not supposed to be. In the hospital, I think they wanted to turn me into what they are, but it didn’t work. The more they experimented, the more incomprehensible I became to them. It’s as if I’m an aberration, something that defies their logic. They can’t understand how and why I am so they don’t admit my existence. Anyway, we can use it against them. Come on now and take this.”
He handed her the gun.
“Do you think you can use it if you need to?”
But then she looked at the child on the ground and wondered if she could really ever use such a weapon on one so young.