Monday, 23 July 2007

Chapter One - Pilgrim's Howe - Carnivale


"She's broken up with Cole?" Frank asked down the phone.

He'd spent all day worrying about Peter – he hadn't heard or seen the, apparently, quite public break-up of the golden couple.

"Really? She's going on her own?" He continued, listening to Robby's voice as he worriedly explained the situation. "Yeah – I'll be there." with a slow, determined gesture he replaced the receiver and turned around.

He'd been friends with Robby forever, even though he was a few years younger. In a way he'd been friends with Robby longer than he'd been friends with Sarah. His voice had sounded worried. Robby was right in thinking that she shouldn't go on her own, she'd need company – especially after what happened in school. Frank felt uncomfortably chivalrous, but at the same time he felt like there was part of the picture he was missing.

"Frank? You out there boy? You off that phone?"

"Yeah Dad." Frank replied, walking over to the living room door. His father was lounging in the gloom, watching the TV with the remains of a microwave dinner in front of him.


"Dad," Frank began, hoping to draw his father's attention away from the TV, "I was wondering whether I could go to the Carnivale this evening." Frank didn't hold his breath. As a pillar of the community, Don Ryker was meant to be the pinnacle of respectability.

"Why would you want to go and throw your money away to those gypsy trash?" Don Ryker turned away from the screen to glower incredulously at his son.

"Because Sarah Meyer will be there," Frank replied levelly, not breaking his father's gaze, "On her own."

Frank's father, however blind he was to Frank in an everyday sense, did at the very least have a sense of what the girl-next-door meant to him. This wasn't about all his usual fears, which included but where not restricted to – sex, drugs and rock & roll. This was about what Frank's father had always striven to impress upon his son, being a man, being the good guy.

Don Ryker nodded and no more word was said regarding the matter. When the time came Frank left the house without a word, his mother in work and his father staring into the vacuum of the television.

Dione's reason was a pretense. Some casual acquaintainces were going and she couldn't stand the thought of sharing an evening in with her parents, so she went.

It was dark by the time they got there and the lights from the stands were garish and sickly. Half the school was there, crowding the stalls, waving their hands and cheering. Dark booths dominated muddy aisles. Flickering attractions drew in their small crowds while dark figures hung in the background, casting their spells over the gormless mob that throbbed at the pulse of the Carnivale.

Or so it felt to Dione who found that her hands staid firmly within her pockets as she was led around the site by her friends.

"Lighten up Di – it might never happen!" Crooned Lyla, a girl she knew through her science class. It was nice knowing someone who was wholly unconnected with her sports. Lyla didn't know and Lyla didn't care – it was comforting. Dione smiled, mildly surprised that she didn't have to force herself to do it. Lyla was right, in her roundabout kind of way, she was here to have fun.

"Want to go on a ride?" Lyla piped.

"I don't know." Dione shook her head, unconvinced that there was anything here worth her money. Then she spotted the tent. It was smaller than all the others and not so vibrant in its colour scheme. It looked faded and old, out of place and richer somehow. "What's that?" She asked, her tone changing.

"Dunno – could be anything. Let's go over here…" But Dione was no longer listening. The tent had an eery appeal, and coupled with the lure of having her future foretold, Dione succumbed to a moment of madness. Before she knew it, her spare change was out and her feet were touching the threshold.

The sound from outside seemed to dim as she left the fold of the tent's entrance fall behind her. She was standing in an enclosed, dark space filled with a heady smoke that wasn't quite incense. A light flickered from an oil lamp and around it Dione could discern a small round table, two chairs and a man, sitting in the low light. Softly, intrepidly, Dione moved towards the table and sat down.

"Do you tell fortunes?" Dione asked.

"In a manner of speaking." The silhouette replied, "I have a question before we begin. Do you believe in other worlds? Dimensions beyond our ability to grasp or understand – places we can never visit?"

Dione considered the question, her mind ticking off the possibilities, the train of logic, as far as she could see it, to her conclusion. "No." She replied.

"Excellent, then let us begin."

Peter moved silently through the crowds, his hood pulled over his head and his rucksack burdened with the weight of its contents. Nobody recognised him and he savoured his anonymity. In his hand he was holding Lee's monacle, he'd been following the boy for a few minutes, watching him approach stalls and amusements, listening to him talk to his friends.

Blissfully unnoticed Peter wove through the crowd and slipped the monacle into Lee's back pocket and moved on.

Behind a hotdog stall he pulled the next item from his rucksack and examined it. It was a cheering medal that bellonged to Sarah Meyer. He scanned the crowd briefly to see if she was anywhere in sight. When he couldn't see her he began to move through the throng, his eyes darting from face to face, clique to clique. From under his hood he could feel his face burning and his ribs ached. He was going to do this tonight – he could think about getting help tomorrow.

After five minutes of searching he felt faint again. His stomach was full of acid and he hadn't been able to keep anything down all afternoon. The school nurse said he was in shock, that he might have internal damage – he could press charges. But Peter just wanted to give back everything he'd taken. Nothing was more important to him.

Then, from the corner of his eye, he saw her. Sarah was standing on her own near a booth where she was watching someone – her brother? – playing a game. It was strange looking at her in her own little world, away from her normal bitchy friends. She was dressed all wrong – leggings and a long sleeved woollen jumper. Even her hair was down. This was a prime social event – why wasn't she looking her best?

His curiosity was dismissed as he tried to think of a way in which he could approach her without being seen. In the end he decided not to bother trying.

Sarah looked up at him with a blank expression before realising what it was he was holding. Her hand reached out tentatively and took the medal, rolling it around in her fingers. "Where did you get this?"

"I stole it." Peter said, frankly. "Now, I'm giving it back."

Peter expected an outburst, he didn't expect a clear, honest "Thank you."

He inclined his head slightly, turned around and walked calmly away, his heart racing inside his chest. Now he had to find Cole Steadman and give him back his Varsity ring.

"Who was that?" Robby asked, turning around to see Sarah staring after someone in the crowd. He was holding an enormous bear he'd won for her.

"No one." Sarah replied airily.

"I got this for you." Robby said, unprepared to grill her any further. She looked down at the bear and smiled, taking it from him. He'd never felt more comfortable in her presence, it was as if a dam had burst between them and now they could be friends again. His friends talked ceaselessly about how much they despised their siblings, but Robby knew he was different.

He looked down at his watch as they walked on to the next attraction. Around them he could feel people's eyes following Sarah – no doubt wondering who Robby was, or wondering what she was wearing or why she wasn't with her friends. But it didn't matter anymore, he had his sister back.

Frank should be here soon. He'd told him to meet Sarah around seven by the Dungeon Gate ride, with any luck he'd be able to bring them together at last. He knew it was what they both wanted.

"What are you up to?" Sarah asked, a glint in her eye.

"Nothing." Robby replied, perhaps a tad too sharply.

"All this kindness," Sarah replied, shrugging the bear and smiling, "After what I've said and done to you."

Robby shrugged it off, "Water under the bridge. I'm just glad now you see Cole Steadman the way the rest of the school sees him. A jerk."

"An asshole." She seconded, her face changing despite her smile. A shadow seemed to sweep over it and undo all the hard work he'd put into cheering her up.

"Look," he said, excitedly, "We can do anything. The night is yours. Let's just have fun." But it was clear Sarah no longer wanted to have fun. Robby was fighting a losing battle and he knew it. Despite all the bluster and bravado, she had actually felt something and Cole had hurt her. Robby felt wretched with despite. He wanted to tear Cole up and stuff him into a body bag. When he looked up again though another change had swept over her features.

Robby turned around – they were standing near the Dungeon Gate sign. Frank was waiting for them.

Sarah stopped in her tracks and looked at him standing under the bright lights. Robby noticed him too and between the three of them a moment passed where no words were needed. They knew each other all too well. They'd been the only kids on the block. Despite High School splitting them apart some friendships just refused to go away.

Suddenly the Bear felt heavy in her arms and she passed it to Robby who seemed to see this as a sign for him to retreat. Sarah's skin flared up in a blush. What did he think was going to happen?

"Are you okay?" Frank asked, a noble and chivalrous air about him. Sarah smiled weakly and swallowed the bile of her emotions.

"I will be," she replied. This was too soon. She wasn't ready for a conversation like this. All she could feel was guilt and embarrassment.

Around them jocks and cheerleaders were ganging up to go on the ride and for the first time that evening she could feel their eyes watching her. Not for the first time in her life, the familiar embarrassing feeling of standing with Frank came over her like nausea. He was her friend. Didn't they see that? Had they stuck by her? Had they invited her to the Carnivale? No. It had taken the kindness of her brother and the pulsating warmth of Frank's presence to make her understand that she was beneath them, unworthy of the company. Her skin crawled.

"I heard you broke up with Cole." Frank said pithily.

Sarah nodded, "He was cheating on me with Tracey Dawkins." She replied, devoid of feeling. After the fact, the events of the afternoon had left her numb. She was welcome to him, she tried thinking, hating herself for not believing it, hating herself for wanting to cling to his affection.

She watched Frank's chest fill with air and consternation which only made her feel worse. She looked away. She was beginning to hear the whispers.

"Sarah! Frank! Come on the ride!" Robby called to them from the queue. Frank looked up and smiled, Sarah glanced over and saw her brother's earnest face among a crowd of hostility and derision. All at once the gall she'd felt for herself and Cole and Tracey inverted itself on the people who stood there judging her now. Screw it, she thought, joining her brother in the queue, her old pride returning with its new face. If they wanted to laugh at her, let them laugh.

"Cole!" She heard someone whouting. It was Tracey. She was further back in the queue and looking through the crowd to a small parting where Cole Steadman was standing, looking murderous.

Cole was already drunk by the time the car squealed to a halt across the gravel car park. Numbly he fell out and into file with his friends who'd stolen a keg of beer from somewhere. After a day in his basement with a bottle of whisky, Cole felt like having a party. Tonight, no one could touch him. Tonight was his.

The hours past in a blur of pop guns, hotdogs and cigarrettes. The taste of alcohol and smoke filled him with a raw, base passion that swole in his belly, making him feel invincible. Around him, the music was blearing, the people swayed past in colourful waves and the crowds parted as he strode through, King of the Carnivale.

He was just managing to forget about Sarah and Coach and the day's events when his bladder demanded a rest. Cole stumbled away from his friends, down inbetween the tents and trailers into the darkness of the surrounding field. Above him, stars were twinkling above the pines and it almost felt good to be alive as he emptied himself into the gloom. Blood was pounding in his ears and his breath came thick and fast, his lungs swelling with life. Who needed girls, who needed football?

As he enjoyed the moment an alien sound drifted into hearing. Someone behind him was whimpering. With his flies done up, Cole swung around and peered into the shadows. He couldn't see anything. Vaguely he could hear the crying over the beat of the Carnivale and he followed it slowly and surely until he found a silhouette in the gloom, cowering by one of the tents.

"What have you got to cry about?" He demanded, noticing for the first time that his words were slurred together. The figure wiped its eyes and stood up.

"You," it muttered with incredulity.


"Stay away from me." It stammered, "And stay away from the Dungeon's Gate." It cried, moving away. Cole, angered at what he didn't understand followed the voice's source, gripped it by the arm and spun it around.

"Dione?" He spluttered.

"Steadman." She replied with a dread certainty. Dione tore her arm away from Cole and stormed off.

Cole was left standing inbetween two tents staring at the space Dione had just been standing in. He knew her vaguely from school. She was a good athlete, their paths crossed from time to time but he couldn't remember any specific emnity between them.


He spun around to find one of his friends staring at him with concern. "It's Sarah. She's here dude – with Ryker."

Again Cole could feel his blood beginning to boil. Sarah with Frank Ryker!

In a haze of anger and fear he was led through the crowds – minutes, hours passed and he wouldn't have known. A space cleared before him like a sea parting. Before him was a hideous ride adorned with goblins and knights on horseback with a long queue snaking away, all staring at him. Vaguelly he heard someone calling his name but his eyes were only for Sarah. Distantly he saw her head next to Ryker's – they were being guided across to one of the carriages.

"Steadman!" Dione called from behind him but he ignored her. What could she want? Couldn't she see that his girl was with another guy??

Cole cleared the way before him but not fast enough. He tore at people, gripping them by the collars and pulling them out of his path, climbing over their fallen forms, stamping violently at hands, faces and feet until he reached the walkway that led to the carriage. Sarah was getting in, Ryker was standing behind her with her brother.

At his side someone stuffed something into his hand. It was his Varsity ring. His drunken eyes stared at it open mouthed and livid. Where on earth - ?

His hand lashed out and grabbed the guilty looking freak cowering away from him. Swiftly, Cole tore away the hood revealing Peter. All of his anger and frustration caught in his throat as he stared at the injuries on the boy's face. He was barely recognisable. A dreadful desire to explain everything came upon him in an instant and his grip on Peter's wriggling, terrified body didn't loosen as he dragged him towards the carriage.

Every uneven footfall could be heard across the metal walkway as it led upwards. Behind him he could hear the sounds of irate kids. In front of him stood the attendant, but if he thought he was going to get in Cole's way then he was sorely mistaken. The man barely had time to utter a syllable before he was slung over the railing.

"Ryker!" Cole bellowed, throwing Peter bodily into the back seat of the carriage. "Get the hell away from my girl!"

Frank stood up and bore down on him, a savage intensity evident in the air between them. "Your girl? Stay away from her you cheating scum!" Frank spat in return. Cole hadn't known what to expect, but he hadn't expected that. For a moment he was floored. What did Frank mean? Evidently he believed it, but Cole didn't know what he was talking about.

"What?" He asked, his voice sounding small and quiet.

"You know." Frank replied, his face twisted with disgust. "Stay the hell away from us."

Us? Cole didn't hear anything after that.

He was propelled forward by his own fury and sense of injustice. He didn't feel Dione behind him pulling him away, didn't feel as he tore her off him, striking her down onto the seat. In a flurry of energy he threw himself on the carriage as it began its inexorable movement towards the maw of teeth that formed the mouth of the Dungeon Gate. Blind anger swallowed everything for Cole as the darkness of the ride enveloped them all.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Chapter One - Pilgrim's Howe - Ladies and Gents

Ladies and gents

Peter couldn't think all morning. When he got to school he hid his new stash of cards in with the rest in his locker. A gallery of wizards and witches, ghouls and goblins stared down at him brandishing their scores and numbers compounding the confusion he was feeling into a knot in his head. He closed the door to the locker, hiding away his private little world of character sheets, score cards and dice.

On the soccer field before lunch he didn't notice as balls sailed by or as jocks clamoured for the ball. He ran around zombie-like shadowing other players, his mind firmly elsewhere.

Guilt was setting in – guilt about his light fingers and their collecting habits. The money he pilfered from his sister, the borrowed items that littered his locker all gnawed at him as he realised how selfish he'd been imagining himself to be a hero in some stupid fantasy.

That didn't matter. It never had – only his family mattered, every last stupid one of them.


Peter tasted blood in his mouth and heard Coach screaming down at him to look where he was going. He'd done it again – getting lost in his head, blocking out the real world.

Rough hands picked him up and directed him towards the changing rooms. The rest of the class were slouching off. Wiping his mouth, Peter jogged to catch up with a couple of fellow nerds who he loosely called friends.

"Hey guys," he stammered, realising he probably hadn't talked to them since he'd last wanted to swap cards.

"I want my monacle back." Lee muttered. He was a big guy with thick braces and an uneven complexion. He didn't look happy. Peter recalled the last time they'd played a game – Lee had been a Mage and insisted on wearing the monacle. It was so shiny.

"What makes you think I know where it is?" Peter asked evasively.

Some of the other guys snorted and turned away from him. Lee just flushed and turned on him. "Because you're thief Pete. If I thought it were funny I'd probably give you a Level Four Stealth Class, but seeing as I don't – I'm just gonna call you a stinking thief."

Lee turned away and ploughed on ahead leaving Peter behind. A mixture of feelings were brewing in him as he kept his head down on the way into the changing room. Anger, embarrassment, guilt and a strong sense of injustice.

"Donaldson!" Coach's dulcet baritone boomed through the narrow, tiled space. What ensued was a tirade about his lack of enthusiasm and commitment. Did he want to graduate? Did he want his GPA to drop because he wasn't committed? Angrily, Peter soaked it up until he was permitted to change.

He stood near enough to Lee and his friends to be away from the jocks, but not close enough for him to intrude. Stonily he concentrated on getting changed without incident. He was so wrapped in his anger and unhappiness that he dropped his glasses and watched them blurrily skate across the floor and under a bench. Angrily he trotted over and bent down to reached under the bench.

Dione was carefully folding her towel and gym clothes in the girl's changing room. She was trying to be as quiet and as thorough as possible as a blazing row was happening in the adjacent bathroom and she didn't want to be seen overhearing or indeed walking out halfway having heard. It was a tiresome affair, two popular girls from her year seemed to be screaming at each other over a boy – none other than the overrated Cole Steadman.

"Just stay away from him you dirty tramp!" One of the girls screamed, tearily – was her name Sarah?

"Hah! Watch me." Tracey Dawkins replied with a bitchy flourish. Dione admitted to herself that Cole could possibly have been considered attractive, but only in a square jawed white-guy kind of way. She didn't see it. And as for his 'skill' at sport – well, if he spent more time practising and less time staring at his own reflection then he'd be a true athlete.

As the last of her things were neatly packed away it became clear that she'd have to leave and risk being seen. Tiresome, she thought. Dione did her best to avoid all the traps and loopholes in High School politics. She did not want to get caught between the grudge of two highly-strung socialites – they could easily make her life uncomfortable.

She was in luck – she looked around a corner to see Tracey stride out triumphant while Sarah stood with her back to Dione, trapped in a blanket of her own misery.

Momentarily she considered going to comfort her then decided against it. She didn't want to get involved.

Frank waited until all the other boys had left before kneeling down and helping Peter. A million different feelings were running through him at once – he was intensely angry, piteous and frightened all at once. The attack had been nothing short of brutal, even by Steadman's standards.

Peter was crouched against the wall of lockers and was cradling his head in his towel. Frank wondered fleetingly why he hadn't used it to cover himself up – but then he saw, the towel was covered in blood. Quietly, Frank pulled his own out of his bag and offered it across the gulf to Peter, who still hadn't noticed him.

"Pete?" Frank ventured kindly. Who was he kidding? Who called him Pete, for crying out loud? Nobody. Frank wasn't entirely sure he'd shared more than two words with Peter in all their time at High School.

Peter seemed to hear the voice and look around, he was snuffling and squinting at Frank as if through misted glass. Glasses. Frank immediately began looking for them on the floor. It gave him an opportunity to recover. Peter's face was a mess.

"Frank?" Peter blubbed.

"Yeah, it's me." Frank replied, handing him his glasses, "Here you go buddy."

Peter took his specs and didn't reply. Frank wanted to be more friendly, more supportive – do what his father might have done. He could strike up a conversation about a shared interest; blabber incesssantly to hide the awkwardness. He could do a hundred things to handle the situation, but Frank honestly didn't know what to say to a boy who'd just received the beating of a lifetime. Looking back later Frank realised that he too was in shock, but Peter may as well have been on another planet because Frank had no idea how to reach him.

Sitting weakly on the bench Peter stared down at his glasses, retreating down into himself and away from what he'd just been reduced to.

"Do you want a glass of water? Can I get you anything?" Frank asked, embarrassed and frustrated. Peter shook his head but Frank had no idea whether this was in response to the question.


Frank jumped at the sound of his surname being barked. It was Coach. "What in the blazes happened?" He stood stoutly, bearing down on the both of them. "I turn my back for two seconds and I get this." He hadn't seemed to have taken in the enormity of what had happened to Peter. Then it dawned on him. The silver haired, tough-skinned old weasel whistled between his teeth as he leant dow to examine the extent of the injuries.

"Jesus Donaldson," he whispered between his signature clenched teeth, "What in God's name happened?"

Frank lingered uncomfortably between the two of them, picking up instinctively on the evasive use of the word 'what' as opposed to 'who'. The strategy didn't last for long as Coach stood up and looked between Frank and Peter sternly. He looked guilty. There was a pause before Coach spoke.

"How is Don?" He asked gruffly, "Your father, how is he?"

"Good. The chest still gives him trouble – in the cold."

Coach nodded, "Knew him well. We played football together in College. A more honest man I never met. Good to know he's serving his community. I bet he makes a damned fine Fire Officer."

Frank nodded. He was used to the working man's fanfare that accompanied the use of his father's name. Coach hadn't brought it up for a reminiscence though. He was fishing for the truth, not a cover story.

Frank nearly laughed. The thought of lying to protect Steadman and by proxy, himself had only just occurred to him. Telling the truth, in the face of his inability to help Peter directly, was the only option he entertained. So, with no trimming, he relayed the events beat for beat and watched Coach's shoulders sag.

"You ungrateful, selfish little rat!" Coach screamed from across the space of the vice-principal's desk. The vice-principal himself was standing in the corner, arms crossed and his expression hidden behind the reflection in his glasses.

Cole tried not to squirm as he replied, "I'm sorry Sir, I don't know what came over me."

Despite being the only things he could have said, these words clearly weren't what Coach wanted to hear. "You're sorry? Sorry for beating on a kid half your size, with half your talent for no reason? Or sorry because you've let the team down, me down and yourself down?"

Cole's shoulders bunched up at the sound of his words. They hit home, stinging his pride and his muddied sense of honour. The truth was he actually regretted what he'd done. Even while it was happening he couldn't have given anyone a decent reason why he was doing it. There was no honour involved – Peter had just been there, under his feet, worming around like a freak. He could feel the anger rising up in him again. It wasn't like he'd caught him with Sarah – he'd just felt offended

"Look at me!" Coach shouted again, "My hands are tied. The faculty has to suspend you. There is no other option. I can't weasel you out of this one Steadman. Phoney homework and extra credit are one thing, but beating on some kid for no reason. Hell, there aren't words to describe how angry I am with you boy. I've a mind to throw you off the team and have done with it."

Cole looked up, a streak of fear flashing through him. The story of him getting suspended for beating someone up he could live with, he couldn't live with getting kicked off the team.

"Now I'm getting through your thick skull, eh Steadman?" Coach sneered. "Get out."

Cole spun around and walked out with two competing feelings battling it out within him. One was destitution, although Cole didn't see it as that – he only felt fear. The other was anger – anger at Coach's temerity, anger at Peter and anger at everyone and everything bar himself.

"Get out of my way!" He screamed at a group of Freshmen who half blocked his path. They retreated like a shoal of fish. Dimly he recognised Sarah's scrawny brother among them - Bobby? Robby? One of the two. Another snot who didn't make any effort. He saw a glimpse of his own feelings reflected back at him from the kid and it was at that point that he began to feel shame for what he'd done.

He determined to go to his car, drive home and break into his father's liquor cabinet. Briefly, the thought cheered him up. Then he ran into Sarah.

She was composed. Her battle with the Dawkins bitch did not show on her in the slightest. As far as the plebs were concerned, she was her normal picture of brilliance. Inside on the other hand, she was rattled. Her confrontation with Tracey hadn't gone as she'd hoped or expected. She'd underestimated the girl and now everything seemed clearer. Her revenge would have to be more than just casual, it would have to be complete, if only to protect what was hers. When fighting weeds, she mused, you had to go for the roots.

First of all however, she needed to know how much of what tracey had claimed was bluster and how much was truth. For that, she needed to confront Cole.

Her legs led her through the school, slowing to be seen in places, speeding up where she could afford it. She unconsciously checked all of his familiar haunts and was terrified when she couldn't find him anywhere. Fearing the worst, she slowly lost her composure and her search became desperate.

Eventually she found him in the long hallway that cut through the centre of the main school building, leading to the front doors. He was going somewhere.

"Where are you going?" She demanded, arms crossed as she stepped into his path. For a moment she didn't notice the expression on his face. "What's wrong?"

"I've been suspended." He replied in a deadly undertone.

She blinked, wondering whether she'd heard him right., "Suspended?"

He nodded, impatient, his body racked with anger and frustration. He looked like a time bomb and Sarah felt scared. Cole nodded fiercely.

"What happened?" She asked quickly, her hands springing to the nearest forearm. "Tell me." She whispered, needing to know the details – fearing to hear her name, although she could smell it already. It was only a matter of time before it reared its ugly head.

Cole moved her aside with a gesture and strode out into the sunlight. He was going for his car.

"Talk to me Cole – tell me what happened." She demanded, her voice rising.

"Stay away from me Sarah – I need to be alone."

Terror gripped its vice-like, chilly fingers around her insides and squeezed.

"It's her – isn't it!"

Cole didn't stop, he didn't even flinch, he didn't even seem to hear. Tracey's victory burned within her threatening to tear her apart. Only her keen self-awareness stopped her from sinking on the stone steps into a gibbering wreck.

Of all the things she'd expected to feel, she hadn't expected to have been this attached to Cole. It stunned her. She wasn't stupid and her own cynicysm had forced her to see the attraction of a such an animalistic choice in mate. He had a big car, he was good-looking, he was Captain of the football team. He was a symbol of status and she was a symbol of his. But she'd never once thought that she actually felt attracted to him.

She was stricken.

It was a long time before she noticed a meek presence behind her. It was Robby. Around them, she noticed that everyone had gone, afternoon classes had begun. She needed comfort, she needed solace and she needed her brother. It was the intensity of his anger and frustration that drove her on. Without that passion opposing her every move she didn't think she could have risen to her school-wide position of power. Now that Cole was gone, Robby was still there, because he loved her – he would never betray her.

Despite how much she loathed herself at times; despite how much she hated him, at times, the bond between them exapanded to allow her to accept his hand across the social gulf between them and squeeze it. She'd have hugged him had they not been standing outside the entrance to the school. In its own simple little way, she felt, his sweaty hand meant more to her than all the pompoms and cheers life threw at her.

Robby sat and chewed his dinner quietly. This truly was bliss.

The parents ate unsteadily, expecting a row or a comment at any moment, but the moment never came. Sarah was keeping quiet, she was even eating ravenously, which almost never happened. She was notoriously picky about what she ate, causing the parents no end of further worry. But tonight was different. Earlier that day he'd witnessed the public breakdown of Sarah's relationship, if he could call it that, with Cole.

Everyone had seen him stalk off at the mention of another girl's name. He was a Cheater, then, Robby mused. He couldn't say he was surprised. After all his other crimes, Cheating just seemed like another one on the list.

Sarah was no longer top girl. Whether or not she realised it was another matter, all afternoon she'd seemed distant and dreamy. Cole would no doubt hook up with whatever skank he'd been seeing on the side and he'd have his new queen. Good riddance, Robby thought. Sarah was no longer Princess at home and Queen in school.

Robby contemplated something now which made his heart skip a little. Before today he'd never have tried anything like this. With calculated stealth he pulled a flyer out of his pocket and unravelled it. The flyer was advertising the Carnivale. Everyone in school was going – half with consent and half without it. Robby himself had been thinking of sneaking out as he was convinced that his parents would have stopped Sarah, forcing her to do so herself.

He slid the strip of paper across the table towards her until he caught her attention. Her eyes scanned over it and didn't recognise it at first.

"Mom," she said, he voice creaky, "Dad? Could I go to the Carnivale, please?"

Robby would have laughed had the situation not been more delicate. He hadn't heard Sarah use the word please since… well, he couldn't remember it at all. The same thought occurred to his parents who looked equally baffled.

"Er- er – only if you take your brother." His father said defensively, falling back on a time worn discouragement. Sarah seemed to consider this for a moment before replying.


Thursday, 19 July 2007

The Voice: Part One

[[Author's note: This story isn't set in the same universe as my others, and has quite a different (darker?) tone.]]

"Ho, ho, ho, Reverend Amos. You've done it this time."

"What do you mean, me? You did this."

"Let's not split hairs, Amos. I offered advice."

"And I ... took the advice on board."

"That's right. You understand me now."

"I'm a scapegoat."

"Of course not."

"I'm not?"

"You're nothing more than a mouthpiece."

"And what does that make you?"

"That makes me the voice."


"'Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation.'" read the Reverend Amos. "And that's the crux of the whole thing. Moses couldn't have achieved any of this by himself. Everything he achieved was the work of God. Without God, he wouldn't even have dreamed of approaching Pharaoh. An ordinary man! Tending to his flock, with no visions of grandeur whatsoever." He closed his Bible. "We'll consider this further next week. Let's sing hymn number four hundred and eight."


"Wonderful sermon, Bill," said Mrs Allaway.

"Thanks, Mrs Allaway," replied Bill Amos, shaking her hand. "How's the leg?"

"Still causing me no end of grief," she replied. "But it gets no better from my moaning."

"Wise words indeed! Ah, Mr Pugh." Bill raised his voice. "Did Michelle's exam results come through?"

"Sh-she got t-two As and a B," stammered Mr Pugh.

"Oh, I am pleased," said Bill. "Send her my regards."

"Will d-do, Reverend, will do."

"And Phillip," Bill greeted warmly. "Did you enjoy today?"

"Very enjoyable," said Phillip – at twenty-five, the youngest member of the church. "An interesting take on old Moses. Looking forward to hearing more."

"Right, yes," said Bill joyfully. "I was wondering whether you'd be interested in coming to a prayer meeting later this week?"

"Sounds good," said Phillip. "I work nights, though, so I can't make it after nine."

"No problem," said Bill. "We meet Thursdays at five, here in the vestry."

"I'll see you there!"


Bill Amos entered his cottage, taking off his heavy coat on his way in. He entered his living room, and nearly jumped out of his skin.

"Excuse me," he said. "I didn't expect to see anyone in my house."

The man in the armchair stood up. He was about six foot tall, clean shaven, with jet-black hair. He wore a blue suit and smart shoes. Bill noticed that he was wearing a wedding ring.

"Hia," said the man. "How are you, Bill?"

"Do I know you?" asked Bill reproachfully.

"Nah," said the man. "Although, I'd better warn you, my arrival here means that your life is about to get a little bit complicated." He had a trace of an accent – what was it? South African?

"Complicated," said Bill. "Why don't we start with how you got into my house?"

"See?" said the man, grinning broadly. "Even that question doesn't have a simple answer." Seeing Bill's look of confusion, he continued. "Alright. I wasn't here until you were. I came in when you did."

"But ... I'd have seen you."

"I didn't use the door."

"Then how did you get in?"

"Gracious, didn't you ever play riddles as a child?" asked the man. "So boring. I see I'm going to have to spell it out to you."

"Spell it out to me, then."

"Come with me," said the man, walking out of the cottege.

Bill followed, with some trepidation.

"You can't walk out on me. You were breaking and entering."

"I definately didn't break," said the man. "And I technically didn't enter, either. Here we are."

He'd stopped in the middle of a country lane.

"What are you doing?" asked Bill.

"Enigmatically demonstrating the extent of my abilities whilst simultaneously getting into your thick skull some details about myself that I COULD simply tell you, but which you wouldn't believe unless I did something of this magnitude anyway."

A car sped round the corner. Bill barely had a chance to react before the car went straight into the man. Bill began to run forwards, but when the car had passed, the man was still standing in the road, without a mark on him.

"How did you ..."

"Haven't you seen ANY films?" asked the man. "Come on. Tell me three things I could be."

"That's imposs-"

"Shut up, and don't waste my time." The man suddenly smiled again. "Come on. Three things. What could I be? What would explain what you've just seen? And if you say 'nothing', I'll be forced to tell you. And trust me. You don't want to force me to do that."

"You're a ghost?"

"Ooh, not the best answer you could have given, but I'll accept it."

"A figment of my imagination."

"Better! Good. I like that one."

"Is that what you are?"

"One! More! Answer!" he called. "Please!"

"I don't know!"

"Yes you do! Come on. You must be brimming with ideas!"

"But it's insane-"

"And until you embrace the supposed insanity, we won't be getting anywhere, will we?" The man strided confidently back towards the cottege, stopping inches from Bill's face. "Ghost. Figment. What's your third?"

"I'm going mad?"

"That's the same as answer two. Give me another."

"You're a magician," said Bill. "A conjuror."

"Rubbish answer," said the man. "But I'll accept it. Back inside!"

He took Bill's arm and led him back indoors. Closing the door behind him, he sat Bill down in the airmchair, and sat on the sofa opposite.

"Now that we've got that bit out of the way, let's talk about the future."

"Wait." Bill's head was spinning. "I still don't know who you are."

"You don't need-"

"Don't start," he interrupted. "Arrogance and a cheap trick can only get you so far, but now I want answers."

"Ooh, Bill, I'm impressed." The man smiled. "What's the question?"

"What's your name?" asked Bill.

"Can't tell you."

"Why not?"

"You might get it wrong. And it's such a beautiful name."

"I'm not having that," said Bill. "I'm not having you talking like this without knowing your name."

"Fine," said the man. "Call me Silas."

"A Biblical name," noted Bill.

"Is it really? I got it from the Da Vinci Code."

"And why are you here, 'Silas'?"

"Oh, you'll love this bit," he said. "You see, I'm here with a message. You, Reverend William Amos, will lead your people to salvation."

Bill stared. "My people."

"Shush, don't say anything for a bit," said Silas.

"Why not?"

"My 'salvation' speech. That's known in the trade as a Big Reveal. If this was TV, we'd go to the credits now. If it was a film, there'd be triumphant music."

"But ... it's my cottege."


"So I get to ask you what you actually mean."

"An unfortunate side-effect."

"And what do you actually mean?"

"You don't half go on, do you?" Silas crossed his arms. "Alright, here it is. The world's going wrong. Wars and that. And you're going to fix it."

"I'm going to bring about world peace."

"Don't say it like that!"

"There have always been wars, Silas," said Bill. "And I agree it's an awful thing, but I can't fix it."

"And why not?"

"Because nobody can!"

"What about God?" asked Silas.

"Apart from God, obviously, but I'm guessing you're not here to announce Judgement Day ..."

"Tell you what," said Silas. "Test me."


"Test me. Prove to yourself what I can do."

"And how should I do that?" sighed Bill.

"Your sermon next week. Whatever it's about, put in a bit about the situation today, the world as it is, the government going wrong, blah blah blah ... and that if things continue as they are, you can see a time when the British economy crashes down around us."

"And what will that prove?"

"Oh, you'll see."

"Silas," said Bill, and this time there was an edge to his voice. "I'm a man of God. When I preach, I preach the word of God. I don't insert subliminal advertising, I don't use it as a platform for some lunatic's political agenda, and I'm certainly not going to use my sermon as a test of anything."

"That's your view, then," said Silas. "'Tempt me not Satan,' that sort of thing."

"Yes. That sort of thing."



"I'll be leaving then."

"I think you'd better."


A week and a half later, the United Kingdom experienced a real estate crash, with devastating effects on the British economy. After a steady rise over a hundred and fifty years, the economy suddenly plummeted, causing a nationwide depression. On the streets, people could be seen taking carrier bags full of money to buy basic food rations, while no vehicles could be seen on the road – nobody could afford the fuel.

The Reverend William Amos's phone was ringing.


"Hi, there, is that the Reverend Amos?"


"Hia, it's Claire Rushmoor speaking, from the Telegraph. I understand you sent us a letter last week ..."

"I'm afraid there must be a mistake," said Bill. "I didn't send you a letter."

"Alright, sorry to bother you."

Bill hung up the phone, and immediately, it started to ring again.

"Hello, William Amos?"


"Geoff Harries, Financial Times. Wanted to talk about your letter."

"I didn't send a letter," said Bill. "And how did you get my number?"

"You ... included it," said Harries.

"Pardon me?" Bill frowned. "What's this letter about?"

"It referred to your parish mostly," replied Harries. "And it predicted the economic crash. I was hoping for an insight into ..."

Bill looked up, and saw a reflection in the mirror.

"I'll phone you back."

He hung up the phone, and turned around.


"Hope you'll forgive me," said Silas. "You wouldn't be convinced to make the prediction in the sermon, so I took the liberty of posting the Telegraph a letter on your behalf."

"Why on earth would you do that?"

"You might not have remembered my little prediction," said Silas. "But look! Soon you'll be famous."

"I don't want to be famous," said Bill. "And it wasn't my prediction – how am I going to explain this to the papers? Nobody predicted this crash."

"Nobody except me," said Silas. A grin spread across his face. "Don't you want to know the secret?"

"You impersonated me," said Bill. "Took advantage of me. I'll be telling the papers the truth – that I didn't send that letter."

"And what will that achieve? Who'd believe you?"

"It doesn't matter – they can't catch me out if I'm telling the truth."

Silas's smile faded.

"You're not playing along, Amos," he said. "I'm giving you one chance to play by my rules, or I'm taking this to the next level."

"I don't like this," said Bill. "I'm not playing by your rules."

"Alright," said Silas. "Fine by me. Here's my next prediction."

"Oh, no, you don't."

"At this time next week, there will be an explosion at Mrs Allaway's house." He grinned. "I'm not going to impersonate you this time. Either you get the message out there yourself, or poor old Mrs Allaway will have more problems than just her leg."

He skipped towards the door, and paused only to take a look over his shoulder, and grin once more.

"And that's what we call a Big Reveal."

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Chapter One - Pilgrim's Howe - Morning


Robby awoke to find a Dragon, Darth Vader and Michael Jackson staring down at him. He rubbed his eyes and swung his legs out from under the blankets before turning his alarm clock off. Sufficiently awake, he began the ritual of getting ready for school.

In the room next door, Sarah was already half-way through her morning ritual. She was enthroned on plush stool, facing her own reflection in the mirror of an antique dressing table. Her hair was pulled back in a towel turban and her blemishless skin was undergoing the early stages of its daily transformation.

On the drive of the house next door, Frank dropped his bike unevenly at the door of the garage and walked into the kitchen. The morning paper run was done and now he had to make breakfast and get ready before his father got up and his mother came home from work.

One street over Dione stepped out of the car and walked up the drive with her father and into the house. She gave her sports bag to her mother and alighted the stairs to her room and a hot shower. Her muscles throbbed with energy from her swim and she moved with graceful precision. She closed the door of her bedroom firmly behind her.

An entire estate away Cole was waxing his sleek, red Porsche 912 on his parent's drive in full view of the neighbours. He was wearing his letterman jacket too with deliberate pride, shrugging the colar every now and then to make sure everybody knew. Satisfied that he was seen, he retreated to the house where his mother had prepared pancakes.

On the other side of town Peter snuck out of the house early in an endeavour to escape his brothers and sisters. Guiltily he rifled through the pennies he'd lifted from his sister's coat, ignoring the long hours she worked in the constant fight for necessities. Ducking under the fence to the wasteland, he decided to skip the bus that morning and walk the ten blocks to school.

Robby sat on the steps of the porch wringing his hands, on his right sat his sister Sarah who was stoutly ignoring him. He was angry with her, intensely so, and not for any reason he was willing to admit to out loud. To begin with there was the constant warring with their parents that she maintained she did nothing to exacerbate. He hated the fact that when they weren't fighting with each other, each party ranted about the other incessantly. He hated the fact that she'd started an argument this morning quite deliberately in order to incense them into buying her a car. But, most of all, above and beyond everything else, Robby loathed, despised and detested the creature she was dating.

The second he heard the squealing of tyres around the corner, Robby looked up in time to see her eyes brighten. He's coming! He could almost hear her squeak.

The polished red Porsche ground to a halt in front of the drive and Cole Steadman, Varsity champion and warlord of idiots leaned across the sixties leather seats and waved at Sarah. Instantly both siblings got to their feet, but whereas Sarah bounded across the lawn to meet her beau, Robby hung back and lumbered deliberately down the lawn in reserve.

"Yo girl," Cole greeted her inanely. Sarah giggled and Robby nearly flinched at how offensive he really was. He was so wrapped up in his assessment of the lummox that Cole actually noticed. "What are you looking at, turd? What's he looking at me like that for, babe? He looks like he's shit his pants."

Sarah didn't even look at him, she just squeezed Cole's arm and snuggled up against the vibrant purple and yellow jacket he was wearing. The letter C was emblazoned across his chest.

"He probably has, sweetie," she muttered, just low enough for it to sound like she was trying not to be heard, but not low enough for Robby to not hear. Cole burst into peals of raucous laughter and gunned his engine, growling into Sarah's neck, making her giggle even more. She could obviously feel Robby's uncomfortable stare boring into her head as she faked a smile and tried to persuade him to drive off. Cole had other ideas.

"Frank!" He boomed as their next door neighbour appeared at the bottom of his drive. Frank seemed to flinch at the sound of Cole's voice. "When are you going to pluck up the courage and try out, buddy?"

Frank shrugged.

"We could use your legs on the football team. You'd have to bulk out a bit and make an effort to care, but you could be a work in progress." Cole nodded to himself up, sizing Frank up.

"I'll think about it Steadman," Frank replied stoically.

Cole snorted, gunned the engine and screamed off down the road.

Peter rifled through the cards quickly, sizing up which ones were useful and which ones he could swap. Arcturus the Bold – a bit lame, he could potentially be useful as canon fodder. An imp – eeshk, get rid, get rid, get rid. A Mage – valuable, level three too, he mused.

Out of the corner of his eye he could see his sneakers padding softly on the sidewalk. He didn't notice the shadow fall in front of him until he nearly walked into its source.

"Excuse me," he stammered, dropping the cards to the floor. The man stooped down to help him and smirked at the cards. Peter felt his ears begin to burn.

"Role-playing, eh?" the man muttered softly. Peter found his eyes drawn to the man's red leather shoes. Looking up he found the man was strangely dressed throughout. Pin-stripe suit, dark glasses, an umbrella and a portable telephone.

"Sorry," Peter muttered again as he walked away, but the man caught his arm.

"My friend and I were just talking about it. Are there many who enjoy it?"

Peter wrapped his head around the question, "Sorry – I don't quite –"


Peter shook his head and grimaced, pushing his glasses up on his nose irritably. The man was making fun of him. "No. It's pretty niche, dude."

The man looked down, disappointed. It was at this point that Peter noticed the portable phone – the receiver seemed to be emitting music, strange lyrical sounds.

The man caught Peter's eye and looked down, "I'm on hold." He said with a shrug. Peter shook his arm loose and the man released him.

"Shame." The man continued, "Role-playing is a dynamic skill." He stopped and examined Peter closer. "Aren't we all playing out our own lives? Don't we act when we lie, hide our feelings? Don't we try and be who we are not?"

Peter took a step back and the man seemed to realise how freaked out he was and let go. Swiftly, Peter turned on his heel and walked away. He tried looking over the cards again but was distracted by what the man had said. He wasn't stupid, he understood what he was trying to get at; the loose Shakespeare reference, the garbled philosophy. Uncomfortably he shrugged off the allusions he seemed to be making about Peter – hiding his family life from his friends, consciously building up a world in which he could escape into.

Dione stepped out of the car a block away from the school. Her father ran neatly around to the trunk, from which he removed her sports bag and handed it to her. She looked at her watch irritably and realised she probably wouldn't have time to run before class.

"Be sure to call us tonight." Her father said earnestly, passing her a portable phone. The thing weighed a ton and she put it into a side compartment before walking off. She looked down at the short, balding man and thanked him in her own way before walking off.

She strode with assured invisibility through the crowds of kids hanging around outside in their little groups. There was the girl going to the Olympics, they thought, assuming her social group was as large as her training timetable. The truth was, she didn't have time for socialising and she liked it that way. Bitchy girls left her alone, broody admirers kept their distance and the teachers doted over her almost as much as her parents. Her life, she liked to think, was like clockwork – an oiled, precise machine with rhythm and value. Dione was happy.

Frank and Robby turned the corner and started walking towards the school, which loomed in the distance. they both naturally understood that if they were seen together in anything other than a neighbourly sense then a rumour would start. Not that there was anything to start a rumour about anyway, but school was a strange beast and friendship interchanged with acquaintancy depending on which sides of its walls you stood.

"My parents can't afford another car." Frank was saying, trying to taper Robby's rant with cooling comments. It didn't work, they just seemed to make him more incensed about Sarah.

Sure, she'd changed. She was moving in a wider circle, she was beautiful and popular, but Robby was talking about her as if she'd changed. He wasn't sure he liked it.

"She started the conversation though. She knew it was going to piss them off and she did it anyway. You can see it in the way she smirks and twirls her hair." Robby kicked a coke can down the sidewalk and into the gutter. Frank coolly leaned down, picked it up and put it in the trash. "I just wish she could see herself – she thinks she's such a princess."

Frank remembered fondly a time when he and Sarah had acted out Snow White in her back yard. Robby had taken it in turns to play the Seven Dwarves but had got bored before the all important final scene. The kiss and the riding off into the sunset.

In this case it had been a peck on the cheek and them riding off down the street on his bike to buy ice-cream, but those moments still glowed within him. The wind in his hair, the dappled sunshine through the trees, her arms around his waist as his legs burned with the effort of pedalling for two.

" – I wish there was a way for her to see herself."

Frank suddenly felt cold and didn't want to talk about Sarah anymore. Robby never seemed to stop, he was so angry and bitter. Sure – Cole Steadman was an ass; sure, Sarah could be a bit of a prima dona – but she was still his sister. Where did all the anger come from?

"Dude – I'll speak to you later yeah? We'll go to the arcade." Frank said kindly before loping off to meet his friends, who were still about fifty yards away. Behind him Robby kicked up some dust and stayed absorbed in his own little world.

Sarah stretched and yawned as the man onstage droned on. She was sitting in assembly – around her the entire year was sitting in the auditorium. On everyone's faces she could see their boredom. It was fairly obvious to her that whoever-he-was was talking to a room full of zombies.

"When my son went missing, it changed my life." He continued, standing on the podium and reaching out with his voice. He was rich and powerful, at least within the city of Pilgrim's Howe and the state limits. "A young man, fresh out of college. His entire life ahead of him. Top of his year in chemistry and physics. An ivy-league man tipped for greatness. I couldn't have been more proud. I grew up in a local neighbourhood, I was never particularly academic and I just worked hard to open my own business. But Richard was going places.

"I was devastated." Eeshk Grandpa, Sarah thought – lay it on thick, why don't you? Although, she thought fleetingly, he was a bit of a silver fox. Tanned, smart, powerful features, if a bit rounded. Who did he remind her of – something from one of Robby's comics… Iron Man? The guy with the goatee and the eyes. Internally embarrassed, she looked around to see if anyone had seen her geek out. "What could have lured him away? For years I thought it was drugs, something scandalous. Maybe he was trying to protect me – I thought, assuming his reasons were noble. At other times I was convinced he'd done something and was too cowardly to face up to it. The truth is – it could have been anything.

"But, I'm not here to talk about Richard. I'm here to talk about the value of education and why these years are so vitally important to you – " And with those words Sarah could feel herself switching off and slipping into a world of plans in her head. She'd planned a speech she was going to give to Tracey Dawkins at recess. The bitch had it coming. Briefly, Sarah envisioned the scene in her head, the hurt way she'd look when it was over, how she'd flinch at every double-layered insult. Then she went over the evening game plan – what she'd say to her parents to make sure they didn't check in on her until it was safe. Then, she'd sneak out and meet up with Cole and his drongo buddies and sneak off to the Carnivale.

It was all perfect, how could it go wrong?

Cole looked down at his watch – it was nearing dinner time and he felt like he'd worked up a decent appetite. Coolly, he pulled off his sweaty shirt and dropped it on the bench in the changing room and pulled his towel from his locker. In the shower room he could hear the water and steam starting, the sound of laughing and cheering. Coach was grinding someone down in the corner for not making an effort.

It was Peter. Cole wasn't surprised, the boy was a weed and a complete waste of space.

After showering he dried himself with the rest of the guys – the ones worth a damn. The dweebs kept to themselves in the corner with their pale, underdeveloped bodies and sickening little habits. Braces, glasses and inhalers made Cole feel physically ill. He found it disturbing that infections and diseases and deviations existed at all. He never got ill – he ate well, worked out, looked after himself. He found it insulting that others didn't.

He scanned around the guys he loosely considered friends. They all had tanned, ripped bodies, white teeth – good hair-cuts. They looked after their god-damned skin, for crying out loud.

Standing off to one side he noticed Frank. A quiet guy. Probably gay or some shit. Cole shuddered at the very thought as he watched the guy dress. Nodding to himself, he stood by his earlier appraisal and thought to ask Coach about getting the guy a try-out. Frank was a fast runner, very good with a javelin – he just never competed, he never tried.

Behind him he heard a cough and the sound sent shivers up his back, making his hair stand on end. Suddenly incensed he spun around to find Peter's skinny, rank little form worming its way under the bench behind him. Before he knew what was happening Cole had gripped him by the towel and yanked it away making Peter bang his head against the bench.

Cole barely heard the laughter that erupted in the changing room. He was furious and he didn't quite understand why. With ease he tore Peter from under the bench by the hair and slammed him into the lockers, his hand gripped tightly around his neck.

He heard himself making a game of it, asking all the token questions. What do you think you're doing, queer? And all that. It all rolled off his tongue with natural confidence. But Cole was looking at the fear in Peter's eyes and found himself disgusted. What followed next was a textbook humiliation that Cole took great satisfaction from enacting.

Naked and sobbing, the Varsity Football Team and their righteous leader left Peter on the cold floor of the changing room while they went in search of lunch.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Therapy: Part 3

As I lie on the bed, reaching out with my thoughts, I begin to feel it. Like ... a part of the air that's warmer than the surroundings. At first, so subtle, but as I focus, it becomes second nature. Like getting back on a bike – I haven't lost the skill.

The strange thing is, though, that I can't remember learning it. More and more of my memories are coming back to me, but I can remember nothing past my twentieth birthday. Over a third of my lifetime is still locked away.

Now, what does this mean? It feels like ... anxiety. But good anxiety. Maybe that's the wrong word. Hope, that's it. I smile, and as I do so, I can feel the hope give way to relief, and joy. I open my eyes, and look at the masked man beside me.

"I think I did it," I say. "I could feel your emotions."

"Good work," he says. "They're saying you'll be allowed out in a few days, so it's important to ensure that your powers are under control first."

"What about the other thing?" I ask nervously. "The telekinesis thing."

"That should be easier," he tells me. "Your empathic abilities, by all accounts, are milder than your telekinetic abilities. If you reacquired your empathy this quickly, you ought to be in full control in no time. Try it now."

He removes a pencil from his suit and places it on the bedside table. I focus.

I try not to let my mind wander, but once again, I find myself trying to place this man. He calls himself One Thousand And One, and apparently, before the accident, so did I. I knew him, I knew the suit, and ... now I can't. Sometimes, I try to force the memories out, and I sometimes try to sneak up on them. But there's nothing there. No deja vu, no hint that he was ever a part of my life. It worries me sometimes, but whenever he arrives, and seems so warm, and caring ...

The pencil lifts into the air. Immediately, I feel like I've got hold of it, and I manipulate it – spinning it, weaving between the legs of the table, flying over the bed and back underneath it.

One Thousand And One catches it, and replaces it in his pocket.

"See?" he says.

"What happens when I leave?" I ask.

"You'll need regular check-ups," he replies. "But that's the hospital's business. If it's alright with you, I'd like to keep visiting you."

"That'd be fine," I say.

"When we can work out of your flat, we'll have much more freedom. We can start trying to work this out properly."

And that's the other thing. Memory loss isn't particularly convenient when one needs to know how one lost one's memory in the first place.


As I enter the flat, I'm suddenly hit by a strange sensation. I immediately begin to remember many things – names, incidents, places ...

I'm told that this is to be expected. In the hospital, only a few familiar faces and stories could help trigger my memory, but in the flat, I'm surrounded by cues and clues; pictures, smells, decorations, magazines. All sorts.

During his second visit to the hospital, One Thousand And One described my flat to me, but I'd imagined it smaller. And messier. I walk slowly through the living area, taking in the atmosphere, and pass into a cosy kitchen. I take a look in the cupboards, spotting many ingredients that I can't imagine using.

I check the bathroom, and then the bedroom, in which I find a neatly-organised filing cabinet. I browse through a couple of the drawers, but once I've found the folder I wanted, and an empty pad of lined paper, I head back into the living room.


"This page lists all my relatives," I say. "Mostly complete, but excluding anyone born after nineteen ninety-five. This page lists friends and acquantainces, and currently only includes those who visited me in hospital – including you." One Thousand And One nods. "This page will be a list of everyone who knows me as Grey Matter or, more importantly, Therapy. That'll involve research. Finally, I've drawn up a table of the week, which I'll fill in with my normal schedule – again, research."

"I should have known," said One Thousand And One with a chuckle. "You've got it all planned already. Suppose you won't need my help, will you?"

"Actually, I do," I say. "You're the only one who knows my identity, so you have to help me with everything you know about me. And my memories are coming back now, so you might as well tell me why you're called One Thousand And One in the first place."

"Not yet," he says.

"Why not?" I snap. "What possible reason could you have for keeping that a secret? You've already told me that I knew before the accident. Remind me, and it might jog my memory further."

"That's unlikely-" he starts, but I interrupt.

"I'm a lecturer in psychology," I say. "And I've accumalated an impressive amount of notes on retrograde amnesia, and I reread them all this afternoon. Which makes me the authority, doesn't it?" I grin.

"I suppose you're right," says One Thousand And One. "Alright, then. I'll meet you back here tomorrow."

"What for?"

"A day out," he says. Seeing my frown, he says reassuringly, "As I said, the number itself isn't important. But it's linked to a place, which I think will be a big help to you. Now! Let's fill in some of those pages."

And so, still a little bit put out, I sit down with him, and we fill in my book.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Defence Mechanism

It had not been a happy childhood for Peter. He could hardly remember his mother; she'd passed away when he was six years old. His father – already a heavy drinker – sank deeper and deeper into the bottle in his grief. Peter learned to take care of himself early on – a necessity.

His home life became desperately lonely. His father expected him to complete all household chores, and barely spoke a word unless he was barking orders. Embarassed of his home life, Peter never brought friends to the house, and rarely spent time anywhere else, apart from school.

As he got older, Peter developed a greater understanding of the world. At the age of eleven, he told a close friend of his home life, confiding his secrets. The friend had told him that there were people who could take his father away. He'd meant it as a suggestion – a way for Peter to get out of the situation. Instead, Peter became fiercely protective of his father, and never again admitted that there was anything wrong.

At the age of fourteen, his father took him to a pub for the first time. He pulled some strings with the landlord, and Peter was allowed into the back room, where they kept the darts board and pool table. Something to keep him quiet while his father had a few pints.

Even on that first night, Peter had to drag his father home. And, that night, his father hit him for the first time.

A few years later, Peter developed a surprising aptitude for sports – particularly the long jump. He joined the school's athletics team, and for the first time, he had a coping mechanism.

Years later, he studied psychology, and learned of three major coping strategies, or ego defences as they were known. Firstly, regression – channeling an earlier stage of development. Peter had never dared to throw a tantrum. Secondly, rationalisation, and Peter acknowledged that he'd probably been doing this for years. Reasoning that his situation wasn't too bad. Now, he took to the third ego defence – passive aggression. All his frustration, all his retained energy, he used to practice. Later, he learned that many people at this time developed unusual skills overnight, but few of them nursed these skills, and trained further.

Later still, he realised that these examples of ego defences were greatly simplified, and that he'd also made use of compensation, denial, intellectualisation, dissociation and even introjection. It was at this stage that Peter decided that psychology was too frightening for his tastes.

Then, at the age of seventeen, as Peter was getting changed, his coach saw the bruises. There had been a conversation, and Peter hadn't liked it. The coach had done his best, tried reasoning and suggesting things, but Peter didn't want to do a thing.

And so, things continued as they were. He preferred to keep quiet, not wanting to draw attention to himself.

He chose not to attend university, instead taking a small office job in the neighbourhood. He stopped attending his father's weekly visits to the pub, but didn't move out of the house.

One night, at the age of nineteen, Peter returned home from work to find that his father had died of liver failure. Shortly afterwards, Peter became the superhero known as Lunar Mist.

Even then, he never spoke about his father.


The new alien suddenly ran for the empty space in the middle of the group. Garnoff, the alien interpretor, ran for him as the alien guards shouted and readied their weapons. The girl accompanying the alien seemed doubtful, and ran after him. A struggle followed, and the girl, Garnoff and the alien prince all clambered into the ship.

The ship suddenly took off, and the guards ran away, presumably headed for their own ships.

This left Zoe with her sister, Ffion, and the rest of the kids – Liz, Dylan and Karen.

"What do we do?" asked Karen softly.

"I think our involvement with the aliens is over," predicted Liz. "I mean, they're in the ships now. We must be safe."

Karen was nodding furiously. "Yes. You're right."

"We'll need to talk to someone," said Zoe decisively. "Between you, you've probably witnessed a tonne of important stuff. We'll have to talk to police officers or something." She looked at their faces, and smiled. "You all alright?"

There were sighs of relief all round.

"Tell you what," said Zoe. "Let's find someone now, soon as we can, and then we'll all go for ice cream.


Lunar Mist jumped from building to building, his mobile phone in his hand. He'd received a text from a friend, and had to hurry.

He jumped onto a factory wall, and suddenly saw the problem – an enormous reptilian creature, near the University. Or at least, what was left of it.

And underneath was a figure in the remains of an orange costume, being struck by the creature.

Lunar Mist jumped at the creature.

"Leave her alone!" he shouted.

He landed on the creture, and spotted that it had been partially tied up. He grabbed the loose end of the rope, and jumped as far as he could. The momentum pulled at the creature's neck, and Lunar Mist jumped to the ground. With the beast disorientated, he was able to jump underneath it, trying to weave the rope between its legs.

Suddenly, the rope snapped at the top, and Lunar Mist was left holding the other end as the creature dashed forwards. Lunar Mist jumped towards it, hoping to think of some way of stopping the monster now that it was free from the-

And then there was no monster at all.

No sign of it remained. Lunar Mist looked in all directions, but only the damage remained as evidence that it had ever been there at all. Even Sunset had vanished.


Peter entered the ice cream parlour, and heard a familiar voice.

"Hey, Pete!"

It was Zoe, who worked in his office, with a group of kids. He waved, and Zoe called him over.

"Meeting someone?" she asked.

"No," said Peter. "Just needed to cool down."

"Come sit with us, then!" she said. Under her breath, she added, "Otherwise I'm the uncool grown-up babysitting the cool kids."

Peter sat down.

"I was at the school," said Zoe. "With the aliens! We got to see them close up and everything!"

"Wow," said Peter.

"And then they left, and we got to see the prince's spaceship. Did you know about the prince? He's a fugitive here on Earth. It was incredible."

"Sounds amazing."

"Anyway, after they left, we were just there, hanging around," said Zoe. "Felt a bit pointless, really, like we were all geared up for this ... and then they vanished."

"Know the feeling," said Peter, smiling. He saw the kids talking excitedly. "So, were they all involved in this alien thing?"

"They were," said Zoe. "Had to get their parents in to talk to the police and everything, but they agreed to let them come for an ice cream. I convinced them that, whatever happens, these kids made history, so we should make it the best day ever."


Afterwards, Karen and Liz returned home, but Dylan and Peter walked back to Zoe's house with her and Ffion.

"I need to phone my parents," said Dylan. "Beg a lift."

Ffion led him into the living room, while Peter and Zoe went to the kitchen.

"Cup of tea?" asked Zoe, putting the kettle on.

"Please," smiled Peter.

"What a bonkers day," said Zoe. "Wow, I'm buzzing with energy."

"So I see," said Peter.

"Maybe caffeine's not the wisest idea," she said thoughtfully. "But I'll think about that once I've had my tea."

"I enjoyed today," said Peter clumsily.

"So did I," said Zoe with a grin. "We should get ice cream more often."

"Maybe after work sometimes." Peter was avoiding eye contact.

"Yeah," said Zoe. "Or on our lunch breaks or something."

"What do you like for lunch?" asked Peter, trying to sound breezy.

"Oh, I'll eat anything," said Zoe. "Y'know. Except fast food."

"Me too!"

"We should make that a thing," said Zoe. "Try different places every day and stuff."

"That'd be cool."

Peter smiled to himself. The kettle began to whistle.

"So," said Peter as Zoe made the tea. "Is it just you and Ffion living here?"

"That's right," said Zoe. "My dad got a job out of town, so he and my mum moved there. Ffion spends weekends with them, but lives here with me during the week, so she wouldn't have to move schools."

"That's nice," said Peter. "The variety, I mean."

"How about you?" asked Zoe. "Living with parents? On your own?"

"On my own, yes," said Peter. "My parents died."

"Oh, I'm so sorry," said Zoe. "Do you want to not talk about it?"

"Maybe I would," said Peter. "When we have lunch or something." He smiled. "Milk and half a sugar, please."


What am I doing? I'm putting the phone down first. It's weird, holding a phone when there's nobody on the other end. Good God, I've been holding it too long, and now it's weird.

Right, it's down. I should be talking. Because now we're both here, not talking. That's not normal.

Look at her. She giggled! Is that a good giggle? Probably. There was no snort. No snort's a good thing. Say something.

"Wow. Aliens, eh?"

Deep, Dylan. We're onto a winner here.

"I know!"

Well. Good thing she's easily pleased. Actually, she's probably too nice to be honest with you. Come on, say something else, you've gone quiet again.

"Never thought I'd see real aliens."

As opposed to all those fake aliens? You retard.

"I loved their suits. They were really exciting!"

Quickly, answer, don't stop – get a conversation going.

"I liked their guns."

What the crap? Think things through! You just told the girl of your dreams that you liked alien implements of death.

"They scared me."

See? You've scared her. Say something gentle.

"I liked the translator one. I liked his accent."

That's ... something, certainly. Better than saying you like guns.

"It's so strange, isn't it? Never thought we'd get to hear aliens speaking English."

"Or Dutch!"

Was that meant to be funny? Did you seriously think- She laughed! She laughed at your joke! Come on, now. Smile. Not that much! There we go. Don't show too much gum.

"I enjoyed today."

Well, now! That's not too bad. Or is it? Is that a cliché? That must have come from a film. Or maybe it comes from ALL the films!

"Me too."

She's still smiling. Do something romantic. NO! STOP! Do NOT touch her arm! Not under any circumstances. She'll stare at it until you move it and then kick you out of her house, and then when your mum comes, you'll have to explain to her why you're sitting on the pavement. Be sweet. Be ... self-mocking. Is that a word? Good God, don't start thinking about vocabulary.



"You don't want to go out with me, do you?"




"Sorry, don't answer that."

You idiot you idiot you idiot you idiot you idiot you idiot you idiot you idiot ...

"Was that a joke?"

Why is her voice so quiet? Is she threatening you? No, surely not, that'd be weird. She's giving you a way out, though – you can tell her it's a joke.

"Erm ..."

No wait! Don't tell her it's a joke, she'll think you were making fun of her.

"Dylan, I'd love to go out with you."


"I really like you, actually."


"I mean, I think you're really cool, and I sort-of, wait, sorry, ignore me. I'll shut up. Sorry. Yes. Please. Yes, I want to go out with you. If you still want to, what with me babbling and all. I'll stop."


Sunday, 8 July 2007

ASBO-Boy - Disassembled: Part 2

Squeeze found Bark down by a small stream that ran its way through the trees near the walls of the University, though he very nearly missed him. When Bark moved the extent of his transformation became clear. Leaves fell from his back as he shifted to watch as Sqeeze approached, it sounded like a breeze but the air was calm, devoid of movement, stagnant and waiting.

"Say what you need to say," Bark muttered.

Squeeze coughed. "I've just read something disturbing…" He paused, waiting vainly for a sign of interest. When he didn't get one, he carried on, "Gwen left me, us, a note. It says that she expected things to go wrong – well, she didn't so much expect as she was prepared for every eventuality, which included planning for my screwing things up. Anyway, it says she's gone to Cefn Coed to hack into their computers to try and find a way of helping Flicker."

Bark nodded.

"Yeah. Well, it was one of those 'If you haven't heard from me by such and such a time then I'm probably…'," Squeeze cleared his throat again, "Well, you know."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to break into Cefn Coed and rescue her."

Bark said nothing, so Squeeze felt compelled to say something.

"You know me… why start one fire when you can start…" He didn't finish the sentence, the look from Bark quelled it in his throat.

"I'm not going with you."

Squeeze nodded. "I thought you might say that."

"Arc-Light wont go either."

"I know."

An edgy silence fell between them like a blackout curtain. Squeeze wondered back on the months inside the Sandfields facility, how Bark had looked after him and followed him when his mind had bent to the power of the authorities. As if reading his thoughts Bark spoke up, "The trees burned, Mike. They all burned along with the houses and the people. My people. Make it right. Get Gwen, help Flicker, do whatever – just make it right."

Squeeze recoiled slightly at the words, but they were what he needed. With a nod he left the small glade and trudged his way back up the hill to where Vue was waiting.

"Told you so," Vue said.

"I had to ask."

Vue nodded and looked at the towering cloud of smoke pluming out of the belly of the Sandfields. Squeeze was wringing his hands and staring up at Core. "Do you think she's up to the task?"

"Of course," Vue smiled, "My girl's ready for anything."

"You guys were together before Dyfatty?" Squeeze asked, trying to steer things away from the cloud that loomed behind him, his pillar of guilt.

"Oh yes. Life can get pretty cramped and hot in that tower. People become close."

"Do you love her?"

"Stupid question," Vue chuckled, "Of course I do. I wouldn't have spent every waking hour trying to figure out a way of getting her back if I didn't. You and him breaking out of that helicopter was the best thing that ever happened to me, up until getting her back, that is."

"Maybe there'll be a way of bringing her back properly at Cefn Coed."

"There might be a lot of things there," Vue replied coldly, then immediately cheered up. "Is there anybody you care about, let's say, more than the usual?"

"Love, you mean?"

Vue replied with a look and Squeeze coughed, "I'm too young for love."

Vue started to laugh, "That'll be a yes then." With a flash he was standing on Core's back looking down at Squeeze and laughing. Squeeze felt his colar become unbearably hot as he climbed up Core's lower back, all the way to her shoulders. When he was standing next to Vue, Squeeze found he couldn't quite make his eye. Vue smiled, "I remember when my power first emerged, I launched myself across the street and ended up in a tree. It was scary. When I met Core, it felt almost the same – like something had been turned on that I'd never known was there. Some impossible things can be like breathing or walking, they're so natural that you don't know they're happening. Teleporting. Stretching your body like an elastic band. Meeting someone and just knowing they're something more."

From this vantage they could see a lot of the city beneath them. Squeeze didn't say anything, he just stared off into the middle-distance and tried not to think about what came next. "You know what," Vue said, his mind changing gear, "It's probably about time I told you about Dyfatty."

Monday, 2 July 2007

ASBO-Boy - The Dreams

"They all dream of the sea." She said, holding his hand. Omen looked down from the wall and surveyed the bay as it swept out before them. Dotted across the surface of the ever-lapping waves lay the star shaped forms of Others, lying face upwards. Their eyes were closed.

"Are they dead?" Omen asked with a terrible feeling in the pit of his stomach, but when she looked at him she shook her head, bewildered.

"They are dreaming." She replied, simply. Without a second glance she stepped off the wall and guided him down to the water, floating effortlessly in the air. Beneath them a boy not much older than Omen bobbed on the water. "There are things you must see." Softly, she leaned down and touched the boy on the forehead.

The world turned to white and shifted around them until they were standing in a park. Brynmill Park. There was no one around apart from a couple sitting under a tree a short distance away. It was the boy, lying on a blanket while a girl sat next to him. "There are people you will need to help before the end. You must know them, in order to do this."

A strange feeling crept through Omen's skin, it was warm and happy. It reminded him of Spout. "Do I know her?" He asked, feeling hot and uncomfortable. Her face was warm and soft, but something about it scared him.

"She is the Elemental known as Siren." The girl said. "He is called Squeeze." She looked at Omen squarely and continued, "You will need to find him. He is one of the catalysts." Omen nodded as if he understood what she was talking about. With a gesture the world faded away again and they were standing on the water looking down at the floating Others. With purpose she led him over to another sleeping form, a girl this time, smaller and probably younger than he was. In an instant they were standing on a hillside overlooking Swansea. The sun was beating down on them and the air was warm. Long grass came up to their waists as they watched the girl leading a Pony down the hillside towards a crooked tree. "Where are we?"

"We are with Malady."

"That's not what I mean – what is this place? I feel the same as I did in the last place." Omen replied, feeling uneasy but finding himself unable to stop smiling.

"This is the Idyll." She explained. "Or, at least that's what I call it. Everyone has a place like this locked away in their heads. It's the place where the most perfect fantasies are allowed to exist, pure and unhindered by reality or possibility. Here, anything can happen."

Omen couldn't help smiling, the feeling the place exuded was infectious. He felt like a tresspasser.

"What if you see something you don't want to?" He asked her, averting his eyes.

She looked away from a moment, "That's always a possibility. But here, invariably there is goodness, however small. I believe that this place must exist even in the most evil people." It sounded uncomfortably as if she was trying to convince herself.

Omen looked away to the girl and the pony. They'd reached the tree. Sitting under the branches against a low stone wall was Siren again. Omen looked at his companion, but she was lost to him. He was forced to watch as Siren accepted the reigns of the pony and stroked his muzzle. Behind him he felt the wind change and shadows passed over the tall grass. He turned and saw figures walking down the hillside, bowed and swaying, the ill and the damned. Malady turned to them and smiled with welcoming arms.

The world shimmered around them and Omen felt his feet touch the cold water of the sea. The girl pulled his hand and he found himself being dragged towards the Marina. Above them the moon's light cast everything in a silvery glow. Space and time blurred into one, distance meant nothing here. They were soon approaching the quayside – in the distance he saw the men dragging Spout's flailing body from the water. His feet treaded carefully between the drowned simulacra in the water. The girl smiled at him benignly as her dopplegangers stared off into the abyss.

"This is me." She said pointing at the girl in the shadows. A woman had her arms wrapped around the girl's neck, they were hiding from the beasts on the far side. "They lied to us." She finished.

"Omen! Wake up!" Came a voice from beyond, breaking into his mind like a knife.

The girl's head shifted. She looked faraway, then concerned. "Something has changed in the waking world. It has begun. Find Squeeze, find Malady. You will know what to do." Omen looked down at the girl.

"This is you…" he mused, "This is actually you. this is your dream. Am I right?"

"In a way. I walk in dreams."

"What's your name?" He demanded quickly.


"Will I see you again?" He demanded urgently.

"Not unless I am changed. I live only in dreams now, my waking self is lost to me. You may find my body. Say hello for me." She nodded sadly, fading into darkness.

When Omen opened his eyes he saw Spout and Swarm leaning in over him. "Wake up buddy. You need to see this." He felt himself dragged out of bed and into the light. There was smoke, the sound of crying and thousands of people filling the site. In the distance, he saw the Sandfields burning.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

ASBO-Boy - Disassembled: Part 1

When Squeeze opened his eyes all he could hear was the ringing in his head. He was lying on a bed of grass looking up at the evening sky. Around him was a cricle of trees that just obscured the dimming sun. He was trapped in a strange moment where he knew that titanic events lay just beyond the edge of rememberance and, when he ultimately remembered everything, he'd probably wish he was still happily ignorant.

Then the tress moved, and blissfully ignorant or not he knew that wasn't supposed to happen.

"You're right," came a voice, "He is awake." A head came into view, it was smiling down at him in a way he could only describe as sympathetic. Squeeze sat up and shook his head. Then it began to come back. The pile-up, the screaming and the fire. It was all his fault.

Covering his eyes with his hands he wilted back onto the grass and moaned. "It's all my fault."

"Well," the voice returned nonchalantly, "Depends on which bits really." Squeeze recognised the voice now, it was Vue. The grass must be Singleton Park, he mused, hoping briefly that he was dead and Vue was a manifestation of St Peter.

Something growled, or moved, or shifted. Whatever it was, it was loud and didn't sound natural. In shock Squeeze opened his eyes and saw the reason for the moving trees. Core was sitting on a hill, staring down at him like a colossus of rock and moss. "Don't worry about Core. She's not going to hurt you. But I think Arc-Light will."

Squeeze began shaking his head. No, no, no, no, no! This isn't how it was meant to go, he wailed inwardly. Millions of pithy proverbs came treacherously out of the dark to shoot down all the bluster he'd wrapped himself in over the past few weeks. Playing with fire; curious cats; cans of worms. They all teased him mercilessly with his mother's grating whine. He sat up just in time to see Arc-Light appear in front of him.

As he stood up he saw her face twisted with rage, then she smacked him on the side of the head and he fell reeling to the ground.

"You selfish coward!" She screamed, clearly fighting the urge to kick him in the stomach or else fill him with electricity. Vaguely he put his hands up to protest, but with reason, she didn't give him the chance.

"People died because of you. People have lost their homes. And all of our precious work has come to nothing thanks to you." Her anger seemed to consume her and she backed away from him, reviled by what she saw. "Stay away from me." She muttered, her voice sounding spent, her venom turning to grief. He watched numbly as she stalked back down the hill. He stood up to go after her.

"I really wouldn't do that." Vue said frankly.

"Oh yeah?" Squeeze shouted petulantly, "And what would you do?"

"Firstly, I'd drop the childish self-defence. Secondly, I'd have a little humility and shut up. Thirdly, I'd accept the responisbility of my own actions and figure out a way of doing something about it." Vue replied, "And, just in case you're wondering, a couple of years ago I was in exactly your position and didn't do any of what I've just said, so feel free to ignore it." He turned around and walked away towards Core leaving Squeeze feeling broken and alone. No one understood. No one got it. No one realised that he'd had good intentions at heart.

Listen to yourself, he told himself, you sound pathetic.

"Wait!" Squeeze shouted after Vue. There was something in his voice that sounded different. It wasn't scared, it wasn't angry, it wasn't ashamed.


"What would you do, if you were me?"

Vue looked at the ground. Behind him, Core played with the splintered remains of a tree. "Well… to be honest, you have three choices. Run away, stay exactly where you are, or run forwards. If I were you, knowing what I know then I would keep on running at them. You've made your first move and it was a colossal mistake. You may as well make your second move while they're on the back foot."

"But what about the others…" Squeeze said weakly.

"Don't worry about them. They'll be okay. You on the other hand have to face some issues. Do you, or do you not have the conviction to follow this path through to the end?"

Squeeze looked down at his hands. It was in this park that he'd been caught for spray painting the Uplands with his counter propaganda. He'd thought he was so clever, so sophisticated, so pro-active. He hadn't been doing anything really, he hadn't made an impact. He'd just annoyed the authorities and then he got caught. Simple.

Did he have the conviction? The word buzzed inside him like a vibrating knife, winding its way through his guts, judging him, dissecting him, tearing him apart. All he wanted to do was run away, hide in the shadows, go home even. He thought about his parents, how they'd forgive him, how he'd go to sleep and it would all go away. Then, he thought, he would dream… of the sea. His body chilled and he opened his eyes.

"Yes." He replied, simply.

"Good," Vue replied and chucked a letter over to him, "You may want to look at this then, Gwen left it with me." Squeeze tore open the letter and read over the opening line.

Hello Squeeze, if you're reading this, then you've probably done something stupid…

ASBO-Boy - The Numbers: Part 1

Thursday December 1st 2016

Gwen listened to her footsteps bounce back at her like claps of thunder in the widening cavern. She was deep beneath the Cefn Coed complex and, with any luck, it would be her last. Around her the space swole like the insides of an enormous stone stomach; vast machines filled the floorspace, dominating the room. Her path took her across to a workstation; around her Dr Euryale's personal assistants bustled about their own business.

She logged into the computer and began her work. She'd have to move quickly if she was to succeed and her fingers matched her heartbeat in pace as they danced across the keyboard. Before her, waves of information shot up – some regarding the breeding programme; others concerning the Cascade process; names flashed past – Helix, Mime, even Seraph's – but she couldn't stop, even for him. Eventually the computer arrived at one name: Flicker. She started the download and waited impatiently for the bar to sweep across the screen and complete the process.

When she was done she stood up and adjusted her dress. The room was relatively quiet, the withdrawn assistants were singularly focused on their own work and didn't notice as she exited as quickly as possible. Out of the frying pan, she thought as she contemplated the ascent back to the surface. If someone noticed her access now… the thought was barely worth completing. There was a contingency plan though, even she, at this point, was expendable.

She checked her watch. Her ASBOs would be starting off soon. Squeeze would carry out her orders, partially as she'd instructed and partially as she'd suspected he would. She hated taking advantage of him, but it was necessary, she reassured herself. The others would follow his lead. They'd be okay.


Her heart ran cold. Gwen turned and saw Euryale standing behind her. He was examining some charts and hadn't looked up.

"I wasn't expecting to see you here today."

"Overtime, Sir," she replied.

"That's what I like to hear." He looked up, smiling – it was an ugly expression and one he didn't look entirely comfortable with. "In that case, there's something I'd like your opinion on."

"I really must be going –"

"I insist." There was something in his tone that denied any attempt at an excuse. She was stuck. Downcast, she followed him up a flight of steel stairs to another part of the complex. He was guiding her towards The Numbers. They past several doors on either side of the corridor, he led her past each of these to the next level and into the observation chamber.

"We've been reading some strange patterns recently. The Numbers are doing something and we don't know what it is." He said frankly looking up at her, straight in the eyes. Gwen nodded, as if she knew what he was talking about. She'd been so distracted recently that her work life had passed her by.

"It all started on November fifth."

"The Dyfatty Incident?"

"The very same." He nodded, turning to a wall of glass. The observation room consisted of a round chamber which overlooked the cells below. From her angle she could see nothing, but Euryale was no doubt looking in on The Numbers below. "The details concerning the events at the facility are… opaque, to say the least. The terrorists who have evaded us concern me greatly. But not as greatly as the peak in brainwave activity among The Numbers."

Gwen nodded slowly, trying desperately to control her expression. Her thoughts were on Flicker and her coma.

"The radiation's effects is already clear. All of the Others who went in came out stronger. The creature known as Core; her transformation is shocking enough." Euryale seemed to be rambling, he was gesturing with his arms, trying to eke out some niggling little thought like a splinter. "I was going over the tapes of the event. One of the Lamps has a photographic memory, you know. It saw." He turned to face her. He was smiling again, shaking his finger at her as if she'd done something wrong. Her blood felt like ice. "Did you know that they all dream of the sea?"

Gwen shook her head, her face blank. "Of course you don't," he continued, "You've been very distracted recently, young lady. Maybe you haven't noticed." He gestured with a hand and a holo image filled one half of the wall. It was a blurred, enlarged image of Squeeze holding Flicker in his arms. "I saw you then and I see you now, Gwen. The girl is the final link to the terrorists and ultimately to you." He spat, all of his calm and cohesion unravelling with one image.

He flicked his arm again and another image appeared. At first she couldn't make it out, the darkness in the picture seemed to draw away all the light, but details emerged. She saw the shimmering surface of the water, the slick stone of the quay and in the centre, her own younger self, gripped in concentration, dragging something out of the water. Her heart leaped into her throat and stayed there. With another gesture the image zoomed out to reveal the details of the image. Men stood in the foreground tipping cloth bound bodies into the Marina.

"I saw you then and I see you now." The image zoomed in again and the damning evidence shot into focus. She was dragging a body out of the water, a body she would later revive and would later adopt. "You kept one of the Flickers, didn't you? Like a toy; to play with; to use against me. Well. Lucky me, eh? I kept one too. She's Number 517."