The Last Days of Planet Earth Volume I goes free to read.

With the imminent release of the third book in the series, I have decided to make the first book in the series free. I have listed the sites where it is available for free download below. It will be available on more sites as a free download in the very near future. I will add the links as these become available. The decision to release the first book as a free one has been made in order to introduce people to my work, and hopefully to gain some reviews. Above all, I hope that you enjoy the tale I have to tell. After all, it is the last tale that anyone will ever tell.

L J Hick





Large Gods



In the world of RUST, Raven is a bounty hunter. When he abducts a small-time thief, he is forced into a quest that exposes the dark secrets of RUST and himself.


Cobbleknock was a strange town, buried deep at the bottom of a valley. Some less generous folk might observe that it was not buried deep enough, but the people of the town loved their home. It kept them safe from the prying eyes of the rest of the world, and the only way in and out of the town was the narrow, long sloping road. Night came early for the people of the town because of its position at the bottom of the valley. As the sun lowered in the sky, it still cast its light on the rest of the world, but Cobbleknock descended into darkness. It was late morning, at the moment, and the sun still shone down on Cobbleknock. The children were mostly at school and the men and women at work. Some of the population, who had neither education nor a task to attend to, were enjoying a glass or two of grot in the Boggle Head pub. Now although grot was a particular favourite of the folks of Cobbleknock, it was less than favourable with the rest of the world that surrounded them. Made from grapes fermented with pig's blood and freshly squeezed frogs, it was little wonder that they never managed to export the brew to the other parts of the world.

The Boggle Head pub was a wreck. It was partly because of the raucous behaviour of the locals at nighttime and partly because the proprietor, Henry Wolvenbum, had no interest in either cleaning the place or repairing any breakages. Henry looked around at the usual faces. They consisted of those who were too old to withstand the evening antics in the pub and those who were just plain skiving. One of those that you could usually find in the pub at this time was young Walter. For once, Walter was nowhere to be seen in the pub. Walter was a common thief and had not an ounce of integrity or honesty in his body. Henry would often say that every word Walter said was a lie and every deed he did was a crime. Whilst not quite true, as even the harshest judge in the world would not consider eating and sleeping a crime, it pretty much summed up Walter. Walter would not get away with as much as he did if his father Benjamin Badrattle had not been the chief magistrate of the town. The only time that anyone had taken Walter to the town court was when a new arrival in town, Jeffrey Comber, accused Walter of stealing his chickens and pelting his house with their eggs. Despite incontrovertible proof against Walter, Benjamin dismissed the case, and six months later, Jeffrey was arrested for parking his bicycle on an invisible yellow line. Needless to say, he was hanged in the centre of town, and it is also needless to point out that absolutely nobody in Cobbleknock ever pressed charges against Walter Badrattle from then on. It was, therefore, no surprise that Cobbleknock was never listed in the local tourist guides and was never recommended as a place to visit. As a consequence of this, Cobbleknock never had to entertain strangers and to be honest; the townsfolk liked it that way. Therefore, it came as some surprise to the lookout guards on the hill when the man on the horse started to come down the road to Cobbleknock. One of the guards nudged the other one with his elbow, waking him from his slumber.

"What? What is it?" he spluttered.

"Stranger. Stranger come down hill," said the guard.

The other guard sneered at his comrade and climbed to his feet.

"We don't get strangers, Snodberry. You've been at the grot again, haven't you?" he said.

"Grot? No. Snodberry sober. Stranger comes. Look for yourself," said Snodberry, handing his fellow guard a particularly mucky pair of field glasses. "You see him. Cookawakka?"

Cookawakka sighed and brought the field glasses up to his eyes. Anything to humour his witless comrade. Cookawakka gasped and took the glasses away from his eyes momentarily before looking through them once more to check that he was not hallucinating.

"He must be either very lost or very mad," said Cookawakka.

"Stranger might taste good. Snodberry check on texture now," said Snodberry, picking up his sword.

Cookawakka grabbed him by the arm to stop him exiting the lookout.

"Not now. There might be others," said Cookawakka. "Go warn the chief magistrate and the town guard."

Snodberry grunted something about new and exciting foreign cuisine before taking the back exit from the lookout.

The stranger was still a few hundred yards away from the guardhouse, but Cookawakka could see him in greater detail now. He wore a dust covered long brown coat and sported what looked like a cowboy hat on his head. The man sported longish black hair and a covering of black stubble that covered his face. The horse trod gently and slowly towards the guardhouse. It was almost a deliberate taunt for Cookawakka to come out and confront him. Eventually, Cookawakka grabbed his cap from the hook on the wall and stuck it on his head, a head that was obviously far too big for his cap. He left the lookout and stood in the middle of the road with one hand on his sword. Cookawakka felt particularly nervous, as this was something he had never had to do before. He tried desperately to remember what the instructions were in the guard manual.

"Stoop," he shouted.

He shook his head and cursed himself.

"Stop. I meant stop, that's it," said Cookawakka.

The stranger stopped the horse, but Cookawakka realised that he was still too far away.

"Come nearer," shouted Cookawakka, but the man did not move.

"I said come nearer," said Cookawakka.

"You told me to stop," muttered the stranger.

"What? I can't hear you," said Cookawakka.

"Come nearer," shouted the stranger.

"Oh, okay," said Cookawakka, walking towards the stranger before realising what he was doing. He stopped, took his cap off and scratched his head. He rubbed his chin for a little while before looking up at the stranger and wagging his finger at him.

"No, you don't," he said. "Nice try. You come to me, stranger. You must think I'm stupid."

"I do think you're stupid," said the stranger as he kicked his legs, causing his horse to walk towards Cookawakka.

As the stranger stopped in front of Cookawakka, he tilted his hat at him as a greeting. Cookawakka walked nearer to him and studied the stranger carefully. He sniffed the horse and then sniffed the stranger. Cookawakka stepped back in surprise at the smell of the stranger.

"You're a human," he said.

"I believe that is the terminology applied to my species," said the stranger.

"You know where you are?" asked Cookawakka.

"Cobbleknock, and yes, I know all about your town," said the stranger.

"Why would you possibly want to come here?" asked Cookawakka.

"I have business in the town with one of your citizens," said the stranger. "As soon as that business is concluded, I will be on my way."

Cookawakka stroked the side of the horse, which neighed in alarm and moved away from the guard.

"That's a fine horse you have there," said Cookawakka. "Plenty of meat on it."

"Her name is Onyx. She is my friend and I guard her with my life," said the stranger.

"Strange name for a horse," said Cookawakka.

"It's because she is black," said the stranger.

"Doesn't make any sense. Why didn't you call her Black?" asked Cookawakka.

The stranger just stared at Cookawakka but did not reply.

Cookawakka shuffled his feet through the dust of the road nervously and looked down towards the town, hoping that Snodberry was on his way back. He squinted at the road but could see no sign of the other guard. Should he let the stranger pass or should he try to keep him here? His mind was made up for him when the wind blew the stranger's coat to reveal the butt of a shotgun.

"Well, I guess it's okay for you to visit. Make sure you conclude your business quickly, mind. I will be timing you," said Cookawakka.

"How long have I got?" asked the stranger.

"One hour, or I'll be coming for you," said Cookawakka, suddenly feeling slightly braver.

"That's not long," said the stranger.

He stared at Cookawakka for what seemed an age. Cookawakka suddenly felt the sense of bravado disappear from him. He worried that the rumbling in his stomach might give way to something a little more embarrassing, but the truth was he was so scared he could not speak.

"I guess it's long enough. I will be quick. You wouldn't want to come looking for me, would you?" he said.

Cookawakka smiled weakly at the stranger and waved him through. As the stranger continued down the road, Cookawakka ran into the lookout and sounded the bell to alert the village to the presence of an outsider.

The stranger reached the bottom of the road and made his way through the town. A more ramshackle place, he could not imagine. Most of the buildings were made of wood with crumbling brickwork supporting some of the heavier structures. Washing hung from windows, some of it strewn across lines that stretched over the streets. Children ran up to him and his horse and sniffed them both as they passed, running back to their mothers at the scent of the strange smell. When he reached the Boggle Head pub, he tethered Onyx to a post outside and made his way inside the establishment. He opened the door, which hung gingerly on its hinges and looked around. All the patrons of the pub had stopped talking and turned their heads to look at the stranger. He walked slowly up to the bar, looking from side to side as he made his way. Despite the outwardly scruffy appearance of the locals, they all had gleaming white and perfect teeth. To the stranger, this came as no surprise. After all, as he said, he knew all about Cobbleknock. He leant on the bar and placed his hat on the counter. Henry Wolvenbum bounded towards him and showed his own set of perfect teeth.

"Good morning, sir," said Henry. "What can I do for you? A pint of our best grot, maybe?"

"I understand it to be a taste for a particular palette," said the stranger. "So, I am afraid I must decline."

"What about a hot meat pie? I guarantee you have never tasted anything like it before. We all eat so well in Cobbleknock," said Henry.

"Yes, I have heard that," said the stranger. "Again, I must decline. What I want is neither food or drink, it's information."

"Information?" asked Henry.

The stranger pulled back his coat and reached inside his inner pocket. The townsfolk in the car muttered to each other as the shotgun strapped to his side was revealed. The stranger produced a photograph and placed it on the bar. He looked at Henry who was staring at the weapon.

"It's for protection," said the stranger. "It's dangerous out there."

"We don't use blasty sticks much around here," said Henry. "No real need for them."

"This is a photograph of a man I am looking for. I understand he lives here," said the stranger. "Walter Badrattle?"

"Never heard of him," said Henry, shaking his head.

"You sure?" asked the stranger.

"Oh, yes," said Henry. "I know every man, woman and child that live here. I am afraid you appear to have wasted your time.

"We shall see," said the stranger, calmly.

He picked the photograph up and turned around to show it to the rest of the townsfolk.

"What about you good people? Do any of you know this man?" he asked.

They all shook their heads. Some of them came up to take a closer look at the photograph, before saying they had no idea who he was. When they had all returned to their seats and quietened down, the stranger placed the photograph back into his pocket. He looked at Henry and smiled.

"You know, it's strange that none of you recognises this person," said the stranger.

"Oh really? What makes you say that?" asked Henry.

"Because he is the son of this town's Chief Magistrate, said the stranger.

"Well, bugger me," said Henry, nervously reaching under the bar for a knife.

"I would not do that," said the stranger, still smiling at Henry.

As Henry pulled his hand away from the knife, the doors of the pub burst open and Benjamin Badrattle walked in, together with Snodberry and six other men. The stranger turned to face them and placed a hand on his shotgun.

"When people tell you that they do not know the person you are looking for, you should believe them," said Benjamin.

Benjamin Badrattle was almost as wide as he was tall. A lifetime of abuse of power, abuse of drink and abuse of food had left its mark on his body. He moved uneasily towards the stranger, wheezing as he did so.

"You want to hand your son over to me peacefully or do we have to resolve this by other means?" asked the stranger.

"My son?" asked Benjamin. "Ah, I get it. You have my son Wally confused with someone called Walter who just happens to have the same surname. An easy mistake to make. You should go now."

The stranger reached into his pocket, as the patrons in the bar ducked under the tables. He produced the photograph once again and showed it to Benjamin.

"Would your son happen to look a little like this boy?" asked the stranger.

"Well, jigger me, there is a certain similarity, but that boy would be a criminal. My boy is the son of the chief magistrate of Cobbleknock," said Benjamin.

"Well then that is going to cause us a big problem," said the stranger.

"And why would that be?" asked Benjamin.

"Because the boy I am looking for is the son of the chief magistrate of Cobbleknock," said the stranger.

Benjamin was clearly annoyed at being backed into a corner. He beckoned his men to come closer and pulled his face nearer to the stranger's face.

"Now I have given you the chance to walk away. I suggest you take it. What other course of action do you have?" asked Benjamin.

"Would you like a demonstration?" asked the stranger.

"I am getting tired of this. Have you a warrant from the King? I'm guessing you're one of those damn trackers," said Benjamin.

"No I'm not," said the stranger. "But I do have official documentation."

He produced an envelope and gave it to Benjamin. Benjamin opened it and read the letter inside.

"This isn't official for anything. You're a damn bounty hunter," said Benjamin.

"It's official enough for me. The promise of payment on the delivery of one Walter Badrattle," said the stranger.

"Who the hell are you anyway?" asked Benjamin.

"They call me Raven," said the stranger.

With that, half of the patrons ran out of the bar and the other half hit the floor. Even Benjamin was shaken by the revelation. Snodberry just stood there shaking. Raven looked Snodberry up and down and then looked back at Benjamin.

"I think your man there needs the toilet," said the Raven.

"Snodberry, stop being such a jiggery pussy," shouted Benjamin.

"They say he is half demon, half human," stuttered Snodberry.

"That's the biggest pile of bull," said Benjamin. "Even our friend here doesn't believe that."

"I'm not half demon, Shaky," said Raven, smiling at Snodberry.

"See, and he can't take on half the town either, can you?" asked Benjamin.

"No, and I have no intention of trying to either," said Raven.

"You do know you'll have to leave soon. I mean we have an element of control over ourselves when it's light, but when the sun goes down and the moon rises. It's best you're not here," said Benjamin.

"I'll be long gone before then," said Raven.

Raven moved away from the bar and looked out of the window towards the top of the valley. The sun was still high in the sky and his eye was caught by the shimmer of a flickering light at the edge of the town.

"In fact, I think I'll be taking my leave right now," said Raven. "I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for your hospitality. Enjoy the rest of the day."

"You too," shouted Benjamin to Raven as he headed out of the door. "And don't you be rushing back now."

“One moment,” Benjamin shouted to Raven.

Raven turned and looked at Benjamin.

“What will you tell the person who commissioned the bounty?” asked Benjamin.

“I will them that Walter Badrattle was not here. That’s the truth, after all,” said Raven.

Benjamin smiled and breathed a sigh of relief as Raven turned around and left the pub.

Raven untied Onyx and jumped into the saddle. He kicked his heels and rode off back up the road. This time though he did not just trot up the hill, this time he and Onyx raced away from the town. The whole of the town breathed a huge sigh of relief as Raven left, and they all piled into the pub.

"Drinks are on me, Henry," shouted Benjamin. "Did you see how fast that so called big bad bounty hunter ran?"

Snodberry drank his grot with a still shaking hand. Henry placed a hand on Snodberry's shoulder.

"It's okay, Snodberry," said Henry. "He's gone now. Cookawakka will ring the bell for the all clear in a second, you'll see."

"I know, but people say Raven never leave without his man," said Snodberry. "Does not make sense to Snodberry."

Just as he finished the sentence, the bell started to ring.

"See," said Henry.

Snodberry finished his drink, and frightened as he was, decided to go back up to the lookout and check on his friend, Cookawakka. When he reached the top of the hill, Cookawakka was boiling the kettle to make a jar of warm grot. He looked around and smiled as Snodberry entered the lookout.

"Really gone?" asked Snodberry.

"Yeah, went racing past like a herd of gozobeasts were chasing him," said Cookawakka. "Benjamin must have scared the hairs off him."

Snodberry looked outside to make sure that Raven had not turned full circle and was hurtling back towards them, before making his own jar of grot.

Raven stopped at the top of the hill and looked back towards the town. He knew that the population were not quite human but that did not excuse them for being so utterly stupid. He patted Onyx on the head and continued his journey down the road. He wondered whether the folks in Cobbleknock were born stupid or was it a trait they acquired the longer they lived in the town. Either way, it presented Raven with a very easy job and one that paid very well. He stopped when he saw the wagon by the side of the road. The two horses that usually pulled the wagon were taking a rest and were grazing peacefully on the grass verge. Sat on the grass, smoking a large pipe was a slightly built man. He looked up and waved as Raven approached. Raven left Onyx to graze with the other horses and sat down by the man.

"Patto, I trust you acquired the goods without too much trouble?" asked Raven.

Patto stood up and smiled. He walked towards the back of the wagon and started to undo the ties at the rear. He pushed back his hair as he freed the ties. His dark tanned skin was topped with red hair that looked at odds with his general appearance. The almost completely black eyes that looked at Raven were unnerving.

"There were two of them guarding him. Most of them went to greet you at the pub. They are surprisingly slow, considering what they are. I expected a little more resistance," said Patto. "Knocked them both out cold and grabbed hold of mouthy."

"Mouthy? He doesn't sound very mouthy," said Raven.

"I may have calmed him down a little," said Patto.

"They are remarkably stupid, aren't they?" said Raven.

“I told you it would be easy. Didn't even have to kill anyone," said Patto.

"Not yet," said Raven, climbing into the back of the wagon.

The bag in the centre of the wagon was still and seemed to contain some kind of huge lump. Raven knelt down and prodded it with a finger. When there was no response he prodded it two more times, then he slapped it before resorting to kicking it repeatedly. Eventually, the bag moved and rolled around the wagon.

"Hey. Quit it," shouted the bag. "And let me out."

Patto climbed into the wagon beside Raven.

"What was it he did again?" asked Patto.

"Slept with the farmer's daughter, then his wife, but worst of all, he ate his chickens," said Raven.

"Some people are just plain greedy," said Patto.

"Yep. We take him to Farmer Rubbit's, collect the gold, and then put a fair distance between us and Cobbleknock," said Raven. "We need to deliver him before dark preferably."

"Does this farmer really have two hundred gold pieces for us?" asked Patto.

"He'd better have," said Raven.

Raven kicked the bag again but his time it did not move.

"I hope he can breathe in there," said Raven.

"He might be able to, but you didn't specify what type of bag to use," said Patto.

“One that he cannot suffocate in might have been the common sense choice,” said Raven.

Raven sighed and undid the bag before emptying the contents on the floor. Walter Badrattle rolled onto the floor and almost immediately got to his knees. Walter looked just like his photograph. He had a straggly ginger beard and facial hair, together with that pearly white grin that all the people of Cobbleknock had. Nevertheless, for an inhabitant of Cobbleknock, he was peculiarly handsome.

"Fooled you, didn't I?" said Walter. "You thought I was dead?"

Raven produced the contract from his coat and showed it to Walter.

"If you read this carefully, you will see that it doesn't mention the condition of goods upon delivery," said Raven. "Which, basically means that it doesn’t matter if you’re dead or alive? Do not make the mistake of thinking that either of us cares. Now you can sit outside of the bag with Patto or you can get back in it."

"You'll never get there in time. It's a full day's ride from here and it'll be dark by then," said Walter. "You won't hold me in this bag then. I'll kill you both."

Raven and Patto looked at each other and smiled.

"Nah. No, you won't," said Raven. "You can try if you must, but like I said it doesn't stipulate whether you should be dead or alive. So, you should really hope that we do reach there before nightfall."

"Maybe we travel along really slowly just so we can have some fun when the sun comes down," said Patto.

"That would eat into beer time," said Raven. "I'd prefer to have time for relaxation and refreshment."

"Shame," said Patto.

“You guys both need a personality transplant, do you know that?” said Walter.

Raven turned to Walter and ruffled his hair.

"Now, would you like to go back in the bag or would you prefer to stay out of the bag?" asked Raven.

"You put me back in that bag, I'm just going to tear myself back out of it," said Walter.

Raven looked at Patto.

"We should just kill him," said Patto.

"It's tempting but I think the farmer would really prefer him alive," said Raven.

“His wife and daughter would,” said Walter.

Raven slapped Walter hard across the back of the head. Walter yelped but did not say anything. He just rubbed the back of his head and muttered inaudibly.

“Don’t be disrespectful,” said Raven.

Raven smiled at Patto.

“We deliver him alive,” said Raven.

"You're the boss," said Patto.

"You driving or me?" asked Raven.

"I will. I can't listen to his loose mouth for a minute longer," said Patto. "So, I am driving."

"Okay, let's go then," said Raven. "I'll leave him out of the bag for now."

They Marvel at the Star


Thomas is a member of the Fyrd and is recruited into Harold Godwinson's army to confront Duke William II of Normandy. He is befriended by a blond-haired man called Kauko as they march to war. Thomas has no time for lords, kings or gods of any kind but Kauko seems to have a large amount of time for Thomas. Why is Kauko so interested in the welfare of a farmer's son, and just what does he intend to do with him? As the relationship develops and the pair of them confront the stupidity and darkness of war, Thomas comes to realise that they did not meet by chance. In fact, Kauko has been preparing for this for a long time.



Thomas twisted the strands of green grass around his fingers and thought of home. The lush green fields that surrounded the farm where he plied his trade were now just a fond memory. He doubted that he would ever see his mother and father again or his childhood sweetheart, Alice. His enforcement into the king's army had been sudden and unexpected. Although Thomas was a member of the Fyrd for the local landowner, he was shocked when the king's men arrived, recruiting for the coming confrontation with William.
Thomas knew that King Harold's army had fought a battle at Stamford Bridge against the Viking king, Harald Hardrada. He knew that the army would be passing close to his hometown, but he thought that they would pass far enough away from the town to prevent any chance of him becoming involved in this war. He still remembered the drawn expression that haunted his father's face. He recalled his mother's tears and Alice's sobbing. He hated kings and he hated their God. They fought their wars with other men's lives, driven only by personal gain. This was bad enough, but then they would back up their selfish insanity by proclaiming that it was God's will. What God, thought Thomas? The same God that allows barbarians blessed with too much power to drag sons away from their families and loved ones.
They had marched all day and they sheltered on the outskirts of some woodland he did not know the name of. Most of the other members of the Fyrd were either asleep, or desperately trying to repair their worn footwear. He looked at his own boots and whispered a word of thanks to his father. His father had always maintained that a man needed sturdy and comfortable boots to work the land. He was right, as usual, but the boots also served those who marched to war.

He watched the housecarls as they strode around, telling tales of the latest battle at Stamford Bridge. They wore hauberks that provided mail armour to protect them from the swords and arrows of their enemies, whilst Thomas just had a long leather overcoat that only offered protection from the cold. The housecarls had personal swords that were tried and tested in battle, whilst Thomas had an axe that would be better employed to chop wood. Damn all kings and their ambition, he thought. Damn the churches too, and their willingness to take the side of their preferred combatant and bring their God with them.

As the light started to fade more rapidly with the onset of the night, he glanced across to a tree where the sound of a young boy coughing drew the attention of some of the housecarls. He had not spoken to the boy and did not know his name but he guessed he was around the same age as he was, sixteen. He watched as one of the housecarls tipped the boys head back and moved the hair from his face. He turned to the others and shook his head. Thomas knew that the shake of the head meant that the boy would probably not survive until the morning. Another soul lost on the march to war before even one drop of blood was spilt. Thomas wrapped the leather overcoat tightly around him to keep out the cold and at least ensure his own survival until morning. Normally, the boy's coughing would have kept Thomas awake but the relentless pace of the day's march caused him to drift into a deep sleep.

He was woken by the rough shaking of his arm. He jumped to his feet and reached for his axe, half expecting to be told that they were under attack. Instead, he saw the bearded features of a man in front of him. The man stood a good foot taller than Thomas did, and his muscular build caused Thomas to relax the grip on his axe.

"You won't hurt me with that thing, boy," said the man. "Is that all you have brought with you?"

"I am not afforded the luxuries that others seem to have," said Thomas.

The man stood back, surprised at the sharp comment from the young man.

"You are lucky that it was me who woke you," he said. "Most of the others would have dealt you a blow to teach you some respect."

"You have to earn respect," said Thomas.

"So, you have no respect for any man here, simply because you do not know them?" asked the man. "You have this the wrong way round. You should respect your fellow man until he shows himself to be unworthy of it."

"Then we disagree about that," said Thomas.

Thomas looked into the man's blue eyes that burned with anger. His long blond hair hung around his face as his mouth formed into a snarl.

"I need your help with the boy over there," he snapped. "I had thought that you might like to aid me, but then if you did not know the boy."

He frowned, shaking his head at Thomas, before turning away angrily and walking off. The guilt overwhelmed Thomas and he ran after the man.

"Wait," he shouted.

The man stopped and turned to look at Thomas.

"What?" he asked.

"I will help you," said Thomas.

The man stared at Thomas for a second or two before walking back towards him.

"I want you to know that I only need your help. I don't need your respect," he said.

Thomas could not look him in the eyes and instead looked to the floor.

"Kauko," said the man.

"Kauko?" asked Thomas. "What is that?"

"It is a man's name," said the man. "What is yours?"

"Thomas," said Thomas. "I have never heard of anyone called Kauko before."

"In all your many years and great travels you have never heard the name Kauko?" asked Kauko.

Thomas recognised sarcasm when he heard it and immediately tried to justify his statement.

"I know I am young and I may not have the experience that you have, but Kauko is an unusual name is it not?" asked Thomas.

"Because he's a Viking spy," said a voice from behind Kauko.

Thomas watched as a thickset man walked towards them. He had dark brown hair and a ginger beard.

"Alfred," muttered Kauko.

"Well, are you going to sort the boy out or just let him rot on that tree?" asked Alfred.

"I was just getting some help as the others seem to not be interested," said Kauko.

"I don't care how you do it, but get on with it. It will be morning soon and we march at first light," said Alfred.

"It will be done," said Kauko.

Alfred moved nearer to Thomas and grabbed him by the shoulders, forcing him to stand straight.

"Whatever you do, boy, don't bend over in front of this one. Do you know what I am saying?" he asked.

He slapped Thomas on the arm and laughed.

"Be gentle with him," he scoffed at Kauko, as he walked away.

"Ignore him," said Kauko to Thomas. "I can assure you that I am not that way inclined."

Thomas smiled nervously at Kauko and followed him to where the boy lay still against the tree. At least you have found peace, thought Thomas. Kauko grabbed the dead boy and slung him over his shoulder.

"Over by the small fire, you will find two shovels. Bring them with you," said Kauko.

They found a spot between the trees where they buried the boy. Kauko knelt by the grave in a moment of silence. He looked up when he realised that Thomas was still stood leaning on his shovel.

"I'm not religious," said Thomas, offering a quick explanation for his state.

"Neither am I, but...oh, I forgot your rules of respect differ to mine," said Kauko.

Thomas was humbled by the retort and knelt by the side of the grave. Kauko was silent for what seemed like forever to Thomas before eventually getting to his feet. Kauko rubbed his forehead and spoke to his helper.

"You will see many men fall before the battle is over. Some of them will be murderers, rapists, thieves and killers for hire. Some of them will be good men, frightened men, boys like you, but all of them will be someone's son. You should look at your rules of respect and make them a little more versatile," said Kauko. "Come with me. Let's go to the fire and get you something decent to eat. Most of the others will be asleep and those that are not will be either too tired or too drunk to protest at your presence."

Thomas followed Kauko to the fire and ate the meat that Kauko handed to him nervously, wary lest any of the other housecarls should voice their anger. He need not have worried. Those that were still awake either did not notice or did not care about Thomas sharing their food, or they were simply too scared of Kauko to say anything.

"Is it the blond hair?" asked Thomas.

Kauko frowned at Thomas, silently waiting for an explanation of the question.

"The reason that man called you a Viking spy. Is it the blond hair?" asked Thomas.

"That and the Viking name. I suppose I brought it upon myself really," said Kauko.

"So, if you are not a Viking, why do you have a Viking name?" asked Thomas.

"In the battle at Stamford Bridge, I asked a man I killed what his name was, just before he died," said Kauko.

"Why would you ask his name?" asked Thomas.

"The fighting was nearly done and we found ourselves facing each other. For the only time in the battle I fought against a single foe," said Kauko. "I knew he must be a fearsome warrior to have survived so long. I was right, he fought long and hard and had he not slipped during the fight he may well have got the better of me. I asked his name because I wanted to know the name of the man who fought so bravely. He told me it was Kauko. I took his name as a mark of respect."

Kauko stood up and stared at the skies.

"It's funny how the subject of respect keeps occurring isn't it?" he asked Thomas.

Thomas stood up with Kauko and pointed towards the sky.

"Before I came here, before I left my home, I saw the shooting star pass across the sky," said Thomas. "My father said it was a sign of bad times, a great evil. I guess he was right. He's always right."

"Why do you say that?" asked Kauko. "That the shooting star portends evil. Maybe it brought something good."

"Is that what you think?" asked Thomas.

"It's what I like to think," said Kauko, smiling.

"I hope you are right," said Thomas. "I like your view better."

Kauko placed a hand on the shoulder of Thomas.

"Get some sleep. We march again tomorrow," said Kauko. "Even if I have not yet passed your requirements for respect yet, you have mine, Thomas."

"You have mine too," said Thomas. "I relaxed the rules a little."


The next morning, Thomas was woken by the sound of men shouting. When he looked over to where the men were, he could see Kauko standing toe to toe with another man. At first, Thomas thought he should go and aid Kauko, but he quickly realised that a menial member of the Fyrd might well lose his life by having the impertinence to interfere with the affairs of the housecarls.

"He's a bloody Viking. Look at him. Look at his hair. He's called Kauko, for God's sake," shouted the man.

"If I were a Viking spy then I would have already killed you in your sleep, you fat oaf," said Kauko.

The man escaped the restraining grasp of his comrades and lurched towards Kauko, who squashed the man's nose with the back of his hand. The man fell to the floor and squealed. Kauko did not attempt to follow up the blow, instead choosing to turn and pick up a drink from the floor. Alfred appeared, pushing the men away and standing over the man on the floor.

"And what are you, a pig? Stop the squealing man and get up. Bloody mercenaries," said Alfred.

Alfred stood in front of the men and addressed them in a loud, authoritative voice.

"The only man allowed to call Kauko a Viking spy is me. That is because I do not mean it. It's a bloody joke. Is that clear or should we consult with the King on the matter?" he asked.

Some of the men mumbled in dissatisfaction and some of them laughed, but all of them knew that it was best not to argue with a Lord.

"Now pick the squealer up and get ready to march," said Alfred.

Alfred walked over to Kauko and shared a drink with him.

"What sort of bloody idiot calls himself by a foreign name?" asked Alfred.

"A big one?" asked Kauko.

Alfred laughed and threw his drink to the floor.

"Great backhand by the way," said Alfred, walking away.

Thomas ran to Kauko as the men dispersed.

"Do they all think you're a spy?" asked Thomas.

"Most of them," said Kauko.

Kauko looked around and saw that he and Thomas were more or less alone.

"Quick, come with me. I have something for you," said Kauko.

Thomas followed him to the place where Kauko had obviously slept at night. Kauko knelt by a large sheet and pulled a gleaming sword and a hauberk from underneath it. He gave them to Thomas who just stared at Kauko in silent gratitude.

"Wear the hauberk under your overcoat. We don't want the other housecarls asking where you got it. If they ask about the sword, tell them you found it in the woods where we buried the boy," said Kauko.

"In the woods?" asked Thomas.

"Yeah, that's not very good is it?" said Kauko. "Okay, tell them I found the sword in the woods and I gave it to you. If that doesn't shut them up, tell them to come and see me."

"That will work," said Thomas. "Thank you."


The march to Caldbec Hill proved to be a gruelling affair for Thomas. With every step that he took, his boots seemed to wear thinner, despite the fact that when he paused to check on their condition they seemed fine. Thomas came to the conclusion that it was his feet that were wearing out and not his shoes. It was not only Thomas who was finding the trek hard going, some of the older men seemed as though they had fought one campaign too many. Thomas would pass many of the older members of the Fyrd as they stopped to take off their boots and massage their feet. Once they had relieved the pain in their feet a little, they would run to catch up with their comrades, leaving themselves out of breath. Thomas wondered how this collection of tired men, housecarls and mercenaries could possibly win a battle. He could only hope that William's men were even more tired. The weight of the hauberk and the sword did not help Thomas in his movement, but he was aware that this was a small price to pay for such added protection. When they reached Caldbec Hill, they began the slow trudge to the top. The last thing any man wanted after a long march was a climb up to the top of the hill, but this was where the king intended to set up camp, and so the men gritted their teeth and slowly ascended the obstacle in front of them. Thomas reached the hill well before most of the men and took the chance to lie down on the soft grass and get his breath back. As he lay on his back, shielding his eyes from the sun, the shadow of a man stood over him.

"What kept you?" asked Kauko.

"My aching feet and burning lungs," said Thomas.

"Well, you'll be pleased to know that this is where we intend to stay and fight," said Kauko. "We'll set up the shield wall on the hill."

Thomas suddenly realised that he had no idea what to do when the battle began.

"What do I do?" asked Thomas.

"You have no shield, so you must stand behind the shield wall. When we move into formation, make sure that you stand behind me," said Kauko. "I will protect you as best I can, but make sure you make good use of that sword."

Thomas was confused, why would a man he barely knew be so interested in his welfare.

"Why do you want to help me?" asked Thomas.

"Perhaps you are more important than you know, Thomas," said Kauko.

"I'm not a King or a Lord. I'm no servant of God or a wealthy landowner," said Thomas.

"And if any of those things were important in this world, I would see your point, but such things do not matter," said Kauko. "It is the possibility of men or women to shape the future for the better that carries more weight."

"So, you think I am destined to become a Lord or maybe even king?" asked Thomas.

Kauko laughed and sat down on the grass next to Thomas.

"Do you ever listen to a word I say?" asked Kauko. "Forget Lords and Kings. Forget wealth and forget the excuse of carrying out God's will. Just remember who you are and what you believe."

"I don't know what I believe," said Thomas. "I don't believe in what we're doing here today and I don't believe in God. My mother would clip my ear when I told her so, but as much as I loved her, I think her beliefs are mistaken."

"Don't tell any of the men here that, Thomas. They are praying that God will save them," said Kauko. "I have more faith in my sword."

"I was listening to some of the men whilst we were marching," said Thomas. "They said that God wanted Harold to win. They say it's their destiny to win this battle. They say the shooting star was a sign."

Kauko shook his head and stared at the ground.

"Destiny and fate. How men grasp at such things. There is no such thing as fate or destiny. Each man's course can change in a second. An infinite number of possibilities await him, governed by chance and decision. All we can do is try to steer in the direction that we want to go," said Kauko.

"Is that what you're going to do in the battle?" asked Thomas. "Steer your ship?"

"No," said Kauko. "That's not why I am here. I am here to steer your ship."

Thomas leant on the grass with one elbow and stared at Kauko.

"Like I said, Thomas, you are more important than you think," said Kauko.

"So, you're like my guardian Angel?" asked Thomas.

"There are no Angels, Thomas," said Kauko. "Even if there were, I doubt that I would be one."

The day was spent setting up camp as more men arrived in small groups. Thomas was instructed by the senior members of the Fyrd to help assemble the camp. It was a task that he did not mind at all. It was far easier than the boring march to Caldbec Hill had been. As night started to fall, some of the men split into small groups and began to pray. Thomas wondered what he should do. He certainly did not want to kneel before a God he did not believe in. He kept out of the way of the others and found himself a less crowded spot to sit, surrounded by boys of a similar age to him, who looked equally as indecisive. All Thomas wanted to do was return home. If he could have run away from all this, right now, he would have done, but he knew that he would probably not get far, and even if he did, the consequences for his family would not be welcome. He lay on his side and just hoped that he could survive the battle, regardless of the outcome, and return home.

As the moon rose in the sky, he could see the tall, blond haired man move to the edge of the hill. What is Kauko up to now, he thought? He got to his feet and made his way past the others on the hill, silently tracking the movement of Kauko. When Kauko stopped and kneeled, his head tilted towards the sky, Thomas stopped at a safe distance and observed his new friend.  Kauko started to chant in a language that Thomas had never heard before. Perhaps, he really is a Viking, thought Thomas. What if he is here to avenge Harald Haraldsen's defeat? What if he is here to sabotage King Harold's defences and help William to win the battle? For some reason, Thomas felt that this was not the case. Why would a saboteur give a young boy a hauberk and a sword? Why would he befriend him? Perhaps, Kauko intended to keep Thomas alive so that he could tell the English how the mighty Viking, Kauko, avenged his king's defeat. Thomas hoped that this was not the case, not least because Kauko was the only friend he had here. When Kauko stopped chanting and got to his feet, Thomas scurried away, back to the other boys. As he lay in the grass, watching the clouds pass by the moon, he saw Kauko walking towards him. Suddenly, Thomas began to panic. Had Kauko seen Thomas watching him? Was his friend walking over here to silence him? Thomas placed one hand on his sword as Kauko sat beside him.

"You can take your hand off your sword," said Kauko. "There is no one here for you to fight yet."

Thomas screwed his nose up and took his hand from the sword. It was as if Kauko had second sight.

"Can I ask you something?" asked Thomas.

"If you like," said Kauko.

"Are you from here?" asked Thomas.

"I've already told you, I am not a Viking," said Kauko.

"That's not what I asked," said Thomas.

Kauko smiled.

"I should have known how perceptive you would be," said Kauko. "No, I am not from these lands, but do not tell the others."

"You said you were not religious, but I saw you kneeling at the edge of the hill," said Thomas. "I heard you chanting in a different language. Where are you from?"

"From somewhere far away from here. A place so far away that you would not understand," said Kauko. "I doubt that you would even believe me."

"I might," said Thomas. "Try me."

Kauko rubbed his chin and shook his head.

"It is not for you to concern yourself with. All you need to know is that I am not your enemy," said Kauko.

"No, you're my guardian non-Angel," said Thomas. "But you were praying."

"No, not praying," said Kauko. "I was using words from my homeland to give me strength."

"Not asking for help from God?" asked Thomas.

"If there was a God, do you think that men would be ripped from their families, waiting at the top of a hill to die?" asked Kauko. "Do you think that a just God would have taken you from your family to fight another man's war?"

"Maybe he's just a God. Maybe, he just wants things his way and he does not care about us," said Thomas.

"And maybe, he just does not exist," said Kauko.

As they sat together, Alfred came running towards them. Kauko sprung to his feet, concerned at Alfred's haste.

"What is it?" asked Kauko.

"You're not going to believe this, but the king intends us to fight in the morning," said Alfred.

"That's madness," said Kauko. "Some of these men can barely stand."

"William is already on his way and will be in position at the bottom of the hill by morning," said Alfred.

"Then we hold the position with the shield wall, but take the day for rest," said Kauko.

"That's not what the king wants," said Alfred. "Be ready for the morning."

Alfred walked away and Kauko sat back down on the grass.

"The madness continues," he said.

Before Thomas went to sleep that night, he hoped that when he woke this all turned out to be a bad dream and that he would wake up to see the faces of his mother and father standing over him and urging him to get to work. Thomas knew that the bad dream was all too real, though.


Morning came with the shouts of men and the sound of metal clanging against shields as they hurriedly tried to prepare themselves. Thomas jumped to his feet and watched as the men started to form the shield wall on the top of the hill. He wondered whether, in all the excitement and confusion, he could manage to slip away quietly down the other side of the hill. Surely, they would think he had died in the battle if they did not see him leave? He edged away from the others, making a careful bid for freedom before the hand on his shoulder stopped him.

"You would not get far. They have men, mercenaries, who are tasked with the job of executing all deserters," said Kauko.

Thomas looked around and could see the scarred face of a man watching him, his hand resting lightly on his sword. Thomas realised that this man was more practised than him in the art of quiet observation and movement, and sighed. Kauko smiled at Thomas and beckoned him to follow as he walked back to the main group.

"You should not worry," said Kauko. "I will not let anything happen to you. You will see your mother and father again, I promise."

Thomas wished that he had as much faith in Kauko as Kauko did, but the sight at the bottom of the hill made him believe that these were just hollow words from Kauko. The shield wall had lined up in such a way that it seemed impenetrable, but Thomas looked to one side of the wall and saw the massed troops of William's armies approaching.

"He's already here," gasped Thomas.

"He has wasted no time. I suspect that he wants to get this battle started whilst his men still have the stomach for the fight," said Kauko. "King Harold will feel the same."

Thomas could see the men on the horses and the archers who were quickly forming into mass ranks behind the rest of the army.

"They have horses and archers, what chance do we stand against them?" asked Thomas.

"I do not intend to save all of the men today, just you," said Kauko. "Now do as I say and do not falter."

Thomas followed as Kauko took his position in the wall. Kauko pulled Thomas tight in behind him. Thomas could not see much because the huge frame of Kauko blocked much of his vision, but as they began to walk down the hill, he could occasionally see William's men advancing towards them. They stopped in a position about halfway up the hill and the men started to shout and chant. If this was meant to intimidate the men at the bottom of the hill, it did not appear to work. William's men emitted what seemed like a roar to Thomas, and then a group of them started to sing.

"What are they singing?" asked Thomas.

"How do I know, I am not a Norman? I am a Viking, remember?" asked Kauko, without turning around to look at Thomas.

When the men crouched behind their shields and Kauko instructed him to get down, Thomas knew that something bad was coming. The hiss of arrows through the air was quickly followed by the sound of them clattering against the shields. Occasionally, one would find its way through the smallest of gaps and find the flesh of a man. Thomas watched as those that were unlucky enough to be found by an arrow fell to the floor, clutching at the wound or staring lifelessly into space. He saw as the mercenary who had been watching him at the top of the hill, took an arrow to the shoulder. To his amazement, the man pulled the arrow from his shoulder and held his position behind the wall. Thomas was so glad that it was Kauko who had prevented him from fleeing and not this man. Despite the arrows, the shield wall held firm, causing William's men to advance up the hill towards the Saxon army.

As they climbed the hill, a volley of stones and rocks came raining down upon them, hurled by the men of the Fyrd standing securely behind the shield wall. Thomas was amazed that such a primitive method of attack could cause such carnage amongst the ranks of a modern army. The defenceless men were scattered by the storm of rocks descending upon them, and they began to run back down the hill in retreat. Upon seeing this, William ordered his cavalry to charge. The cavalry closed the gap between themselves and Harold's men quickly, their horses too fast for the random rocks coming from the skies. The horsemen lowered their spears and thrust them into the shield wall, but once more, the wall remained solid and unbreakable. Men and horses fell as they were impaled on the spears of the shield wall, their cruel points extending beyond the boundary of the wall. As the cavalry turned and fled back down the hill, some of Harold's men broke ranks and ran after them.

"We've got them, they're running," shouted Thomas.

He ran around Kauko and went to follow the others. The promise of a return home was within his grasp. William's men were broken and scattered. The battle was over before it had barely begun and the drug of triumph filled his senses. The smack of a hard armoured glove hit him full in the face, sending him to the floor dazed and shocked. As he tried to get to his feet, the same armoured glove reached out to help him. It was Kauko.

"You bloody hit me," said Thomas. "Why did you hit me?"

Kauko pulled Thomas to his feet and pointed to the chasing pack.

"Watch and you will see," said Kauko.

Thomas struggled to break free from the grasp of Kauko, but Kauko's grip was too strong.

"Let me go. They are done," said Thomas. "Let's finish this."

"They were done, but stupid men have given them a second chance," said Kauko.

Thomas saw that the men were already on top of William's men, realising far too late that they were now fewer in number and lacked the protection of the wall. As the cavalry spun around and regrouped, the men tried to get back up the hill. Tired feet and aching limbs were no match for the swiftness and agility of a horse, however, and one by one, they were cut down and left to bleed their lives away beneath the hooves of the horses.

"We have to help them," screamed Thomas. "We can't just leave them to die."

"We have no choice," said Kauko. "If we run to their aid, we will be cut down as well."

The screams of the dying men soon turned into an eerie quiet, punctuated only by the soft crying and moaning of the fallen. Thomas fell to his haunches and held his head in his hands. Kauko crouched beside Thomas and placed a hand on his shoulder.

"When it happens again, make sure that you do not follow them. You can see why now," said Kauko.

Thomas nodded his head and got to his feet. As he looked around, he could see that far from grieving for their fallen comrades, the men took the opportunity to drink and eat. He looked down the hill and saw that the cavalry had returned to the rest of its army, and William's men were taking refreshment as well.

"What the hell is wrong with them?" muttered Thomas.

"It is a natural break in the battle," said Kauko. "Call it protocol. You should eat and drink as well. You will need all your strength."

Thomas felt unclean at the thought of taking a break for food after witnessing the slaughter of men who had been telling tales of their homes the night before. Nevertheless, he joined in with the others, never taking his eyes from the floor in silent guilt. When he had finished, he followed Kauko as he retook his position in the shield wall. The calm and the silence were broken by the thundering sound of horses' hooves running towards them. This time, the rest of William's army followed behind the cavalry. The shield wall held firm and the spears that found horses and men once more caused a Norman retreat down the hill. This time, the shield wall broke completely as all the men chased after the fleeing Normans, convinced that finally, William was defeated and the battle was at an end.

"Here we go again," whispered Kauko.

Thomas remembered Kauko's words and stayed where he was. He watched as the cavalry turned and regrouped again. William's men followed the cavalry as they hacked and sliced their way through the Norman army. It suddenly occurred to Thomas why the hail of arrows had stopped. He saw the archers advancing up the hill behind the others, retrieving their own arrows as the line advanced. They gathered sufficient numbers to fire over the heads of their own men into the Saxon ranks. Kauko pulled Thomas down behind his shield. The combination of cavalry, foot soldiers and arrows tore apart the Saxon army. As William's men broke through, Kauko sprang into action, killing three men before Thomas had time to draw his sword. He turned around just in time to see a burly man running at him. Thomas thrust his sword as best he could and the momentum of the running man carried him onto the blade. As he looked into the man's eyes, he could see the surprise and shock on his face. Thomas kicked the man in the chest to free his sword and watched as he fell to the ground. Once more, the armoured glove found him and dragged him away. Thomas was still in shock and could barely move his feet, but Kauko literally dragged him through the mud and blood to the back of the battle. Still, the Saxon army fought bravely as the Normans advanced but the cry from the top of the hill finally broke their resistance.

"The King is dead," yelled the voice.

Kauko rushed to the scene to find Alfred hunched over the dead body of King Harold. Alfred looked up at Kauko.

"I couldn't save him. He took an arrow to the chest and then some kid of a Norman found his heart with his sword," said Alfred. "I turned to fight him but he was killed by one of his own arrows. Bloody things just kept coming. One even found the King's eye."

"Come with us. This is over," said Kauko.

"I am a Saxon. I will die rather than flee," said Alfred, angrily.

As he spoke, a line of men charged through the soldiers and one of them thrust his sword into Alfred's back. Thomas reacted but the man punched him in the face, sending him into a semi-conscious world. As he lay there, looking at the sky through a foggy haze, he could see the man's sword raised above him. So now, he would never return home, never see his mother and father again. His head swum as the man's head disappeared from his body. He felt himself being lifted by the arms of another and carried away from the battle. His head swirled as he raced past the bodies of dead men. The last thing he saw were the trees before his world turned black.


Thomas could hear the voices of men speaking softly as he regained consciousness. He was thankful to be alive, but too bruised and dazed to open his eyes. Instead of making an effort to get to his feet, he decided to keep still and wait for the ringing in his ears to stop. As he lay there and his hearing began to clear, he could hear the voice of Kauko.

"Did you do as I asked?" Kauko asked the other men.

"We did," one of the men replied. "We dug the ditch as you suggested and we filled it with wooden stakes, sharpened to a point."

Thomas opened his eyes and rolled onto his side to look at Kauko's new friends. There were a dozen men, Saxons by the look of them. Thomas noted how clean the men looked, other than for the mud on their boots and trousers. Not one of these men had been involved in the battle. He wondered whether Kauko had stumbled upon a group of deserters and sought sanctuary for himself and Thomas. Kauko slapped one of the men on the shoulder and smiled at him.

"You and your men have done well, Alwin. You have my thanks," said Kauko.

"There is no need for your thanks. You paid us generously," replied Alwin.

Alwin was a tall thin man. His long hair and unshaven state partly obscured the diagonal scar on his face. This was not a deserter; this was a man who had fought in many battles. Whatever fear he had of war had left him long ago. Kauko had referred to the others as your men, so his friends were probably every bit as hardened in battle as Alwin, but if that was the case, what were they doing here? As Thomas shuffled around to get more comfortable, Alwin watched him out of the corner of his eye.

"The boy is awake," said Alwin.

Kauko ran over to Thomas and knelt down beside him. Thomas flinched as Kauko examined the cut on Thomas's forehead.

"It's okay," said Kauko. "You have your first battle scar. It will be a little sore for a while, but that's all."

"Who are these men?" asked Thomas. "Are they friends of yours?"

Kauko laughed.

"I would not call them friends. They are more like temporary employees," said Kauko.

"They did not fight, did they?" asked Thomas.

"No, I paid them to wait here for us and make some preparations," said Kauko.

"Preparations for what?" asked Thomas.

"One last fight," said Kauko. "The Normans are not done with us yet."

"We're not safe here?" asked Thomas.

"We have no horses and they are mopping up what is left of the Saxon army. They will see our tracks and send a group of riders after us," said Kauko. "That is why we are prepared."

"So you plan to wait and fight them with your employees?" asked Thomas.

"After we have thinned their numbers out a little," said Kauko.

"Is that what the ditch is for?" asked Thomas.

Kauko smiled and pulled Thomas to his feet.

"You have been awake longer than we thought," said Kauko. "Yes, that is what the ditch is for."

Kauko and Thomas walked over to the ditch, whilst Alwin and his men took some time to rest, eat and drink. The ditch was obscured by a lining of leaves, carefully spread across a supporting net to hide the cruel wooden stakes underneath. Thomas thought that given the width and length of the ditch, Alwin and his men must have been here well before the battle, preparing it. The leaves merged with the leaves on the forest floor in such a way that Thomas could not be sure where the ditch ended and the forest floor began. Only a very close inspection would uncover the strands of netting staked to the edge of the ditch.

"Come. Let's get something to eat," said Kauko. "You must be hungry."

Thomas sat with Kauko and the others, hungrily devouring the bread that was on offer. As he looked around, he noticed that two of the men were missing.

"Where are the others?" asked Thomas.

Alwin spun around and screwed his face up at Thomas.

"The others?" asked Alwin.

"When I woke there were twelve of you. Now there are only ten," said Thomas. "Where are the other two?

"Do you miss nothing?" asked Alwin, sighing. "I am beginning to understand why you are so important to our friend here."

"It's more than that," said Kauko.

"The other two are on watch," said Alwin. "We need eyes in the trees to warn of us of a Norman approach. Unless, of course, you can tell us when that will be."

"I can," said Kauko.

"Really?" asked a smiling Alwin. "And when might that be?"

"Round about now," said Kauko, nonchalantly chewing on a slice of bread.

As he spoke, the two men came running through the trees.

"Normans," one of the men shouted. "Arm yourselves."

Alwin and his men jumped to their feet and took their positions on one side of the ditch, whilst Kauko took Thomas to the rear of the group. The sound of the horses' hooves became louder together with the sound of men bellowing instructions to each other. Thomas felt he should be at the front, helping the others, but he knew from experience that it would be futile to try to escape the grasp of Kauko. If Thomas was troubled by his enforced impotency on the battleground, there was not much time for him to ponder on it as the mounted Normans came crashing through the trees. Alwin and his men formed a similar shield wall to the Saxon army that fought on the hill. The first line of the cavalry urged their horses on as they caught sight of their prey. Their intimidating cries turned to screams as the ground gave way beneath the horses. Men and horses writhed in agony as the merciless racks of stakes tore their flesh apart. Those behind their fallen comrades tried to turn and avoid this pit of death, but most of them were too late. They crashed into each other and fell over the bodies of the fallen. Those who survived were left incapacitated by their wounds, struggling to free themselves from this deep trench of death. Some of the men charging from the rear were wily enough to avoid the fate of the front ranks, however, and they turned their steeds sharply to run around the pit and attack Alwin and his men. Alwin and his men stood firm as the remaining Normans circled around them. Alwin counted just six riders and their horses as they attacked them. The remaining horsemen were no match for the shield wall. The long sharp spears of the wall found the flesh of the horses and it was only when the last man fell from his wounded mount that the shield wall broke and Alwin and his men put the Normans to the sword. As Alwin and his men finished off the last Norman, they failed to see the man climbing out of the pit. Knowing that he was doomed, the Norman raised his sword and charged at the first Saxon he saw, Thomas. Thomas knew that he was surely going to die this time, but the Norman's sword found the flesh of the man who pushed Thomas aside so that he could take the fatal blow.

"No!" screamed Thomas as Kauko fell in front of him.

He grabbed the sword that had fallen from Kauko's hand and plunged it deep into the Norman's chest. He stared at the dying man as he dropped to the floor, his strength driven by anger and grief. The others rushed to aid the stricken Saxon and his young charge, but Thomas was already cradling his dying friend in his arms.

"Why? Why did you do that?" he shouted angrily at Kauko.

Kauko just smiled as he breathed unsteadily.

"It is what I am meant to do," said Kauko.

"You knew this would happen," said Thomas.

"It was a high probability," smiled Kauko.

Kauko gasped for air and turned towards Alwin, beckoning him towards him with a finger.

"Have you suffered any casualties?" he asked.

"Not one," said Alwin. "Although our shirts and trousers have seen better days."

"You and your men must return Thomas to his home. My time is done here, so I trust you to complete the task," said Kauko.

"It will be done. Do not worry," said Alwin.

Kauko breathed deeply and turned his head back towards Thomas.

"Are you actually a Viking?" asked Thomas.

"No," said Kauko.

"Then where are you from. I know you are not from this land," said Thomas.

"My name means far away. Does that answer your question?" asked Kauko.

"But what land?" asked Thomas.

"Somewhere you have never heard of. Somewhere you would not believe," said Kauko. "Now listen to me. When William becomes King, all men will have two names. Your first name, then a second name to distinguish you better from others. What will your name be, Thomas?"

Thomas wiped away the tears streaming down his cheeks and thought hard to think of a name, but none came to mind.

"Thomas?" asked Kauko.

Thomas held his friend close and then it came to him.

"Deorwine," said Thomas. "It means dear friend. It will always remind me of you."

Kauko smiled and lifted his arm slowly to place a hand on Thomas's shoulder.

"It is as I was told. Over seven centuries from now, a descendant of yours shall be born. He will shine a light on the origin of man. Man is not governed by gods or mapped by fate, he is free. Millions of different choices to determine the future. A future not shackled in chains," said Kauko. "Deorwine. I like it. You have made a good choice. Of course, names will change over time and Deorwine will become Darwin. Now go home and marry your sweetheart, because the line of Deorwine must continue."

"What? How do you know all of this?" asked Thomas.

"Perhaps, I can explain in another time," said Kauko. "After all, we shall meet again in all probability."

"What do you mean? Kauko? Kauko?" asked Thomas.

He shook his friend, but it made no difference. Kauko's lifeless eyes stared up at the stars. Thomas shook with grief and sobbed uncontrollably as he held his friend. Alwin knelt by the side of Thomas and held his arm lightly.

"Let him go, Thomas," said Alwin. "Let him go."


They buried Kauko in a single grave, well away from the pit of death, amongst a marvellous cascade of flowers. Some of the men said a prayer for Kauko, but Thomas did not object, realising that all men sought solace in the face of mortality. As the men paid their respects, Thomas saw that Alwin had moved away from the rest of the group and was staring at the night sky. Thomas walked slowly over to Alwin and stood by his side. Alwin spoke as Thomas stood next to him, but did not turn his gaze from the sky.

"He came to us on the night that the star appeared," said Alwin.

"The shooting star?" asked Thomas.

Alwin nodded his head.

"It shone so brightly in the sky and when it passed, there he was stood right in front of us, as if from nowhere," said Alwin. "He said he had a task for us. He said he needed to steer a ship."

"He meant me," whispered Thomas.

"I think so," said Alwin.

As they spoke, a flash of light ripped across the sky, illuminating the night.

"It's the star. It has returned," said Thomas, pointing up at the sky.

"No it's not the same," said Alwin. "It burns brighter and it travels the opposite way to the last one."

"We should give it a name as well," said Thomas.

"I think it already has a name," said Alwin, smiling.

"What name?" asked Thomas.

"Kauko," said Alwin, as they both marvelled at the star.


They Marvel at the Star (1066 Anniversary short story)

TMATS Cover image


On the 14th October 2016, I and some fellow authors will be releasing short stories on the anniversary of The Battle of the Hastings. All of the stories actually relate to The Battle of Hastings. You can find the links to mine and the participating authors below.


Thomas is a member of the Fyrd and is recruited into Harold Godwinson's army to confront Duke William II of Normandy. He is befriended by a blond-haired man called Kauko as they march to war. Thomas has no time for lords, kings or gods of any kind but Kauko seems to have a large amount of time for Thomas. Why is Kauko so interested in the welfare of a farmer's son, and just what does he intend to do with him? As the relationship develops and the pair of them confront the stupidity and darkness of war, Thomas comes to realise that they did not meet by chance. In fact, Kauko has been preparing for this for a long time.





Who really won the Battle of Hastings? Eighteen-year-old Jane Kennedy, a twenty-first-century Chicago girl on her first field assignment, had expected a simple mission to gently ease her into the time-bending realities of her new job. Yet here she was, lying semi-conscious amidst the wounded and dying of a particularly gruesome battle, wondering what the hell she had let herself in for. In this novella based on Jane’s memoirs, follow her strange journey through multiple realities as her fellow time travellers each realise they come from a future with a different past. Is there a rogue on the loose out to change history? The Battles Of Hastings is a romp through alternate time lines in England 1066 to mark the 950th anniversary of the invasion that shaped Britain and Europe today.



Nineteen-year-old Robert Malet followed William the Bastard to England to claim the English throne. The battle near the small town of Hastings is the beginning of the Norman conquest of England, but also of Robert's second life.
A vampire in 12th century Europe traveling, fighting and meeting his siblings in darkness, changing names through the years when his mortal life is gone.
Follow Robert Malet, Brother Geoffrey, Robert Capuchon and Mercadier through the years. History and fantasy based on medieval chronicles for a Vampires Through the Centuries novella.





It’s October 14th 1066, and King Harold’s Saxon army is about to go in to battle against Duke William’s invading Norman army. Among the ranks of the Saxons are two boys who shouldn’t be there: Eadweard, and his best friend, Cerdic.
Daydreams of becoming great war heroes had the boys convinced to disobey their Fathers and go to war, despite the possibility of punishment if they were caught. Now it’s time for the battle to begin, and Eadweard is starting to wish he’d stayed home after all. But it’s too late to turn back now, and Eadweard finds himself witnessing the events of the battle that would later be called The Battle Of Hastings, and learning how different from his imaginings the reality of war actually is.
*Note: This is a work of fiction, which is based on actual events. It tells the story of the battle between King Harold’s Saxon army and Duke William’s Norman army, which took place a short distance away from the town of Hastings on October 14th 1066, in a place now known simply as Battle. Though this is a children’s story, the recommended reading age for this book is eight years and over, since it is a story that takes place on a battlefield, and therefore contains scenes of violence that are not suitable for younger, or more sensitive, readers.





L J HICK: The Last Days of Planet Earth


BARBARA G. TARN: Creative barbwire


They say that love is blind, but can it be fatal? Atom is now available

Atom released

Atom is now available on Kindle at Amazon, and hardback at Amazon and Barnes and Noble . You can grab the Kobo version here, Kobobooks, and the iTunes version here, iTunes.

Sam and Scott are a couple of teenagers who live in the small town of Atom. One year ago, a macabre multiple murder shocked the town. Sam’s father, Brad Newell, who also happens to be the local sheriff, was badly affected by this. Although things have quietened down now, and they are enjoying the arrival of summer, Scott and Sam are still intrigued about the events of a year ago. When a stranger buys the house where the murders were committed, the boys pay him a visit. The stranger proves to be a rude and unusual looking man called Felstar.  Before long, Brad is called to investigate a homicide that has all the hallmarks of the previous murders, and he begins to question his own competence. Some of the townsfolk ridicule Brad as he seems incapable of solving the crimes. The pressure places a considerable strain on the increasingly fragile marriage of Sam’s parents, causing Sam to take an active interest in the crimes. Sam seeks advice from his grandfather, George, who seems to know more than he is willing to say. As if things are not bad enough, Scott is infuriated when he discovers that his mother has fallen for Felstar. They say that love is blind but this is more than Scott can stand. Sam and Scott resolve to crack the mystery of the murders, together with the help of their amiable teacher, Richard Taylor. As the body count stacks up, the townsfolk start to take the law into their own hands. The fingers of suspicion are pointing firmly at Felstar, but Felstar intends to do an awful lot more than just point back.

More buying options are available here.



ATOM will be released on the 1st June 2016

Atom cover image

Sam and Scott are a couple of teenagers who live in the small town of Atom. One year ago, a macabre multiple murder shocked the town. Sam’s father, Brad Newell, who also happens to be the local sheriff, was badly affected by this. Although things have quietened down now, and they are enjoying the arrival of summer, Scott and Sam are still intrigued about the events of a year ago. When a stranger buys the house where the murders were committed, the boys pay him a visit. The stranger proves to be a rude and unusual looking man called Felstar.  Before long, Brad is called to investigate a homicide that has all the hallmarks of the previous murders, and he begins to question his own competence. Some of the townsfolk ridicule Brad as he seems incapable of solving the crimes. The pressure places a considerable strain on the increasingly fragile marriage of Sam’s parents, causing Sam to take an active interest in the crimes. Sam seeks advice from his grandfather, George, who seems to know more than he is willing to say. As if things are not bad enough, Scott is infuriated when he discovers that his mother has fallen for Felstar. They say that love is blind but this is more than Scott can stand. Sam and Scott resolve to crack the mystery of the murders, together with the help of their amiable teacher, Richard Taylor. As the body count stacks up, the townsfolk start to take the law into their own hands. The fingers of suspicion are pointing firmly at Felstar, but Felstar intends to do an awful lot more than just point back.

Atom will be released on the 1st June 2016 with a new look cover. It will be available from Smashwords, Amazon and other selected retailers.


Fugue Book Image


They found the man they call John in an abandoned warehouse, surrounded by four dead bodies. Who he is or what he was doing there, the police do not know, even John does not know. D.I. Carl Grant recruits Professor Catherine Lamb to help get John's memory back and find out who really is, but events take a dark turn. There are a lot of people who seem to want John dead before he recovers his memory, and Carl Grant wonders whether John is the good guy or the bad guy.

I am writing Fugue at this moment. A preview is now available below.



What is it about the dark that makes us so afraid? Is it just the absence of the light that fills us with anxiety? Is it the fear of accidentally touching something horrific, something disturbing, or is it just the loss of a sense that we have come to take for granted? Fear of the dark and the unknown filled him now as he crawled across the cold stone floor. His only guide was his sense of touch and his hearing amongst the absolute silence. He felt bitterly cold, but sweat streamed from every pore of his skin. He wiped his forehead with his hand and felt for his right leg. His muscles ached with pain as he tried to move. It was as though he had never used his legs or arms before. His head ached and he could not be sure whether the dripping liquid from his nose was sweat or blood. He moved to his left as best he could with nothing to confirm his direction and eventually found a wall. He ran his hand across the surface of the wall. It was smooth and every bit as a cold as the floor. He grunted as he strained to get to his feet using the wall as support. He managed to get upright and leaned, breathlessly, against the wall. As he stood there, shaking, his ankles throbbed with the pain of supporting his weight. He stood against the wall for what must have been ten minutes, scared to move in case his feet and legs failed him and he fell crashing to the floor. He might not have the ability to see, but there was nothing wrong with his hearing. He slapped himself lightly on the side of his thigh, relieved to hear the sound of his hand hitting his skin. He turned his head around slowly, listening for anything that might provide a clue for an exit or some aid. His neck muscles cracked in response to the turn and he gasped at the stabbing pain, which came with each twist. Despite the stiffness he felt, the tingling sensation in his limbs informed him that the blood was returning to them, bringing his body back to life. He gritted his teeth and pushed one foot forward, moving away from the wall. To his relief, his legs managed to support him, and as he continued his movement, his confidence grew and he quickened his pace. He walked across the room in a straight line, searching for the opposite wall, using his right hand to protect himself from any unseen obstacle that might cause him to fall. Eventually, his hand found contact with the surface of the opposite wall, and he rested for a while longer, smiling to himself in the darkness as the strength returned to his body. He was confident now. What he was doing here and why he was here he did not know, but he did realise that he needed to find a way out. He moved forward once more, this time keeping close to the wall, as he searched for the exit.
He cursed as his feet hit something solid on the ground and sent him tumbling to the concrete floor. He expected to experience more pain as he hit the ground but was shocked when he fell on something altogether softer and warmer. His hands explored the object that caused his collapse and he was shocked to discover the soft flesh of a human body. His first impulse was to pull his hands away and get to his feet, looking for an exit with more urgency, but he needed answers and this grim discovery could present a way out of his dark prison. He wondered why the body felt different to his. He was smooth and cold, but this was textured and warm. His right hand slipped from the still form and hit the floor. His hand slid through the warm fluid next to the body. He raised his hand and smelt it. He did not know what he expected to achieve by smelling his hand, it just seemed the thing to do. As he tried to get to his feet again, his hand found another body. He crouched down on his haunches and slowly searched around in the darkness. He found two more bodies, all surrounded by the same warm fluid, which hinted at death. His survival instincts kicked in and he jumped to his feet, finding the wall once again, walking along it slowly, resuming his search for an exit. As he progressed along the wall, he heard the click of a door opening. Now he could hear the sound of men moving and shouting. They sounded hostile and, like him, they seemed afraid. A thin bright line of light on the floor gave away the location of a door and he moved towards it, but the door swung open before he reached it and the light poured in, revealing his naked form to the men. He shielded his eyes from the blinding light with an arm. He had been so desperate to find light, and now that he had done, all it gave him was more pain. The men streamed into the room, bringing more light with them. They scanned the walls and floors, shouting in alarm as they saw the bodies on the floor. Then they focused their light upon him and they shouted warnings, pointing their metal sticks at him. He understood when they told him to get down on his knees, but he did not understand when they roughly forced his hands behind his back, clipping them together with cold steel. As they dragged him from the room, one of the men flicked a switch and the room flooded with light. He turned his head to see four bodies lying on the floor in a pool of deep red liquid. He wondered what they were doing there. What was he doing here and what part had he played in their death? More worryingly, he wondered who he was?

"The freak is naked," said one of the men to another, as they bundled him into a van.
One of the men inside the van was speaking to him. He was saying something about his rights. He did not understand what he meant, but he nodded his head in his acknowledgment. He felt the van move and leave the area. One of the men threw a blanket over him and muttered something about the cold. He paid no attention to them. All he knew was that he was in some sort of trouble, and he had a feeling that, normally, he would be used to this. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat as the gaze of the two men in the back of the van burned into him. Only when the van stopped moving and the doors swung open did they look away from him.
They dragged him out of the van and ushered him through driving rain into a well-lit building.
"Get this bloke something to wear and put him in a cell," one of them shouted to the man behind the desk.
He was escorted into a small room and thrown a bundle of clothes.
"Here put these on," said a man. "Someone will belong to interview you in a minute."
The cell door closed and he picked up the clothes. He took off the blanket and dressed quickly. The warmth of the new clothes comforted him as he looked around his new home. He tried to make sense of his surroundings, but none of it was familiar. He lay back down on the small bed and stared at the ceiling. The door of the cell swung open and a man in a blue uniform escorted him to a warmer and slightly friendlier room. As he walked through the door, another man told him to take a seat. He sat down and the man began to talk to him in a formulaic fashion.
"I am the custody officer," he said. "I just need to go through a few things with you."
The custody officer waited for a response, but when none was forthcoming, he continued.
"Is there anyone you want us to inform of your arrest?" he asked.
"Arrest, what do you mean? I do not know anyone to inform," said the man.
"Do you have a solicitor or would you like independent legal advice?" asked the custody officer.
"Solicitor? Independent legal advice? I do not understand," said the man.
The custody officer sighed and stared at the man for a moment.
"You have the right to consult and view the Code of Practice," said the custody officer. "You are allowed to make one phone call to inform someone of your arrest. During the interview process, you have the right to take a break every eight hours."
The custody officer looked at the suspect. He did not seem to have any understanding of the situation he was in. He paused for a minute or two before standing up and walking to the door.
"Wait here," he said, before closing the door behind him.
He did not have to wait for long. The door opened and a younger man entered the room and sat in front of him.
"I am Detective Inspector Grant," he said. "Can I ask you what your name is?"
The man stared at him.
"Name?" he asked.
"Yes. Your name. What do you call yourself?" asked Grant.
"I have no name. I do not call myself anything," he replied.
"You must have a name," said Grant.
"Why?" asked the man.
Grant took out a pen and read the man his rights. When a second police officer entered the room, he started to record the conversation.
"For the purposes of this interview, I will be calling the interviewee, John," said Grant.
Grant looked at the man.
"Is that okay with you?" he asked him.
"John. I like John," said the man.
"John. What were you doing in that warehouse?" asked Grant.
"Warehouse?" asked John.
"Yes. The warehouse where we found you naked, surrounded by four dead bodies," said Grant.
"You mean the room?" asked John.
"If you like," said Grant. "What were you doing in the room?"
"Trying to get out," said John.
"How did you get in?" asked Grant.
"I don't know," said John.
"You don't know how you got into the room?" asked Grant.
"That is correct," said John.
"Why were you naked?" asked Grant.
"Because I was not wearing any clothes," said John.
"That much I can figure out for myself. What I'm asking you is why you were not wearing any clothes?" asked Grant.
"I don't know," said John.
"What happened to the other people in the room, John?" asked Grant.
"I don't know," said John.
"Do you know how they were killed? Do you know who killed them?" asked Grant.
"I do not," said John.
"You were in a locked room with four dead people, and you expect me to believe you don't know what happened?" asked Grant.
"I don't remember," said John.
"John. Are you saying that you have no memory of what happened there?" asked Grant.
"I remember some things, but not the things you are asking me," said John.
"Tell me what you do remember, John," said Grant.
"I woke up in darkness. I tried to find an exit. My body ached, I remember that. I fell over the bodies on the floor and then some men entered the room and dragged me outside," said John.
"That's it? Nothing else?" asked Grant.
"I remember nothing else at all," said John.
Grant bowed his head and looked at the desk, considering his options. After a while, he looked up at John.
"John. You say you don't know your name? Do you remember anything about yourself before you woke up in the room?" asked Grant.
John shook his head.
"It's as if I was born in the room," said John.
"Interview terminated," said Grant, standing up and stopping the recording. He looked at the other officer, shaking his head in disbelief. He turned back towards John and leaned on the table.
"John, we're going to need to get a doctor over here to take a look at you. You'll stay here whilst you wait. Can we get you a coffee or something to eat?" asked Grant.
"I am hungry, but what is coffee?" asked John.
"A warm drink," said Grant.
"I would like that," said John. "Thank you."

John ate and drank until the doctor turned up and examined him. When the doctor left the room, John requested another coffee and sipped it slowly, still wondering what was going on here. Grant stood outside the room talking to the doctor. John could see them both through the small window in the door.
"Well, what's the verdict, doctor?" asked Grant.
"Physically he's fine. In actual fact, he is in great shape," said the doctor.
"And mentally?" asked Grant.
"Well, there's your problem," said the doctor. "It's not my area, but he doesn't seem to know who he is. I think you have a man in custody who is suffering from some sort of amnesia."
"Or he could be pretending," said Grant. "Using it to cover his guilt."
"With all due respect, Detective Inspector, that is not for me to determine, it is for you. You may need specialist help," said the doctor.
"We can run a lie detector test on him," said Grant.
"And if he passes the lie detector test?" asked the doctor. "How long can you hold him?"
"Thirty-six hours at a stretch," said Grant. "What do you suggest?"
"You need someone who understands this condition. Someone who can tell whether his condition is real or faked," said the doctor. "There is a woman at the university who is very talented in this field. A Professor Lamb. I suggest you acquire her services. Unfortunately, she is not cheap."
"Nothing ever is these days," said Grant.
Grant walked the doctor to the exit and looked at the rain outside. As he stood there, two officers ran through the door, almost colliding with Grant.
"Damn rain's coming down so hard it stings you. Even through these things," one said, pulling at his coat.
"I've never seen rain like this before, have you?" asked Grant. "Did they forecast it?"
"Did they hell," said the officer. "They should sack the bloody lot of them. I'm soaked."
Grant watched the two officers as they strode through the station. Everywhere they walked, they left a huge puddle of water in their wake. Seconds later, they come rushing back past him.
"Emergency?" asked Grant.
"Warehouse fire. A big one," said one. "Whole damn fire service is on it."
"Where?" asked Grant.
"The old Macken building. Some of our guys were in there when it went up," said he said.
"No, no, no," hissed Grant.
"Someone you know in there?" asked the officer.
"I was there earlier tonight," said Grant, running for his coat. "Mind if I come with you?"
"No problem, detective," said the officer. "Just hold onto your coat. It's brutal out there."
The patrol car weaved through the streets until it reached its destination. Grant jumped out of the car and ran to the fire chief who was directing the operation.
"DI Grant. What happened?" asked Grant.
"We don't know for sure yet. According to reports, one minute it was quiet and the next it was in flames. Some sort of giant fireball. It's set some of the other buildings alight as well," said the chief.
"We had people in there. Do you know if any of them got out?" asked Grant.
"I thought this place was abandoned," said the chief. "You say you had people inside?"
"There was a multiple murder inside there tonight. We had a whole team in there," said Grant.
The fire chief looked at the ground and shook his head, before looking at Grant and placing a hand on his shoulder.
"We haven't seen a soul. I'm sorry, but you'd better prepare yourself for the worst," said the fire chief. "We'll get inside as soon as we can, but not until we know it's safe."
Grant watched the flames licking around the building, occasionally jumping to land on another building, sending desperate fire crews running to douse the flames. The officers who brought him here were right. The rain stung like hailstones when it hit your skin and even through his thick coat he felt the impact, and yet it had no effect on the inferno in front of him at all. All he could do was stand and watch the building burn to the ground, and wait to the retrieve the bodies of the poor unfortunates inside.

By the time the fire was extinguished, there was nothing left of the warehouse. The rescuers searched through the debris of the building, looking for survivors, periodically stopping to drag a charred corpse from the wreckage. Grant had been here all night, watching the gallant efforts of the fire crews. The rain had eased now, turning into a slow relentless drizzle. He felt cold and helpless, unable to continue his investigation, but he was running out of time. If the man back at the station knew anything, anything at all, Grant had to find out what. He grabbed a lift back to the station and had barely stepped foot through the door when he was summoned to the Chief Inspector's office. Chief Inspector Roger Howard looked gaunt and anxious.
"Carl," said Howard, looking up from his desk. "Are you all right?"
"No, not really," said Grant.
"We didn't lose everyone?" asked Howard.
Grant nodded his head.
"Not one single survivor," said Grant.
"You think the fire was deliberate?" asked Howard.
"There was nothing in that warehouse. Nothing that would cause it to combust like that," said Grant. "I think someone came back to clean up the mess they left and took out our people as well."
"Then we'll get the bastards," said Howard. "Whatever it takes. What about our guy in the interview room?"
"He says he doesn't remember anything, not even his own name," said Grant.
"Ah, convenient amnesia," said Howard. "We haven't heard that one before, have we?"
"The doctor examined him and said he was fine physically, but we should get someone else in to see him," said Grant.
"For the amnesia?" said Howard. "Well, we can run it through the usual channels."
"He suggested someone in particular," said Grant. "Some professor at the university. A Doctor Lamb, I think he said."
"Well go and get this guy," said Howard.
"It's a woman actually," said Grant.
Howard smiled and stood up from his desk.
"I don't care if it's an alien or a talking polar bear. If she can get inside this guy's head and get something out, get her in here yesterday," said Howard.
"Will do, sir," said Grant. "I'd like to see the man in custody again before I go. If that's okay?"
"Don't ask, Carl. Just do. Asking takes up too much time. This baby is yours to handle in whatever way you see fit. Just keep me informed," said Howard.
"I will," said Grant.
He left the office and made his way to the custody room, weaving in and out of shocked police officers who were just taking in the news of the inferno. He entered the room and shut the door quietly behind him, to see John staring at him.
"Can I ask you a question, without recording it?" asked Grant.
"Of course," said John.
"When you were inside the room, did you see any explosives or something that could cause a fire?" asked Grant.
"It was dark. I could not see my own hands in front of me," said John.
"Of course. Stupid question, but I had to ask," said Grant.
"I could smell something, though," said John.
Grant sat down in front of John.
"You smelt something? Can you describe the smell?" he asked.
"Yes. It was musty and acrid," said John.
Grant stood up and shuffled around in his pockets, eventually producing a box of matches. He lit one and put it out immediately.
"Did it smell like that?" asked Grant.
"Yes. It smelt exactly like that," said John.
"Sulphur," said Grant. "Thank you, John."
John was going to ask Grant for another coffee, but Grant was through the door before he could speak.

Outside the rain still drizzled down. Grant pulled the collar of his coat up as he walked out the door and paused on the steps of the building. He had to get inside John's head if he really was telling the truth. If John was not telling the truth, he would live to regret it. He wished he had chosen a different day to give up smoking because today was clearly not a day where he would succeed in kicking the habit. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a packet of cigarettes. He smiled to himself at his own denial. If he was serious about giving up smoking, why did he carry a packet of cigarettes around with him? He lit one up and inhaled deeply. As the smoke floated up upward, he could not help but think of the people taken in the warehouse fire. He looked to the sky and swore to bring those responsible to justice.
He finished the cigarette and threw what remained of it into the road, starting to walk down the steps.
The sound of a crack on the window behind him caused him to turn around sharply. The glass was cracked where something had plainly hit it. Grant looked around for a stone or a rock, but all he saw was a dying and broken bird wriggling around on the floor, desperately trying to raise itself and fly away again. He ducked as another bird narrowly missed his head and hit the window, this time causing a splatter of blood to stain the window.
"Jesus Christ," muttered Grant, leaning down to look at the bird.
He jumped back up when another bird hit the window, then another until a rapid procession of what were now clearly blackbirds threw themselves to their death against the glass panes. He moved away from the window and looked down at the steps, which were now covered with the writhing bodies of the birds.
"What the hell?" he said.
He looked up and saw a huge flock of blackbirds approaching in the distance.
"No way," he said.
The black cloud swirled around in the air, hovering above the station, before their cries filled the air and they swooped down, hitting the windows at the same time. The windows exploded from the force of the impact, sending glass shattering inward and causing people to shout in fright and dive for cover. It was over in a second. A crowd gathered outside the station to view the extraordinary sight, whilst inside a shocked police force, tried to clean up the mess. Grant made a cursory check to see if everyone was okay, before walking around the block to the car park. The sooner he got to the university and got some help with this, the better.

The crowd gathered in the street, despite the best attempts of officers to get them away from the building. The officers gave up all hope of clearing the crowd when the press arrived. At the back of the crowd, an old man with a brown trilby hat stood watching the chaos with a smile on his face. He made his way slowly to the front to see the dead birds being hurriedly cleaned away. As reporters increasingly annoyed the officers cleaning up the mess, a young man next to him stared at the rolled up cigarette hanging out of the side of the old man's mouth.
"Hey? Have you got a light?" asked the young man.
"Sure," said the old man, producing a lighter.
The young man took the shabbiest looking packet of cigarettes from his pocket and took out a crumpled cigarette that was barely still joined to the filter.
"Thanks," he said, as the old man lit it for him. "I was gasping."
"No problem," said the old men.
"What happened here?" said the young man.
"I don't know," said the old man. "But the birds know."


Irrevocable Image


He did not accept finality. All he knew was that he had to change the impossible.

Irrevocable is a short story that I contributed to the Wyrd Worlds II sci-fi anthology. You can read the story below in its entirety or you can download the Wyrd Worlds II anthology from the link below. It is free.

WYRD WORLDS II is the work of an international collection of science fiction and fantasy writers, independent authors old and new, who have come together through the book recommendations site Goodreads to contribute to this anthology. This ebook contains a bumper 19 short stories from 17 independent authors from around the world, encompassing a wide range of science fiction and fantasy. Here lurks tales of the future, steampunk and time travel; of magical realms and fantastical deeds; and of things so weird they defy categorisation. The original WYRD WORLDS rode upon a new wave of indie collaborations; and now we're back! In this anthology you will find:
HORIZON - KIRA: PART 2 by Ross Harrison - It was just her and a boy, alone. Kira had to concentrate on keeping him alive.
THE VISITOR by Neil Shooter - Time is relative. On an ordinary blustery British night an extraordinary visitor comes.
A WORLD TAKEN OVER by Douglas Schwartz - He had conquered the world. How much more effort was it going to be to unconquer it?
THE JOY OF SOCKS by A.L. Butcher - The imps knew what they wanted from the Bringer of Offerings...
THE COLONIAL PLAGUE by L.L. Watkin - It's been years since Missra was executed and now her soul is shut away, but being the most powerful magical healer of her generation gets her out of the box occasionally...
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The car that nestled by the side of the trees had come to a stop with its engine and lights switched off. It was rolled into position to keep it secret. Not that there was anyone around to observe its approach, but the driver exercised caution anyway. Even as he left the vehicle, he closed the doors gently and opened the boot quietly to retrieve a heavy cloth bag and a cylindrical sling. Once he had closed the boot of the car, he made his way into the woods.
He paused to put on what looked like a pair of ski goggles before continuing on his way. The glasses that now adorned his face lit up the woods like a summer day. He made his way through the thick barrier of branches, bushes and foliage before stopping some hundred yards from the boundary of a heavy wooden fence topped with barbed wire. He opened the sling and pulled the sleek black metal from it. He locked the different sections into place, carefully checking his work before adding the sight and the silencer. He crouched down, but in such a way as to be completely comfortable and still. He pulled the rifle into position and put his eye to the sight, slowly bringing it through an arc to survey the surroundings in front of him. When he had done this a dozen times, he slung the rifle across his back and took a position at the fence itself.
He used the wooden fencing as a support and once more took the rifle in an arc in front of him. There was no gate here, just the fencing, and on the opposite of it, there were small trees and bushes that served to mask the area beyond. The house that stood much further back was a huge Victorian building. The moon shone brightly, illuminating its roof and the brickwork and tiles that had seen better days.
He ran his scope along the contours of the building, playing with the top of the roof before using the chimney as a guide to drop to the first bedroom window. He knew that this view was of the side of the house. There were four windows with lights on downstairs, and two of the bedrooms were lit, including the first one. He knew that his target would pass by one of the vantage points but it could be some time. He placed the rifle to one side and used a more manageable pair of binoculars instead of the rifle’s sight. The night was young and he had decided to give it until one hour before daylight before abandoning his task if the opportunity to complete it did not arise.
Patience was a virtue that he possessed and prided himself on. When the hours passed and the slight drizzle of rain fell upon him, he never cursed or moved for shelter, he just held his position and waited for his chance. A third light came on from one of the upstairs bedrooms and a shape shuffled across to pass quickly in and out of view. He picked up the binoculars and held his view on the window. Sure enough, there was his target, adjusting his tie and briefly glancing through the window itself. He picked the rifle up when the light disappeared from the bedroom and focused it on the first window to the left of the building. He scanned the room as best he could. The windows were very narrow and decorated with strips of metal. He knew that the windows were indented with thick glass, and coupled with the distance from him to the property itself, made his target very difficult to hit. He hoped and prayed that when the time came he did not miss.
He could make out the medium-sized portrait on the wall and the shelving that stood to the right of it and focused the rifle sight on the portrait. When his target came into the room, he moved from one side of the window to the other, seemingly laughing and chatting to other people in the room who must have been seated. His target suddenly emerged with a drink and paused to look at the portrait. This was the opportunity, the area was too narrow to wait any longer, and he might never get another chance. He squeezed the trigger slowly and deliberately.
The bullet shattered the window and fizzed into the portrait, narrowly missing the man’s head and embedding itself in the wall behind. There were screams as it dawned on the rest of the occupants what had just happened. The man who had nearly taken a bullet dropped to the floor. Lights came on in the rest of the rooms of the house and the alarm sounded, shrill and whining. It would not be long; the police would arrive and check the immediate vicinity before extending their search beyond the grounds and into the woods.
He calmly took the rifle to pieces, put the main body back into the sling, and placed the sight, magazine and silencer back in the bag together with the binoculars. Using the night vision, he made his way back to the car and placed the bag and sling beneath the covering in the boot. He started the car and lit up a cigarette before winding the window down and driving back onto the road. He travelled a little way down the road before putting the lights on and increasing his speed. The narrow country lanes only lasted for another two miles before he took the slip road that fed onto the main road. He pushed the accelerator down and drew deeply on the cigarette, smiling widely as his car found other cars and lorries to mingle with on the highway.
* * *
Ronald Mason was tired of the endless questioning by the police. Yes, someone had tried to put a bullet in him but what he really wanted to know was whether they were going to catch the would-be assassin and why had someone made an attempt on his life. Ronald was a renowned physicist and when the funding he had been so dependent on to continue his studies was withdrawn, he did not hesitate to borrow the money to fund his own research. With a couple of breakthroughs in particle physics, his company grew and attracted bigger and wealthier investors. At the age of thirty-five, he was rich beyond his wildest dreams, but that meant nothing to him. It was the research and the advancement of science that fulfilled him. Dancing on the cutting-edge of science was the lifeblood for him.
His wife Carol made yet another coffee for the detectives, mumbling that nobody seemed to drink tea nowadays and only sat down when the last of them had left and the man who actually was going to do something arrived. She was still shaken by the events of the previous night and for the first time in her life was grateful for not having children yet.
Gary was a detective for some thirty years and the owner of his own private security firm for the last ten. The police had offered them protection and Ronald had agreed to the standard hotline and the car parked outside the house, but nothing else. Gary had looked after security for a while now at Ron’s firm and he had never let Ron down, made any mistakes or failed to respond when the situation demanded it.
“So what did the police say?” asked Gary.
“They said they’ll find the man who did this and have a car sat outside to keep an eye on me and Carol,” said Ron.
“Well, that’ll stop a guy with a sniper rifle. They don’t even know where he took the shot from yet,” said Gary, shaking his head.
“I heard one of them say that the shot must have been taken behind the fences in the woods, but the others said that was impossible. They said the sniper could not take the shot accurately from there. The windows here are excessively small, and when the shot was taken, I was walking across the window, not standing still. The sniper would have known that he would have to be incredibly lucky to hit me from there, so he would not have taken the shot,” said Ron.
“But he did take the shot and he missed,” said Gary. “You know the police seem to think that everyone’s an expert these days but maybe this guy isn’t as good as they think. Maybe he’s just someone with a grudge who unfortunately has a sniper rifle.”
“I see what you’re saying, but where does that leave us?” asked Ron.
“It leaves you in a position where you can’t take any chances,” said Gary. “So if it’s alright with you I’m going to put two of my best people here with you. They will watch you closely every day. When you go to work, one of them will go with you and the other will stay with Carol.”
“I’m not sure Carol will be comfortable with being alone in the house with another man,” said Ron.
“I said people Ron, not men. One of them is a woman. They are on their way here right now. Trent and Karen are their names. They will make sure you are never alone until either the police or my guys catch this man.”
It was not long before the two bodyguards arrived. They arrived in separate cars. Trent had a sleek black BMW and Karen arrived in silver Audi. Trent was a blond, youthful-looking man. Clean-shaven and with bright blue eyes he could have been the postcard American surfer. Instead, he had no discernible accent but spoke softly and precisely. Karen had long hair that was bunched in a bob at the top. Dark brown eyes stared out from beneath her Auburn hair and once again, she appeared to have no accent.
“Where are you two from?” asked Ron.
“We’re not allowed to tell you that, sir,” said Trent.
“Well I can’t place either of your accents,” said Ron. “Don’t think you’re American though.”
“We are both multi-lingual,” said Karen. “That’s probably why we have no accent to speak of.”
“All that phrasing hey?” said Ron.
Ron introduced them both to Carol and when Gary left, the pair of them did a grand tour of the house and arranged things a little differently outside. They erected screens just off the windows to deter any further sniper attack from a distance and placed a series of electronic alarms and sensors at different access points to both the house and the grounds.
“That’s everything secure now Mister Mason,” he said. “We’ll leave you alone now. You won’t see us as such but we will be watching. If anyone tries to enter the grounds, we’ll know about it. Gary has patrols on the property and in the morning I will come with you to work and Karen will stay with your wife.”
“Oh, I thought you were going to stay overnight as well,” said Ron.
Trent shook his head. “No need. Once you are in here, you are safe. When you leave the house, though, that’s when we need to know. So don’t even put a toe out of that door if we don’t know about it,” he said.
“Okay. We’ll remember that,” said Ron.
“Is there ever a time you can think of when you are completely alone?” asked Trent.
Ron looked at Trent for a minute or two without speaking.
“Not really. Not if you include me and Carol being together. Why do you ask that?” asked Ron.
“It’s just that were that to be the case for any reason, you should let me know so I can be with you,” said Trent. “If you had an accident or something, how would we know? It’s a bit like health and safety at your work.”
“Ah, of course, that makes perfect sense,” said Ron.
Trent and Karen both left the property. With the doors and windows locked, Ron and Carol went to bed, safe in the knowledge that the army of dogs and flashlights that patrolled the grounds were their army of dogs and flashlights.
Over the coming days, the security arrangements for the couple remained consistent. Trent and Karen arrived every morning and Trent would accompany Ron to work whilst Karen remained with Carol. The women would discuss everything from houseplants to world politics and Carol was amazed at the level of knowledge of world affairs that Karen displayed. Trent stuck tight to Ron’s side and always asked whether Ron would be alone at any point. This was never the case, however. This was Ron’s company and there was always someone with him, together with Trent of course. In the evenings, Ron and Carol would relax with a glass of wine after their evening meal. Ron had started to look at the picture on the back wall regularly, rubbing the bullet hole with his finger.
“What is it about that picture that fascinates you so much?” asked Carol.
“It’s not the picture, it’s the bullet hole. They keep saying the man who did this had to take an impossible shot, but if he was a professional, why take an impossible shot?” asked Ron.
“Perhaps he panicked,” said Carol.
“Why would he panic? Neither Gary or the police have found any clues as to who he might be. They haven’t been able to pinpoint the position he took the shot from and there are no tyre tracks or footprints anywhere in the area other than ones we can account for,” said Ron. “That’s not what bothers me the most, though.”
He beckoned Carol over to the portrait and pointed towards it. It was a portrait of his father and remained hung on the wall despite the damage, waiting to be repaired once the police gave him the okay to do so.
“Look where the bullet went,” said Ron.
The bullet hole was in the dead centre of his father’s forehead.
“It’s almost as though he was deliberately aiming for that place,” said Ron. “How could that be and why would he want to do that?”
* * *
The next morning Trent stood outside, leaning on the car, waiting for Ron. The sun was already oppressive and the glare made it difficult to see everywhere. Trent wore the sleekest looking pair of sunglasses Ron had ever seen and seemed to have no trouble with the sun, even if it involved looking directly at it.
Ron was hurrying to the car and as Trent opened the door, he accidentally caught Trent in the face, sending his glasses crashing to the ground. Trent cursed, but not in English. Ron looked at him for a moment and then found his words.
“What was that? Mandarin? Japanese?” asked Ron.
“I spent some time out there and had to learn some,” said Trent.
“Are you fluent in it?” asked Ron.
“It’s more of a dialect, to be honest. I’m not sure most of it is spoken correctly. Some of the cursings have stuck with me. That wasn’t directed at you, by the way, just the glasses. They’re sort of one of a kind,” said Trent.
“That’s okay, don’t worry about it. Shall we go?” asked Ron, smiling.
He climbed into the back seat. Trent walked around to the front passenger seat as the driver started the car. As he turned to face the house, he caught the glare of Karen who stood in the doorway staring hard at Trent. Trent smiled and waved at her but Karen just kept staring.
That night as Ron and Carol were relaxing, watching television, they heard the sound of a muted argument outside. Ron dimmed the lights and peered cautiously through the window. There, standing by their cars were Trent and Karen. They had both left the house a good ten minutes earlier but still had not left the grounds. Trent seemed to be apologising for the most part, with Karen poking him in the chest every now and again. She never stopped her verbal assault on him, pausing only the once to turn in an angry circle wagging her finger before plunging it into his chest.
Ron turned to call to Carol but she was already behind him, watching the couple arguing.
“What the hell do you think is going on there?” asked Ron.
“Don’t you know? Don’t you see it?” asked Carol.
“See what?” asked Ron.
“They’re a couple, Ron. Look at them, they argue like a married couple. She cares a lot about what he says and does,” said Carol. “Look how guilty he looks.”
“Says the woman,” said Ron, smiling.
The next day Carol stood in the kitchen, making herself and Karen a strong cup of coffee and burning a couple of rounds of toast.
She spread the butter thinly on the toast and turned back to Karen, speaking as she munched on the toast. “How much longer do you think you two will be here for?” she asked.
Karen shrugged her shoulders. “Until the job is done. Whenever that is,” she said.
“Gary seems to think that whoever did this won’t be back,” said Carol.
“Thinking is not enough, we have to be sure,” said Karen.
“What if we are never sure?” asked Carol.
“We will be. Trust me, we will be,” said Karen.
“Are you two a couple?” asked Carol, suddenly.
Karen looked startled by the question and responded in a defensive manner.
“No, not at all. Why do you ask?” she asked.
“We saw the two of you arguing outside last night,” said Carol. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be intrusive but you looked just like a married couple out there.”
Normally, Karen would laugh at a suggestion like this. In all her time with Carol, she had been amiable and had shared a similar sense of humour, but this time, there was no change in expression, just a stony face.
“It was just about work, that’s all. Nothing you need to know,” said Karen.
Carol decided to stop the conversation there and pursue another subject. Karen plainly was not happy with this line of questioning, whether she and Trent were a couple or not.
“You know Ron and his team are on the verge of some breakthrough at work. He says that the world will never need to dig for coal or drill for oil again. That energy will be free for all. Do you think that’s why someone tried to kill him?” asked Carol.
“What sort of breakthrough?” asked Karen.
“I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, he does tell me these things, he tries to explain it but I don’t understand. All I know is that he says it will change the world. Things will change for the better,” said Carol.
“Did he say when he is likely to complete this breakthrough?” asked Karen.
“Well last night he was waxing on about how in a month or two they’ll be ready to go,” said Carol. She thought that the conversation might bring back her amiable friend but instead the stony-faced one remained.
“In a month or two,” said Karen.
* * *
Trent had become accustomed to Ron’s infatuation with routine on the car journey and never thought to ask why they had to stop at a certain shop to get his newspaper. The regular stops at the small terraced house, where Ron would enter the house to spend an hour in there, at least, every day on his way home from work, finally got the better of Trent’s curiosity.
“You can tell me to mind my own business if you like, but why do we stop here every day?” asked Trent.
“In that house is someone very important to me,” said Ron. “I always said I would look after him and I keep my word. He’s a good friend.”
“You never come out of the house with him though and he never comes to your house. Hell, we could give him a lift there and back if it’s that important to you, Ron,” said Trent.
“You don’t understand. He’s severely disabled,” said Ron. “He can’t leave the house. I wish he could but he can’t.”
“Can you trust him?” asked Trent.
Ron turned and stared at Trent. The anger in his face was barely disguised. It was as though the question was unforgivable.
“I guess that answers my question,” said Trent. “I’m sorry I asked.”
* * *
That night, Ron and Carol were looking through the window again. Ron was beginning to wonder whether the two of them were beginning to lose the plot. The argument took the same format once more, with Trent on the defensive and Karen pointing and doing most of the talking. This time, she pointed towards the house every now and again. Was she pointing towards the house, though, or was she pointing towards Ron and Carol?
“For a couple of bodyguards they seem to have let their own guard down a little too much,” said Ron.
“She said they weren’t a couple but she was incredibly defensive about it,” said Carol.
“Perhaps we should tell Gary about this,” said Ron. “I have to admit, it’s beginning to disturb me a little.”
As he spoke, Trent moved towards Karen and grabbed her by the arm as if trying to calm her. The struggling Karen continued to point with her one free arm and protest but relented when Trent pulled her close and hugged her warmly. Ron and Carol both smiled as Trent lifted Karen’s head to his and kissed her passionately.
“Well I guess that allays my fears,” chuckled Ron.
“I did say,” said Carol.
“Yes, you did sweetheart,” said Ron. “Let’s respect their privacy.” The couple both moved away from the window as Trent and Karen continued their kiss outside.
* * *
Their secret observation of the bodyguards made their personal relationships with them much closer. Trent would go into the newsagents with Ron and got to know the shopkeeper. They would even stop off for a drink together at a nearby pub on their way home, but Ron never let Trent come into the terraced house with him. Carol and Karen had now started to go shopping together, interrupting their spending to take lunch. They also had a regular planned diet of television that they adhered to religiously. Carol never broached the subject of Trent and Karen’s personal relationship again, however.
One night as Ron looked out of the window, he noticed that Karen was gone but Trent remained outside gazing at the night sky. Ron pulled on a coat and ventured outside to join him.
“You should not be outside,” said Trent, his gaze not leaving the sky.
“Am I not safe with you and the flashlight army out here then?” asked Ron.
Trent smiled and Ron walked towards him. Ron stopped and gazed at the night sky along with Trent. The stars twinkled in the clear sky and Trent pointed towards what seemed a particularly bright one.
“Looks like a star, doesn’t it. It’s a planet, though. Venus,” said Trent.
“Is this a particular passion of yours?” asked Ron.
“I have not seen the stars in such a long time,” said Trent, suddenly in a world of his own, his face drawn with remorse.
“I’m sorry?” asked Ron.
Trent turned from his watch and smiled at Ron.
“I meant I don’t have the time to watch the skies these days. There was a time when that was all I used to do,” said Trent.
“Really?” asked Ron. “Was that as a child?”
Trent shook his head and gazed towards the sky once more.
“As a child and as a man. I shouldn’t tell you this but I was a scientist as well. Events caused me to take a different path and so I find myself here, far from home, doing a task I should never have had to,” he said.
“A scientist? What was your specialisation?” asked Ron.
“Geology. I was concerned with the environment,” said Trent.
“So what on earth made you become a bodyguard?” asked Ron.
“I worked with a man called Johnson. He was a physicist. We argued about everything. The state of this planet suited Johnson. He became very rich by suggesting alternatives to conventional ideas about cleaning up the environment,” said Trent.
“What alternatives?” asked Ron.
“You’re a physicist. You know that if you could put a mirror on the moon that the image in the mirror would be two or three seconds in the past?” asked Trent.
Ron nodded.
“Johnson believed that you could open a window in the mirror. That you could talk to people in the past,” said Trent. “He thought that you would be able to guide them and tell them what they needed to do to keep the planet clean. A few of us helped him in his research. The problem was that you would need to be looking in that mirror from light years away to talk to people from many years ago.”
“It’s impossible,” said Ron. “You would need to be 20 light years away from Earth just to see ten years ago.”
“Not if you viewed it for a short period of time from another dimension. A dimension physically close to ours,” said Trent. “Johnson viewed it as a series of mirrors and windows.”
Ron laughed and slapped Trent on the back.
“Conjecture and fantasy, I’m afraid Trent,” said Ron.
“Only, Johnson said that he had achieved it. He could talk to people in the past,” said Trent. “We dismissed it as first but then Johnson suddenly started to inherit large amounts of money and he became an expert on historical events.”
“So you think he was planting seeds and actually talking to people from the past?” asked Ron.
“Sounds crazy, doesn’t it,” said Trent. “But something had changed. Johnson became more and more powerful as well as rich.”
“I asked him whether it would be possible to actually step back in time and change the past. Put the Earth right. He just laughed at me. He said that even if we could go back in time, we would change nothing in the present because the past had already affected it,” said Trent.
“Well it is the obvious conclusion,” said Ron.
“Didn’t stop us from trying to time travel, though,” said Trent.
“Did you succeed?” asked Ron.
Trent shook his head.
“Johnson made it public knowledge. He blamed us for wasting huge amounts of public money. I couldn’t get a job cleaning test-tubes after that,” said Trent. “Johnson didn’t want anyone going back in time for some reason. It was as though his wealth and power came from his monopoly on the subject.”
“So what made you become a bodyguard?” asked Ron.
“You don’t need to know that,” said Trent.
“Well if you have qualifications, you can still do the thing you love. After this has finished why don’t we see if we can find a place for you in my company? It’s never too late, Trent,” said Ron.
“It is too late, Ron,” said Trent, smiling at his friend. He climbed into his car and wound down the window to wave a hand at Ron as he drove away from the house.
Ron watched Trent drive his car through the gates. Once the car had vanished from his sight, he turned to go back towards his house. He stopped and looked up at the night sky. There shining brightly in the night sky was Venus. Ron suddenly felt cold and very alone. He hurried back inside quickly to embrace Carol.
* * *
Trent’s revelation that he too had been a scientist cemented his friendship with Ron. Their relationship had continued to flourish, although Ron did not broach the subject of Trent’s previous occupation and Trent never spoke of it either. Their stops at the pub became more frequent, although they did not interrupt the regular visits to the terraced house.
Gary and the police were no nearer to solving the identity of the mysterious sniper. In fact, the police now seemed to have no interest in Ron and Carol at all. Even Gary was beginning to doubt the wisdom of keeping so many men at the property, to the extent that he was considering withdrawing Trent and Karen from the job. Trent had protested, however, stating that this could be exactly what the assassin was waiting for. Gary agreed, not least because he could not afford to take the risk.
The weeks passed by without incident and the winter set in, making the days shorter. Then one day they stopped at the terraced house as normal and Ron left Trent and the driver to enter the property. He was longer than usual and Trent became restless after an hour passed by. He was on the verge of leaving the car and entering the house when Ron came back outside and returned to the car.
“Everything alright?” asked Trent.
Ron was shaking a little but stared through the windscreen, he seemed fascinated by the views outside the car. Trent stared at Ron and then the driver. He was relieved when Ron spoke.
“Yes, never better. Best I’ve felt in a long time,” said Ron. “Trent, there is something I have to do, something I am meant to do. I need someone to help me with it.”
“Do we need to pick up someone you work with?” asked Trent.
“No. It has to be you, Trent,” said Ron. “Just you and me together, totally alone. No one else.”
Trent looked at Ron and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Ron, what is it? Are you sure about this?” he asked.
“Tell the guards to keep away from the property. I don’t care how you do it. And get Karen to take Carol out for a meal or something,” said Ron.
“Okay Ron, not a problem,” said Trent.
Trent phoned the guards at the house and told them to step back from the property itself, as the assassin might be trying to access the boundary from either the wood or the fields. He then rang Karen, who agreed to take Carol out for dinner. Ron noticed Trent was busy texting Karen as well but he did not ask why. He just smiled and enjoyed the nighttime views that he saw from his seat in the car.
As they pulled up to the gates, the two men blocking their entry opened the gates and waved them through. In the rear-view mirror, Ron could see both men leaving the grounds of the house in a black BMW. The driver pulled up to the front of the house and then as Trent and Ron made their way into the house he left as well. Karen and Carol had already left and the house was completely empty except for Trent and Ron.
Ron was pouring his fingers over the bullet hole in the portrait of his father.
“He never thought I would amount to anything. He called me a fanatic, a dreamer, a man who did not know the meaning of sacrifice. He was wrong,” said Ron.
He moved away from the painting and sat down at the small writing bureau. Taking out a notepad from the drawer, he ripped a page from it and wrote what looked like a single word on it. He crumpled the paper up into a small ball and gripped it tightly in his right hand.
“I am ready,” he said and looked up at Trent.
Trent stood no more than four feet away from Ron, his gun pointing at Ron’s head. Ron raised an eyebrow for a second but said nothing.
“I’m sorry,” said Trent. “We have become good friends, I know, but what you are going to do, I have to stop it. I put the bullet in the portrait of your father. It isn’t disrespectful but no man could hit you from there, I had to get inside. I also had to keep Karen and me safe. We cannot go back. We have to give ourselves time to get away and start a new life. This has cost us so much already. A personal bodyguard, close to the target was the only way. It has taken so long to get you alone, but this way it will be at least four or five hours until they discover your body.”
Ron still said nothing but started to twirl a pen around in circles on the top of the wooden bureau.
“Ron! Ron! Don’t you want to know why?” asked Trent.
Ron looked up at Trent and smiled at him as if he was silently forgiving him.
“In six weeks time, you realise the breakthrough you have been working on. Dark matter will become a reality for the world. You will be able to harvest it and provide an endless supply, solving all the energy needs of the world. One man will corrupt it however, he will convince you that it can meet all sorts of needs and you will harvest so much that you can no longer control it. Our world will be grey and dark. My world, Ron,” said Trent. “The trees are all dead and the oceans are a murky brown mud. The atmosphere is barely breathable and when you look at the sky at night, all you can see is the black fog. No sun, no stars, just the impenetrable black fog. I had to come back and prevent you from bringing this slow death to the world. Johnson said it wasn’t possible, that we could not go back in time, but we found a way, Ron. We cannot go back, though, it’s a one-way ticket and so I had to bring Karen with me, my wife. One of our leaders, Johnson, argued against it, he seems to prefer our world as it, poisoned and less populated, easier to control and rule, but the council voted against him and sent us back. If there was another way to do it, I would, but I cannot take any risks. The only solution is to kill you.”
Ron still did not move but spoke at last. “Tell me. This dark matter? Will it make me famous, would it make my father proud?” he asked.
“Initially yes, and I suppose your father would be proud, but...” said Trent.
“Then do it. Do it now, while I still have resolve. While I still believe in sacrifice,” said Ron.
Trent steeled himself and fired the gun, sending a single bullet through his friend’s forehead. Ron slumped, face down on the bureau, his blood spilling across the wood. Trent holstered his gun and took a moment to kiss his friend lightly on the back of the head.
“God forgive me,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”
Trent ran from the building and made his way across the grounds. Vaulting the boundary fences and running into the woods, he pushed back the branches and twigs as he ran in and out of the trees. In the distance, every ten seconds, a car horn made a single sound. He ran towards the noise, breathless, afraid and distraught at what he had just done. The tears streamed down his cheeks. As he left the woods, he fell into the arms of Karen, sobbing hysterically.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” said Karen, stroking Trent’s hair.
“It’s not okay. He was my friend. He trusted me and I killed him. I killed him, Karen,” said Trent.
“You had no choice. What else could you do? You did what you had to,” said Karen.
Trent looked at the silver Fiesta parked by the side of the woods.
“It’s a rental. False ID. By the time they find Ron, we will be long gone. New identities and a new life. This is our world now Trent. We cannot go back, but we, at least, know our world will not be poisoned,” said Karen.
Trent dried his eyes and slowly composed himself.
“Johnson said it could not be done. He said you couldn’t change the past because it has already happened. Irrevocable he called it. Yet, here we are. Johnson was wrong, thank God. I am so glad he was wrong but I hope that wherever Ron is, he forgives me. Carol is safe, isn’t she?” asked Trent.
“I left her at her mother’s with one of the security team. We saved her at least. Ron was my friend too and I am trying not to imagine Carol’s grief when she discovers what has happened,” said Karen.
Trent pulled himself to his feet and the couple climbed into the Fiesta. Karen sat in the driver’s seat and looked across at her husband, who was still struggling to hold back the tears. She leaned across, kissing him gently on the cheek before starting the car. They both turned and smiled at each other and clasped hands gently.
The lorry losing control on the corner behind them came hurtling through the rear of the Fiesta, pinning it between itself and a large oak tree, crushing it into a pile of twisted metal and killing the occupants instantly. Only the hands of the couple were visible in the carnage, still holding each other tightly.
* * *
The group of people moved away from the grave and began to disperse into smaller groups, all having their own respectful discussions. Gary stood behind the man placing a single white carnation on the grave.
“You never told me about him. You never told anyone about him, only Carol,” said Gary.
Ron Mason stood up and straightened his coat.
“He was the same as me. A scientist. Truth is he was brilliant. Far better than me but father ridiculed him because John wanted to talk to other worlds, different dimensions. He was thirty years old when he claimed that he could talk to people in the future. His behaviour grew erratic. He would wake up screaming and he even attacked people, saying that they wanted to kill me. We found a gun in his house and that was the last straw. I had no choice but to keep John away from the rest of society for his sake as well as theirs,” said Ron.
“Schizophrenia?” asked Gary.
“Paranoid schizophrenia,” said Ron. “A very acute form of it.”
“I have put my resignation on your desk back at the house,” said Gary.
“Why?” asked a shocked Ron.
“Why? The people I put close to you were the very people who wanted to kill you,” said Gary. “I swear that at the time I put my faith in them, they had worked for me for years. Valued and trusted employees. Yet now, after their death, I know that they came to see me just six weeks before the bullet hit your father’s portrait.”
“Who were they?” asked Ron.
“We don’t know. The cops don’t know. It’s as though they came from another world. No trace of a real identity, although they had a brace of brilliantly forged identities,” said Gary.
“They nearly got away, I’m told,” said Ron.
“Yes, an unfortunate or fortunate accident, depending how you look at it,” said Gary. “Lorry driver lost control on a corner, swears that the wheel just went loose. It crushed them between the vehicle and the tree. The sniper rifle and bullets that match the one in your wall were in the boot.”
“I wonder why they wanted to kill me?” asked Ron. “John kept saying that someone was coming to kill me. The man in his head warned him that he had to save me. On the day Trent shot John, I stopped off at the house as normal only to find his two carers unconscious. I found John in a room by himself, he kept saying it’s today, it’s today. Sacrifice, I know sacrifice, he kept saying. I asked him who warned him, tried to calm him before phoning for help for the carers but he just said 'I will tell you after I am gone'. Then he stuck a syringe in me and the world went black. Woke up in just my underpants,” said Ron.
“He switched clothes with you and climbed into the car with Trent,” said Gary. “Trent thought John was you. He never suspected a thing.”
“Identical twins. Even the hair,” said Ron. “You know, he insisted on changing his name just before he lost it completely. Said it was important, he made me promise never to tell anyone. He even managed to falsify documents to show that he had died at birth. For all intents and purposes, I had no brother, well not one that the history books would know of anyway. He said that they must not know of him, whoever they might be. The man in his head told him this,” said Ron.
“Trent thought it was you. Thought he had his man. I’m sorry Ron,” said Gary.
Ron smiled and wiped a tear from his cheek before placing a hand on Gary’s shoulder.
“You’re not responsible for this, Gary. They fooled us all; me, you and the police. In two weeks time, I have a very important announcement to make. I have discovered something that will change the world. I need people around me I can trust. I am refusing your resignation. I expect to see you back at work tomorrow morning, nice and early,” said Ron.
Gary smiled and nodded and walked away as Carol embraced her husband from behind.
“You alright?” she whispered in his ear.
“I guess so,” said Ron. “How did he know that on that particular day someone would try and kill me? For all that, father ridiculed him; he was a bigger man than the both of us were. Somehow, he knew he was going to die and yet he made sure I was safe. He made the sacrifice.”
“Didn’t he say the voice in his head warned him of all this?” asked Carol.
“Yeah. He always said he would tell me how but I guess we’ll never know now,” said Ron.
Carol hugged Ron tightly and he returned her embrace. Gary was running back towards them, holding something in his hand. Ron and Carol separated as Gary approached.
“I almost forgot,” said Gary. “John had a piece of paper crumpled up in his hand when they found him. He had written just one word on it. It makes no sense to me or the police but you should have it.”
Gary gave Ron the crumpled paper and turned to leave as Ron unravelled the paper.
On the paper written in ink was just one word.
Johnson .
* * * * *


Atom cover image


Sam and Scott are a couple of teenagers who live in the small town of Atom. A year ago something horrible happened in the town, which affected Sam's father, Brad, the Sheriff, badly. Although things have quieted down now, and the pair are enjoying a warm summer, Scott and Sam are still intrigued about the events of a year ago. When a stranger buys the place that nobody wants to own, the boys pay him a visit. The stranger proves to be a rude and unusual looking man called Felstar. This is bad enough, but when Scott's mother takes an interest in him, Scott is infuriated. When Brad is called to investigate a murder that has all the hallmarks of the previous nightmare, he questions his own competency. Sam wants to repair his parent;s fragile marriage, but how can he, when his father is troubled so deeply? Sam seeks solace with his grandfather, George but does George know more than he his ready to say? The fingers of suspicion are pointing firmly at Felstar, but Felstar intends to do an awful lot more than just point back.

Atom is now available. You can preview the first two chapters below.



It was the start of the summer in the town of Atom. The sun hid behind the clock tower of the church that sat at the head of a small market square. Around the market square was a series of parking spaces that sat on a diagonal to it. When the market was not on, these were occupied by the cars that belonged to the residents of Atom. Market days were lively affairs and served as a meeting point for the local community. The road that ran around the square was closed off and people gathered to gossip and catch up with their neighbours. Today was not a market day though, the parking spaces were full, but the road was quiet as the townsfolk went about their daily routine.
Sam Newell sat on the crumbling stone wall at the front of the church with his best friend Scott Jennings. Behind them, scattered gravestones punctuated the worn grass in front of the church. Sam wondered what was actually beneath the gravestones, dead people or dust? He thought it best not to dwell on the subject. Walking the hallways of taboo in his mind could sentence his soul to damnation. He shook himself from his sombre reflection and glanced back towards Scott. Scott had moved from the wall and was reading the inscription on one of the gravestones. Scott’s dark medium length hair supplemented his perfectly symmetrical latin features. Sam was a little envious of his friend because Scott looked like a movie star. Not only that, but Scott was athletic in build too. Sam had a much lighter frame than Scott and he also cropped his red hair very short as it curled ridiculously if he let it grow a little too much. He jumped up and stood behind the object of his admiration.
Scott turned to face Sam and pointed at the gravestone.
“Do you think there’s anything left of the person beneath there?” he asked.
Sam reeled from the query. Did Scott know what he was thinking? Could this perfect physical specimen also read his mind now?
“I don’t think we should discuss things like that,” stuttered Sam.
Scott stood back a little, alarmed at Sam’s sudden show of expurgation.
"You think that discussing the dead will cause zombies to climb out of those graves and eat our brains, don't you," Scott said to Sam.
Scott ran to one of the gravestones and then turned to walk slowly towards Sam in a mock zombie fashion.
"Brains, brains," growled Scott.
Sam picked up a small stone and threw it at Scott.
"You're out of luck, shithead. I ain't got any brains," said Sam, laughing.
The stone hit Scott on the shin and he forgot the zombie walk and ran after his friend.
"Hey, zombies don't run," shouted Sam.
"I'm an Olympic zombie," said Scott, as he dragged Sam to the floor.
Sam pushed Scott off and lay on his back, laughing. When he turned his head to look at Scott, he saw that he was looking sheepishly at the path below the church wall.
"Good morning, Mrs Pope," said Scott.
On the narrow path separating the grounds of the church from the road stood an elderly lady. Although it was an unusually hot summer in Atom, the woman wore a heavy tweed coat and a thick woollen hat. She was staring at the boys, disapprovingly.
"Have you no respect? There are people at rest in this churchyard," she said.
Before either of them could offer any sort of defence, she shook her head and mumbled something that they could not hear, before walking off towards town. Sam and Scott shook their heads and resumed their positions sat on the church wall.
"As if she's called Pope," muttered Sam.
"It is very apt, young man," said Scott in a parodical, authoritative voice. Scott slapped Sam across the head.
"Ouch, chill it dude," snapped Sam.
The pair of them laughed and fell backwards onto the grass, enjoying the warmth of the sun. They had been friends for as long as they could remember, and nothing had ever come between them, not even girls. Scott had come the closest to any sort of relationship with the opposite sex. For two weeks, he had dated a girl called Katie, who he met at school. The relationship ended when Katie discovered Scott and Sam, drunk, in the school playing fields. Katie demanded to know where they had obtained the drink from and Scott told her it was a gift from heaven. Katie called Scott blasphemous and did not speak to him for another two weeks. When she did eventually speak to him again, it was only to tell him that she felt he was incompatible with her beliefs and that their relationship was at an end.
"You remember when I went out with Katie?" Scott asked Sam.
"Pig-tailed bible basher," said Sam. "Yeah, I remember."
"You ruined it for me by taking a bottle of vodka from your Grandpa's," said Scott.
"Dude, it was a gift from God. Don't you remember?" said Sam.
"She still wants me, you know that?" asked Scott.
"Yeah, sure man. What she wants is some dick to carry her bible for her," said Sam. “If I remember rightly, she said you did not have the right Christian values.”
Scott laughed, stood up and crossed himself.
"You remember Barbara? I wonder what happened to her. She had the biggest hooters," said Scott.
Sam turned and stared wide-eyed at his friend.
"Scott, don't even bring that shit back up. My old man still has nightmares about it now," said Sam.
"Sorry man. Didn't mean to bring that back up, but she was mighty fine," said Scott.
"Yeah, she was, wasn't she?" said Sam, smiling.
"Does your old man ever talk about it?" asked Scott.
Sam shook his head.
"Nope. Never. Won't let my mum or grandpa talk about it in front of me either," said Sam. "It's taboo in our house."
Scott picked up a twig from the grass and started to strip the bark from it. Sam frowned when he saw Scott doing this. When Scott started pulling things to pieces, it was usually a sign that he was about to ask something awkward.
"My ma never talks about it, either," said Scott. "It's like a year ago now and we still don't really know what happened."
"All I know is that they found Jeff Walker and his two daughters ripped to pieces. Everyone said it was bears. Then they found Barbara locked in the cellar," said Sam.
"Dude, they don't know for sure it was bears," said Scott. "I reckon it's a cover up. Maybe it was aliens."
"Shut the fuck up," said Sam, laughing as he slapped Scott on the shoulder.
"What's so funny, boys?" asked a voice behind them.
Sam and Scott turned around to see Reverend Smith standing over them. Reverend Smith’s balding head dripped with sweat, and his light brown eyes twinkled at this opportunity. He smiled and sat next to the boys on the wall. Scott and Sam shuffled up to each other uncomfortably in order to accommodate the Reverend. They both knew what was coming next.
"So what are you two up to today? Have you been waiting for the church to open?" he asked.
Sam and Scott looked at each other, both silently asking the other for a plausible excuse to offer Reverend Smith.
"I can't Reverend," said Sam. "I have to meet my mother soon, much as I would love to come to church."
Reverend Smith smiled and placed a hand on Sam's shoulders.
"Yeah, sure Sam," he said. "What about you Scott?"
"I can't either, Reverend," said Scott.
"And why is that, Scott?" asked Reverend Smith. "Are you meeting your mother as well?"
"Hell no," said Scott. "I don't believe in God, that's all."
Sam turned away and lay down along the wall, praying for the earth to open and swallow him.
Reverend Smith smiled and took Scott's statement in his stride.
"Look at the day. There's not a cloud in the sky, the birds are singing and Atom is the most peaceful place on Earth. You think this is random, Scott?" asked the Reverend. "Do you think that beauty is accidental? Beauty such as this is sculpted."
"Atom wasn't that peaceful a year ago. I'll come to church the day that God brings Barbara Young back to Atom. Then I really will believe," said Scott.
Reverend Smith glared at Scott for a moment, but then laughed and stood up.
"If Barbara Young returns to Atom, I suspect that I won't see you for dust," said Reverend Smith.
Reverend Smith said nothing else. He walked over to the large oak doors of the church and disappeared inside.
Scott turned to see Sam staring at him.
"What?" asked Scott.
"Do you have to do that? Say stuff just to wind folks up?" asked Sam. "You have got to meet your mother. Why didn't you just say that?"
"I can't do this with religious shit. Tell Jeff Walker and his girls there's a God. I'm sure he'd feel the same as I do," said Scott. “Sculpted? Shit. So God does all the nice stuff but isn’t responsible for all the crap? It’s all a fraud.”
"Talking about cover-ups and conspiracy shit, I can't believe his name is John Smith," laughed Sam.
"That's the trouble with this town," said Scott. "It's so damn predictable."
"Except when the bears kick off," said Sam.
Scott stood up and started to wag a finger at Sam.
"Young Samuel, we will not be discussing bears kicking off, in this house, you hear me," said Scott.
"Yeah, okay dad," said Sam.
"Hey, let's go find my mum," said Scott.
Sam laughed and the two friends jumped from the wall and walked away from the church.

Brad Newell sat at his desk, reading the local newspaper from one year ago. Had it really been a year now? It seemed like it was only yesterday. Suddenly, he found himself staring at the wall again, trying desperately not to replay those macabre events again in his mind. He fought against the memories but failed to stop them from haunting him once more.

It was midnight and Brad received a call from Ron McCabe. McCabe lived a mile away from Walker, but he was his nearest neighbour. McCabe said he could hear screaming and gunshots coming from Jeff Walker’s place, and he and his boys were going to make their way over there. Brad told him to stay put. Brad wished with all his heart that he had let McCabe and his boys go to the Walker house. They would have got there quicker and maybe they would have stopped the attack, but it was too late now. Brad grabbed a couple of deputies and made his way over to Walker's house.
The house was a large old property that stood on the top of a hill. Walker and his two daughters had lived there for just over a year now, and they had quickly integrated with the local community and were well liked. When Brad and his men got there, they saw that all the lights were off at the property. The house was surrounded by tall lamps that enhanced the security of the grounds, but not one of them was working. From his vantage point outside of the house, Brad could see no signs of an internal light either. He grabbed a flashlight and entered the house, his deputies following close behind him, both using their own flashlights to enhance the visibility. All the men had their revolvers drawn as they cautiously made their way into the property via the open front door. The house was silent now. Whatever had happened here, the only sound the men could hear now was the sound of their own, nervous breathing and the sound of their feet on the dusty floor. It did not take Brad long to discover evidence of a commotion at the Walker's house. The flashlights lit up the walls of the house as they made their way into the living room. All three men stared in horror as the light fell on the blood-splattered walls. The air in the living room reeked of the smell of urine. The smell was so strong that Brad covered his nose with his shirt sleeve in a futile attempt to relieve the stench. He moved the flashlight from the wall and scanned the floor and gasped as his light fell on the body of Walker's youngest daughter.
"It's Sarah," he called to his deputies. “Get over here.”
Ted Parker and Pete Coleman moved quickly over to Brad who was crouched over the body of a twenty-something woman. Brad was checking the woman’s pulse and shaking his head. He was checking her pulse, but she had been ripped apart. He knew that his actions were just a response, just a way of dealing with horror and the loss of a young life. Both Ted and Pete gagged when they saw the body. Pete moved away and stumbled over the body of Jessica Walker. Jessica was thirty years old and lived with her father and sister in the house.
"Brad," said Pete. "Jessica's over here. Oh, man."
Brad was too busy examining the body of Sarah to pay much attention to Pete. Her chest was ripped open, exposing the fractured rib cage beneath the skin. The flesh was torn away, but Brad could see that some of it was missing. Whatever it was that had done this, it was not human. The chest had been smashed open by some powerful claw and the attacker had partially eaten some of her flesh. Brad gagged as he saw that the killer had nibbled on her fingers and toes. Her head was still intact, perfectly unharmed, but her face was frozen in a silent scream. A disturbing thought crossed Brad's mind. Was Sarah Walker still alive while she was being eaten? He moved over to the body of Jessica. Jessica had that same facial expression and she too looked like something had torn her apart, ravenously trying to consume her flesh.
Pete was standing behind Brad now. The light from his torch flickered up and down as his shaking hand struggled to hold it still.
"What the hell?" said Pete. "Brad, something ate them."
Brad was shaking as well, but he did he did his best to cover it up by snapping at Pete.
"I can see that," said Brad.
"Only thing I know that could do this is bears," said Ted.
"Bears don't eat people," said Brad.
Brad stood up and moved the flashlight around the room.
"Where the hell is Jeff?" he asked.
“I’m not sure I want to know,” said Pete.
Brad did not miss the opportunity to hide his fear.
“We have to know, c’mon,” he hissed.
The three of them moved out of the living room and into the rear hallway that led to the back entrance to the property. Brad could see the glass panels of the door at the end of the hallway. The door faced a stairway to the upstairs rooms. He moved carefully along the hallway, only pausing when his feet seemed to be treading water on the floor. He flashed his light at his feet and could see that he was standing in a pool of blood. He raised his light back towards the hallway and saw the shape of a man lying with his back against the right-hand wall. Brad beckoned Ted and Pete to follow and he made his way over to the figure. Brad crouched down and shone his light on the face of Jeff Walker. Jeff had suffered the same fate as his daughters. As Brad checked the body, it slumped to one side. Pete moved to help Brad keep Jeff Walker upright. As they moved Jeff slightly along the wall, they saw the small doorway to the cellar. The cellar door was covered in Jeff's blood. Brad ran his fingers along the wooden door and then looked at his two deputies.
"What the hell is that?" asked Brad, pointing at the door.
Carved into the door were a set of strange symbols. The door was completely covered in them and some of the characters had been inked in.
"Jesus. You think the Walker's were religious?" asked Ted.
"I don't think so," said Brad.
Pete knelt down and looked hard at the characters.
“I think I know what this is,” whispered Pete.
“Well? Go on,” said Brad.
"It's Russian," said Pete.
"How the hell do you know that?" asked Brad.
"Remember the Russian student that came here a while ago?" asked Pete.
"Yeah, Anya or something like that," said Brad.
"She stayed with my folks and when she wrote home. Well, it looked like that," said Pete.
“You read her letters?” asked Ted.
“No, I didn’t. She left them lying about. I just picked one up one day,” said Pete. “Only found out later it was Russian.”
Brad was staring at the two of them, wondering why anyone would have a conversation about the morality of reading someone else’s letters in the middle of this carnage. Ted and Pete stopped talking and smiled weakly at Brad.
"I don't suppose you know what any of this means?" asked Brad.
"Brad, I just saw the letters. I have no idea what that shit says," said Pete.
"He's different to his girls," said Ted.
Ted was turning Jeff’s head from side to side and checking his eyes.
"Different?" asked Brad. "What do you mean?"
"Look at him," said Ted. "His face. It's angry. That's not the face of someone scared to death. His eyes are open, the same as his daughter’s, but look."
Brad watched as Ted moved Jeff’s head from side to side once more. The head moved loosely, but the eyes remained fixed on Ted.
“What the fuck,” said Brad.
Brad shone the light over Jeff's face. It was the face of a man locked in a life or death struggle, bruised heavily with what looked like a fractured cheekbone. Brad used one hand to turn Jeff's face for himself, but as he did so, Jeff's eyes fixed on him and he grabbed Brad by the throat.
"Kill it. In the name of God, kill it," screamed Jeff.
Brad struggled to free his throat from Jeff's grip but when he finally succeeded, the shaking Jeff slumped back against the door, lifeless. Brad stared at the dead man for a second or two before turning to Ted and Pete.
"The bear must still be around here," said Ted.
“The bear?” asked Brad.
“C'mon Brad. It must’ve been a bear. Look at this shit,” said Ted.
"Get some fucking lights on and secure this place," said Brad. "Whatever did this, I sure as hell don’t want to be jumped by it."
"I'm on it," said Ted, disappearing back into the living room.
"Help me move him, Pete," said Brad.
Pete knelt down to help Brad move the man away from the door, but Brad stopped him, holding his hand up to indicate to Pete to be quiet.
"Listen," said Brad, nodding towards the cellar door. "Do you hear that?"
Pete kept perfectly still and could hear the soft crying of a woman from behind the door.
"Fuck. There's someone in there," said Brad.
Brad and Pete moved Jeff to one side and pulled at the door, but it would not budge. Brad's light found a heavy duty padlock securing the door.
"She's been locked in there. From the outside," said Brad.
"Jeff must've done it to protect her," said Pete.
"Stand back," said Brad.
Brad shot the padlock three times before freeing it from the door. He ripped the door open and shone the light inside. There crouched down on top of the cellar steps was a young woman, frightened and crying but unharmed.
"Barbara? Barbara Young? What are you doing here?" asked Brad.
He held out his hand and pulled the sobbing girl into his arms.
"What happened here?" asked Brad.
"I don't know. I came for dinner, the lights went out and all hell broke loose," said Barbara. "Jeff shoved me in here and locked the door. I couldn't get out. I heard growling, like bears. Then the screaming started. I listened to them die."
Barbara collapsed into Brad's arms.
"Call it in, Pete," said Brad. "Let's get this girl to a hospital and find out what did this."
Pete left the house to use the patrol car radio, just as Ted walked back into the hallway. Brad shone his light on Ted's face.
"I thought I told you to get the lights on," said Brad.
"The wires have been cut, Brad," said Ted.
"Man-eating bears that cut the wires?" said Brad.
"Maybe it was Jeff," said Ted.
"Why? Why would he cut the power?" asked Brad.
"I don't know, but I'm guessing the bears didn't do it," said Ted.

It had been two days since the slaughter of the Walkers. The locals now referred to the property as the house on the hill. If anyone used that term, everyone else knew exactly where they meant. Forensic teams examined the house, scrutinizing every detail but coming up with nothing. The only blood they found there was the Walker's blood. There was no fur or animal hair in the house, and there were no claw prints consistent with a bear attack. Nevertheless, the authorities and the doctors reasoned that it must have been a bear attack. Despite the protests of the local protection group and concerned external organisations, Brad was told to organise a cull and find the killer animal. Much to Brad's disgust, he was put in charge of the bear cull. Was this the human solution to resolving a case they could not figure out, framing an animal?
They killed six bears before Brad stopped it. They came across a couple of cubs crying for their mother. Ron McCabe wanted to shoot the cubs, but a furious Brad prevented him from doing so. An angry McCabe protested that the killer was still out there and that if anyone else died it would be Brad’s fault. Brad did not know what was more ridiculous, the idea of a homicidal bear or the culling of innocent animals to save public face. The bears that they had killed had no human blood on them and no human remains in their digestive system. So it was that Brad called a meeting at the town hall to inform the civilians that the crime would remain unsolved for now.
The residents of the town gathered together well before the meeting was due to start. Ron McCabe and his two boys were sat right at the front of the hall. When Brad had finished telling the community about the results of the cull and the closure of the case, Ron stood up and jeered at Brad.
"So what you are telling us is that you have no idea who or what did this. You slaughtered a bunch of bears for no good reason and the killer is still out there. Is that right?" asked Ron.
You slaughtered a bunch of bears for no good reason, I wanted no part of it, thought Brad.
"No. What I'm saying is that at this moment in time we have not found the bear responsible for the deaths," said Brad. "And we have to scale the investigation down as it's taking our eye off other offences."
"What other offences?" asked Ron. "There are less than four thousand people in this town. Someone steal your ice cream, Brad?"
The town hall erupted into laughter sending Brad's face a bright red. Brad composed a reply designed to sting Ron.
"No, but there's the matter of illegal poaching," said Brad, staring at Ron.
Ron walked up the steps of the stage and angrily confronted Brad.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean? If you're accusing me and my boys of poaching, then damn well say so," said Ron.
Brad said nothing but stared back at Ron. Brad wanted to punch the loud-mouthed hick so hard. Ron strode back down the steps and made his way through the centre of the hall, beckoning his two sons to follow. As they reached the doorway Ron turned to shout at Brad.
"What this town needs is a new Sheriff. One that ain't scared shitless when it comes to real crime. One that ain't afraid to say what he thinks," said Ron.
With that, Ron and his two boys left the hall, slamming the door behind them.
Reverend John Smith stood up to address the people in the hall.
"I understand the frustrations that you all feel but trust me, Sheriff Newall has done everything possible to solve this case. The fact that he has not found the particular animal responsible should not be held as detrimental to his efforts. The local bear population is large and we cannot go on forever killing God's creatures in the hope of finding the one responsible," said Reverend Smith.
The townsfolk seemed to accept the reasoning and left the hall in a uniformed manner. Brad could only watch as the businessmen and dignitaries of the town gave him disapproving glances on their way out. Reverend Smith walked over to Brad and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"It's not your fault, Brad," said Reverend Smith. "How are you supposed to find one rogue bear in a state full of them?"
Brad shuffled his feet and looked at the floor before looking back up at Smith.
"What if it wasn't a bear?" he asked.
"What?" asked Smith.
"What if it wasn't a bear? What if it was a man and he's still out there?" asked Brad.
"You don't seriously believe that, Brad?" asked Smith.
"Reverend, I don't know what to believe," said Brad.
Brad walked down the steps and made his way outside. Outside, Pete was smoking a cigarette. He smiled at Brad and exhaled a large amount of smoke.
"Makes you wonder whether they're worth protecting," said Pete.
"What does Smith know that the rest of don't," said Brad.
"What do you mean?" asked Pete.
"Every god damn motherfucker in this town has been on my back except for him," said Brad. "Some people would call that supportive. I call it suspicious."
"Maybe he just believes in you, Brad," said Pete.
"Yeah, well he's the only one. Hell, I don't even believe in myself anymore," said Brad.
Brad climbed into his car and drove away from the hall. Pete put out his cigarette and beckoned to Ted who was leaning on a tree a few yards away.
"Yep?" asked Ted.
"We got to keep an eye on Brad. He's a good guy. I'm worried we could lose him," said Pete.
"Nobody could have solved this case," said Ted. "It's impossible."
"Unfortunately, the rest of the town thinks that it could have solved this case. Oh, and Ted. Keep your eye on Smith," said Pete.
"Reverend Smith? Why?" asked Ted.
"Brad seems to think he knows something," said Pete.
"Okay, but Smith is a nice guy. I don't think he could be involved in this kind of thing. By the way, Pete, what did the symbols on the door mean?" asked Ted.
"Most of it made no sense at all, apparently. It was Russian alright, but I'm told it was some very old dialect. Not only that but the words were mixed up and jumbled. Most of it made no sense at all," said Pete.
"Most of it?" asked Ted.
"Just one sentence made any kind of sense. It said, 'provide no answer'," said Pete.
Ted looked baffled, but Pete said nothing further.
"I'm glad I asked," said Ted.

Brad closed the newspaper and made his way from his office, walking through the police station. He did not attempt to speak to anyone as he made his way to the door. When he was outside he moved out of the sight of the windows and leaned against the wall. He sighed and lit up a cigarette. He smoked too much, these days, he knew that, but his nerves were not what they once were. He watched as people walked by and cars drove down the street. He squinted as he looked towards the sun. The heat of the day meant that summer had arrived in Atom once more. There was a time when this would have made him happy, but that was over a year ago now. Summer terrified him. He lit up another cigarette using the one he had not finished yet and prayed.


Scott Jennings was a likeable teenager. His outgoing manner often resulted in some embarrassment for Sam, but Scott always said things with a smile and managed to get away with the gibes that Sam would never dare voice. As they walked to the small real estate business where Scott’s mother, Louise worked, Scott smiled and greeted everyone they passed in the street. Scott seemed to know every person in the town whereas Sam knew most of the faces but not the names. Sam wished that he could be an extrovert like Scott, but he just did not have that level of confidence. Not that he was a quiet boy. His amiable manner and polite conversation impressed all the people he met. It was just that Sam wished he dare say what he thought sometimes. As they approached Becker’s Property Holdings, Scott brought up the subject of Barbara Young again.
“They say she went to the city,” said Scott.
“Who?” asked Sam.
“Barbara Young,” said Scott. “She went to the city because there are no bears there.”
“I guess she’s avoiding the zoos,” quipped Sam.
Scott laughed and pawed at Sam with his hand.
“Put em up, put em up,” growled Scott.
Sam moved Scott’s hand away from him and smiled.
“Do you think she’ll ever come back?” asked Sam.
“Would you come back? After what happened to her? No. From what I heard, she vowed never to return,” said Scott. “Damn shame.”
Sam frowned at Scott. Barbara had never contacted anyone in Atom after she had left as far as Sam was aware. Sometimes, Scott liked to make out that he knew far more than he actually did. He resisted the temptation to ask Scott what his source was. Instead, he moved the conversation to the subject of Barbara’s emotional state.
“I wonder if she’s happy?” pondered Sam.
“Dude, that’s a real strange thing to say,” said Scott. “Why do you think about that?”
“Something as traumatic as that. If you survive it, are you ever the same again? I know my dad isn’t. He never got over it,” said Sam.
“Your dad’s a cop. Surely they send them to a shrink for that sort of shit,” said Scott.
“Well, I think some guy came down to do that. A couple of days later he was gone, but the old man was still the same,” said Sam.
“Maybe he just needs a while longer. It has to affect you. Even if you’re a cop,” said Scott.
“He wants a great deal longer to get over it. He wants to leave Atom,” said Sam. “Ever since that night, he has wanted to leave but my mother won’t budge.”
Scott looked horrified.
“You can’t leave. Shit! Who would I hang around with then?” asked Scott.
“The McCabe twins?” asked Sam, laughing.
“That’s not even remotely funny,” said Scott. “Those guys both look like Marilyn Manson, but listen to boy bands.”
“I know. That’s definitely weird, huh?” asked Sam.
“Plus I think their dad wants to kill me,” said Scott.
“I think he wants to kill everyone,” said Sam. “Struts around like the Terminator.”
“I swear to God, I wish it had been him and not Jeff Walker,” said Scott.
Sam looked at Scott disapprovingly. Scott knew that Sam felt you should not talk about anyone that way. Not even in fun. Not even Ron McCabe.
Ron McCabe was ex-army. He had never climbed up through the ranks, although he had seen plenty of active service. Sam had no doubt that Ron was a very good soldier, but he had serious misgivings about his intellect. McCabe married his childhood sweetheart, Sarah-Jane, as soon as she reached legal age. Sarah-Jane was a loud mouthed bigot with a racist streak. What little intelligence she possessed was masked by her lack of empathy. When she formed a bible group at the local church, the whole town knew it was little more than a stage for her narrow-minded opinions. Most people in the town would challenge the word of Sarah-Jane McCabe, but very few of them would challenge the word of God. Whilst Ron was still in the forces, Sarah-Jane gave birth to twin boys. The boys were even less intelligent than their parents. They dressed in black t-shirts and wore silver crosses that hung from their necks. They both had a pasty complexion and had long, straight, greasy black hair. Scott had often mused that the twins failed to understand what actually constituted rock music. The McCabe twins had grunted their way through school, stalking the corridors like extras in a cheap zombie movie. The feeling of relief when they left to work with their father was shared by teachers and pupils alike. Even now, when Scott or Sam saw them and said hello, they would just grunt back.
“Do you think they’re the missing link?” asked Sam.
“Who? What?” asked a confused Scott.
“John and Joe, the McCabe brothers,” said Sam. “Scientists go on about Neanderthal man, but I bet even they did more than just grunt and drink beer.”
Scott laughed and pushed his friend to one side.
“I don’t think they have anything in common with human beings,” said Scott.
Sam smiled as they came to the glass frontage of Becker’s. Scott went to go in but turned and waited when he realised his friend was adjusting his hair, using the window as a mirror.
“Sam? Why are you doing your hair?” asked Scott.
“I’m not,” said Sam.
“Dude, you most definitely are. I thought we talked about this,” said Scott.
“Hey. For the last time. I do not fancy your mother, okay,” said Sam.
Scott frowned at Sam and opened the door.
“C’mon, and try to control yourself,” said Scott.
When they walked inside, Louise Jennings rushed over to meet them. Scott’s mother had striking auburn hair that hung across her shoulders. Her blue eyes and warm smile melted all the men’s hearts in Atom. She also had the body of a Playboy model, and yet she was still single. She had dated a few men but never found anyone she felt anything for. This was a fact not lost on Sam, who surmised that the reason for this was that most of the men in Atom fell to pieces whenever they were anywhere near Louise. Sam tried to keep control, but he could feel the warm flush of his cheeks betraying his thoughts.
Louise hugged Scott and then Sam, who nearly fainted.
“So how are my boys today?” she asked.
“Very well, thank you, Mrs Jennings,” said Sam.
“Oh Sam, I swear you are the most polite boy I have ever known,” she said. “Just give me one minute, boys and I’ll be right with you.”
“Very well, thank you, Mrs Jennings,” mimicked Scott, under his breath.
Louise turned around just as Vaughan Becker emerged from the back room with a bottle of champagne. Vaughan stopped when he saw the boys and gave them the kind of slimy smile that only Vaughan could.
“You boys come to walk Louise home. You know there’s no need. I’ll drive her back in an hour or two,” said Vaughan.
“You sure that’s wise. If you’re gonna be drinking that stuff,” said Scott.
“Well, it’s only a glass or two, Scott. Hell, we have something to celebrate, don’t we Louise?”
Scott turned to Sam and was about to say something smart when he suddenly realised Sam was staring at his mother.
“Dude, close your mouth,” he whispered. “This is seriously fucked up. Just stop.”
Sam composed himself and smiled weakly at Scott.
“What are you celebrating?” asked Scott, turning away from his guilty friend.
“We have only gone and sold ‘the house on the hill’ for a shit load of money,” said Vaughan.
“No fucking way,” said Scott.
“Scott!” snapped Louise.
“Sorry mum,” said Scott.
“Yes, way,” said Vaughan. “Straight cash sale. The guy didn’t even negotiate. Just came in and said he wanted the house. The easiest sale I have ever made.”
“Is he sane?” asked Scott.
“Do I care,” said Vaughan, filling his and Louise’s glass with champagne.
“Does he know?” asked Scott.
“Yes. He said that he knew the house was cheap because of what happened, but he just had to have it,” said Vaughan.
“So he’s not sane,” said Scott.
Vaughan laughed and Scott was about to say something about the insane buying from the insane but decided to shut up when he saw the look his mother gave him.
“He’s actually rather nice, and polite, like Sam,” said Louise. “Dreamy, waist-length hair, and dark piercing eyes.”
Sam’s mouth came open once more.
“He actually looks a little weird,” said Vaughan. “Guy has no sense of humour, either.”
“Vaughan, that’s so mean,” said Louise.
Vaughan apologised immediately and began to perform the grovelling act that always sickened Scott when he saw it. It was no secret that Vaughan tried desperately every day to bed Louise. After all, most of the men in the town felt the same way. Vaughan would try to entice her out for a drink, even bringing alcohol into the office. He asked her out for dinner constantly, and what was worse he would find any excuse to touch her. Scott sometimes blamed his mother for being over friendly. Not in a seductive way, but in an entirely innocent way.
Scott had never known his father. He disappeared when Louise announced she was pregnant. He was five years older than the seventeen-year-old Louise. He came from out-of-town to work on a construction job, and even Gary Kent, the local builder who hired him, could not trace him once he left. Despite all this, Louise carried herself with a great degree of optimism and an upbeat manner. Vaughan paid Louise far more than the going rate for her job, and Scott knew that this was to keep the woman of his dreams close to him, but he also knew that Louise was the reason for the success of the business. Vaughan was all kinds of creepy. He looked creepy, he acted creepy, and he even sounded creepy. Vaughan could sell nothing, but Louise could sell anything.
“Is he as creepy as you?” Scott asked Vaughan, smiling.
Vaughan did not take the bait. Instead, he dismissed the comment, lightly.
“Creepier,” said a stony-faced Vaughan.
Scott was about to fire off another insult from the queue inside his head but decided not to when he saw Louise glaring at him once more. Scott changed the subject. Not to let Vaughan off, but to prevent the lecture he would surely get from his mother when they were home.
“So who gets the money from the sale of the house?” asked Scott. “As far as I know, Jeff Walker had no family other than his daughters. Well, no one turned up at his funeral anyways.”
“You’re right, Scott,” said Vaughan. “He didn’t, but he did have a will. He left the house to a group who call themselves ‘The Children of Bogatyri’.”
“He left his house to a cult?” asked Scott.
Vaughan shook his head.
“Apparently not. These guys think of themselves as an old religious order,” said Vaughan.
Scott was intrigued by the sale of the house but was even more interested in the buyer of the property.
“What’s the guy called?” asked Scott.
“Felstar,” said Vaughan.
“That his first name or last name?” asked Scott.
“That’s it. Just Felstar,” said Vaughan.
Suddenly, Sam came out of his Louise induced trance and joined in the conversation.
“He can’t have just one name,” said Sam. “That’s a pseudonym. You know, like Slash or Prince,” said Sam.
“You might well be right, Sam, but it all checks out. All legal and above-board,” said Vaughan. “He may well have changed his name in the past, but to be honest, I don’t care.”
Scott turned to Sam and glared at him.
“Welcome back to Earth, Sam,” he said.
Sam gave him a disdainful smile.
Louise grabbed her coat from the hook and gestured to the two boys.
“If it’s all the same to you, I’ll pass on that drink, Vaughan,” said Louise. “Gotta get Scott home and make sure he does his homework.”
Vaughan smiled and held up his glass of champagne to her.
“Another time,” he said.
As they walked home, Scott grilled his mother.
“Why do you work for that creep?” he asked.
“Because the pay’s good and he also bought me a car,” replied Louise.
“Which you never use,” said Scott.
“It’s a beautiful summer’s day and we’re only a short distance from home,” said Louise. “Why would anyone want to sit in a piece of a metal?”
“Because it’s free?” asked Scott.
“Walking is good for you, and let’s drop the subject of Vaughan, okay,” said Louise.
“Yeah, but mum. He only wants…”
“He only wants one thing. Don’t even go there, Scott. I can handle, Vaughan,” said Louise.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” said Scott.
Louise gave him a playful slap on the back of the head, whilst Sam turned a bright red.
“That mouth of yours will get you into big trouble one of these days,” said Louise.
Scott smiled but did not stop questioning his mother.
“So, will you get a bonus for selling the house?” asked Scott.
“Yes,” said Louise. “He has long hair and a European accent,” said Louise.
“That’s not even funny,” said Scott.
“Mrs Jennings?” asked Sam, interrupting the conversation.
Scott looked at Sam and screwed his face up at him.
“Jesus Christ, there is life after death,” said Scott.
“Pay him no heed, Sam,” said Louise. “What is it, Sam?”
“This Felstar. What is he actually like?” asked Sam.
“Well, he has gorgeous, long blond hair that reaches to his waist. Dark blue eyes. He is so handsome and…”
“Yeah mum, we get the picture,” interrupted Scott. “You already told us that. What Sam meant was...”
“He has this sexy, European accent,” continued Louise. “He’s not English but…”
“Enough, already,” said Scott. “You told us that too. Let’s just go home and I promise not to ask any more questions. So does Sam.”
“I do?” asked Sam.
“You do,” said Scott.
As they neared Sam’s house, Scott told his mother to carry on without him as he wanted to see Sam home. Sam looked strangely at his friend, wondering why he felt it necessary to escort him. The reason for this unexpected company soon came to light.
“We should visit this Felstar. Check him out for ourselves,” said Scott.
“When?” asked Sam.
“I’ll find out when he’s moving in and we’ll go up there on the day,” said Scott.
“Won’t that look a little strange?” asked Sam.
“Nah. New neighbours and all that,” said Scott.
“And I thought you just wanted to see me home safely,” said Sam.
Scott smacked his friend across the back and ran off.
“Watch out for the mad bears,” he shouted.
“Very funny,” muttered Sam.

Sam opened the door to his house and entered the hallway. The familiar sounds of argument greeted his ears. Kate Newell was arguing with Brad about moving. Sam wondered how many times his father would pursue this quarrel before it finally sunk in that Kate was going nowhere. The two of them were so loud that they had not heard their son enter the house. Sam put his ear to the living room door.
“Why can’t you just drop it?” stormed Kate.
“Do you see them looking at me when I walk down the street?” asked Brad. “They sneer and make jokes behind my back.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Kate. “It’s all in your mind. Everyone around here respects you.”
“Well that’s wrong for a start,” said Brad. “What about Ron McCabe?”
“Oh, like Ron McCabe counts,” said Kate.
“Well he’s a citizen of Atom,” said Brad. “He might be loud and ignorant, but he’s not the only one who thinks I’m incompetent.”
“Come on, Brad. It’s a public office. You are always going to be criticised. It won’t be any different, anywhere else,” said Kate.
“You think? They gonna call me Officer Dibble everywhere else then?” asked Brad. “Jesus, even Ted has been dubbed Deputy Dawg.”
“It was one year ago,” said Kate. “Every lawman with the exception of Wyatt Earp came here and failed to solve the case. What chance did anyone stand with that mess?”
She spat the words out one by one, her patience snapping because of this constant thorn in the side of their marriage.
“One major crime. That’s all, and I couldn’t solve it. Three people murdered in their own home in a small town and I found nothing. Hell, I still have nothing,” said Brad.
“This is insane. It was a bear. What are you supposed to do about it?” asked Kate. “Fit an innocent bear up? Jesus, Brad.”
“It wasn’t a fucking bear,” stormed Brad. “You didn’t see it, Kate. I’m telling you that whatever did that, it wasn’t a bear.”
“So it was a human? A human being smashed a hole in their chests with his bare hands and tried to eat them?” asked Kate, incredulously.
“I don’t know. I seriously don’t know,” said Brad, his voice quieter and more thoughtful now. “I just know it wasn’t a bear.”
Kate moved towards Brad and stroked his hair.
“How are you ever going to come to terms with this case, if you’re not here?” she asked.
“I’m never going to come to terms with it, whether I’m here or not. I’m just gonna stay the subject of ridicule if I stay here,” said Brad. “Please, Kate. Let’s just go. I can get another job in a different town, miles away from here.”
“Not without my father,” said Kate. “I can’t leave him alone here.”
“George? Christ, he’ll never leave here,” said Brad. “You know what he said when I asked him to leave with us? ‘My time is not done here, Brad’. What the fuck does that mean?”
“He lives and breathes this town. You can’t expect him to leave here,” said Kate.
Brad banged the wall with his fist and screamed at Kate.
“I don’t. I expect you too, though,” he said.
Brad turned away and made his way to the door.
“Where are you going?” asked Kate.
“To get steaming drunk,” stormed Brad.
“That’s right, run away, Brad. Run away from your misplaced guilt and this town. Run away from me,” cried Kate.
Brad threw open the door and grimaced when he saw Sam standing there. Sam said nothing but the tears streaming down his cheeks told Brad that he had heard it all. He reached out and placed a hand on Sam’s head.
“I’m sorry son,” he said and left the house.
Sam walked into the living room. Kate sat on the sofa. Her hands covered her eyes as she sobbed. Sam sat down beside his mother and hugged her.
“It’s okay, mum,” said Sam. “Don’t cry.”
Kate raised her eyes to look at Sam and kissed him gently on the forehead.
“That’s the trouble, Sam. It’s not okay,” she said.

The rest of the night passed peacefully. Kate made Sam dinner, and they sat together and watched television for a while before Sam decided to go to bed. Sam heard his father come back to the house in the early hours of the morning, but thankfully, there was no repeat of the argument. Sam guessed that they had worn each other out and that both of them were too exhausted to continue the quarrel. Brad never discussed the death of the Walkers with him and, until tonight, Sam thought that Brad believed bears were responsible. Now he knew that his father thought it was something else that attacked and killed the Walkers, but what? He peered from behind his curtains at the moon, shining brightly in the night sky.
‘Did you see it?’, he asked the moon, silently. ‘Did you see the killer?’.
He left the window and climbed back into his bed. He understood how his mother felt. He did not want to leave his grandfather behind, either. He loved George. George was a Blackfoot Indian who told him tales of mythical creatures and wonderful lands. He also would recount the history and the fate of the Indian nation in North America. His home was full of books on history and mythology.
Very often, Sam would grab one of those books and sit on the porch with his grandfather as they watched the day pass by. It was peaceful and tranquil, not at all like Sam’s home. George was a quiet, calm man, but Sam could see the steel in George’s soul behind his soft, brown eyes. The only fault that Sam could find with his grandfather was his refusal to discuss the Walkers with him. Sam knew that Brad had told George not to talk about it, but George laughed when Sam challenged him about this. He said that Brad did not tell him what to do and that he did not talk about it because young hearts do not need knowledge of evil. Sam laughed at the drama of his grandfather’s words and pulled the bed covers’ tight over him. He drifted towards sleep and hoped that tomorrow would be better for his family. He had left the curtains a little apart and a thin strip of light lit his bedroom wall. He considered getting out of bed to close them properly but was too tired to bother. Instead, he drifted off into a peaceful sleep, where in his dreams, his parents did not argue and the bears did not dine on the local population. If he had decided to get out of bed and close the bedroom curtains properly, he would have seen the man with the waist-length, blond hair and deep blue eyes, standing outside, staring up at his bedroom window.

The Last Days of Planet Earth Vol III: The Children of Raphael

The Children of Raphael

The Last Days of Planet Earth Volume III: The Children of Raphael

The Children of Raphael is the third book in the series. This time, Helen and Jack fall in league Blake and accompany him and Victor on a quest to find the experimental beings created by Raphael. Mordred and Sariel follow the group in an attempt to thwart them. Jericho and his motley band of Paladins track them closely as well. 

The group's travels take them around in the world and leads to encounters with some strange but gifted creatures. Mordred is becoming increasingly infatuated with Helen, which turns out to be just as well. Jack tags along, humoring the others as best he can, unaware that the end of the trail contains a secret he could have done without.

The Children of Raphael is a rough first draft, but you can preview the Prologue and first chapter below.



Robert Lincoln was straightening a picture by the window when Richard Shaw burst through the door. As Lincoln turned around to face him, Shaw was already apologising for the manner of his entrance.
"I'm sorry, sir. I wouldn't normally interrupt you in this way but there is a man here to see you and he has the codes, the Dead Angel codes," said Shaw.
"Are you absolutely sure about this?" asked Lincoln.
"It's a twelve-digit binary number, exactly as you said it would be. It is tattooed on his arm and we have run it through the scanner. It's a match, sir. A positive," said Shaw.
"Then dark times are indeed upon us, Robert," said Lincoln. "You had best show our visitor in."
Shaw nodded and left the room. Lincoln knew that this day would come and for a while now he had been concerned at the events taking place around the world. The Dead Angel codes were not really a collection of codes, they were a highly secretive twelve digit number that was tied to the DNA of one individual. For that man to reveal himself to not only Lincoln but Shaw as well, the time must have come for change. The holder of the Dead Angel code would not use it unless the world was in dire peril.
Lincoln sat down in the leather chair behind his desk as Shaw and two burly members of security escorted the man into the room.
His dark hair hung in waves over his face and his muscular physique was barely concealed beneath his grey suit. A pair of sunglasses rested on his nose to hide his eyes and he did not smile as the men sat him in the chair opposite Lincoln.
Lincoln waved Shaw and the security guards away and once the door had clicked shut leaving the two men alone, the dark-haired man removed his sunglasses.
Lincoln smiled and offered a hand to the man who shook it warmly.
"At long last I get to meet the infamous, Adok Vega," said Lincoln. "If only it were to herald news of something good, not something bad."
"When we first campaigned for you, engineered you into this position, you understand that it was to minimise the interference of others upon different tribes," said Vega. "You also understand that I would only reveal myself to you when your time is done here."
Lincoln nodded and poured himself a glass of wine, offering a drink to Vega as well. Vega accepted courteously and sipped the wine gently.
"In some ways, I am relieved that you have come at last. The responsibility of my post has been a heavy burden. I must admit that it will be good to return home and live out a less worrisome life," said Lincoln. "In another way, I am sad because I understand that the things we feared would happen, have happened. We are abandoning ship."
Vega nodded and handed Lincoln a list of events that had a signature below them. Lincoln picked up the paper and read the list out loudly.
"The crucifixion of Pilate. The second coming of Christ. The return of the King. The discovery of the anti-Christ. The bleeding of the Holy Grail. The gift of the book and World War Three," said Lincoln. "All the others are there but World War Three?"
"Russian intelligence has reports of an imminent attack on Russian soil. They have already dispatched a fleet from Sebastopol. They are in a high state of alert and their nuclear submarines are out at sea and all in stealth. The British and French have responded in similar fashion. The American government will shortly be contacted by Chancellor Lindemann. He will inform you that Germany is reforming its military and request hardware and training from them. They will grant this request because they must," said Vega.
"How is it that I know nothing of these events?" asked Lincoln.
"You do know, Robert. I have just told you. I believe they call this a heads up," said Vega. "The Russians have deployed a fleet as they believe the terrorists that threaten their country are backed by a foreign power. They intend to scour the land and the ocean until they find their adversary and cut out the supply. The British, French and German nations have reacted first, you must react as well."
"By leaving," said Lincoln.
"Precisely. We must not interfere. We have given them what guidance we can but these events are imminent," said Vega.
"What if we did interfere?" asked Lincoln.
"How do we know what is the correct course of action to take? How do we know who is good or who is evil? We do not even know if what we are doing here is right or wrong? Look at Lucifer. He believed his actions were for the good of this planet, but the results of his interference never worked out that way. Pompeii. World War I. World War II. Hiroshima. Nagasaki. Do we really want to risk the blame for results such as these? Do we really want guilt like that to be written into our history?" asked Vega.
"I understand, I will make preparations immediately," said Lincoln.
"There is something else," said Vega. "The wolves are claiming Texas. Texas will seek separation from the Union," said Vega.
"Are they mad? How do they hope to achieve this?" asked Lincoln.
"They are stronger and faster than their human counterparts. They will turn their enemy rather than kill them where possible. How do you fight a plague of wolves?" asked Vega.
"They will cause a civil war," said Lincoln. "How can we leave the humans to this fate?"
"You must," said Vega. "This is not our fight. If you defy the wishes of the council they will come and collect you. It is better just to comply."
"It just seems wrong, Vega. How can I desert this post and leave them with catastrophe? You understand who I am to them? It might even exacerbate things and accelerate the blind march to war," said Lincoln.
Lincoln rubbed his neck until it burnt from the friction he was creating. The Eye of Horus symbol appeared on his skin. Lincoln pointed to the Eye.
"We are the Illuminati, surely there is something we can do?" he asked.
"There is. You can leave your post and I will stop here to observe. There is no alternative," said Vega.
Lincoln stood up as the symbol faded from his neck.
"I suppose I vacate my post by way of death?," said Lincoln.
"It is always the best option," said Vega. "No questions to answer and no blame apportioned. Your associates will remain in power and they are well equipped to deal with the situation. It is their world. Let them try to save it."
Lincoln shook Vega's hand once more and smiled.
"I wish you luck, down here, Adok Vega. Do not leave the moment of your return too long. Now if you will forgive me, I have a death to construct," said Lincoln.
Vega returned Lincoln's smile and left the room. Lincoln sat on his desk for a moment or two before leaning back into the soft cushion of his leather chair. He removed the rear of his phone and took out a small pill. He poured himself another glass of wine, leaving a still half-full bottle.
"Such a waste," he said, as he put the bottle back down on the desk. As he swallowed the pill with the wine, he hit the panic alarm below the desk.
Shaw and two security guards burst back into the room to find Lincoln already slumped motionless over his desk.
Shaw and the guards tried in vain to revive Lincoln but to no avail. It was only a couple of moments after the panic alarm sounded that a doctor entered the room and confirmed the men's worst fears.
Shaw sighed and punched a number into his phone.
"Mister Secretary. It's Richard Shaw here. I am sorry to have to inform you that Robert Lincoln, the President of the United States of America, is dead."


The rows of badly constructed shacks shook uncomfortably in the light wind. Made of timber, corrugated iron and whatever salvaged material could be held together, they signalled the ongoing presence of poverty that still held its unforgiving people of the Township. The smell of sewage was overpowering at certain points, particularly the road where the last overflow had occurred. The people tried to clean the overflow up as best they could but they had neither the resources or the equipment. There were plumbers and a never ending supply of workmen in the Township but every time they fixed something, something else would break and stretch their resolve once more. Electricity was supplied by a series of faulty generators that sometimes worked and sometimes did not work. The men of the town serviced and maintained the generators, consigning them to scrap when a part failed that they either had no replacement for or could not afford to buy. There were three water pumps to supply the whole township, and they were in constant use. The supply of water was limited and overuse of the pumps would often result in a drop of pressure that rendered them useless. The children played in the streets, dodging rotting carcases and the spillage of the sewage. Disease and starvation were rife, and life expectancy short. The township was one of many scabs that dwelled in the consciousness of the rich and the guilt of the apathetic. The children played in gangs, with the older teenagers forming for a more sinister purpose. They traded cards, clothing, football shirts and guns and ammunition. Unlike the other townships of the country, there was no crime here, so the gangs were raiding parties, formed to attack other townships and the nearby city. There was only one bus in and one bus out, that came once a day just before dusk. Outside of the township itself, there lay a small settlement surrounded by armed men and barbed wire. Inside the settlement, there were a variety of motor vehicles that were used to ferry the raiding groups to and from their destinations. The handguns and rifles inside the compound were supplied to the children under the supervision of one of the men.
Christo Botha hated the men who lived in the compound. Christo was educated and intelligent and he could have left the township anytime he wished to but chose to remain. Christo taught the children in the daytime and walked the streets in the evening to reason and inform the young men that lived there. He had taught the children of the township for some ten years now and in that time, he had never lost his enthusiasm for the task or shown any sign of anger towards his pupils. The children loved him and would listen to him intently during lessons. Even the young men who served as night raiders in the evening would stop to talk to Christo. They always treated him with respect and good humour, hanging on his every word. Unfortunately, their need to survive in a world that had abandoned them meant that all they could take from Christo were words that might someday prove invaluable should they manage to leave the township. Christo's relationship with the adults of the township was markedly different. Although the adults were eternally grateful for the time he spent with their children, Christo was shy around the adults, particularly the women. He never held long conversations with them, he just politely answered their questions and returned their greetings. Ten years ago, the handsome young black African entered the village to offer to teach the children and Christo looked exactly the same today as he did then. Many women in the township had tried to get closer to Christo. He was after all, handsome, intelligent and well mannered and on top of that he always seemed stronger than the other men. No one could explain the aura that surrounded Christo but this aura extended itself to the males of the township as well. The women called the men of the village 'bang', meaning scared, in reference to Christo. When the young men gathered in a group around Christo, laughing and joking and slapping him on the back, the women would giggle at the creeping of the young men and whisper 'bang' to each other. The men knew that the women would ridicule them in this way but what could they do. They did not know why and could not explain it but they were very scared of Christo.

Christo was teaching the children in his class when one of the boys leapt to his feet and pointed outside to the road. The other children quickly followed suit and jumped up and down excitedly despite Christo's best efforts to calm them. He smiled to himself as he knew that he had no hope of curtailing the children's exuberance. When strangers came to town in a brand new vehicle it was a major event.
"Okay, okay, I will look as well," said Christo, looking outside.
The jeep was shiny and new and travelling with the driver were four others. A dark long haired man, a big man, a stunning woman and a fat man. When the jeep stopped and the four of them left the vehicle, Christo opened the door of the shack and gestured for the children to go outside.
"C'mon what are you waiting for? I think we should greet our visitors, don't you?" he asked.
The children cheered wildly and ran outside to mob the new arrivals. The occupants of the jeep had come well prepared and well briefed as they distributed sweets and chocolate to the children. As Christo made his way through the pupils towards the new arrivals, the dark-haired man looked at him and smiled broadly.
"I hope you don't mind?" he asked. "We were told that they would love this."
Christo smiled and shook his head.
"I don't mind at all but then again they are not my children. I am just their teacher," said Christo.
The dark-haired man strode towards Christo and extended a hand.
"You must be Mister Botha. We have heard all about you. The people of the township owe you a great deal. I am Adam Blake by the way. It's a pleasure to meet you," said Blake.
"They owe me nothing. It is an honour to educate these children. Christo Botha. What brings you here Mister Blake?" asked Christo.
"I am an archaeologist and historian. As part of my visit to South Africa, I want to learn more about the townships. To be honest, I chose this township because they say there is no crime here. Safer for me and my companions, you understand?" said Blake.
"There is no crime here, that is true. The young men just export it," said Christo. "I try to convince them not to but it is very difficult when you have nothing and others have everything."
"You are their teacher not their probation officer," said Blake, smiling.
"This is true and I thank you for the chocolate and sweets but the children need education more than anything else, so I will take them back to their class now," said Christo.
"Before you do that," said Blake. "Victor!"
Victor started to take boxes from the back of the Jeep. Once he had unloaded them all, he brought one across to Blake and Christo. Victor opened the box to reveal notepads, pens, pencils and other stationery inside.
"I thought it would help," said Blake.
Christo crouched down and sorted through the contents of the box, excitedly. He stood back up and shook Blake's hand firmly.
"It will help tremendously," said Christo. "This is fantastic."
"Some of the other boxes have similar contents, whilst others have literature of all kinds in them. Although, do you think the children here are ready for Shakespeare?" asked Blake.
"The children here are as bright as the children anywhere," said Christo. "It is opportunity they lack, not intelligence."
"I know that and you know that. It's a shame that the powers that be don't," said Blake.
Helen and Jack came over to introduce themselves to Christo. They introduced themselves as students of Blake's. Christo spoke shyly to Helen and just stared at Jack. The man was huge and looked more like an American wrestler than an American student.
"You have somewhere to stay?" asked Christo.
"We have arranged to stay in a shack on the property of one of the townsfolk," said Helen. "Although, the lady we made the arrangements with, doesn't seem to be here."
"Mister Blake, Mister Blake," came the cry from the crowd of children.
A stout woman came pushing through the children, laughing as they protested.
"Please, little ones. Let me speak to our guests," said the woman.
"Mrs Pillay," said Christo, moving the children aside to let the woman through.
Although Christo had little to do with the adults of the township he had a lot of time for Anusha Pillay. She organised activities for the children and worked tirelessly to try and steer the people away from a life of crime. She read a lot and her English was excellent, so it came as no surprise to him that this was the woman that Blake had spoken to.
"Forgive me, Mister Botha but I have arranged accommodation for our guests. I need to take them there," she said.
"They are all yours, Anusha," said Christo. "Children. Come. Bring the boxes inside with you. Let us see what our friends here have brought us."
Christo picked up the box in front of him and the children picked up the other boxes. Most of them carried a box between them but some of the boys attempted to pick up a box by themselves with varying degrees of success.
Anusha was laughing at the boys dropping the boxes and fighting off the attempts of other boys to help them with their box.
"They want to be men already," she said. "They do not want to be seen as weak. Even if takes them all day to move one box."
Christo returned to thank Blake for the books once all the boxes and children were inside the school.
Blake smiled and looked at Anusha as Christo walked away.
"He is quite an example for the children," said Blake.
"In teaching and respect, yes," said Anusha. "He is a good man but he is very shy. We know nothing about him and he never tries to tell us anything. He talks only to the children."
"Is he married?" asked Helen.
Anusha laughed and rested a hand on Helen's shoulder.
"Is he married. No. Many women have tried to seduce Christo but he runs away. He has been here ten years and he has never been with a woman. No. He does not like men that way either," said Anusha.
"Perhaps he is like my friend, here," said Blake, pointing at Victor.
"Ha, ha, ha," said Victor.
"Do you not like romance either?" Anusha asked Victor.
"Actually, I do. My friend here thinks he is funny," said Victor.
Anusha laughed.
"He is funny and very handsome too," said Anusha.
Blake smiled.
"They say that you do not have any crime here. Is that true?" asked Blake.
"It is true. We do not have crime. Not here, only outside," said Anusha. "It is more than anyone dare do to commit a crime here."
Christo was about to enter the school when he heard Anusha's words. He had already turned around to try and save the visitors from what he knew would be her next sentence.
"Anusha. No. Our guests do not want to hear that nonsense," he shouted to her.
"You haven't told them, have you?" Anusha shouted back to him.
"Told us what?" asked Blake.
"About the Tokoloshe," said Anusha.
"There is no Tokoloshe," said Christo. "Superstitious rubbish, don't listen to her."
"It is not rubbish, Christo. You know it is not rubbish. You have seen the results of messing with the Tokoloshe."
"What results?" asked Blake.
"He comes in the night and trashes the houses of those who upset him. If he likes the women of the house, he makes love to them," said Anusha.
"And they just let him?" asked Helen.
"Some of them resist but he takes them by force but some of them let him make love to them," said Anusha.
"Anusha," said Christo.
"Please. Let her continue. This is fascinating," said Helen. Helen turned back to Anusha.
"They let him? Is he handsome?" asked Helen.
"No. He is very small. No more than four feet high and his body and face are covered in hair. He is a vile looking thing. Like some horrible monkey," said Anusha.
"Then why do they let him do it?" asked Helen.
"He has a massive penis," said Anusha.
"That'd do it," said Jack.
"You see what nonsense this is," said Christo.
"You only deny it because the men blame you for the Tokoloshe," said Anusha. "They say you brought the Tokoloshe here."
"Why would you have brought a Tokoloshe here?" asked Christo.
"I didn't. The men think that it's my fault because I do not sleep with any of the women here," said Christo. "They say that the Tokoloshe was sent here because I have left a void to be filled."
"A sexual void," said Helen.
"Exactly. The Tokoloshe comes to satisfy the women that I should have. Bizarre, hey?" asked Christo.
"You scoff, Christo but the Tokoloshe came just after you arrived. If you commit to a woman he may leave. Raza says this is so," said Anusha.
"Raza?" asked Helen.
Christo raised his eyes to the skies and threw his arms open wide.
"The local witch doctor. A bigger drunk you could not wish to meet," said Christo.
"I think he may some competition now," said Helen, looking at Jack. Jack had already raised one very prominent middle finger at Helen.
Blake put an arm around Anusha who blushed at the touch of the handsome visitor and led her away from the others.
"Tell me more of this Tokoloshe," he said.

The compound lay approximately two miles away from the town. Its perimeter was protected by a wall of rubbish and old wood with barbed wire holding it in place. There were old vans, jeeps and cars, strewn everywhere, and men sat playing cards, drinking and cleaning their guns. Punctual George sat at his makeshift desk, twiddling a pen between his fingers. On his desk was a book with what looked like nonsensical scribblings but to George were a plan. When two more men entered his shack, he looked up and wagged a finger at them.
"You are late. Tell me, what is our motto?" asked George.
"We are never late," said one of the men.
"And why do you call me Punctual George?" asked George.
"Because you are never late," said the man.
"Exactly. So why are you?" asked George.
"Please. Our apologies but there are two men heading towards the compound in a car," said the man.
"Two. There were, at least, six of them when we last spoke," said George.
The man shook his head.
"It is not them, these are two different men. One has white hair and the other is fat," said the man.
George stood up from his deck and grabbed a rifle.
"Then let's go and greet them. I forgive you for being late. This time," said George.
He strode outside of the shack and the two men followed him. When they reached the guards at the entrance, he grabbed a pair of binoculars from one of the guards and scanned the horizon. In the distance he could see the faint outline of a vehicle, kicking up dust into the air as it approached. It was travelling at speed and was approaching in a straight line.
"They do not have an appointment," said George. "I do not like people who presume so much. If they bore me, kill them."
The guards smiled and pointed their rifles in the direction of the incoming vehicle.
The two men in the car were visibly angry with each other. The white haired one who was driving would occasionally lift a hand from the steering wheel, pointing a finger at the fat man in accusation. The fat man was mimicking the driver and shouting angrily back at him.
"You just had to do it, didn't you," said Sariel.
"He called me fat," said Mordred.
"You are fucking fat," said Sariel.
"I know that but I don't need to be told that by some thick as fuck bigot," said Mordred.
"And I agree. I think you were perfectly entitled to slap him around a little but not break his jaw, his teeth and them give him a kicking," said Sariel.
"I'm emotional, Sari," said Mordred.
"I'm emotional but I don't go around kicking the shit out of everyone who mocks my appearance, and stop calling me fucking Sari," said Sariel.
"Well you say that but I bet you have killed more people than I have," said Mordred.
Sariel's anger dropped and he stared out of the windscreen before speaking quietly.
"I have been here a lot longer than you, Mordred," said Sariel.
"Prorata, I meant," said Mordred.
"So now you want a statistical analysis of the number of people we have killed?" asked Sariel.
"Well it would be kind of cool," said Mordred.
"We are approaching the compound. I doubt that the greeting will be friendly. Prepare yourself," said Sariel.
Mordred took a small brush and turned the rear view mirror to face himself. He started to apply the contents of a circular jar to his skin.
"What are you doing?" asked Sariel.
"Preparing myself," said Mordred.
"You are doing your make-up," said Sariel.
"A boy's got to look his best," said Mordred, giving Sariel a cheesy grin.
Sariel sighed and stepped on the accelerator.

As the car approached the five men stepped outside, closing the gates behind them and aimed their rifles at the car. Only Punctual George kept his rifle strapped across his back. When the car stopped in front of them, the men surrounded the car, pointing their rifles at Sariel and Mordred. Sariel and Mordred stopped perfectly still as George approached the car and gestured for Sariel to wind down his window.
"I do not wish to appear rude but do you have an appointment?" George asked.
"We are businessmen, traders if you like," said Sariel.
"Really? Where I come from businessmen make appointments," said George.
Mordred leant over Sariel and looked at George.
"So it's a fucking cold call," said Mordred.
Sariel shoved Mordred back into the passenger seat and gave him a cold stare.
"Excuse me, friend. It is not and he sweats a lot," said Sariel.
"I can see that. Get out of the car," said George.
Sariel and Mordred hauled themselves out of the car and stood perfectly still as the men frisked them.
"We come in peace," muttered Mordred.
George heard the comment but ignored it.
"Traders you say," said George. "What exactly do you have to trade?"
Sariel gestured to the boot of the car and one of the men opened it. George walked around to see what delights the boot held and smiled as he pulled back the heavy tarpaulin that protected the items. The boot was packed with guns, grenades and ammunition, as much as it would hold.
"Arms dealers then," said George to Sariel.
"Not exclusively," said Sariel.
"I do not wish to appear ungrateful but what is to stop us from shooting you and taking these for free?" asked George.
"It would make us very angry," said Mordred, smiling.
George laughed and slammed the boot shut.
"Can you get more of these?" asked George.
"Oh, a lot more," said Sariel.
"Then that is what stops us killing you, not angry fat men," said George.
"Don't call me fat," said Mordred.
George had quickly worked out to ignore Mordred and speak to Sariel so once more he ignored the comment from Mordred.
"How much do you want for these?" George asked Sariel.
"Accommodation," said Sariel.
"Accommodation?" asked George.
"We have business in the township but we cannot stay there as there are people there who would not welcome us," said Sariel. "So we need a place to stay close to the township. For that, you can have the guns."
"I know how that feels. We are not welcome there either," said George. "I have a shack you can use. You turn a blind eye to our activities and do not interfere in any way and the shack is yours. How long will you need it?"
"Two nights should do it," said Sariel.
"That seems perfectly reasonable. If you have more guns, how do I know you will come back with more. I am prepared to pay next time," said George.
"You don't know for sure," said Sariel. "But some people call me an Angel. This may offer you some reassurance."
"I don't believe in God," said George.
"You should," said Sariel. "You really should."
"Bring the car inside and my men will take the goods from you. There is plenty of food and beer. Help yourselves to whatever you want. I will instruct that you are to have whatever you need. After two nights I expect you to leave," said George.
"So do we. Isn't that what we just told you," said Mordred.
Sariel drove the car inside the compound as Mordred walked back inside with the others.
"Are you wearing make-up?" one of the men asked Mordred.
"Of course, I'm wearing fucking make-up," said Mordred.
"Why?" asked the man.
"I guess I'm pretty in pink," said Mordred.
The man just looked wide-eyed at Mordred before saying something in Afrikaans and turning and laughing with the others.
"You'll be the first," muttered Mordred.

In the township the sun was disappearing behind the corrugated roofs of the shacks and most people were settling down for the night. Anusha was pouring another drink for Blake when her son came rushing in.
"What is it?" asked Anusha.
Abu was agitated and was checking behind him as he closed the door of the shack. He put his fingers to his lips for Anusha to be quiet. Outside Blake could hear a group of men running past the shack. Abu sat down by Anusha and Blake and unwrapped the biggest piece of meat Blake had ever seen.
"Where did you get that from?" Ansha asked Abu.
"It is mine," said Abu. "I worked hard for it. The work I did last week for Pierce. He didn't pay me for it. So I took my payment in food. Now we are even."
"You stole it. You know what happens when someone commits a crime here. Are you mad?" asked Anusha.
"I didn't steal it, I earned it," said Abu.
"And if the Tokoloshe doesn't see it that way?" asked Anusha. "You know what will happen."
"It is not a crime to claim your wage," said Abu. "The Tokoloshe knows this. He will not come to our house."
"Fool, boy," said Anusha. "He is a beast. He does not know right from wrong. He does not judge the actions of people. He will see only that you have taken what is not yours."
Blake patted Abu on the back.
"If it's any consolation, I don't think you have committed a crime," said Blake.
Anusha was furious at Blake's intervention. She pounded the table with her fist.
"Are you a hairy demon sent to rape women and murder men?" Anusha asked Blake.
"There are people who have accused me of such," said Blake.
"You can help make the preparations. Tokoloshe will come tonight. Abu put the ornaments away. Seal them in the boxes," said Anusha.
"Shall I raise the beds?" asked Abu.
"Only for the woman and me," said Anusha.
"What about the men?" asked Blake.
"Tokoloshe loves women, not men," said Anusha.
"How do you know?" asked Blake.
"Tokoloshe has made love to many here but not one of them was a man," said Anusha.
"What if he's just coming out?" asked Blake.
Anusha stared angrily at Blake but spoke to Abu.
"Use the bricks on the woman's and my bed," she said to Abu, before speaking to Blake. "If you want to protect your men there are bricks out the back but Abu and I will only protect the women."
She wagged a finger at Blake.
"Tokoloshe is not gay," she said.

Jack watched as Abu stacked the bricks under Helen's bed until it was four feet from the ground.
"Tell me again. Why are you lifting the bed up?" asked Jack.
"Tokoloshe is mean and angry but he is only four feet tall. If we stack the beds high enough he cannot reach the women. If he cannot reach the women, he cannot rape them," said Abu.
"Can't he jump?" asked Jack.
"That is why we make the beds higher so he cannot jump the women," said Abu.
"Forget it," said Jack.
Jack walked out of Helen's shack and walked into the shack he was sharing with Blake and Victor. Blake and Victor were just finishing the raising of the last bed when Jack entered.
"Why are we raising our beds? I thought it was just the women," said Jack.
"It's in case the Tokoloshe is gay or bisexual," said Victor, shrugging his shoulders.
"Are you serious? Who thought of that one?" asked Jack.
Victor was pointing at Blake.
"Are you willing to take the risk that you wake up with some furry midget giving you one?" asked Blake, without looking at Jack.
"Yew. Guess not. Stack 'em high, Lucifer," said Jack.
Jack sighed and returned to Helen's shack to find her looking in amazement at her bed.
"And how exactly am I supposed to get into bed at night?" asked Helen.
"He left you a ladder under the bed," said Jack.
"A Tokoloshe proof ladder?" asked Helen.
"Hey, don't shoot the messenger," said Jack.
"Well, I am going to get my ladder and get into bed. Goodnight Jack," said Helen.
"Maybe I should stay with you to protect you," said Jack.
"I would feel safer with the Tokoloshe," said Helen.
"Then lock your door and shout loud if you're in trouble," said Jack.
"Oh, I will, trust me," said Helen.
Jack shut the door behind him and went to find Blake who had promised to share a bottle of Jack Daniels with him and Victor earlier. When he found Blake and Victor in Anusha's living room, they were already halfway down the bottle.
"Hey, you started without me," protested Jack.
"Don't worry," said Victor reaching below the table. "We've got two more of the fuckers."
Victor produced another two bottles of Jack Daniels and Jack laughed as he sat down with the two men.
"Shouldn't we stay sober in case the women need us?" asked Jack.
Victor shook his head and pointed at Blake.
"Never gets pissed no matter how much he drinks. Merry, yes. Wasted, no. So fuck 'em," said Victor.
Jack determined to drink himself unconscious.
"Tokoloshe, my arse," he laughed as he took his first drink.
"Don't tempt fate," said Blake.

Jack's eyes opened and looked at the ceiling. He wondered why the ceiling was going round and round. Jack Daniels and his magical turntable, he thought. He turned his head slowly to the side and looked across at the table where Victor lay unconscious face down. He groaned as the dull ache hit his head. Slowly but surely he managed to crawl on his hands and knees to the table and shake Victor.
"Hey dude, wake up," he said.
"I can't," Victor muttered.
"You are awake," said Jack.
"No, I'm not. This is a near death experience," said Victor. "And you are disturbing my spirit."
"Dude, we disturbed a shit load of spirit last night, not now. Now get off the table," said Jack.
Victor groaned and rolled over, falling off the table and hitting the floor with a loud thud.
"Now you've fucked me over," mumbled Victor.
"Ouch," said Jack, reaching for his bottom. "Oh no."
Jack's bottom felt really sore. He jumped to his feet forgetting the pain in his head for a moment.
"Victor. The Tokoloshe. Do yo think it came while we were asleep?" asked Jack.
Victor opened one eye and looked at Jack.
"You're worried about your arse, aren't you?" asked Victor.
"Damn right. What if Blake was right. My ass is on fire," said Jack.
Victor was waving a floppy arm dismissively at Jack.
"Don't worry," said Victor. "I think your sore arse has more to do with you insisting on showing us how you can meditate on top of a bottle of Jack Daniels than a randy Tokoloshe."
"Thank fuck for that," said Jack. "Hey wait a minute. I did that?"
Victor nodded.
"I need help," said Jack.
Victor climbed to his feet.
"Where's Blake?" asked Jack.
"I have no clue," said Victor.
"I don't know about you but I need some fresh air. Let's go and find Blake," said Jack.
The two men made their way outside and walked around the township, shielding their eyes with their hands from the bright morning sun. Victor laughed and tugged Jack's shirt as he pointed to Blake. A young woman was hurriedly dressing as she clung on to Blake's arm. Blake caught Victor's gaze and smiled.
"How does he do that?" asked Jack, rubbing his eyes.
"It's like he's the Devil himself, isn't it?" said Victor.
"Good morning, gentlemen," said Blake. "Feeling a little under the weather, are we?"
"Can I ask you a question?" asked Victor.
"Sure," said Blake.
"If you're looking after that young lady and we were both dead to the world. Who is looking after Aunusha and Helen?" asked Victor.
From the direction of Helen's shack, they heard her scream.
"Ooops," said Blake.
The three men ran to Helen's shack and Jack ripped the door open.
"You, you drunken bastard. You did this," Helen screamed at Jack.
"Me?" asked a bewildered Jack.
The shack had been trashed. Helen's clothes were lying on the floor, torn and dirty. The bulb in the ceiling had been smashed and the drawers where Helen had carefully laid out her clothes had been smashed to pieces. What little jewellery she had brought with her was scattered around the room and her bed sheets had been torn to pieces.
"How did I do this?" asked Jack.
"I heard the three of you last night. Everybody heard you. Singing and chanting. Last thing I remember before I fell asleep was you saying how you felt obliged to check on Helen. I must have fell asleep because next thing I know, someone smashed the bulb so I couldn't turn on the light and scurried about trashing everything. I shouted for help but not one of you came. Then the ladder appeared at the side of the bed but whoever was attempting to climb it was too drunk to do so. I leant over the bed to try and see who it was but the next thing I know the ladder smacked me on the back of the head and knocked me out. I woke up to this. Now who do we know who was too drunk to use a ladder?" asked Helen.
Helen started to cry and Jack rushed to comfort her.
"It wasn't me, I swear it wasn't me," said Jack, holding the sobbing woman.
"Okay, okay. I believe you but not one of you came running," sobbed Helen.
"That was my fault," said Blake. "We should have stayed sober and one of us should have kept watch."
Victor pulled the sheets from Helen's bed and started to tidy up the room but yelled out in disgust and shook his hand. A sticky white substance like glue was hanging off his finger. Victor tried desperately to shake it from his hand.
"What the fuck is this shit?" asked Victor.
"It is the semen of the Tokoloshe," said a voice from the doorway.
They turned around to see Abu standing in the doorway. He walked over and examined the sheets.
"She is marked by the Tokoloshe," said Abu. "He means to have her."
Victor wiped the semen on the sheets and looked disgusted.
"How do you know this was the Tokoloshe?" asked Blake.
"Come with me," said Abu.
They followed Abu and he showed them into his mother's room. The room was trashed, just like Helen's but the walls and floor and bed were covered in the sticky liquid. Anusha lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling and quietly stroking her body beneath the single clean sheet that covered her. She was singing softly to herself. Blake moved closer to her but resisted the temptation to touch her or try to talk to her. Instead, he turned and spoke to Abu.
"Is this the Tokoloshe's doing?" he asked.
Abu nodded.
"She is in a trance at the moment. It is always like this. She will recover but she will never be the same after this. I am responsible for this," said Abu.
"I'm sure she will forgive you," said Helen.
"You don't understand," said Abu. "She will thank me for it but it will be the voice of a woman entranced. It will not be the same voice that I have come to known."
"Is there a way to snap her out of this?" asked Jack.
"Kill the Tokoloshe," said Abu.
Jack suddenly realised that there was something important they had forgotten to check.
"The book. Where is the book?" he asked Helen.
"In that mess on the floor in my shack somewhere," said Helen.
"Fuck," said Jack.
"Don't worry I'll get it," said Victor.
Victor left and returned quickly, handing the book to Helen. Helen opened the book and sighed.
"I'm sorry Jack. I know it wasn't you now. It was the Tokoloshe," said Helen.
"How do you know it was the Tokoloshe?" asked Blake.
"There is a new entry in the book. It says 'Here walks the Tokoloshe'," said Helen.
"So the book has confirmed it? What about the co-ordinates it gave us?" asked Jack.
"They are in red ink now," said Helen.
"You knew about the Tokoloshe?" asked Abu. "All this time, you knew? You came here to find it, didn't you?"
"We need something from it," said Blake. "We're not entirely sure what, though."
"You must trap it and kill it," said Abu.
"We can't kill it," said Blake. "Like I said we need something from it."
"Then kill it when you have taken from it what you need," said Abu.
Helen rested a hand on Abu's shoulder.
"We'll have to see," she said.
"How do we trap it, exactly?" asked Jack.
"You are marked," said Abu, pointing at Helen. "He will come to claim you. We just need to be waiting for him."
"When will he come?" asked Victor, wishing he had phrased his words differently.
"Tonight," sad Abu.

The Last Days of Planet Earth Vol II: Tribes

Tribes Book Cover

The Last Days of Planet Earth Volume II: Tribes

Tribes the second book in the series, introduces some new characters.
An old adversary arrives courtesy of Benny and makes an immediate impact.
The identity of Morgan’s mother is revealed and she is no Angel.
The origin of Volkane is explained along with his friendship with Blake and Connall.
The old order finds a home and Arthur, together with Adok Vega tries to get some sense out of them.
Meanwhile, the wolves become very disenchanted and seek to create a state of their own.
Jack is worried about the mental health of the English population, whilst Helen is just worried about the state of Jack.
When a surly Scotsman hands Jack and Helen a book that nobody else can read, they seek the guidance of Blake, only to wish they had not bothered.
Khan and Sariel get a couple of very dodgy new recruits, one of whom Sariel would very much like to kill.
Jason begins to build a new home from home, much to the consternation of Nick and Michael.
Jericho wants to attend to some unfinished business.
Arthur discovers that there is much more to Victor than meets the eye.
Victor discovers the truth about Pandora from Blake and is not impressed.
Rebekah has turned into the nastiest and most violent environmentalist you could ever meet, whilst Khan dreams of world dominion.

Why has the left-wing turned right-wing in Texas?
Why are warlocks blue?
Why does Jack drink so much?
Will Blake ever tell the truth?
Why is Sariel sent to Hell, and who or what is Victor really?
Read on...

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‘I am the eye of the ancients, the ward of the future. Hear my warning.
When fifty stars become forty-nine, the great eagle will turn its attention to its flock, turning its gaze inward and becoming blind to the world.
The ancient warrior will rise in the east to reclaim his children and slay the dragon.
Death and his horsemen will tame the great bear.
The lion and black eagle will stand together against the armies of the dead, whilst the wolves circle humanity, waiting for their moment.
The horde will rise once more to recreate the lost empire and fight the armies of the forsaken in the dark forests of the west.
As the horde retreat, the spawn of another world will enter the fray, led by the lost child of a king.
Dragons will rise from the oceans and scorch the earth. The darkness will return to claim the planet and the wolves will watch the skies, waiting for their masters to return and stake their claim.
All is lost, unless Lucifer reveals himself and the last Nephilim is found.
Find the dark angel and deal with the devil, before all is lost.’

Primus Moiragetes
1566 AD

Chapter 1

“And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen.”
William Blake

Good God, that woman had a big mouth. The sound of her shouting at him to wake up made him sit straight in his bed. His hands rubbed his eyes, desperately trying to focus on the woman now pulling at the quilt. He reached for the top of his bedding in a last ditch attempt to stop the removal of his covering, but was too late.
The woman snatched the quilt away from him, leaving him sat upright, naked, with his legs apart.
"Good God, look at the size of that thing," said Helen, pointing between Jack's legs.
Jack's face wore a smug smile.
"Why thank you, I grew it myself," said Jack.
"Not that," said Helen dismissing his manhood with a wave of her finger, "That!"
She was pointing between his legs at the huge black spider, which was gazing at him.
Jack screamed and jumped out of bed, forgetting his nakedness and standing by the window.
"For God's sake Jack," said Helen. "It's only a spider."
She walked to the bathroom and returned with a large glass. She carefully placed the glass over the spider and then slipped a piece of card underneath. Taking care not to drop the glass, she turned the container over so that the opening and the card were on top. Walking towards Jack, she reached past him and opened the window, throwing the spider from the glass, out into the open.
Jack dived to the wardrobe, grabbing some underpants and a pair of trousers, together with a white shirt and covered his nudity.
He gazed at Helen, as if in a sense of bewilderment.
"What?" she asked.
"Correct me if I'm wrong," said Jack. "I'm no expert on arachnids, but last time I checked I'm pretty damn sure that they don't fly. Also I don't believe that the spider had a parachute strapped to his back."
"Your point being?" asked Helen.
"Why pick the thing up so carefully and then launch it out the window? We're eight floors up here," said Jack.
"Oh I'm sorry," said Helen. "Maybe I should have just shoved the thing down your pants Mr Squealer. Ah, but then that would have obscured the view."
"Ha, ha, you're a very funny girl, you know that?" said Jack.
"But not a big girl, like you, hey," said Helen. "Mr Squealer pops."
"I did not squeal," said Jack.
"I think you did," said a patronising Helen.
"I was half asleep," protested Jack. "How did you get in here anyway?"
"You left the door open," said Helen.
Jack looked quizzically at Helen who led him to the door propped open by a beer mat. She reached down and removed the beer mat, causing the door to slam shut. Turning towards Jack, she passed him the item.
"Your thoughts on the narrative please?" she asked.
The words, "Fuck my legs", were written in biro on the beer mat.
Jack laughed a guilty schoolboy laugh, before looking back to Helen and composing himself.
"Yeah, I remember now. I was trying to walk through the door, but it kept hitting me and knocking me over. In the end I worked out that by getting on all fours and crawling through the opening, I could strategically place a beer mat to wedge the door open, thus avoiding any sudden contact between wood and my head," said Jack.
"Wood on wood," said Helen. "I don't know why, but somehow that makes sense."
Jack reached inside the wardrobe and took out a tie and a jacket.
"Tell me. Was it the Guinness or the Jack Daniels that caused this madness?" asked Helen.
"Both," said Jack. "It was a team effort."
Helen gazed at Jack, who was now dressed in a dark suit and tie, which was a noticeably different look to hers. She was dressed in dark brown canvas trousers and a heavy Parka style coat. On her feet were a pair of trainers.
"You're not seriously going out dressed like that?" asked Jack.
"Well I'm going to change the trainers in the car, but that's it," said Helen.
"Hang on one second," said Jack. "Where exactly are we going?"
"You remember John Ballard?" asked Helen.
"Oh yeah, the Andy Pandy guy. How could I forget," said Jack, turning his gaze skyward.
"Well he called this morning. Thought we might be interested in something that happened overnight at a farm. You got any rubber boots?" asked Helen.
"Ermmm no," said Jack sarcastically.
"Mine are in the car. You will just have to manage. We don't have time to stop," said Helen.
"Don't you worry about me, I'm one cool son of a bitch," said Jack.
"Oh by the way, you’re not seriously going out like that, are you?" asked Helen, pointing at his feet.
Jack groaned as he realised he was wearing one black shoe and one brown shoe.
The sat nav elegantly issued directions as Helen drove the rental car through the countryside. Jack loved the countryside, but the light rain outside that decorated the windows with rain droplets and obscured his vision, made him realise that he was inappropriately dressed for a farmland walk. Helen still wore her trainers as she drove, but her rubber boots were placed on the seat just behind her. God I hate organised people, thought Jack.
Jack read the notebook they had received from Vega once more. The imprints were filled with a dark ink now and Jack studied the words that Vega had meant for them to read once more.
He laughed and looked towards Helen.
"This guy thinks he's Nostradamus," he said. "You're surely not taking this seriously."
"I wouldn't be if it wasn't for all the other weird stuff," said Helen. "But you have to admit, this is all very strange and I don't think we can afford to ignore it."
"It's all coincidence," said Jack. "Even that Blake character scoffed at some of the stuff."
"Giant wolves, cartoon thugs, crucified priests, Templers and hippies from nowhere. Seems more than coincidence to me," said Helen.
"It was only one nut job and a gay priest when we were back at home," said Jack.
"Your point being?" asked Helen.
"Maybe this entire country is nuts," said Jack.
"Maybe the overload of Jack Daniels and Guineas is driving you nuts," said Helen.
"It's Guinness not Guineas," said Jack. "And I can handle my drink, thank you very much."
"So much so that you crawl through hotel doorways and wedge the door open with beer mats inscribed with nice messages to avoid hitting your head," Helen replied.
"One bad night that's all," said Jack.
He was not going to tell her that the reason he drank so much in England was that it seemed to stop his recurring nightmare. Better pissed than fucked up, he thought.
"The farm is not far now," said Helen. "According to you, the farmer we're going to meet will be nuts too. Might as well turn back now and get pissed."
"Put your foot down," said Jack, without expression.
"You should change your surname to Daniels," said Helen, smiling.
You should change your surname to Bitch, thought Jack.
They pulled into the courtyard and drove between the two large barns, which gave access to a much larger area at the rear of the barns, where tractors and traditional farm machinery lay. Two police cars occupied part of the area, and outside leaning on the roof of one of the cars, talking to the other officers was John Ballard. Helen parked the rental whilst Jack made his way over to Ballard.
"Where's your wellies?" Ballard shouted to Jack.
Jack stood still, shifting his head from side to side and shrugging his shoulders.
"My what?" he replied.
"Your wellies, man," shouted Jack."Boots?"
"Oh rubbers," said Jack.
The police around Ballard laughed.
"We're not interested whether you're wearing a rubber or not," said Ballard.
Helen had now caught up with Jack and overheard the conversation.
"I told him to bring some rubbers," said Helen, shaking her head. "Told him he'd need them."
Ballard burst into laughter now, together with the other officers.
"Let's just use the phrase “boots” from now on," he said to Helen.
Jack leaned over to Helen and whispered into her ear.
"Told you," he said. "This whole fucking country is nuts."
"I'm glad you lot are having such a great fucking time," said an angry voice behind them.
A burly young man, with a short beard and unkempt thick, curly hair, walked briskly towards the group.
"I'm sorry Tom," said Ballard. "We didn't mean to be disrespectful."
The young man nodded, a quick smile indicated that he forgave them.
"This is Helen and Jack, the FBI team I told you about," said Ballard. "Guys this is Tom East, the son of the owner."
Tom shook their hands, briefly noticing the stature of the FBI man.
"Well if you can help us in any way with this it will be appreciated," said Tom.
"Where's your father?" asked Ballard.
"Staring out into the field," said Tom. "He hasn't moved for half an hour now."
"I'll take Helen and Jack to see him if that's okay," said Ballard.
"Of course," said Tom. "Just tread carefully around him. He's a little...upset."
Jack went to get in the police car.
"Where you going?" asked Ballad.
"Thought we were going to use the car," said Jack.
"Not a fucking chance," said Ballard. "It's been raining steadily all night, didn't you notice?"
"Trust me, he wouldn't have noticed," said Helen.
"No it's too muddy, so we'll have to walk," said Ballard.
"Told you to bring some...” Helen went to say.
"Boots," interrupted Ballard.
The officers behind him chuckled and even Tom smiled.
Ballard, Helen and Jack made their way down a narrow gravel path, stopping when they reached the first gate. Jack looked in despair, as all he could see was miles and miles of muddy field. Ballard opened the gate, and Helen and Jack followed behind him. Jack was the last one through and as he sank into his ankles in mud, Ballard shouted to him.
"Don't forget to close the gate behind you."
Jack moved backwards to close the gate but his feet did not. Thankfully, the weight bearing down on the gate from the man with both arms clinging desperately to it was enough to stop it from moving and left Jack at an almost perfect forty-five degree angle. Not able to move and staring down at the mud, but not in the mud at least. Ballard ran back, stood the big man in an upright position, and then closed the gate.
"Better take your time mate, else you're going to make one hell of a splash," said Ballard.
"Thanks, I will," said Jack.
"Yeah, take your time Mister Stick-in-the-mud," laughed Helen, and turned to carry on in front of the two men.
Unfortunately for Helen, although her feet turned, her boots did not and she fell, with a little whimper, face first into the mud.
The laughter erupted around her, but Ballard still managed to pick her up and knock some of the mud off her.
"Fuck me, it's swamp thing," laughed Jack.
"Fuck off Jack," Helen replied.
Helen twisted her feet back into position inside her boots and went to continue the trek, but Ballard held her shoulder.
"Better take your time too, Swampy," he said.
"Ha ha, nice one," laughed Jack.
Helen gave both men the stare.
Ballard continued on his way, dancing through the mud as though he was walking on smooth tarmac, whilst Helen and Jack trudged painfully and slowly through the quagmire, pausing every now and again to free a stuck leg. The field had a gentle slope upwards to the second gate where an elderly man stood with his arms resting on it, gazing into the next field. When Ballard reached the top, he turned and waved to the other two, urging them to hurry.
Jack and Helen smiled at Ballard, before both raising their hands in perfect unison to acknowledge Ballard.
"Synchronised mud walking," said Jack.
Helen said nothing.
When the two of them eventually reached the top, the elderly man turned and spoke.
"I wouldn't worry about the mud sweetheart, I've spent my whole life covered in shit," said the man to Helen.
"This is Graham East, this is his farm," said Ballard.
"Was my farm," said East.
Jack looked confused.
"Was your farm?" asked Jack. "I don't understand, I just met your son and your buildings looked okay and all that machinery looked used."
"Don't you notice anything?" asked Graham.
Jack and Helen stood still, searching their minds for an appropriate answer but found none.
"There's no sound from the birds or animals, all there is, is wind and rain," said Graham.
"Graham, this is Jack and Helen. They're from the FBI. They're sort of specialists in this type of thing."
"What type of thing?" asked Jack.
"I better tell you what happened, and then perhaps you'll understand," said Graham.
The evening before, a tired but happy Graham East, had gone to bed. Although things were never easy on a farm, Graham, together with his two sons Tom and Lee, had turned a good profit through the farm. They had spent the whole year free of any disease to the livestock, and the crops had yielded good results too. Graham had been sceptical about the success of mixed farming, but thanks to the knowledge and the enthusiasm of his sons, he was able to reap the benefits. The loss of his wife the previous year had been a bitter blow to both Graham and his sons, but where they could have lost the heart for the fight, they instead found resolve and tenacity. He slept well, despite knowing that he would shortly be awake to meet another demanding day.
When the alarm sounded and the hint of a lighter skyline beckoned him outside, he dressed and made his way downstairs. It was quiet today, not even the excitable dog, Crisp, came to greet him. Perhaps they are all as knackered as I am, he thought. He decided to wake the boys after he had eaten some toast, had drunk a strong mug of coffee and stretched his legs outside.
As he ventured out into the courtyard, he shouted for Crisp, but the dog did not come. He should have checked whether the boys were already up as it was not uncommon for the boys to get up before him and get things under way. Usually when this happened, one of them would take the dog with them. He would not be worried by the absence of the dog normally, but the complete silence that overhung the farm indicated that there were no animals or birds around him. He ran to check on the chickens and when he opened the door, he saw that they had all gone.
"Tom, Lee, where are you? We've been turned over," he shouted.
After only a couple of minutes, the boys came running out of the house, still dressing as they made their way towards their father.
"Shit, you were both still asleep, they must have taken the bloody dog as well," snarled Graham.
"I'll check the pigs and sheep, Lee go and see where the cows are," said Tom.
Lee ran off to check the herd whilst his brother went to make sure the pigs were still there. Graham pulled his phone from his pocket and rang the police. Graham looked around whilst the boys made sure they at least had some animals left. No machinery had gone and nothing looked to have been forced. The gates and doors around him looked to be intact. No tyre marks were in evidence in the grit on the floor. Why had the alarms failed to go off? Surely, either he or at least one of the boys would have heard something, even if the alarms had failed.
Tom was running back.
"All gone, I don't fucking believe it," said Tom.
"Same," said Lee, running back towards them.
"This is impossible Dad, I didn't hear anything. How can you silently pinch chickens, let alone the others?" said Lee.
"Shit, the crops! I bet the bastards have ushered them into the other fields," said Graham. "Stay here lads and wait for the cops, I'll check the fields, hopefully I'll find Crisp too.”
The boys nodded and Graham jumped the first gate, running up the hill to the second gate, which led to the crops. When he arrived at the second gate, he saw that it was still closed and he could see no shapes roaming around in the fields. He called for the dog, but Crisp still failed to appear. The sun was still weak but the soft light lit the field in front of him just enough to cause the farmer to vault the second gate and take in the sight before him.
Graham ran and walked around the field for what seemed like ages before falling to his knees.
"Noooo," he screamed.
The sound of their father's cries reached the ears of his sons, and Tom rushed to aid his father. When he reached the top field, his father was still on his knees, his cries now turned to floods of tears.
"What the fuck has done this?" he asked, sobbing.
Tom gazed across the fields now lit dimly by the morning sun, stunned by the sight. All the grain, wheat and hay had gone, along with the grass. Perfectly stripped away, leaving no mess and no remnants. Tom turned around, as his brother Lee appeared beside him.
"The cops are here Dad," said Lee. "Oh my God, how the hell have they done this, and what the fuck is that?"
Lee was pointing to the rise of a distant hillside, which the sun was just illuminating. There, in the centre of the hill, like some variation of a crop circle was a very detailed crucifix.
Jack wondered why he had not noticed the cross in the first place. There it was, printed on the hillside in all its glory. How had the thieves managed to harvest the crops and take all the animals? Above that, how had they found time to carve out the crucifix?
"You must have heard something," said Helen.
"Would I be standing here with nothing left if I had?" asked Graham incredulously.
"I'm sorry, I guess you wouldn't," said Helen.
"They must have used machinery to harvest the crops and a huge fleet of vehicles to move the livestock," said Ballard. "How did they keep it so quiet?"
"There's something else," said Jack. "There are no tyre marks anywhere and no footprints by the look of it."
"There must be somewhere," said Ballard. "Once the guys are organised, we'll go through the fields bit by bit."
Graham was just about to speak when a bark in the distance interrupted him.
"Crisp," he shouted.
Graham ran towards the sound of the dog barking, closely followed by the others. Underneath a large oak at the edge of the field, the dog sat on his haunches. As Graham approached him, Crisp turned towards his owner, snarling and baring his teeth. It was only when Graham spoke to the dog that it shuffled towards him, tail wagging and head bowed, its snarling now turning to a whimper.
"It's alright boy, you're safe now," said Graham stroking and hugging the dog.
"Crisp has never snarled at you before," said Tom. "Why did he do that?"
"I guess whatever was here scared the crap out of him." said Jack, turning to face Tom.
As the pair of them turned their gaze back towards the tree, they saw that Graham was waving his hand in front of the dog's eyes.
"No it's not that. Look he doesn't see my hand," said Graham. "He could only hear us rushing towards him. He didn't know who I was until I spoke. He's blind."
Back by the main house, police officers in waterproofs were preparing to scan the landscape for clues. Tom and Lee were giving interviews to other officers and showing them the now empty barns and out-houses. At least the birds had returned to give some sense of normality with their singing. Graham was still comforting the dog. Graham paused to wipe away the tears that dripped down his own cheeks every now and again. Ballard was thanking Jack and Helen for their help.
"What help?" asked Jack.
"To be honest, just the fact that you two were here helped," said Ballard.
"I'll do some research and ring the guys back home to see if anyone has any experience of something like this," said Helen.
"I'll do the same," said Jack. "There has to be an explanation."
"Thanks guys," said Ballard. "Well I guess I'd better let you go and get cleaned up. Especially you, Swampy."
Helen laughed and shook Ballard's hand. Jack slapped Ballard on the shoulder.
"We'll just say goodbye to Graham," said Jack.
The two of them walked over to the farmer who was still holding the dog.
"Mister East, we have to go now, but we'll be back if you need us," said Helen.
"Yeah, if there's anything we can do to help," said Jack.
"Have you got a herd of cows and some sheep back at the hotel? A stash of grain and hay hidden around the corner you can give me. Have you? Well, have you?" spat East.
Jack and Helen said nothing, just smiled weakly and made their way back towards the rental car.
Jack leaned and whispered in Helen's ear.
"I think I've just been told to fuck off," he said.
Helen wanted to smile but dare not.
When they reached the car, Helen made Jack wait whilst she opened the boot and took out a large fold of polythene, with which she covered the seats and floor of the car. Jack was allowed to remove his shoes and enter the vehicle as Helen put the muddy shoes into the boot of the car. Once all that was done, she removed her coat and trousers to reveal another coat and a less robust pair of trousers. Taking a clean pair of trainers from the back seat, she started the car and cleaned her face in the rear view mirror with a selection of tissues and wipes.
"Should've known really," scoffed Jack.
"Excuse me?" Helen asked.
"What about the mud in your hair?" asked Jack.
"I'll brush it out when it dries a bit more and sort the rest at the hotel," said Helen.
Jack sighed and waved to Ballard and his officers as the car pulled away.
"Well what do you think about that?" asked Helen.
"Obviously bible bashing, alien, crop and cattle thieves," said Jack.
Helen gave him the stare.
When the mobile phone sprang into life emitting a loud ring tone in his jacket pocket, Jack deftly removed it and answered.
"Hi, Captain James T. Kirk," he said, before hurriedly adding. "Sorry, Jack Abrahams."
"Agent Abrahams, I didn't know you're a Star Trek fan," said the man at the other end.
Jack did not answer swiftly enough to prevent the man continuing.
"This is Ian Swain, you came to see me to ask about Adam Blake, remember?" asked Swain.
"Yeah, I remember, of course. How are you?" asked Jack.
"Well, we've had a rather usual development here I thought you might be interested in," said Swain.
"Go on," said Jack.
"Well, remember how I told you about the strange nature of Adam's recovery?" said Swain.
"Yeah, he was just with Benny and suddenly he was perfectly normal again," said Jack.
Helen was glancing across, wondering what the conversation was about exactly, but too focused with the narrow country lanes, to take more of an interest.
"Benjamin Sansom has recovered in exactly the same manner," said Swain. "Indeed, I believe he may well be the sanest person here."
"Now that is weird," said Jack.
"I wondered if you might like to drop in later today and see for yourself?" asked Swain.
"One sec Doc," said Jack, leaning over to Helen.
"Benny Sansom has recovered as well. Completely sane. Doc wants to know if we want to go take a look," said Jack to Helen.
"Wow, of course," said Helen. "Tell him we'll see him this afternoon, if that's okay."
Jack looked at the drying mud dropping off Helen's hair.
"Hey Doc, we're on our way now," said Jack, turning off the phone.
"Bastard," said Helen.
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