Crows On Poles

Beginning to get the message.

Michael had been navigating using the road map they always carried in the boot of the car. Occasionally, ‘the mother’ would shout out contradictory directions and always, Michael followed hers. They were getting closer and the closer they got, the heavier their forebodings became. They had not seen any signs of the leathers for some miles but had seen some huge gatherings of crows and ravens. They blotted in the air, a warning of something past or yet to come.

When they reached a small T junction, Mother and son were amazed to see the fresh tyre tracks lining the surface. A sign told them that the village of  Hepley was just one and a half miles away whilst the one pointing to the right indicated that Ravenshead was another ten. 

“I have a feeling,” Laura said, “I have the strangest feeling that the people who were in that car are now in danger.”

“I do too mum. Look over there.”

Laura followed her son’s finger and saw a huge swarm of large black birds circling and falling to the earth. They had found something. Laura swung Brian’s wheel to the right knowing that it could be a costly mistake. 

They travelled on for maybe a mile and then found the place where the car had left the road, Manic skid marks led to the gaping wound in a wall. Some of the stones were marked with paint that had been scraped off and the ground showed evidence of the crash with shards of glass, body trimming and part of a bumper testimony to the event. Brian was eased to a halt.

“Looks like they crashed through there. By the size of the tracks, it was a big vehicle,” surmised Michael.

Laura nodded without saying anything. She was more interested in the other tracks that emerged from the stand of trees to her left and disappeared through the gap in the wall. She counted about twelve pairs, but she could not be sure. There was a muttered, “No,” from ‘the mother’.

“Have you seen the footprints Michael?”

Michael had just noticed them and recognised what they were.

“Looks like our friends ran into some of the leathers. Be careful.”

Michael did not need to be told to be careful as he was already out of the car, walking over towards where the strangers vehicle had smashed through the wall. When he got there, he peered down the sharp slope, through the trees where a path had been bulldozed by the vehicle that was lying jammed between the banks of a stream whose waters were rushing in through the open doors and above the level of the seats. From here, he could see that the driver’s seat was empty, the door flung open, hanging askew from only one hinge.

“There’s a car down there but there doesn’t seem to be anybody in it. I’m going to check. Mum, keep a look out for anything suspicious.”

For Laura, it was all suspicious but she knew what he meant. She climbed out of the car leaving the keys engaged in the ignition. There was no sound coming from the nearby trees, no birdsong or anything, and this was more unnerving than the obvious signs of leathers, for Laura could see numerous rooks and crows sitting on the branches of the trees from which the things must have emerged.

Michael descended the slope quickly using broken trunks and branches for support. He slipped couple of times but was able to correct this with the aid of the surrounding foliage. When he reached the banks of the stream that was flowing at a furious rate, he understood fully what had occurred. He stepped in the icy flow and stepped carefully towards the open driver’s door. Once there, he noticed the marks left behind by a copious outpouring of blood. With this amount of blood loss, he could not imagine anybody surviving for long, especially not in these conditions.

The passenger door to the front and rear were hanging open too. Scattered on the back seats were sleeping bags, rucksacks and food. Whoever was in this vehicle left in a hurry, leaving behind all those things that were essential for short-term survival. Michael was sure that at least one of the travellers had not survived the initial accident whist the others, well anything might have happened to them.

“Michael,” it was his mother calling from above, “are you alright down there? Have you found anyone?”

“No. Just a car and there’s nobody in it.”

“Come back up then, I don’t like this.”

Michael did not like it either. Touching the car had been like touching a freshly dug grave. He started back up the slope, this time using the branches even more to aid his ascent.

“Let’s get going,” he said when he was back in the car. “Turn the car around and head back the way we came. I think some of them have already arrived and they’ve started the job a little earlier than planned. Laura drove on a little way to a wider stretch of the road and did a 180 degree turn. As they drove slowly past the scene of the accident, Laura internalised a prayer for the people who had been in the car. 

They moved with a little more speed than was wise. Anyway, there were definite signs of a thaw arriving. Run-off water was growing in volume and beginning to wash away some of the snow. There was a suggestion of sunshine from the east that brought some relief to their artic states.

‘The mother’ was mumbling again, speaking words and half words that nobody understood. Regardless of the words being so foreign to the ears of Michael and his mother, her children seemed to understand what she was saying. They, Rachel and Joshua, were holding her as she mumbled in something that was not English.

“She wants you to stop the car,” translated Rachel. “She says there are some people in great danger.”

Laura eased back on the accelerator and changed gears rather than braking. Brian pulled safely to a stop. Everything was still. Then some more mumblings.

“She says they are coming over the hill,” added Rachel pointing to a slope on their right. 

Their heads swung around and surveyed the pristine covering of snow seconds before a head, caught the morning sun, showed itself.

No double-take was necessary as Michael and Laura sprang from Brian’s warm interior. Michael was quickly over the roadside wall and striding up the hill. His mother was behind him, unable to keep up, yet still scouring the hilltop for signs of leathers. She was not to be disappointed. Some forty yards behind the first figure was a pack of leathers moving in the relentless manner, loping strides eating up the ground, that they were to become accustomed to.

“Michael, there are leathers. Take care.”

This was the second time she had urged caution and he was not about to ignore it. He looked up the hillside and noted that the first figure stumbling down the hill was carrying something, a bundle wrapped up in their arms. It was obviously heavy because the strain of it was evident even from this distance. Then the figure tripped, fell face forward and dropped the bundle so that it skidded in front of them, sliding along the snow on its own.

The Leathers proceeded without breaking stride, their progress cutting the space between them and their prey. Michael broke into a sprint that surprised him. He reached the bundle just before the figure had raised itself to its feet. The tiniest cry escaped the bundle, a cry that could only belong to a baby or small child. He knelt and picked it up only to have it knocked from his grasp by the person who had been carrying it. The bundle fell on the soft snow once more and Michael had the air punched out of him. He went down as if hit by a train.

The impact must have been forceful as it also took the breath away from the assailant as well. Valuable seconds rolled by with Michael and his attacker on the ground. For the first time, Michael was able to see firmly into the eyes of the other and he saw naked fear.

“It’s okay, we’ve come to help.”

Gasping for breath, the other nodded as best he could. Michael thought he seemed on the edge of collapse.

“I’ll carry the baby. You just run.”

The footsteps were almost upon them as they raised themselves to their feet and then into a semblance of a run. Laura had reached them and was able to offer support to the person who had been carrying the child. 

When they eventually reached the safety of Brian, they pushed the fugitive into the back, a space rapidly created by the mother and her children. Michael sat in the front with the baby and Laura pressed down firmly on the accelerator. As they pulled away, Michael noticed that the group of leathers were having some trouble surmounting the wall.

Into The Arms Of Death

An embrace to remember.

Thye had made a break for it and stole the keys to a vehicle. Now they were out on the open road travelling at a steady speed. Louise sat in the front, holding Sam the toddler she claimed as her own and Ian drove. Ian never mentioned the past, he just seemed to be getting along with the present. In the back sat Sue, a mousy haired woman in her early forties and Jason, red hair pulled back into a pony tail and toped off with a red bandana. Neither of them spoke much as the winter landscape ran alongside.

They were escaping once more, convincing themselves that it was the new threat that was driving them from the group. Louise had always known when to run, how to avoid the perils of The Purge and how to survive. She was at work when it happened. There was a big explosion, people were thinking it was a bomb and then the first of the alarms sounded. Everybody made for their phones. 

The next day had been wiped from her mind. She’d done a cleansing job, brushed away those things that were going to be painful for her. She never returned home to see if her husband had somehow made it through the city and she had never got as far as the nursery in which her young daughter was waiting. Instead, she ran and hid, ran and hid until she reached the edges of the city.

At some point, she had stopped hiding in the dark and had ventured into an empty house. No sounds, no signs of life, she felt safe enough to spend the night in a bed. 

The house stood in its own space on the edge of a field. Dusk was creeping along, a cold mist settling on the grass. Behind her, the city continued to explode, plumes of smoke running upwards before billowing out like deadly toadstools. The city was shrouded and awaiting its last rites.

Stepping on a stair, almost halfway up, she surprised herself with the reaction a creak had brought about. She froze, waited, expected a quick rush of death, but there was nothing, just the night. And then, the sound of a baby crying.

Louise found him in a small bedroom, hidden in a recess behind a heavy pine wardrobe. He was soiled and scared, but most of all he was hungry. Louise held him close, ignoring the whiff, squeezed him tightly as if he were her own and had finally found some food that he would eat. She was still a good mother.

Ian’s concentration was locked on the road immediately ahead, so when a mass of people jumped out from stand of trees that were growing on the blindside of a tight bend, his reaction was to avoid them. He could have counted at least six heavy thumps as each of the bodies collided with the vehicle. The back end of the car swung out. He lost control as it smashed through the barrier and went hurling down a steep slope. Nobody had the chance to scream as they descended an embankment and landed in a rapidly flowing stream.

Shock swept over them. Then things got worse.

Bad Man Cometh

For Christmas.

‘The mother’ shifted uncomfortably and a low moan escaped her.

“Yes, that’s what your dad became. He wasn’t always like that.”

The conduit had opened and the boy was released from his silence.

“Was it the bad man who did this? Was it he one with the sweet songs?”

A little perturbed, Michael decided to press the younger boy.

“Have you seen the bad man?”

“Oh yes. He comes in my sleep. He tells me that he has a place where all children can be. He says that there it is good. No bossy grown ups, no worries. He tells me that we will be happy there, me and Rachel. Rachel is my sister.”

The boy nodded to the girl who was still snuggled in her mothers arms, a hand clasped around her head and over her ears as a form of protection.

“He asked me to promise that I would not tell anybody.”

“But you’re telling me.”

“I wouldn’t promise. I don’t like him.”

“What’s your name?”

“Josh. Mum calls me Joshua. Everybody else just calls me Josh.”

“I’m …”

“You are Michael and that is Laura and she is your mum.”

The boy had obviously been paying attention to their conversations.

“You have a brother called Christopher and another called Pete.”

Laura stood on the brakes sharply and the car skidded a distance on the frozen surface.

“How do you know about Christopher and Peter?” she demanded.

The boy was not put off by the urgency in Laura’s voice but continued as if he was relating back a day at school.

“I see them all the time. Since the day it all happened, since Dad joined the bad man, Chris and Peter have come to us. The sat with us in the cellar and said it would be alright, that you were coming and that you would save us. The bad man said that it was all lies and that only he could help us, but we didn’t like the bad man. He took our Dad. Now he has got Mum somewhere and he’s not letting her leave.”

Laura, who had known the dark places The Piper could take one, touched the boy’s hand.

“It’s going to be alright. Your mum will come back.”

“Like you did?”

Again the shock of him knowing sent a wave against her fragile barriers that guarded what was left of normality.

“Yes, like I did.”

“They are going to a castle. That’s where the Resistors are. A castle.” 

‘The mother’, the manic stare less unnerving than before, reached out her own hand and closed it upon Laura’s wrist. The white heat of the connection was not lost upon her and the image of her long lost sister flashed upon her mind.

“Christopher is in danger!” then the woman fell back to her previous state. 

Rachel, the young girl started to move. Unhooking herself from her mother’s grip, she sat upright and smiled momentarily it was snatched from her face once more.

“He’s looking at us,” she said pointing to the leather who was staring into the car as if noting each of the faces in turn. It then moved towards them and tried the door handle on Michael’s side and, not being locked, it opened easily. 

The girl let out a peel of horror as the leather lay hold of Michael’s neck before it recoiled, struck by something that sent it reeling across the icy surface and falling flat on its back with an unnatural thump. Michael, his expression impassive, closed the door. His mother, another bolt of the supernatural to deal with, found a smile.

“What happened there?”

“Sometimes they get more than they bargained for. Now let’s get going before he decides he wants some more. Is there a map in here Mum?”

“I think there’s one underneath your seat. It’s probably old but so is this castle.”

The car was moving again, leaving the twitching leather to perform its rendition of Bambi on ice. Michael quickly found the pages he needed remembering the road signs they had passed.

“Castle Stewart. Here it is. It’s near a village called Hepley. I think we need to carry on along this road for another fifteen miles or so. We should reach the National Park and then it’s lots of small country roads. We’ll have to take care.”

With renewed optimism, the group re-launched their journey. Michael and his mother were happy at the thought of finding Chris knowing that they still had much to do to locate Peter. The ice that was protecting ‘the mother’ and her young was starting to melt. Soon all channels could be open.

Dawkins, their unwanted passenger remained still in the boot space. For his fellow passengers, he seemed little more than another spent victim of the evil that was being played out.

However, spent was not the word he would have used to describe the plans he was devising. 

Lovely Weather For A Sleigh Ride

Together, at last…

The Daimler had been a great idea, its drive was as sure as its ultimate destination. Liam had taken it in a moment of outrageous inspiration. A hearse to cart away his dead self.

After the attempted assassination, with the thrill of the fight still surging through his veins, Liam had an epiphany. This was what he had been born to do. His entire history had brought him to this  point where his skills, his gifts and his passion would make him into a person who would be feared and respected in equal measures. In reality, fear and respect were the same concepts for Liam, but this new thing, this power thing, this mantle of responsibility was weighing his spirits down. Liam Flowers, not yet sixteen yet looking as if approaching thirty, had stopped enjoying life. Life was, after all, concerned with triumph, conquest, in fact the whole gamut that followed the infliction of pain upon other human beings. This was what he had been born for. 

His ankle itched with the flute-shaped birthmark. It was an itch that he now intended to scratch. He wished to scratch it so much that he would draw blood. Some time during his education, his interest had been roused by a topic that was touched upon in religious education. Penitents, blokes who inflicted pain upon themselves in their worship of their god, blood streaming ceaselessly from open wounds, life fluids that leapt the metaphorical chasm between ideas and actions, penitents he admired. They cropped up in many religions and were mainly left alone, curios in a society that had forgotten the true meaning of anything. Liam Flowers, a prophet for this new age, would bury any vestige of his old self. He would go into the wilderness in the same way that Jesus had. Forty days and forty nights, that’s all that he could take. Liam could double that, quadruple it even. Liam was, after all, the chosen one.

As he drove through the city streets, mainly deserted, often littered with the detritus of the madhouse, he felt no regret for what he was doing. The Leatherman, the one that had been the most loyal, was sleeping (if that was what leathers did when they were not walking) in the casket. A grand affair, hewn from the hardest and oldest wood, it provided him with a rather belated bed. This way they could travel as far away from the city as their desires could take them. Although Liam had no definite destination, he wished to find those wastes, now frozen, into which a soul could lose itself and from where it might then find that which could usurp it. After all, why should a soul remain unchanged when everything else around it was able to alter so much?

He was heading north, following an internal star, making his way into the open country where the Resistors had fled. This was also the land into which Hope had disappeared. Hope the schemer, Hope the plotter, Hope who had failed in his attempt to remove him. During his conversations with his would be assassin, Liam had discovered that ‘the children of Hope’ were as numerous as the armies of rats that had swept the world clean. Indeed, many of the rats were his children. They were the result of centuries of experimentation. In other times they would have called it magic, but the ‘good Doctor’ had developed it into a science. And Hope wanted it all.

Some day, they would meet again.

The hearse ran smoothly, its engine not even a hum, the outside noise a mere whisper.

So quiet that it would not disturb the living let alone the dead.

A Life In Cars

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I would be lying if I said that this was my first car. I wish it had been. But my car was a Ford Escort Mark 2 and, for a time, it was my stallion of the roads.

Coming from a non-car owning family meant that I was not accustomed to the ease and freedom four wheels could provide. As a family, we would only have days out if a bus-route passed somewhere near there. In actual fact, we rarely had family days out; well, not the full family.

I was the first person in my immediate family to learn to drive. My father gained his licence some years later. I was the pioneer of this new found freedom. I took my driving lessons with a company called Impact. It didn’t bode well and I did need two goes to pass, but when I did, the world opened up. London was my place of learning to drive and its roads provided a steady stream of traffic and potential mishaps, but I was never involved in an accident on those roads. Indeed, I have only ever been involved in one collision in my life and that was when a bus shunted me up the rear. I got whiplash and the car needed to have the back-end looked at. A public vehicle up one’s rear is not a pleasant experience, but I survived.

“Once I was afraid

I was petrified

Believing I could never live

Without a bus inside.”

 

My wife, who is now auto-correcting me from over my shoulder, has had plenty of experience in the realms of accidents. She is reading my blog now and accusing me of telling her a lie for over twenty-five years. The ‘little white lie’ is concerning my recent admission that it took my two attempts to pass the test. Nit-picking, I call that. I had forgotten that I had uttered a minor mistruth all those years ago.

 

Back to my first ‘motor’. I bought it off another copper while in London. He was upgrading to a Ford Granada, a dream of a car. I remember it as if it was yesterday. It was a burnished gold colour and was part of the top of the range Ghia models that Ford were so very proud of at the time. He had been driving for some time and considered himself an expert in this field of pleasure along with other fields of pleasure that his dashing vehicle permitted him to indulge in. Cheap hotels and their nightly rooms were not in abundance then, so one’s mode of transport had to suffice. Granada’s had more leg-room than Escorts and the burnished-gold paintwork was suggestive of opulence and sophistication. It had leather seats.

My Escort had been purchased before I gained my right to drive. I sat it in the communal carpark of the section-house where I lived and took the opportunity to drive it slowly around that area when others were not there to see. Reversing became my thing. When I did pass my test, it was no time before the Escort was on the roads of Brentford and Chiswick, transporting me in the style and confidence of my latest achievement. It had a leather covered steering-wheel.

In latter years, I have bought automatic cars. They make sense and demand less. Back then, every single vehicle seemed to be manual. Those in the states must have marvelled at how us Brits were able to drive using a gear shift (Gear Stick in English). The very fact  that we saw this as normal must have planted seeds of doubt in our capacity to be seen as the other partner in a ‘Special Relationship’. I would go so far as saying that some may have gone so far as to believe that such approaches to personal transportation smacked seriously of socialist tendencies. That and driving on the left. The Cold War was at a particularly precarious impasse.

It took me a number of weeks to get-up the nerve to take to the motorways. The M1 was the fastest route home. I was about to leave the relative safety of the capital where the number of cars on the road make driving oddly safer. The reasoning behind this is that moving about London, in persistently heavy traffic, is akin to putting one’s car on a conveyor belt; you just get into a space and keep a safe distance from those fellow road-users in front and behind. Also, the traffic creeps along at such a sedate pace that it’s difficult to work up the enthusiasm to drive recklessly. I was a graduate of the Impact School of Driving, but not an advocate. I could not wait to arrive back in my hometown, back up in The North, and show off my acquisition, leather steering-wheel et al.

Motorway driving is a very different proposition from driving on crowded roads. It was a different age and traffic was much less; meaning that average speeds could be more. My approach to driving was one in which I wanted to remain safe. I wanted to avoid accidents. I wanted a long and happy life at the wheel. Unfortunately, lorry (truck) drivers did not share my enthusiasm enlightened travel. The big bastards just sat on the arse-end (tailgate) of my precious Escort in a continued attempt to shunt some more speed out of her. When that didn’t work, the tag-team approach came into play. One in front and one behind. I was the sardine in the middle. It didn’t take long for me to discover the thrill of a foot-down approach to the whole business. That was the beginning of my speedy years which were accompanied by my equally speedy gear changes. A rally-driver was born. The leather steering wheel came into its own.

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Back home, I hoped to be the talk of the town. Back home was a two and a half hour journey.

Now it is a lifetime away. But I can still smell the leather. 

A Life In Cars 2

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The photograph is like my memory, rather vague and unfocused. At some point my first car let me down. It may have been something and nothing but, as I was enjoying a relatively good wage, I thought I would treat myself to this little number.  

I called her Claudette. She was straightforward, confusing, quirky and not too fast on the uptake. She was a strange choice yet she had something about her that made me smile.

It was said that the car was unencumbered by an excess of power. The simple act of putting the pedal to the mettle resulted in little more than a gentle increase in velocity. Yet fondness for the car runs deep amongst the millions of drivers who have ever owned it. First introduced in 1961, it became a favourite in over a hundred countries. Along the way, it became one of the most popular French cars of all time and one of the bestselling vehicles of all time. All in all, over eight million models were sold, and it was produced in 28 different countries. It was the type of car that I would have imagined Inspector Clouseau to have driven. I followed in his tyre steps.

The 4L (Quatrelle) was a ubiquitous vehicle that was practical and easy to maintain. The boss of Renault, Pierre Dreyfus (another coincidence) demands that his company was to produce a vehicle that would match the classless appeal of blue jeans. It was such a car and it appealed to motorists of all ages. Although I was a serving police officer with the Metropolitan Police, I found some solace in owning and driving such a car of the people. It pulled me away from the fact that I was serving in a sector of public control which was well known for its institutionalised racism and right-wing beliefs. My Quatrelle was literally my way out, if a little tardy one.

Working together, my little French car and I were able to fix the problems of failing windscreen wipers. Well, I have another friend to thank for that as it was he who discovered that tearing out pages of my police instruction manual and pushing them into the space behind the cigarette ash tray would put enough pressure on the mechanism that drove the swish, swash of the blades for them to work effectively. I always found this good for seeing other road-users in times of heavy downpour.

The Quatrelle was basic in other ways, with metal deckchairs strung with plastic hammocks to provide comfort in travel.  She had a personality that responded to soothing words and encouragement. In the midst of winter, when her starter motor could not turn, somehow stroking and petting brought her round. She would cough into being and her Wankel engine would turn.  She would splutter and complain on the cold mornings, but she would always come through. If she ever broke down, she was light enough to push into a siding until she responded to the reassurance of my commitment to her wellbeing. And let’s not forget the gearstick that was so oddly placed in the dashboard. It was certainly a talking point.

For a while, we had discovered a mutual path that we drove along. It was a path of contentment, one that required no yearning for any other form of transport. Nothing could turn my head; she was perfect.

I don’t know when it started to go wrong. But I do know where.

We were on the dreaded M1 Motorway again. She was not built for such aggressive roads. When placed next to the faster, meaner cars, she blushed and retired into a resigned acceptance of her lot. She couldn’t go fast. At sixty, she was all out. She began to rattle, splutter and shake. The bullyboy lorry drivers teased her with their imposing size and undeniable strength. On many occasions we would find ourselves stuck between two of the big beasts without any hope of escaping their dastardly pincer strategies. I can see their faces now, leering at us from on high and I can hear the panicked whine of the Quatrelle’s engine trying to build up enough speed to get us out of there.

What I wanted from Claudette, she could no longer give. I was becoming a man whilst she remained as a sweet blue-jean car. My urgings of greater speed had taken their toll on my little French lady. She had done her best to serve me well, but I had asked too much, too quickly.

The years since have wiped away the details of our separation. Perhaps it was when her wiper blades finally succumbed to the strain of swishing and swashing. Perhaps it was that her tiny little engine finally gave out. Or perhaps it was me, yearning for something better, flashier, faster. I was, after all, a young man who was growing up. My appetites had also grown, so I eventually reached the decision to sell her.

No more would we share a groaning ride. No more would I shift through her gears in the hope that something else would happen. No more would I have to coax her to life on a cold morning.

She sat there on the forecourt of a small car-dealer’s as I pocketed my fifty-five pounds and I did not have the strength to say goodbye. For all that I know, she is sitting there still, the pages of my police instruction book now many years mouldy and the seats, those deckchairs without purpose. And, dare I say, her misguided loyalty rusting where she stands.

If only I could turn back time. But I alone could not change the course of history.

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Something rather more adventurous was waiting in the shadows.

 

The Piper 57

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Somewhere else in that ominous corridor between dark and dawn, another car kicked into life.

Joel Podrall had made it back to his home and had stolen the keys that belonged to his mother’s new boyfriend. They had been sleeping, probably drunk when he had entered and he smiled as he left. He knew what awaited them and did not care to warn the pair.

The car was a Ford that had been messed about a little. Concealed beneath the fading paintwork of the bonnet was an engine that was never really supposed to be there. It was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The meaty roar that greeted his foot, as he tapped the accelerator, brought an overdue smile back to his face. He knew that he would be out of the city in no time and hoped that he would be able to reach some sort of safety not too long after that. One thing that he did know was that when Flowers decided to come for him, he would have to be as far away as he could. Flowers would show no mercy.

He had told nobody, not even Flowers, of the stash that he had managed to build up. His pockets bulged with notes gained through drug transactions, theft and deception. Flowers would not have understood. He no longer understood Flowers.

With his limited reasoning, Joel tried to work out whether he had ever liked the other boy, whether anything that they shared could be called friendship. He realised that he was thinking too much and that was never a good sign. Nevertheless, the boy that he had come to know as his gang’s leader was not the same one who now walked the world: he was different, so very, very different.

Podrall pushed in the clutch and eased the gear lever. The handbrake was off and he was away manoeuvring carefully through the night. Tomorrow was the big day and it was a shame that he would miss it. There were some kids and teachers at that school whom he really wouldn’t have minded setting fire to, himself.

Hopefully, he would see the ‘tragedy’ on the news or something.

 

 

Liam Flowers sat facing his leather friend.

He had grown to like the smell of his companion and had started seeing beauty in the contours of the creased leather face.

They had been sitting for a long time awaiting The Piper’s return and had both taken the opportunity to study each other in detail. Of course, the Leatherman was dead and could not be relied upon to share the ruminations that the boy had, but Flowers was just satisfied with the overall aesthetics of the matter.

There was, indeed, beauty in death and today would be the day that would light up the world to these new possibilities.

 

 

Half an hour later, two figures found themselves crouching in what should have been a long-unvisited passageway beneath St Agnes.

“You see,” said Mr Hunter pointing at the row of cables, “someone has been messing about with this.”

Michael looked above him and saw the way the cables had been pulled out of their protective cladding. Many were hanging loosely from the ceiling and some appeared to have been partially cut.

“What do you think they are trying to do?”

“Well, it’s not just minor vandalism that’s going on. If I were insane, I would say that somebody is trying to cause a fire or even an explosion.”

The teacher indeed knew his way around. He said that he knew the school better than he knew his own face and Michael doubted him not one little bit.

They had arrived in the basement through a series of passages that had started beneath an old army reporting post dating back to the Second World War. Mr Hunter had said that he thought that it could have been older than that. He said that it was not uncommon for these places to have thousands of yards of hidden passages beneath them that would usually lay undiscovered until some essential construction work needed to be done. As this was on school grounds, a school that was already being marked for closure, that time may not have been far off. Other events would make that academic.

“How did you find them?” Michael asked.

“I did a bit of digging around in books and then for real. I dropped a cup of tea once, when this was still being used as an extra classroom and watched how the liquid just disappeared through the ground. If you’ve seen The Great Escape you’ll understand what I’m talking about.”

Michael had seen the film and had always enjoyed it. His dad had said that it was a classic and had lamented the fact that it was not always shown on Christmas Day. He missed his father enormously and wished that he were here to protect them. Now, however, Mr Hunter was pushing ahead into the basement area. He opened a door and pointed to a barely visible alcove that was acting as a storeroom. Inside were lots of boxes covered in dust.

“That’s probably where your brother was sleeping.”

Again Michael wondered what power had possessed him to do such a thing. If the Piper had succeeded, his brother would have been his. That would have driven a rift between the family bonds (broken the connection) and that would have sealed their fate. They would have perished along with everything else. He was thinking about how close it had come when, from overhead, they heard the unmistakeable sound of footsteps.

Michael looked at the older man and whispered, “Is there anywhere to hide?”

His teacher looked back and replied, “Back the way we came, quickly.”

They moved at speed, yet in near silence, across the basement floor and managed to slip into the partially hidden alcove before the footsteps turned into a real presence. At the back of the alcove was a false wall. The teacher pushed the wall on its left and it swung open. They were inside before anyone noticed. On the other side of the partition two sets of footsteps came to a halt.

“I thought I heard something, did you?”

Michael recognised a voice as one of Podrall’s lads.

“Probably rats. This place will be crawling with them.”

“Yeah, rats. I’ve seen loads of them around lately. The other night about a hundred just came pouring out of the sewers in the middle of the city centre. I was on the bus and I watched ’em racing down the high street like they owned it. It scared the hell out of the shoppers. About ten of ’em, massive they were, broke off and chased this woman with her dog. It was a poodle and they ripped it to shreds. You should have seen the look on her face as they tore into it, she was petrified. Then they ran off as if nothing had happened.”

The one whose voice Michael had recognised listened intently before adding, “Yes, there are lots of stories like that. It’s as if we’re in competition with them. Who is the baddest?”

“Do you think it’s anything to do with Flowers?”

“I think everything’s got something to do with Flowers these days don’t you?”

The other nodded.

“Is it true that Podrall has left?”

“Where did you hear that?”

“Just heard it.”

“That’s just dangerous talk. If I were you I’d stop thinking it right now before somebody else hears. Anyway,” he said looking around, “it might be rats down here but I’m not hanging around to find out. Have we got the stuff that he promised us?”

“I think that it’s upstairs behind the stage. Hope mine’s an automatic. I can’t wait to see the look on their faces.”

With their added confidence, the two shared a smirk before heading back up the stairs.

Michael looked towards his teacher in confirmation.

“Yes, Michael it looks like the worst case scenario. Let’s see what we can do to stop it.”

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Time was running out.