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. 

The Dead Of Winter

The one truly overlooked benefit of buying a Volvo was that, as a free introductory gift for a limited period only, every new Volvo estate was sold with a free set of snow chains!

Laura had often wondered what the chains were meant to be used for and had resigned herself to never knowing. Michael, being Michael, knew exactly what they were and how they could help them on this particularly icy morning.

“They’re snow chains Mum. You know, you put them round your tyres and they give you extra grip. That’s why the Swedes can drive so well in winter.”

“What have the Swedes got to do with this?”

Learning something new everyday had become the byword for survival in this new world, but learning about the origins of Volvos and the uses of snow chains was not a lesson his mother expected. However, once they had been fitted, it made driving much less lethal. 

They had packed up their belongings, eaten some provisions and had set off on their journey. The wide expanse of trodden snow was visible in the fields through which the army of leathers had travelled.

For some of the time, they could navigate by simply following the tracks. Laura was reminded of the aerial photographs of the Nazca Valley. As with those lines, so long without explanation, these were being made by creatures lost to comprehension. Perhaps one day would reveal them to be made of matter that was more explicable than seemed the case now.

However, Laura was not looking for understanding; the cold fear that was in her blood told her that nothing could make sense of these times. They had encountered one of them before. Now they were in their hundreds, each one having overcome the ultimate conqueror, death. So how could a handful of survivors begin to defend themselves in battle? Their only option was to run, run very fast and run very far away.

Their compass for the journey was ‘the mother’. That is what Laura and Michael knew her as since she was rarely out of the state that inhibited her communication beyond the nods or shakes of her head. However, there  was something that she had been communicating with and this kept the two alert.

Since starting the journey, Laura’s eyes had been firmly rooted to the road ahead. They were travelling at a speed of around twenty miles an hour, not fast but faster than the leathers could travel. Once or twice along the way, they had seen the odd leather emerging from some house or barn, its head tilted as if in a temporary state of confusion. The sound of Brian approaching had no impact upon the things, no recognition or indication giving away any sense that the creatures were aware of anything outside of its prime directive. At one point, Michael asked his mother to slow the car right down so that it moved alongside a particular leather at walking pace.

The leather they had picked was one of the old ones. By the state of his clothes and skin, he could have been anything between forty to fifty years in the making. He had what remained of a wayward beard and was wearing clothes that could have belonged to a scarecrow. Laura thought that if she had seen the thing up close, positioned in the middle of some field, she would not have thought it to be a scarecrow, for giant crows. It walked in the way that the older ones did, a loping stride suggesting that this movement was new or completely forgotten, one foot being placed in front of the other by a force that was not of its own. What was certain was that it had a real sense of where it was going.

‘The mother’ sat with her eyes riveted to the floor. She understood what was out there and did not want to see it. The daughter too looked away. The son, on the other hand, was as intrigued by the strange scarecrow as Michael.

“Is it dead?”

For an instant, Michael was not sure who had spoken or weather it had been just his imagination.

“Is it dead, the man?”

Michael turned around in his seat still trying to keep most of his attention focused on the leather.

“Yes, it’s been dead a long time.”

The boy considered this, his eyes narrowing with concentration.

“Is that what Dad was?”

Big Footed Naked Guy With Bells

No goodwill to all men.

Chris could not wait. As soon as the sky began to lighten, he rushed towards the bedroom into which Graham and Judith had returned. His knocking, so insistent, awoke more than those he had intended to awake. A very tired looking Judith peaked through the gap between door and frame. She had been asleep for no more than four hours.

“Christopher, what is it?”

Chris detected a vague note of annoyance. Judith, he was sure, had a side to her that would very rarely tolerate irrational behaviour from any body. Although he was certainly forever in her good books, he saw a spark if impatience flash past her eyes.

“Judith, is Graham awake?”

“No, he’s still sleeping,” a self piteous groan crept from the bed that told otherwise. “He had a lot to drink last night and now he is suffering. Could you come back later perhaps? When he is better.”

Chris stood and thought for a time before he answered.

“No, I can’t. It’s really important.”

“It’s not about you and Lucy is it?”

“Me and Lucy? No. Why would it be about me and Lucy? It’s about something I saw last night, something on the edge of the lawns.”

“What did you see?” demanded a voice from within the room. “Come in immediately and tell me.”

If drunkenness had sat upon him when first knocked from sleep, it had now been shrugged off. Judith opened the door and allowed the boy to enter. Sitting up in a huge bed, Graham Hunter looked every inch of a man to the manor born. Clothed in complimentary silk pyjamas, bleary eyes and self-standing hair, he was the epitome of an eccentric aristocrat.

“What did you see, Chris?”

Chris took a intake of breath before starting. He told them about the library and how he and Lucy had gone there to talk. At this point he noted the exchange of almost imperceptible looks between the two adults yet continued without bothering to explain. When he reached the point about the figure standing partly hidden by the tree-line, there was a change of mood.

“What type of figure,” asked Judith, “male or female?”

“I think it was male. From where I stood, I think it was pretty well made and tall. I watched it for some time without it noticing me. We had no lights on in the library. Well, we did, but only a little torch and that was placed on the floor. I don’t think it could have been seen from outside. Anyway, I watched this thing and it just stood there watching the castle. I looked away for less than a second to tell Lucy about it, but when she looked, it had gone, completely disappeared. I watched from window of  my room for most of the night just to see if it would return. It never did.”

“It might have been a trick of the light, or an animal,” was Judith’s addition.

“Yes, I thought about that. So, I went outside as soon as it got light. I went to the place I thought I had seen the figure and do you know what? I found some footprints.”

“What type of footprints?” asked Graham.

“Human ones. I followed them for a while and they led all the way out of the grounds. There was a sharp frost last night which meant the surface of the snow turned to think ice. When I walked on it, my weight barely caused a crack, but these footprints were massive, almost twice as big as mine and they must have carried some weight because they sunk deep into the lower layers of snow. I could have carried on following them but I didn’t think it would be the best thing to do. So I came back.”

“Well there’s nobody big enough to fill shoes like that in our group,” mused Graham weighing up the possible solutions.

“It wasn’t wearing shoes. The footprints were of bare feet.”

“So,” Judith submitted, “we have a big footed naked guy prowling around the grounds when everyone has gone to sleep. Did anyone bother to lock the front door?”

Chris smiled ruefully, “I’m afraid not. It was open when I went out this morning.”

Graham was already climbing out of bed; the luxury of a hangover would have to wait.

“But you locked the door on your way back in?”

“I locked every door I could find.”

“That’s my boy. We need to get everybody together as soon as we can. Don’t panic anyone. Just make sure we can have a meeting. I don’t want somebody to wander off outside on their own. Can you and Chris do that for me Judith?”

“Certainly, but it would be best to shower first. I would not wish to be seen by anyone looking like this. Not even a ten foot tall naked guy.”

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.

Oh come all ye…

Come let us rejoice…

When Laura woke, she was aware that it had not been a natural break in her sleep, but that something had disturbed her. She listened for clues.

They had finally stopped for the night, their ever expanding troop squashed into a tiny cottage which would have been, she was sure of this, a hunting lodge for a much grander estate. The basics for a Spartan life were there and, although there were only two single beds, they were able to push them together for the mother and her children. For the rest of them, bed rolls and sleeping bags provided for the sleeping arrangements. 

The lodge had obviously been in regular use as there had been a fire in the grate. All the tinder was expertly built on top of a bed of old newspapers ensuring that only a match had to be put to it to encourage the fire to catch. This was done in no time at all and soon, by adding a number of hearty logs that were piled at the side of the fireplace. Laura noticed how Michael’s eyes were drawn to the flames as they licked an curled their way upwards. He was in a place she did not know, place he had been visiting more and more.

When she sat upright, reminders of the hard floor beneath her mat muscled into her. The mixture of the freezing cold and the aches of the journey was a cocktail that would always be remembered. She strained to listen beyond the silence and then she heard it. A low, almost inaudible growl.

Laura had positioned herself on the floor of the living room where Michael and their newly found companion were also sleeping. Neither of the others were awake. The growl, almost indistinguishable from the natural sounds of sleep, was coming from the kitchen. She looked around and discovered that neither of the animals were in the room with them. Easing out of her sleeping bag, still fully clothed, she tiptoed across to the doorway and peered inside. Both Arthur and Sam were crouching by the outside door, their noses pushed towards the cold draft that was sneaking its way between the gaps. Coming from them was the sound that she originally believed to be a growl, but now she knew it to be something altogether different. It sounded to her like the noise Buddhist monks made when they were entering some profound meditative state. She inched forward.

Although she made as little noise as she could, the ears of the animals did that radar thing, turning around to indicate that they had picked up the sound of something moving. Even Arthur’s ragged excuse for an ear moved. Nevertheless, none of them shifted from their stances, maintaining a vigil that was trance like.

Now lowering to their level, Laura reached out two comforting hands that stroked the statuesque creatures. The rigidity in the bodies alarmed her. The she heard another sound. The steady crunch of feet on frozen snow.

Unable to see from her position, she started towards her feet again. A small window was off to her left, her intention to simply peer into the night to see what was the cause of that which had woken her. It could be foxes or dear but she felt not. In order not to signal her presence, she lifted the curtain only a fraction of an inch, just enough to allow one eye to view. What she saw caused a rush of dread to well up and almost push her towards panic.

Outside in the dead of night, moved wave upon wave of things that would once have been human beings. However, she knew, knew instantly, that those moving forms had long since left behind any real semblance to the rest of their previous kin. The moon gave an unflattering light that revealed the faces of the dead. They were moving as if drawn or directed, none communicating, no signs of interest in any other thing but their progress towards some predetermined destination. Wherever they were headed, Laura did not want to go. She almost jumped form her own skin when a hand rested upon her shoulder.

“What is it,” he mouthed more than uttered.

She moved away and let him view. For a long time, he did not move and Laura wondered what he was thinking about. After another thirty minutes, the procession had gone and they felt they could talk.

“What were those things?” she asked him without needing an answer.

“They were the same as the one that tried to kill us back at out house.”

His mother knew this to be true. So long ago.

“Where are they going?”

“My guess is that they have found some survivors. It must be a large group of them otherwise they wouldn’t send so many.”

“But how can so many of those dead things know?”

Michel looked sympathetically at his mother. No matter how much she had gone through, no matter how screamingly mad the world had become, she still clung to a sense of normality.

“It’s The Piper. Him or his followers. They can do these things.”

Laura nodded in acceptance.

“We are going to have to find them. We’re going to have to find those survivors and warn them.”

“But how?” 

“I know where they are going,” a voice from behind spoke.

They turned to see the mother standing in the dark. She had sleep still upon her, her eyes straining against the fact of being forced into some level of wakefulness. Her voice was heavy with that now familiar limbo language, the borderland where the subconscious and conscious worlds met, a place where The Piper roamed freely.

“He came to me and showed me the house where they are all gathered. He showed me a boy named Christopher who, he said, owed him a debt. There is also a teacher who would lead them to sanctuary, but The Piper has made plans for them all.”

Her voice tailed off, a whisper drifting in the cold night. Then, as if being prompted, she resumed, her words seemingly coming from a place somewhere other than within her frame. She moved forward, revealing eyes that were without irises or pupils, totally white, inverted, seeing another world.

“He says that you are invited, mother and son, Laura and Michael, to watch as this Christopher pays his dues. If he dies, then maybe the rest of you can live.”

The voice was now changed into something that was not of the mother. Its tone was deeper and mocking.

“You think that you can run from me? You think that you can beat me? I have travelled eons to reach this place and no resistor will stand in my way,” the words shot out in the direction of Michael.

“You have tasted the fruit haven’t you? It tastes sweet doesn’t it? You have the mark upon your soul which makes you more like me than those who would claim you. Have you spoken of the thrill it gives you to take life? Does this thing that calls itself your mother understand? When the time is right, we could…”

“You could do nothing with my son. You, who hides away in a frightened woman’s broken mind, you who steal children, you who kill through the innocence and ignorance of others. I have seen you and you shall not have anything to do with any of my sons.”

The two mothers faced each other across the kitchen table. The white eyes now fixed on Laura, narrowing with hatred.

“One by one, I shall have all of your sons as I had your husband. One by one, you shall watch them bleed.”

“Over my dead body,” Laura spat.

“That is my intention.”

From inside the bedroom, a frightened child cried out.

“Mum, mummy. Where are you? The bad man is here.”

It was enough to break the hold upon the woman. Her eyes returned, the rage fell away from her and confusion settled.

“Where am I?”

“Mummy.”

She turned at the sound and left the kitchen to rush to her child.

Laura moved to embrace Michael but found him unyielding to her touch.

“Michael, don’t listen to his words. He is a deceiver. You are not like them.”

She ran her hands across his upper back attempting to massage out the knots of his tension. He responded by putting his arms around her, providing some sign that he had returned. In his mind, he remember the taste of the fruit The Piper had spoken of, bitter and yet so incredibly alluring.

On the living room floor, the inert body of Dawkins did not betray any signs of being awake. Only the vaguest of smiles danced upon his lips.     

Deck The Trees…

In The Dark Mid-Winter

Meanwhile, Graham had limited himself to just a few glasses of the highland nectar. The effect upon him was quite profound after weeks of abstinence and he found the situation most agreeable. What could be better than a winter break, in a beautiful castle with friends? Planning to sight see all on his own, he was quietly pleased when a number of others joined him in his stroll around the place. His historical knowledge removing everyone from the reality that lay beyond the walls.

Judith was at her best organising others. That first evening when the combined efforts of herself and Mr. Dale had resulted in a room allocation that would have not looked out of place in a military mobilisation, she set about further managing arrangements for the evening meal. Not venturing into the kitchen personally, the memories of her incarceration still vivid, she sought out the best cooks, peelers, kitchen porters and washer-upperers. Tinned food was in abundance and so, to their surprise was a vast stock of game that hung invitingly in a cold store. Not just a meal but a feast and Judith wrote a menu to boot.

When eventually the dinner was served, the clocks that were still working stated that it was nearing two in the morning, nobody seemed to mind. Time had been put on hold and, for the family of friends, it was the moment to celebrate some type of deliverance. Wine had been discovered, beer was drunk and laughter was heard to echo around the halls in a way that it had never done so before. Graham would have given a speech but had to abandon it when his worlds refused to emerge unadulterated by a certain Speyside that had taken his fancy. With unknown forces closing in around them, the members of the group had not felt as secure as this since well before that terrible day.

At some point, a guitar was produced and, to the amazement of Graham, Judith took hold of it and played one of the most haunting renditions of  Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind. When she stroked the final chord, a roar of applause rocked the room. Those who had been singing smiled through their tears and the younger ones just laughed at the way the old ones did not seem to care that they were embarrassing themselves.

“Where did that come from?” enquired Graham in an instant of lucidity.

“The guitar or the song?”

“You.”

“Oh, I was a child of the sixties, flower power and all that. I was a hippy for a while, still am deep down.”

“Must have been one of the most organised of your brethren.”

“Hippies can be organised. Look at Woodstock and Glastonbury. Look at all of us here.”

Graham did so and realised her point. “Hippies one and all,” he proclaimed to himself before falling into a contented miasma once more. 

At some indistinct point in the very early hours, most people went to bed. There would be some extremely thick heads in the morning.

Chris and Lucy had wandered off to find the quiet that was needed for what they could not keep holding in. Keeping a torch held between them, they made the progress through corridors that yawned open at their approach. Regardless of all they had seen, there still remained a nostalgic menace about the adventure.

“Do you think it is haunted?” Lucy asked through a childlike smile.    

“What? Headless horseman and all that? Yes, I hope so.”

“So do I.” She pulled closer to him, pulling on his left arm and squeezing it for reassurance.

“I think I’d welcome a proper ghost, it would make things seem right again.”

Lucy agreed yet didn’t say anything.

Chris found what he’d been looking for, the library. The sheer volume of books leant another comfort from a bygone time. Bookcases reached to the ceiling, leather bound volumes a testament to mankind’s worth. Lucy was smiling broadly now.

“I love libraries and this, well this is just magnificent.”

Chris, who had never been as bookish as his elder brother, was surprised to be thinking the same thing. It wasn’t just the books, or the supreme environment, it was statement, the certainty that the room afforded them. He felt Lucy strain a little and felt her impulse to search the tomes, but he needed to talk and there were a couple of inviting Chesterfields waiting near the huge window. If Chris had ever known anything of romance, he could not have picked a better place. His decision, however had been informed by a nagging doubt that remained like a tiny alarm bell going off deep in the cellar of his mind. From here, he could see the extent of the snowy grounds. They sat facing each other. Lucy spoke first.

“D…Chris…”

“You always do that. Ever since we met, you’ve been calling me David. Who’s David? An ex boyfriend or something?”

Lucy was relieved that the darkness hid her rising blushes.

“David is from the Bible. He was the one who fought Goliath. It’s just that, when I saw you, when I was hiding in the Head’s office, you made me think of him.”

“Well, that’s probably a relief.”

“I’ve never had a boyfriend before.”

“And I’ve never had a girlfriend.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No. It was always sport first. Nothing else.”

“Chris,” Lucy had returned to her formal voice, “are we going to be, well, attached?”

“If you want to put it that way, yes.”

Lucy lifted herself from her chair and walked over to her new hope. She sat down gently on his lap and raised both hands to either side of his face.

“You promise me that you will be true.”

“I will. I do.”

“Then let’s honour this with a kiss.” She moved her head forward with the grace of a swan, meeting his lips whilst running her fingers though his hair. Chris had never thought that a kiss could be so enveloping. He closed his eyes and imagined myriad possibilities for their futures. 

The first kiss, an exercise in time-travel, lasted for a duration that could not be defined. When they finally parted, the need for air being greater than their desires for each other, Chris opened his eyes. What he wanted to do was behold Lucy, her face a radiance in the cold moon of the night. What he glimpsed from the corner of his eye was a movement hugging the line of trees across the vast lawns, a movement that was vague and yet distinct. Lucy immediately noticed the change that had occurred.

“What is it?”

Now Chris had turned all of his attention to the view from the window and Lucy did so as well.

“What is it? What do you see?”

“I don’t know. Look over there by that line of trees.”

The torch had been placed on the floor so that the light it emitted would not be apparent from without. Whatever had moved, was now still.

“It might be nothing. It could have been an animal. Probably nothing…look there! Did you see that?”

Lucy did think that she may have seen something so she sharpened her perception, adjusting her eyes to the night. The moon was now almost full and was sitting in an empty sky. Already, with the lack of cloud cover, the recently fallen snow was taking on a sheen that spoke of near artic conditions. They watched for a long time, but nothing re-emerged from behind any of the foliage.

“Whatever it is, it will freeze to death if it stays out there for long.”

Chris just nodded.

“Come on, let’s go so our room.”

That night, they kept to their promise even though nobody would have known if they had not. Struggling with what he thought he may have seen, Michael got out of his bed not long after he had heard the noises that suggested Lucy had fallen into sleep. He stood by the window and kept vigil until morning arrived.

Nothing was stirring, not even a Rat.

Merry Christmas from The Piper

Those creatures that could hibernate had already done so. The snow lay upon the earth and suspended much that was life. In the bleak midwinter, only those things that needed to move, moved. Without man, without his never ending battle to control nature, without snow ploughs of gritting machines, the world was thrown back to an age that was pre-industrial. An observer, unknowing of the causes of this white wonderland, would have marvelled at the beauty of it all. In the days leading up to Christmas, very little was stirring but the rats and the first of The Leathermen.  

The dead father, as Michael called him, had done his job well. His works of art had been well preserved. Away from the damp, devoid of heat and free from pests that would chew, burrow and lay eggs, the works of art had hardened in the freeze. Perfectly preserved (a few major cuts and bruises not withstanding) they were as near to excellence as one could imagine. Not even the celestial majesty of the Sistine Chapel could have created a thing as miraculous as this. For these creations were now a part of the living world once again and had the power to move one emotionally and physically.

These new additions were welcomed to the ranks of the distantly deceased, that forgotten brigade of hermits who had perished unknown, unwanted and unmissed. Of these James Harrison had assumed a mastery that was only matched by the positions enjoyed by Flowers and Hope in the respective worlds. The days were at hand when the dead would walk the earth, the world of creation would choke upon its implausibility and the forgotten ones would rule.

Those followers of Flowers who had not entered the forest in pursuit of the traitor and the girl had massed. Their numbers were greater than had been estimated. There eyes were added to by the rats who would scour the land for the remaining Resistors and a large group of them had been found. They were close by in an old castle escaping the worst of the snow. Already, scouts had been sent to reconnoitre the place and it appeared that the Resistors had failed to mount any guards or sentries. There was plenty of time to gather and plan. Once the snow had abated, they would move themselves into position, encircle and ensnare. The end was nigh and so was the beginning.