The Sword Of Christmas

“As you can see,” Graham said with pride, “Zack and his group have been doing an awful lot of groundwork. Indeed, they discovered these,” he continued and produced three swords from the armoury. “We have quite a selection of these and after out talk earlier, I think that swords may be one of our best forms of defence. Without their appropriate limbs, the leathers will struggle to do much harm.”

For once, his gentle humour failed to reach an audience so he continued.

“The next thing that I wish to ask is difficult,” he cleared his throat slightly. “You see, we need to get an early warning of their arrival so we would be best served by deploying a scouting unit that can cover the immediate areas around the castle. It will be a dangerous task so I only want volunteers. One thing to bear in mind is that you may have to move pretty quickly to get back to HQ if and when you do spot them.”

Keith Rains shot up a hand and this was followed by several others, all men in their late twenties or early thirties, all of them having lost family members. Then, Michael stepped forward and he was holding the sword he had picked out for himself. It was a shorter version of a long sword yet had a blade that was not straight. The blade had been fashioned into a facsimile of a series of flames, each one glinting with shiny menace. Graham had told him that the sword was favoured by German soldiers protecting the most important personnel. 

“It would have been used in a sweeping movement to ensure greater coverage and to keep the unwanted attentions away from those who were being protected,” Graham touched the blade and drew a little of his own blood in doing so.

“As sharp today as it was when it was first forged. They called this a Flammanschwert, the flame sword, and these edges meant that any strike would be intensified by the additional surface area. It was meant to maim.”

Chris had noticed that his brother’s presence brought immediate attention from the rest. It was not born of the charisma of Graham, the wisdom of Mr. Dale of the admiration of Judith. No, when Michael was in the room, people just stopped doing those things that they would have been doing; chat and movement were stilled as if awaiting the arrival of some natural disaster.

If Chris had not known his brother so well, had not understood his truly sensitive nature, had not seen his head stuck, night after night, into some grand book or other, he would have felt the same as the others.

“I volunteer,” Michael announced. This was followed by his brother who was now standing shoulder to shoulder with him.

The rise in optimism was matched by a hike in temperature. The signs of a thaw were there for all to see and, whilst usually the disappearance of snow brought about a twinge of sadness, everybody welcomed its short, if powerful life span.

Within little time, the organisation for the defence of the castle was completed to a satisfactory level. The rat runs were trodden and re-trodden to familiarise all with the evasive measures that would probably be required. Graham, his knowledge of history becoming their guide to survival, set up three murder holes, confined areas were attackers could neither move backwards or forwards once they had entered and where his quickest and strongest males could strike with relative impunity.

Because of the confined spaces, only short swords and spears could be used. However, Keith Rains had equipped himself with a ‘morning star’, a brutish looking club that was studded with vicious spikes. “I used to play cricket a bit so I should still have a good swing,” was his explanation for choosing such a weapon.

Towards twilight, the first of the refugees began to emerge from the countryside. First there came two young men, all smiles and greetings not disguising their discomfort at being within such a large group of strangers. Then, very soon afterwards, came more and more. On questioning, it would seem that the empty landscape through which Graham’s band had travelled was not so empty after all. The group’s reluctance to venture into buildings meant that they had missed numbers of others who were just hiding and surviving. For all they knew, Graham may have been in charge of a mopping up exercise run by The Piper so they did not show themselves.

“So why now?” Mr. Dale wondered aloud.

The dreams. They had all experienced dreams about the leathers and these dreams had been so disquieting, so very different to the replays of the previous terrors, that many of them took them to be warnings of things to come. Then they had dreamt about the man who was yet a boy, the one with a sword of flames, the one who had the brightest light at his back but not upon him, and they headed towards the castle in which he resided believing that he could halt the flood of their hunters.

“That’s him,” a voice cried out in amazement, its owner pointing towards Michael who had just entered the room with his brother. “That’s him from my dream.”

A tide of rising whispers seeped into the library with faces turning towards the one who had been identified. In return, Michael walked quickly from the place intent on becoming as invisible as he could.

“Michael wait for me,” Chris was after him. “What is it? Why were they pointing at you?”

Michael had broken into a run by this point and his brother had to do likewise to keep up. The pace increased to a sprint as they raced along the ground floor and then the eldest darted to his left and through a large opening that took them into another tower. Taking the stairway two steps at a time, they were soon at its summit. Chris was breathing heavily, the short activity having taken a surprising amount of energy from him. His brother, who was standing by the towers widow looking out to the east, was apparently in no discomfort at all.

“What was all that about? Why did you run away?”

Michael hesitated for a long time before answering, “They think that I can save them. They believe that I have been sent here to stop the leathers.”

“That’s stupid. How do you know that?”

“Have you not seen it in their faces? Every time somebody looks at me, there’s something in their eyes. Have you not noticed how only a few of them actually talk to me. The young ones, they talk, they’re not the same, but the older ones…sometimes some of them can’t even meet my eyes. They look at their hands or their feet. Others just rush away as soon as they can.”

“Perhaps it’s just your imagination.”

Again Michael looked towards the gathering dusk.

“When I was with Mum, I had this dream, it was as if I couldn’t wake up. You were in a wood somewhere and you were with Lucy. There was a man who was pointing a gun at you. You were in danger. I saw the man. No the physical one, but the one inside him and it was The Piper. He’d coiled himself up inside this bloke. Inside him was this snakelike creature that controlled all of his actions and the creature was commanding it to kill you. Payment. That’s what it was after. Payment.”

“That happened. Just last week. We had stopped by this big private school and Will, a bloke who came in with Judith, made me go up the woods where he was going to kill me. He had a gun. Said that it was for The Piper and he talked about the debt. It’s a good job that he couldn’t shoot straight.”

“I distracted him. At the very last moment, he saw me and I saw him. You were thinking about the window you had seen in the church.”

“How do you know?”

“You thought that the figure in the window was me.”

The younger brother listened without interrupting.

“The Man in the window had something like this hadn’t he?”

Michael was holding up his sword and, in an instant, Chris noticed the flames, the real fire that danced along its edge. “Chris, I don’t know who I am any longer. I have blackouts. Look at me. Am I the same brother you had less than two months ago?”

The Last Hope

Safe and Sound

The castle was built for both attack and defence. Its commanding view of the surrounding countryside gave it a great advantage for seeing the enemy whilst providing a platform from which counterattacks could be launched.

Facing to the south and east, lay the moat and to the north and west the castle was perched upon the most imposing of rock precipices that few would dare to climb. Below the rocky outcrop, separating the fortress from the town, was a river which snaked into the grounds from the west and curved round the northern walls before swinging east and then north back towards the source of its flow. Again, nature had been thoughtful enough to provide another line of defence. In other times, the castle could be said to be a complete fortress.

It had been the curiosity of the young ones that had discovered the armoury and it was also their adventurous nature which provided the group with a working knowledge of its internal layout. The various tourist maps of the castle had given them a basic compass, but it was the energy and need to explore that made their knowledge so impressive. While the adults had been busy with the celebrations on the first night, the kids had been off, working in groups, opening doors, venturing down stairwells and hallways; even descending into the lower places that used to be the dungeons. In the space of twenty four hours, they had a complex understanding of the place. And, they had found the armoury.

Since escaping the school they had grown. They were, to all intents, twenty first century children who had had the twenty first century stripped away from them. In essence, they had been picked up by the scruff of their necks and thrown back almost three centuries to a pre-industrial age. They were not only children but integral members of a self-sufficient community and they were contented creatures of this new age.

Zack, although not the eldest, was a leader of sorts. He was tough and brave in a way that allowed him to enjoy an occasional spurt of recklessness. His foray into the deep halls of the castle was the adventure that resulted in the discovery of the golden fleece. He was also a bright lad. All in all, there were now thirty three youngsters, a number having deserted the group during the days whilst leaving the city. Nobody ever mentioned these, dreading to think about the fate that they had decided upon.

“It’s in here, Mr. Hunter,” Zack had not had sufficient contact with the old man to use his first name.

Double doors surmounted by a silver plaque proclaiming the word, ‘Armoury’ opened up to his touch. Graham, a child once more, walked into the room, struggling with the possibility that he would be allowed to handle such weapons. Moving along the glass cases and cabinets, he saw sabres, cutlasses, claymores and even a scimitar (brought back from a crusade). His eyes were wide with glee and expectation. Zack watched with an imperceptible shake of his head, adults were often as childish as children.

“Its okay, they’re open, Sir.”

Carefully placing his hand on the unlocked casing, Graham eased it open and reached inside to place his hand on the hilt of the scimitar. Fingers forming a soft glove, he lifted it from its restraints.

“A scimitar, Zack. I can’t believe that I am holding one. It’s fabulous. When I was a boy, I dreamt of owning one of these things. Don’t you think it’s beautiful?”

Zack did indeed think that it was a thing of considerable beauty.

“Yes. I think it is wonderful.”

“It was the sword of the Moors. You can still see it on the flags of Arab countries.”

“I know, Sir. We did that in History with you in Year 7.”

“Yes, Zach. I had forgotten that you were in my class back then. And here we are now.” He paused for a while to consider what had gone. “We have work to do, don’t we?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Zack, you know the castle as well as anybody.”

“Better.”

“Good, then I want you to show me all that you know. I want shortcuts, hidden passages, I want to see places where we can run to if it gets bad, I want a way out if it gets really bad. Do you understand?”

“Of course. It’s like Lord of the Rings isn’t it?”

“You’ve got it Zack, but I think that Orks have a nicer disposition.”

They were sharing the joke when Chris spoke. He and his brother had made their way to the armoury using one of the other boys, Lewis, as a guide.

“Is it alright if we join you?”

“The more the merrier,” chuckled Graham through heightened spirits.   

A Tale Before Christmas

Talk Room

“We were just driving along, the car was handling the roads easily enough, Ian was driving. I was sitting in the back with Sue. Then they came from nowhere. They were all around us, coming out of the trees.

I think Ian thought they were human because he swerved to avoid them. When he did, he lost control and that was when we hit the wall. We went straight through it and then down the slope towards the stream. We’d been travelling slowly but our momentum took us down the slope quickly. We were hitting trees and stuff, bouncing from one to the other. We were getting thrown around a bit in the back because we had not bothered putting out seat belts on. When we came to a stop, we had straddled the stream, bank to bank, and that’s when we saw them.”

Each of his sentences carried a note of dread that was transferred to congregation around him. Each word built on the one before to create a deeper realisation of what they could be facing.

“We knew we had to get out. There were  child-locks on the back doors and Ian was slumped over the steering wheel. Blood was everywhere, coming from his head, I think he was dead. Louise was panicking. I’ve never seen her like that before. She had the baby in her arms, it was a surprise that she hadn’t dropped it in the crash, but she was out of the door. Sue was screaming, she was puling at the handle, begging Louise to let her out. For a moment I thought that Louse was going to leave us there. She had that look about her, survival and all that. At the last moment, she undid the door and Sue managed to get out. I’d climbed over the front seat and was in the stream. Those things were almost onto us. I just ran.”

“What about Sue?” somebody asked.

“I thought she was alright, I thought she could run…” hesitation precipitated confession. “I left her. She was on her knees in the stream and I left her. They were there at the other side of the car and I left her.” 

Jason started to sob heavily, the recognition of his sins now standing before him. Heaving his way through the pain, the faces of some of the others showing reproach, he was lost at the lacerated point of his original decision. It was replaying itself on a loop, his hand reaching out and then puling away, Sue there in the water, the dark figures splashing madly towards him. This could be his purgatorial landscape, forever.

Laura, seeing his struggle, touched his arm. It was only the lightest of touches, one that was meant to remind another that they were not alone, a touch that suggested that others had travelled on that path. Still down there in his own depths, Jason felt the pull of the woman and started to climb towards it..

“I just ran. I ran. Louise had got to the other bank and she was starting to make her way up the hill. Those things were right behind us and we had the baby. I heard screams, screams that came from Sue but I didn’t look back. We ran.”

The room was quietly waiting for the rest of his narrative.

“We managed to get to the top of the first hill. Well, almost to the top. Louise was carrying Tom, the baby, and she was tired. No she was exhausted. She fell in the snow. I was in front of her when I heard her shouting for me to come back. The things were only about thirty yards away. I wanted to run some more but I looked in her eyes and I heard the baby cry.

I shouldn’t have left Sue there for them to get her. I turned back and tried to lift her. All she said was that I should take the baby. She pleaded me to take Tom and save him. I said I could help them both, but we knew I couldn’t. They were closing in and I got Tom. I just ran and ran thinking that my lungs would burst, that I’d have a heart attack or something. I must have been running for a while, up and down those hills with those things always behind me. Eventually, I reached the top of another hill. I fell most of the way down and then these people showed up. They saved me.”

Nobody spoke. A solid silence had been thrown across the gathering in the library, each individual having been transported to that cold landscape where only demons kept one company. Jason sat motionless with the hand of Laura still upon him. Most people were doing everything they could to avoid making eye contact with anyone else.

“There but for the grace of God go I, “ uttered Mr. Dale.

Addressing the library, Graham said, “Well, I think that this may have changed our plans somewhat. In the light of this I think we ought to open up the debate. Out there are hundreds, possibly even more, of these things. I hate to say the word Zombie, but that seems to fit.”

“We call them Leathers. We fought one and he was certainly not one of the ‘recently dead’. I don’t think  they go in for whole scale cannibalism or can infect anyone they bite, but they are dead. The one that we came in contact with was all hide and nothing else. It was as if he had been dry frozen or something. He was strong, not super strong, but strong like it would have been if it had still been alive. We burnt ours. It didn’t like that, but I have a feeling that it was not fully finished with.

The second one we ran into was a more recent one. His skin hadn’t turned to leather, but he was one of them,” Laura looked anxiously towards where Michael was standing with the mother and children but he had taken them and left the room. “Michael, my son, killed him by blowing up the house we’d been staying in. It was a massive explosion and that, most definitely, finished him off.”

“Do you think that other things could kill them?” asked Judith.

“They move around in daylight, they are not afraid of water, they have obvious strength, perhaps not superhuman but something. We haven’t tried silver bullets or crosses or holy water or garlic or wooden stakes. Just the fire so far.”

Everybody was listening intently to this modern day ghost story. 

“So they are still made of skin and bone,” asked Keith Rains, “and if they are then we have a chance. I’ve seen a fair share of horror movies and there’s always ways of killing the evil dead things. What would they do if we managed to chop off their heads or legs? If they are skin and bone, leather and bone, then we have chance.”

“And we are in a castle. There are suits of armour all around,” added another enthusiastically.

“And there’s an armoury,” Zack Borthwick, a twelve year old from St. Agnes suggested, “with loads of swords and stuff. We could use them.”

“That’s a great idea,” Graham said seizing upon it, “we need to sort out some defences, get armed, make sure we know all the castle’s strengths and weaknesses. We need places to defend and places to fall back to. At the moment, we hold the advantage, this s a castle after all and the have to try to get in. Fortunately for us, these castles were built with an eye to both attack and defence. We could hold out here indefinitely. All we have to do is get ourselves organised.”

There was a flicker of understanding in the eyes of Dawkins. He had spent his incarceration listening to all that had been said. He was not just looking for his opportunity to get away from these people, but was looking for an advantage, something that he could take back with him and a tribute that could serve him well. 

“How long have we got?” enquired Mr. Dale looking at Laura. His reply came from another place.

“I think that we have another day before they get here. Some may already be here watching us and working out our weaknesses, but the main body of them will take at least another day.” Heads turned towards Michael’s impassive delivery.

“Thank you Michael. In that case, haste shall govern our preparations,” the history teacher replied to his once pupil.

Christmas Memories

Lovely, dark and deep.

Lucy’s Diary 22ndDecember 

Will everyday be like these? I sometimes wonder if we are meant to be living through or just suffering them.

Last night would have constituted one of the best of my life. ‘David’ who still likes to be known as Chris. I can’t help calling him David and it’s becoming a bit embarrassing. Anyway, last night was one of the first normal nights that the world has possibly seen since The Purge and Graham led a celebration for our deliverance. More importantly, Chris kissed me for the first time.

I know that it has been coming, right from the start the signs were evident, but it would have been magnificent if he had not seen ‘The Giant’, as he is now commonly known, snooping around in the grounds. That put a stop to the kissing and started that look again, the look that becomes increasingly unsettled and suspicious, the look he had been wearing when we first met. There is part of me that likes ‘the look’, it’s deeply handsome and mysterious, but then there is another part of me that feels uncomfortable when its appears. There is a story behind that look and I don’t think I want to ever know about it. The result of that was that David kept awake that night, all night, believing that I was asleep. He kept a watch for the thing that he had seen. As soon as it was first light, he was ready and out, I watched him from the window as he covered the area where he thought the thing had been. He found something alright, footprints, made by bare feet, and he followed them out of the grounds before turning back. I was fully dressed at this point, about to follow him.

When he returned to our room, the one in which we made a solemn promise not to share a bed, he told me all about what he had found and we went to Graham and Judith’s room to spread the glad tidings. Graham and Judith are good people and they are also good at meetings. I think they like meetings as a way of bringing about a democracy. Even in these times, they have held onto their principles and one of these must be to be completely upfront with all of the group around them. I think ‘upfront’ should be rationed out so that people don’t get it into their heads that ‘upfront’ means that they have the right to do exactly what they want to do. Louise, the woman with the baby, who wanted to execute Will, obviously thought that ‘upfront’ meant that she had a right to scaremonger and convince some of those closest to her that leaving was their only sensible option.

Graham, Judith and Mr. Dale, managed to quieten any mutiny and we were just drawing up plans against a possible attack when a car horn was sounded. Knowing that Louise’s group had taken a four by four, we thought that it must be them returning, but, at a sprint, Chris was up and running for the main entrance. Most people were too surprised to react as quickly and it took us some time to get to where he had headed. By the time we had gotten there a woman, who I had never seen before, was standing just inside the main doorway and she was holding a child in her arms, the baby that belonged to Louise. People were confused and some became a little angry, one woman who knew Louise well snatched the baby from the other woman’s arms and another asked viciously where she taken the baby from. Fortunately, before things could get any worse, Graham came to the front of the group, looked at the woman, called her Mrs. Andrews, and hugged her.

“This, ladies and gentlemen, is Chris’ mother.”

There were a few embarrassed apologies after that but I was busy seeing where Chris had gone. At that moment, Jason, a grey cloud covering him, came inside. Behind him came another woman and two children who were obviously brother and sister. The woman was being led along by the boy and she had the appearance of one of those people who have been confined to an institution for a long, long period. A little after that came Chris, helping to support a boy who was draped between him and another stranger. The stranger I had seen before, just when Will had fired that bullet at Chris’s head way back in the school woods. I remember thinking that he looked like Chris, but darker. That’s when I saw the Labrador and the cat (that had an ear missing). They just sat there on the top step watching the people who were gathering around the new arrivals. There was a strange wisdom about them that seemed more human than animal. All in all, this little group was another ingredient all together.

The questions were coming in waves and Jason started to look more and more like a man who could not face what had happened. Tears were in the backs of his eyes and the now familiar haunted look sat upon him. When he sat down to tell his story, we understood why.

Charles Manson, David Cassidy, the dying mouse, and me.

Re-writing The Past

As part of a generation that grew up within twenty-years of the end of the Second World War, I was always keen on weapons. Any decent human being would assume that the dropping of two nuclear bombs on Japan ought to have persuaded me of the error of our human ways, but it seemed to have the opposite effect.

A fascination for Spitfires consumed me and drove me into playing parachute games (obviously I did not have enough true belief in my aeronautical abilities). From there, my friends and I moved into the realms of Japs and Commandos. The Japs had been depicted as a race of people totally devoid of human empathy. They captured our brave soldiers and made them into slaves on the railway of death. The problem with our game was that all of us wanted to be commandos. Subtle selection strategies were required in order to have an even contest; in which the commandos always won.

The game involved an awful lot of running and hiding, finding and shooting, being found and escaping. It was just like the real thing that we had seen on countless films. We used sticks for guns and sticks for long Samurai swords.

Quite often, the battle would devolve into a medieval melee of hitting each other as hard as we could with said sticks. There was the Chinese Strangulation which was a way of subduing captives. This was an extremely effective method of inflicting the best type of pain; the slow-burn oxygen deficiency method. That way, you knew who had won. The second form of torture was the Indian Wrist-Burn. This involved placing your hands on your enemy’s wrist and then quickly rotating them in opposite directions. It had the exquisite inbuilt reminder of its execution with the angry red mark that refused to shift for days.

Those were the days of innocence, before we moved onto imitation plastic rifles, botched affairs that only vaguely looked like the real thing, but with our ‘dak, a dak, dak!’ it was enough to convince us of their potency.  Hand-grenades were invisible and exploded exactly where you wanted them to. All you had to do was to make a big boom sound, cover your ears and then throw yourself to the ground. If only all wars were so simple.

Things started to get more complicated from the moment that we started to grow up. One of our mates had an air-rifle bought as a Christmas present. He spent all that holiday practising on sparrows and robins. He even shot the cat. Our friend always seemed to be the one who got things first. He had one of the best bikes, he had golf clubs, he had a number of cricket bats, he had ridiculously bright blue eyes, he had a level of freedom that we longed for, he was a talented sportsman, and he shot Robins. He had everything that made him a top friend.

On some of our summer holiday excursions, he would take his air-rifle, slung in a purpose-made rifle bag, casually over his shoulder. At any point in our journey, he would swing it off his shoulder, unzip it and take aim at anything that dared to move. We were once walking along a path that ran beside a golf-course. We had been on this route many times before on ventures of golf ball discoveries. The golf balls often got lost in the rough and they were of sufficient value that we heard some other kids had set up a rather profitable little business finding them and then selling them back to the golfers. Sometimes the treasures would disappear mid-play only for them to be strangely reunited sometime later with their true owners, for a small fee. We also prized tees, but nobody thought that they would provide a realistic sell-back option.

It was a lazy afternoon and we were mooching along, dragging through the dog-end hours, kicking pine cones and providing accompanying commentary for the excellence of each strike. I measured a masterful strike and my pine-cone flew straight and long down the path. When it finally rolled to a halt, I provided the commentator’s awe-struck admiration.

“It’s Best! What a goal! What a strike! What a player!”

My arms shot into the air in a triumphant reaching for the skies and I raced off down the shaded path to acclaim my glorious feat. I almost slipped on the badly wounded body of a mouse.

The mouse wasn’t dead, but it was dying. In such an event, we should have done the merciful thing and caved its head in with a brick. There were no bricks to hand. We could have stamped on it head with the heels of our shoes, but none of us wanted to be seen as the heartless perpetrator of such a heinous act. Instead, we turned to our rifle toting friend to provide the humane solution. He, however, never saw himself as one who would administer the coup de grace nor was he one to pass up the opportunity of a real-life kill. He was a sportsman and would execute his task in a manner befitting such a regal profession. He walked up to the soon to be corpse, turned and took thirty strides, checked the direction of the wind, took his rifle out, loaded it, knelt and took aim. We were in awe.

After he missed for the third time, he changed his tactics. He strode forward another five paces, loaded, knelt and was about to take aim when he realised that he had forgotten to double-check the strength and direction of the prevailing wind on that most breathless of afternoons. Satisfied, he took aim and fired.

After another five pellets had missed their target, the rest of us thought to check upon the unfortunate creature. It still lived. Its tiny breaths evident in furry inhales and exhales. I was thinking about the heel of my shoe when my friend angrily strode past me and aimed a final pellet, at point-blank distance, into the belly of the beast. It lived no more.

As kills went, I suppose this counted for something, but there was no commentary this time and no overt display of triumph. We had killed a dying mouse. It had died. It would have died if my perfect kick of the pine-cone had not found it. We had had sport and now we were somewhat ashamed.

Our friend went on to kill many other tiny creatures, specialising in birds that frequented his garden. This went on until he discovered girls. After that, he hung up his trusty weapon for ever.

Sometimes it is good to hang up your guns. For one thing, you look silly when you’re older, toting an air-powered, pellet firing rifle. There is also the problem with killing defenceless little birds, tiny ones with redbreasts. Nobody wants to be seen in any social situation with a bird slaughtering psychopath. At some point, many boys give up their pursuit of prey and bloodlust for everyday distractions like life. But it all came back to me this week when the deaths of Charles Manson and David Cassidy were announced. I am too long in the tooth to cheer about the eventual demise of a cult-leading murderer whilst I am not too old to feel a spot of sadness for David Cassidy, my elder sister’s dream boat and reason for having a bedroom wall. I asked a woman who I work with if she was saddened by the death of David and she told me that she was a Donny Osmond fanatic. I accepted that and was instantly taken back to my last adventure with an airgun.

Some years ago, in a land far away, in a kingdom of grey cold, lived me. Another friend of mine lived around the corner. We were both at Sixth Form and the Punk era was well and truly upon us. So, in a situation like that, what would any decent human being do if they discovered a Jimmy Osmond single in their collection? It was obvious. We decided to put it on trial for crimes against humanity.

“Jimmy Osmond, you have been tried and found guilty of unleashing your ‘Long-haired Lover From Liverpool’ without care or regret as to the damage that you have wreaked. And, as you have since shown no remorse, this court finds you guilty. You are to be taken from here immediately and be shot until you are dead.”

And so it came to pass that the said 45 was taken from the kitchen of a council house overlooking the industrial greyness of West Yorkshire and shot to pieces by two rather judgemental youths with an air rifle.

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Since that day, I have vowed never to touch one of those instruments of death ever again.

A Cold Embrace

Baptism

The car was wedged between the banks with the stream reaching the door sills.

When they came to a final rest, they were facing back up the slope down which they had unintentionally travelled. Ian was slumped over the wheel, a deep cut to his temple letting blood at an unhealthy rate. Sue and Jason had not been wearing seat belts and they had been thrown around significantly, causing minor cuts and bruises, but also bringing about a concussion in Sue that was just on the verge of announcing itself. Louise had held on to Tom and neither of them had sustained anything more than shock. She could see dark shapes inching their ways towards them. She had been here before and she knew what to do.

She quickly unbuckled herself and was opened the door. She grasped Tom, intent on never letting him go, and planted a foot in the stream. The brutal waters flowed in through her boots washing away any residue of fuzzy thinking. In the back, she heard the thick voice of Sue, swimming through the first stages of concussion, but still aware of the danger they were in.

She was struggled with the door handle, wondering why it would not open; the previous owner of the car had been a father of three small children and used child locks. The more Sue struggled, the greater the pressure mounted in her head. A hammer was being swung.

Jason pulled at the handle before deciding to take the rooute that Louise had taken. Outside, in the cold, rising waters, Louise ppulled hard on the passenger door and Sue was free. Her face was painted with a ghoulish grin of gratitude and she almost fell out.

“What about Ian?” asked Jason seeing the motionless form of the driver slumped at the steering wheel. But Louise had crossed the short distance to the other bank and was climbing up the other side. Sue was attempting to do the same, but her steps where heavy and unsure and more than once she stumbled forward onto her hands and knees. Through the driver’s side window, Jason was left in no doubt about the his plight so he followed the others.

Louise was at the top of the slope when she heard Sue scream. The first scream was one brought on by shock, the ones that followed were different. Louise did not look back even as she heard something clambering up the bank behind her. He arms were aching from the exertion needed to hold the child, but she kept climbing. 

Before her was a hillside rising away, its flanks covered in virgin snow, untrodden. Then something crept upon her from behind.

“Wait for me!” 

The first thing she saw was her own daughter, arms outstretched at the end of a long day, welcoming mummy. The second thing she saw was Jason and behind him their pursuers.

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.