The Watchers – The Rise of the Wicked

I’d better start somewhere, so why not at the beginning. The name’s Garrett Flynn, at least, well, at least I think it is, I cant quite remember much after the accident, which I still cant get my head around, I mean, one minute I’m walking along the street on my way to school, Rizzle Kicks playing on iPod, mid afternoon sun on my face and thinking about the big fat juicy burger that I was planning on having for lunch from the King Kebab takeaway on Castle Street, and the next, well, the next, I’m on the floor in a deserted back street, stars twinkling in the night sky  and staring up at this girl with purple streaks in her hair and a huge set of wings on her back.                  

No, really, I’m not making it up. I swear that I’m not kidding you. She had wings, big white wings, like those of angel, right there on her back.

I thought you said that you couldn’t remember anything?

She had wings! I’m not likely to forget something like that, am I!

Anyway, to say that I was freaked out would be a massive understatement. I remember swearing quite a lot, that I do remember, and then the panic set in, and then I may have briefly passed out again, but after that it really does go sketchy.

So what was the next thing you do remember clearly?

I was a room, a small room in a flat, lying on a single bed with a manky sheet pulled half way over me, and there was this smell like, I don’t know, like wet dog. There wasn’t much else in there, I think there might have been a cupboard but nothing, oh, wait, there was chair, yeah, a chair, and the girl with wings was sitting on it, that’s right, but I couldn’t see her wings, they must have been tucked away, and she was just staring at me.

Did she speak?

After a while, yeah, she seemed quite angry at first. Like I’d done something wrong, like I was in the way, that I’d caused her some kind of inconvenience, well, as it turned out I had, something about a demon that she was chasing, but, still, it wasn’t really my fault, was it? I mean, who’d have thought that slipping on a banana skin would cause so much trouble.




Slowly opening his eyes, the room coming into focus, a stale odour assaulting his nostrils, Garrett Flynn couldn’t help but notice the girl sat close by his side. And she didn’t look very happy.

Attempting to speak, Garrett was cut off by the girls raised hand.

‘You do realise that you’ve just ruined six months’ work?’ she said, tilting her head slightly to one side. ‘We may not get a better chance than that.’

Pulling himself up slightly, Garrett frowned. ‘I’m sorry, where am I?’

Leaning forward, elbows on her knees, her voice dropped to just above a whisper. ‘Six months of planning, six months, and then you go and drop out of the sky and spoil it all.’

Sitting up now, a wave of nausea washing over him before he was able to speak again. ‘Erm, I’m really sorry, but I don’t know what you are talking about. Where am…’

‘WHO ARE YOU WORKING FOR?’ the girl stood, finger pointing directly at him, her voice now raised to a shout.

‘Working for? I don’t know what you mean, I haven’t finished school yet. I’m only twelve.’

With hands on her hips, she took a deep breath and narrowed her eyes. ‘Hmmp, only twelve, eh. Daglor is recruiting them younger than we thought.’

Turning her back, the girl walked away, pacing across the room to a large window that was so covered in dirt and grime that it almost totally obscured the outside world. It was a moment or two before she spoke again.

‘You will tell me all that you know, all about Daglor, where he is and what he is planning. You will tell me, otherwise,’  she turned slowly, her eyes burning with hatred, ‘I will make you wish that you had never been born.’

Garrett took a sharp breath, swinging his legs down from the bed and standing up.

‘What?! But I don’t know anything about this, I don’t know what you are talking about! I don’t know anyone called Dag… Dagman. I’m twelve years old and I really should be at school. I mean, I was on my way to school, and then the next minute I’m here, please…’

The girl stepped forward, a twisted grin spreading across her face. ‘Silhouette will be very happy, snagging one of Daglor’s henchmen. Very happy indeed.’


It was then that the wings appeared, large and white, stretching out on her back almost across the entire width of the room. And if that wasn’t spectacular enough, and it was indeed pretty spectacular, she then produced a fireball in her left hand.

‘Tell me what you know, boy. Otherwise you will burn.’

Backing up as far as he could, until he couldn’t back up any further, Garrett, pressed up against the wall and squeezed his eyes tightly shut.

‘Please, please, I don’t know what you want, I don’t know anything about anything, I really don’t…’

It was then that a telephone rang. The annoying chatter of the Crazy Frog.

A muffled curse and the girl answered. ‘Hello.’

Opening one eye, Garrett looked on as the girl spoke into her mobile phone, the other hand the fireball still burning.

‘Well, not exactly…its complicated…yes…a boy…yes, a boy…well, he says he doesn’t know anything, but…of course…no, I understand master.’

Replacing the mobile back into her pocket, she extinguished the fire and retracted her wings, before looking back to Garrett and sighing.

‘You’re lucky, I’ve been summoned.’



‘By who?’

‘Master Silhouette.’

‘Is that good?’

The girl shrugged. ‘If you call the possibility of having your innards pulled out through your nose good.’



‘Well, I’m really sorry for any trouble I’ve caused but I’ll get going, I really do need to get to school.’

Turning for the door, Garrett was stopped in his tracks.

‘You’re not going anywhere, you’re coming with me.’


Did you not hear what I just said, innards, pulled out, through your nose? You don’t ignore the Master when he calls.’


‘Silence! God, you’re annoying. You’re coming with me, like it or not!’

Garrett sighed. ‘Will it take long?’

‘It’ll take as long as Master Silhouette sees fit.’

It was Garrett turn to sigh. He was going to be in so much trouble.

Down the stairwell, walls covered in graffiti, slippery underfoot, with what, Garrett didn’t even want to imagine, the girl led the way.

‘So, what’s your name then?’

Without turning, the slap of her big black boots reverberating around the narrow space.

‘You don’t need to know.’

‘But I can’t keep calling you, the girl, or the girl with purple hair or the girl with…’

‘Ok, ok, for goodness sake, it’s Sorrow. My name is Sorrow.’

‘Sorrow?’ said Garret.

She stopped and turned, glaring at him, her head tilted to one side. ‘Yeah, problem with that?’

Garrett held up his hands in defence. ‘No, no of course not, its, well, it’s a very nice name. I just…’

Taking a step back towards him. ‘You just what? Come on, spit it out, you don’t like my name, do you?’

‘No, no, it’s not that, it’s just that, I mean, you’re a good guy, right?’

Sorrow frowned, slunking down one hip. ‘Right. So?’

‘Well, it’s just that Sorrow sounds like a, a bit of a bad guy name?’

She raised an eyebrow. ‘What do you want me to be called, then, something like, Angel, or, or, I don’t know, Princess, or something like that?’


‘Listen, kid, its Sorrow, you got me, Sorrow. Now, can we change the subject?’




After everything that had happened over the previous hour or so, one moment walking to school without a care in the world, the next waking up in a dark alleyway, then ending up in a dirty little room and being threatened with all kinds of horror’s by a girl with purple hair, huge wings and fire in her hands, I wasn’t sure that things could get any weirder.

And did they?

You could say that. The first thing that I couldn’t help but notice was that it was dark. Like, middle of the night dark. The moon bright in the sky, stars twinkling.

What’s weird about that?

No, that wasn’t the weird part. The weird part was that the streets were busy, traffic everywhere, people in suits, important looking people, rushing here and there, kids getting on buses and dressed for school. It was like first thing in the morning…but at night.




As the bus bumbled along the Kings Road, Garrett couldn’t help but be transfixed by the goings on outside. After a good ten minutes or so, he couldn’t resist asking some questions.

‘What’s going on?’ he said, turning to Sorrow.

Lifting her gaze from her mobile phone, she looked at him with a note of irritation. ’What?’

‘What’s going on? Outside, I mean.’

Sorrow frowned. ‘What do you mean, what’s going on?’

Casting his eyes out of the window for a brief moment, just checking that he wasn’t going mad, he turned back to face her.

‘It’s night time. Shouldn’t everyone be at home? In bed?’

The frown stayed in place on her face. ‘Why would everyone be at home? Nothing would get done, would it…oh.’ She stopped, her eyes wide, staring. The realisation hitting her, she couldn’t believe that it hadn’t occurred to her before. ‘You, you’re…one of them.’

Pulling into a stop, two men dressed in smart suits climbed aboard, paid the driver and took their seats at the front, before both pulling out newspapers.

‘One of them?’ said Garrett.

Slipping her mobile phone back into her pocket, she turned in the seat to face him. ‘Blimey, I’ve never seen one before, I mean, I’ve heard of them, you, but, well…blimey. Master Silhouette was right, you do exist.’

Frowning now himself, he edged slightly away from her. This was all becoming far too bizarre, if it could possibly get any more bizarre than it already was.

‘Erm…I’m sorry, but what am I one of?’

‘A Slider, you’re a Slider.’

A gimp, a dweeb, a moron, a waste of space, a loser, he’d been called all manor of things in his time, but this was a new one, and he had no idea whether this was good or not.

‘Ok, and is that good?’ he said, prepared for the worst, prepared for being mocked for being another disappointment.

‘Seriously? You’re one of a kind, kid, like, people speak about people like you, but I don’t know anyone who has seen one, let alone talked to one, shared a bus with one.’

A bell rang and the bus came to a stop. ‘Oh, this is us.’ Jumping up from her seat, Sorrow made her way down the aisle and stepped off the bus and into the night air, Garrett as few paces behind.

‘What did you mean?’ he said, avoiding two women speaking loudly into their mobile phones and paying very little attention to where they were going, before falling into step beside Sorrow. ‘People like me?’


‘Yes, I got that part, but what is one? And how do you know that I’m one.’

Marching on, through the busy streets, the bleeping of horns and traffic noise and the hustle and bustle of people moving from here, there and everywhere, a light rain began to fall.

‘I just know, ok, or, at least, I’m pretty sure, anyway.’

‘So I might not be, one of these Slider things?’

Sorrow stopped dead in the middle of the pavement, a young man in a neat winter coat and listening to music on a pair of oversized headphones almost walking into her and falling flat on his face.

‘Listen, kid, all I know is that you fell out of the sky, and that’s the only reason that I can think of, ok.’


‘No more! I don’t have time to stand in the street and discuss it, you understand. Master Silhouette will be wondering where I am. And I quite fancy keeping my innards where they are.’




So, did you end up finding out what a Slider was?

Yes, eventually. I also found out why it was dark when it should be light, and a whole lot of other things that were equally as bizarre and mind boggling.

And you got to meet the Silhouette man?

Master Silhouette, I did, yes.

What was he like?

Well, he was, he was nothing like I expected, put it that way.




The tower block stood grey and imposing as it ascended like a lifeless beacon into the night sky. Across a plot of wasteland, past an old and rusting kids playground, two burnt out cars and skip overflowing with all kinds of rubbish, Sorrow lead the way until they reached the entrance. A stale odour lingering in the air.

Stopping, she turned to Garrett. ‘Promise me that you wont show me up. Just sit, be quiet and do as you’re told, ok?’

Looking around him, the wind blowing up litter around their feet, Garrett frowned. ‘Is this it?’

‘What do you mean, is this it?’

‘I just thought that we’d be going to a castle, or something. Not a dirty block of flats.’

Sorrow smiled. ‘It might just look like a dirty block of flats, kid, but…no, I think I’ll let you find out for yourself.’

With that she turned and proceeded to punch a code into the panel next to the door, a moment, a click and grind of cogs moving somewhere, and the door slowly opened.

Following her inside Garrett waited to be amazed. Along a narrow corridor, walls coated in grime and dirt, the same stale odour as outside tainting the air, they soon reached the end and stepped into a waiting lift.

With a rattle and a thud, the doors sliding closed, the cramp little box began its slow accent.

‘So, what’s Master Silhouette like? I mean, is he big and strong? and with a cape and, and a laser. Does he have powers? Can he do that fire thing like you can…?’

‘Oh, good lord, will you button it with the questions!’ Sorrow snapped. ‘You’ll find out in a few minutes. Blimey, its like the Spanish inquisition.’

‘The Spanish what?’ said Garrett. ‘I don’t understand.’

‘It doesn’t matter, ok, it doesn’t matter,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘Just, just be quiet.’

A moment more and the lift ground to a halt with a deep clang and a minor shudder.

 As the doors slowly opened they stepped out and Sorrow once again led the way. This corridor was mildly less assaulting to the senses than the one downstairs. This time there was carpet and lighting, albeit dim, and the odd badly painted picture hung on the walls. The smell was still there, though.

Reaching the end of the corridor and the last door on the left, number 616, Sorrow stopped, knocked three times, paused, then twice, then a further three times. A short moment and footsteps were clearly audible on the other side, before the door creaked open on its hinges and a deep masculine voice was heard.

‘Ah, Anna, about time. Come on, inside.’

With a brief glance at Garrett before he could say anything, eyes narrow, her expression one of, ‘step out of line and I’ll beat you,’ she entered the room.

Garrett then heard voices, more than one, four? Maybe more, the hushed chatter too quiet for him to make out any words. He then peered around the corner and into the room, and got the shock of his life.

He was expecting a room full of grizzled and battle hardened warriors, pumped full of anger and dressed in suits of armour and wielding swords and other scary weapons. Maybe there’d be a dragon, he was really hoping for a dragon. Even just a small one.

What confronted him, however, was far from that. There were no soldiers or warriors. No suits of armour, weapons of destruction or a sense of threat.

In a room decorated with flowery wallpaper and ornate furniture, a huge grandfather clock off to one side and large fire place crackling and sparking, sitting around a small wooden table and each cradling a cup and saucer, were five pensioners.

Stepping further into the room Garrett was met by a collective gasp. The man to the right of the group, partially bald head, a thick bushy moustache and dressed in beige trousers and brown cardigan, spoke. Garrett soon realised that this was the voice he had heard form the corridor.

‘Who the devil is this? And why are you bringing strangers here? You know the rules.’ he said, his deep voice laced with a hint of anger as he exchanged glances between Garrett and Sorrow, who was stood by the window, arms folded.

‘This is the boy. He kind of,’ she paused, ‘fell out of the sky.’

‘What?’ said the man, slowly getting to his feet with a creak and a groan. ‘Explain. I’m hoping you have good news regarding Daglor’s whereabouts?’

‘That’s just it, he, well, he fell out of the sky just as I was about to interrogate the suspect.’

‘So, he escaped?’

Sorrow nodded then bowed her head. ‘I’m sorry, Master.’

Garrett gasped.’ You’re Master Silhouette?’

The man narrowed his eyes and then slowly nodded. ‘I am he, yes.’

‘But you’re, like, you’re really old.’

Master Silhouette raised an eyebrow. ‘Your point?’

‘Well, I just thought that you’d be, I don’t know, young, and, like, tough and, with a big sword,’ he paused, looking towards Sorrow who was frantically shaking her head. ‘Nothing, its nothing. Pleased to meet you, sir.’

A voice then spoke from the sofa, a lady, hair tied up on top of her head in a bun, her face wrinkled like an old piece of leather, lips a ruby red, long ear-rings sparkling as they caught the light. Her voice was posh, well educated. ‘You should have a little respect, my lad. Realise who you are talking too.’

Master Silhouette stood silent for a moment, his gaze fixed on nothing in particular, ignoring the comments. Then, slowly stepping forward, he stood in front of Garrett, hands behind his back.

‘Looks can be deceiving, boy. Now, I’m going to ask you straight, no messing, no beating about the bush. Are you working for Daglor?’

Garrett could feel the eyes of the room trained on him, boring into his flesh. He quickly glanced across at Sorrow who averted her gaze.

‘Erm, no, sorry, I really don’t know who Daglor is, or what any of this is all about. Sorrow did say that I might be a Slider, though.’

Master Silhouette’s eyes widened. Turning to face Sorrow, he spoke through clenched teeth. ‘What have I told you about giving up your Watcher name to strangers? Your name is Anna Parks, is that understood? And what’s all this talk of Sliders?’

Sorrow stayed quiet, her gaze wandering the floor.

‘Anna, I asked you a question.’

Sorrow sighed. ‘Like I said, he fell out of the sky, I mean, literally fell out of the sky, almost on top of me, like he had,’ she paused, shrugged her shoulders, ‘slid through the gap.’

Master Silhouette let out a long breath and rocked on his heels. ‘Slid through the gap you say?’

Sorrow nodded.

‘Hmmm, so it seems that they may well exist, the people from upstairs, the unwanted, falling into our world. Hundred’s of years of rumour and stories might just be true after all.’

‘Sorry,’ said Garrett. ‘But would someone mind explaining what this is all about? The people from upstairs?’

‘That’s right,’ said Master Silhouette. ‘The people from upstairs. Sometimes there are those people who have no purpose in the life that they have been given, so, fate see’s to it that they fall into a life where they will have something to live for. We’ve all heard the stories, countless times, but, no one has ever actually seen one,’ he stared at Garrett, ‘until today, it seems.’

Garrett smiled awkwardly and glanced around the room, every pair of eyes glued to him, every wrinkled face sporting a smile. All except for Sorrow, that is. She just stood by the window looking thoroughly disinterested in the whole thing.

‘So, what, I’m special, then?’ he said.

Master Silhouette stepped forward, placing his hands onto Garrett’s shoulders. ‘Boy, you might just be.’

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The Forgotten – Part 1


The Forgotten Part 1 – The Mark of the Fall

January 14th 2013 – King’s College Hospital, London – 01:45am

Jack Lomax was dying. The seventy five years of his life had been good ones, on the whole. He couldn’t really grumble. Married, divorced, and married again at fifty nine to his childhood sweetheart, three children, all now grown up, seven grandchildren, whose names he regularly forgot and his first great-grandchild on the way. Life was peachy, as he liked to say.

He’d worked hard all of his life. ‘You reap what you sow’ being one of his many motto’s. At school he strived to the best in class, and regularly succeeded. Weekends, back in the first years of the 1940’s, amidst the chaos of war, spent on his fathers market stall, twelve hour days of sweat and grind, everything for the family, everything into the pot, twelve hours a day, sixty years and many jobs later until he retired in 1997.

But, ten months ago, the cancer had struck. And the prognosis wasn’t good. He’d never heard of Angiosarcoma before, a rare form of liver cancer. The doctor was a kind fellow as he and his wife, Marion, had sat in the small consultation room. The news that there was very little that could be done. Make the most of the next year, it’ll probably be your last.

But time just seemed to skip away. After the initial shock had worn off, the tears and sleepless nights, the ‘why me,’ and ‘it’s just not fair’ six months had skipped past and he had grown too weak and frail to move more than a few paces without feeling as though he had run a marathon.

So, here we are.

The room was a cool 20 degree C. Silent all but for the delicate ping of the life support machine and the soft wheeze of his breathing. Three floors below, the city rumbled to the sounds of a typical Saturday night, the insistent blare of car horns, the screams and banter of the city’s late night revellers, pumping music from pubs and clubs. 

Stirring under the thin bed sheet, he moaned low, his eyes slowly opening and focusing as best they could in the dim light. He could just make out the figure stood next to the bed, dressed entirely in black, face cast in shadow under a thick velvet cowl.

His mouth was dry, no words allowed to escape, too weak to reach for the glass of water on the bedside table or the buzzer to call for the nurse. He began to panic, his breathing heavy, a marching wheeze, eyes large, and his frail body refusing to cooperate in his struggle to rise.

Pulling back the hood the figure then revealed its face, crack, lined and skeletal, eyes sunken into a black void, lips drawn back over ragged teeth. A bald pate mottled with dark circles and scars. With a hiss of breath and what resembled a smile, the figure reached out a hand, placing it upon Jack’s chest.

The pain was intense, a burning, searing sensation piercing through his ribs, and coursing through his body like a lightning bolt. The room changed, no longer the sterile environment of the hospital, a swirling blur. No more bleeping machines and tubes and syringes. No more noise from the street.

Frozen from fear Jack saw death in his minds eye. The white light, the passing of memories, seventy seven years into a few fleeting seconds. His mother and father and his younger sister. Her funeral, 1939, sad faces at the graveside. Rain from a leaden sky. The beach holiday cottage in Devon. Christmases. The toy soldiers with the flaking paint. The sound of bombs. Boom, boom. Digging in rubble. Black and white films. Black and white life. His first wife. The children, running, playing, swimming. Their first day at school. Tears and tantrums. Sadness and guilt. The pub on Argyle Street. Fast cars. Aeroplane rides. Climbing trees. Sunshine and lazy days. Chance meetings. Friendly faces. His prized motorcycle. The crash. The plaster cast signed by names now forgotten. Forgotten. Forgotten. Forgotten.

If he could have screamed out then he would, of course he would. Fuck you cancer. Fuck you to hell.

As Jack’s body convulsed, the room began to shake, an earthquake in central London? Time raced, sped up then slowed. Stopped and reversed. Then darkness. Pitch black. No thought, no sensations, no fear, but most of all, no pain. Then light. The figure gone, the room once again empty. Three floors below, the city rumbled to the sounds of a typical Saturday night, the insistent blare of car horns, the screams and banter of the city’s late night revellers, pumping music from pubs and clubs. In his mind something lingered. Distant. Something unusual, creeping slowly forward. Three words, three little words, whispered, softly, ‘Let chaos rise’

A moment passed, a singular moment where the world became clear once again. Opening his eyes there was clarity, the feeling of life, the years washed away, those three words, those three little words, reverberating inside his head like a mantra, over and over and over, the voice insistent, strong, booming like a bomb, ‘Let chaos rise. Let chaos rise. Let chaos rise. Let chaos rise. Let chaos rise.’

Sitting up there was no pain; his limbs supple, joints strong, skin smooth, the freedom of movement causing a sharp intake of breath. Up onto his feet, the bed sheet falling to the floor, he then noticed the clothes, the black clothes, and the hooded cowl. The figure. The touch. The bright light, and that voice, still repeating.

The biggest shock was still to come. Across the room, the mirror on the wall over the sink. Placing his hands on the cold porcelain for support he looked upon his face, a face that he recognised, a face staring back at him from sixty years in the past. Young, alive, eyes sparkling with promise. He swallowed hard, his legs almost buckling from under him, breath catching in his throat; he wasn’t one for profanity, but what the fuck. WHAT. THE. FUCK!

Stepping away from the mirror, the voice then grew louder, hard, a rasping drum beat thud-thud- thud. Hands at his ears he tried, desperately, to block it out, sinking to his knees, louder inside his head until…Silence.

Back to his feet, a film of sweat covering his body, he approached the window, the world below a scene of hustle and bustle, the light of the moon piercing through the clouds, his mind stirred with images of what was to come. The fall was soon to begin.

January 15th  2013

The day was cold, a biting wind from the north. Overhead a sky drained of colour shrouds a stark landscape in a blanket of mystery.

Stood in the playground of Bowhill Primary School, wrapped warm in winter coats, scarves, hats and gloves of all colours, the children of class 5A jostle with boisterous excitement at the thought of what was to come.

For most of them it’s their first time, a day away from school, a day away from the daily grind of learning, the Museum for Children the destination, a two hour drive through the Yorkshire countryside to Halifax.

‘I’ve heard that there’s like wild birds and everything there.’ Said Abigail Watts.

‘No way,’ said Michael Wise. ‘My brother said they’ve got real pirates, with real guns.’

Overhearing this exchange, Stephen Parsons, unusually tall for his age, gets involved. ‘Yeah, I heard about the pirates, cowboys too and a ghost train. It’s the best place in the world.’

‘It won’t be better then Disney, Disney is better than everything.’ Said Chloe Peters. ‘My mum and dad took…’

‘Ok everyone lets have some hush please,’ the booming voice of Mr Trevellen as he marches across the playground, the children standing to order. ‘The coach is on its way, should be here in a few moments, so lets quickly go through the plan for today.’

The coach was warm, and each child sat in their seat with a look of glee upon their face. A babble of chatter rumbled between them, the talk of the playground continuing, of cowboys and pirates, of ghost trains and wild animals.

A piercing cheer rattled the windows of the vehicle as it pulled away from the school, a light rain now beginning to fall from a sky growing ever darker by the second.

The first hour of the journey passed without event. The rain falling steadily, the children surprisingly quiet. Little faces gazing from the windows at the naked landscape. Heading into the final stretch they entered the winding lanes of the countryside.

‘Can’t believe how well behaved they are, shame they can’t be like it in class.’ Said Keith Trevellen to his colleague Sandra Atkins.

‘Make the most of it I say.’

‘God, yes. Simple manors just don’t seem to matter anymore with kids.’

From somewhere behind them, a small voice caught their intention.


Peering around his seat, Keith Trevellen spots Francesca Wells, four rows back, her hand raised.

‘What’s wrong Francesca?’ Hoping there wasn’t going to be another toilet stop needed.

When her reply wasn’t forthcoming, a minor grumble to his colleague, Trevellen climbed from his seat. Heading back along the coach, headrests used as support against the vehicles rocking and rolling, he soon reached his pupil.

‘Everything ok?’

With her gaze fixed firmly to the sky. ‘What’s that, sir?’

‘What’s what, Francesca?’ he said, craning his neck to follow her line of sight.

‘That,’ she said, pointing.

‘What, the clouds?’

‘They’re following us, sir. I’ve been watching them since we left school.’

Smiling, but trying not to laugh, he knelt down beside her. ‘Its nothing to worry about, that’s what clouds do, they are moving around as well up there, its probably not the same clouds as when we left, just look the same is all.’

Francesca Wells frowned. ‘Really?’

‘Yes. Maybe we should have a lesson on it when we get back to school, how would you like that?’

A moment and she smiled. ‘Yes, that would be good, sir, thank you. Oh, one more thing,’ she said as Trevellen was about to move back to his seat.


‘They said that they are coming.’

Trevellen frowned. ‘Beg your pardon?’

The smile dropped from Francesca Wells’ face, her eyes beginning to darken, a moment and a thick black gloop slowly dribbled from her nostrils.

Trevellen took a step back, his gut lurching, breath catching in his throat. ‘What the…’

The coach rocked violently, a screech of brakes, shouts from within as bodies were shaken from their seats, children spilled into the aisles, a mess a flailing arms and legs.

From the front of the coach a shrill scream. Falling onto his backside Keith Trevellen turned to see Sandra Atkins prostrate on the coach floor, the overweight frame of James Miller straddling her chest, the child’s eyes wide, teeth biting at her throat, fingers clawing at her skin. Further on, the burly driver, whose name he didn’t catch, blood pumping from his neck, life slowly draining away.

Frozen to spot Trevellen didn’t see Francesca Wells until it was too late. Climbing down from her seat and approaching from behind. Her hot, rancid, breath on his neck followed by sharp pain as teeth punctured flesh, her nails raking at his eyes.

Mustering strength, he tried to pull himself clear, soon realising his attempts were to be futile. The wiry figure of Sarah Carter, her golden hair framing her now wild features like a halo, coming to her fellow classmate’s aid, shrieking and groaning as she set to clawing and ripping at his skin.

Crying out, blood pulsing from deep wounds; throat ragged with bite marks, the coach came to jarring halt. For a moment there was silence, then followed the clank of the doors as they opened.

In single file the fifteen children left the vehicle, stepping into the wind and rain of that January morning.

Everyone thought that the children of class 5A had died that day. There seemed to be no other explanation. One year later, everyone’ll wish they had.

January 20th 2013


Slick with sweat and balled up in his bed sheet, the claws of a hangover were just starting to grope at the mind of Harry Metcalfe. The previous evening hadn’t been a particularly special one, just a few friends, a takeaway Chinese and, of course, copious amounts of alcohol. It ended well into the small hours, and as always, there were casualties.

With a parched mouth and skin tight and coarse like sandpaper, he woke to what he guessed was a workman’s pneumatic drill pounding somewhere out in the street. It wasn’t until he fell from the bed, noticing the early hour on the bedside clock that he soon realised the pounding was coming from right inside his head.

Across the hallway and into the kitchen, the first thing that he couldn’t help but notice was the mess. Silver food cartons, along with empty beer cans and half drunken bottles of wine littered the worktop. Pilled up in the sink, encrusted with dried food, noodles and rice mainly, were dirty plates and cutlery. Then there was the smell, a sweet, sickly odour, lingering in the air like, well, a bad smell.

Puffing out his cheeks, he shuffled across the room and managed to find a semi clean glass amid the debris. Filling it to the brim with cold water, he guzzled it down, the cool liquid going some way to quell the volcano that was, seemingly, erupting inside him. It was at that point that he made his usual vow to never touch a drop of alcohol again.

He remembered the days when drinking seven nights a week wasn’t uncommon, slipping from one pub to the next, a gaggle of friends in tow, painting the town red. They were good times, very good times in fact. Times that were, unfortunately, long gone. To be replaced with ones of the fight against evil.

Re-filling his glass he moved back into the bedroom and sat down on the edge of the bed. He thought about all of those people who were once such a big part of his life, the people that once meant so much to him.

Draining half of his glass of it contents he placed it down onto the bedside table and fell back onto the bed, hoping for at least another few hours’ sleep.

It was then that his phone rang.

At this time of day it was more than likely going to be a work call, and ignoring it was more than his job was worth. Shuffling across the bed he grabbed his mobile, and with a cough to clear his throat of phlegm, he answered.

‘What the hell’s time do you call this?’

‘I’d call it,’ there was a brief pause. ‘Twenty six minutes to seven, I’d hazard a guess that you weren’t up and about?’

Rubbing a grain of sleep from his eye. ‘No one in their right mind should be up and about at this time, Cora, now, what can I do for you?’

‘Well, you know how much you love a good mystery –‘

‘Get to the point, Cora.’

‘Ok,’ there was a rustling of papers. ‘Do you recall the story of the coach load of kids that went missing up north last week?’

He thought for a moment. ‘I do, yes, why?’

‘Well, yesterday, a couple in Sheffield were found murdered in their home, turns out that they were parents of one of the missing children. Now, I know what you’re thinking and, to be honest, I was thinking the same, but, get this, this morning a second couple were found murdered, and…’

‘Let me guess, also parents of one of the missing kids?’

‘Bingo, they want us up there as soon as.’

Metcalfe breathed a heavy sigh and flopped back onto the bed. ‘Really? I mean, there is such a thing as a coincidence, you know.’

‘See, I knew that you’d say that, so, how about I told you that each body was drained of blood.’

Metcalfe sat up. ‘What?’

Cora tittered. ‘I knew that would get you. Yep, not a drop left.’

Rubbing a hand across his brow, Metcalfe stood. ‘I’m guessing that you’re thinking what I’m thinking?’

‘That all depends on what you are thinking.’

‘That we could be looking at thirteen more murders?’

‘Again, bingo.’

Metcalfe was dressed in double quick time.


With a deluge of water pouring from a sky half lit with early morning light, Metcalfe, the collar of his black winter greatcoat pulled up around his shoulders, moved swiftly through the town’s early risers.

His office, in the bowels of the local police station that he and his partner, and boss, Cora Dylan, worked out of was a good half an hour walk from his small, top floor flat. But, what with not owning a car and having a deep mistrust of public transport, or, more to the point, a deep mistrust of the general public, walking was not only his preferred, but also his only mode of transport.

Arriving at his destination, the sun, now, trying to find its way through the thick covering of cloud, he made a dash along the narrow alleyway that ran alongside the police headquarters and rapped hard on the fire exit door situated at the end.

A brief moment, after a series of rattles and muffled curses, the door opened with ‘phoompf’ to reveal the frowning face of his boss.

‘Why can’t you use the main entrance like everyone else?’ said Cora, stepping aside to let Metcalfe pass.

Into the warmth of the office, the three mobile floor heaters on full blast, he removed his sopping wet jacket and laid it over the broken, and stone cold, radiator.

‘Everyone else?’ He said, turning to face her as she pulled the door closed. ‘We’re the only two people that ever come down here.’

Cora, with a raised eyebrow. ‘You know what I mean, smart arse.’

Sitting down at his desk, Metcalfe rubbed his hands together for warmth. ‘Besides, that would have meant the possibility of running into people who might want to talk to me. It’s too early for people.’

‘It’s always too early for people with you.’ Said Cora, sitting at her own desk. ‘I’m surprised that you get out of bed most days.’

‘I wouldn’t if I could help it, but, you know, people have the tendency to keep bugging me with phone calls at all hours.’ A smile crept across his lips. ‘So, what’s the deal, any more news?’

Cora lifted a folder from her desk, tossing it over to him. ‘There’s a few photos in there, and a brief statement that was written up at each of the scenes.’

Opening the folder and removing its contents, Metcalfe laid the items out across his desk.

‘Fucking hell, look at the state of them.’

‘The bulk of wounds are to the neck and face, the jugular and cartoroid artery severed.’

There were five photos in all, each one depicting the crime scene from various angles and each depicting the hideous violence carried out in glorious technicolour. It wasn’t until the last image that Metcalfe got a taste of what they could possibly be dealing with.

Holding up the A5 photo he started at the two words that had been smeared in blood upon the wall of Raymond and Maggie Spurling’s cosy living room.

We’re home.’

He glanced across at Cora. ‘And the second crime scene is the same?’

Up from her chair, Cora retrieved a pint of milk and set the kettle to boil. ‘Identical. Fancy a cuppa?’

‘Go on then,’ looking back to the image. ‘Why now, though?’

Filling the two mugs with boiling water, she dropped a tea bag into each. ‘Why now, what?’

‘Well, these kids disappeared in a year ago, right? So, if what we are suspecting is correct, then, where have they been?’

Placing a mug in front of Metcalfe, Cora sat back down and took a sip from her drink. ‘To be honest I have no idea, but, if we are right, then, well, shit.’

London, summer, 1947

Up the narrow staircase, a distinct aroma of burning vegetables lingering in the air, Robert Cosgrove slipped his key into the front door of his third floor flat and entered.

‘Bloody smog,’ He said, closing the door behind him and dropping his briefcase onto the floor.

From the kitchen the rattling sounds of pots and pans, then a female voice.

‘It definitely seems to be getting worse out there. How was your day?’

‘Oh, you know, so so, mustn’t grumble. Busy as usually.’

Through the living area, off with his coat and hat, discarded onto the chair under the window, he stepped into the kitchen area, the smell of meat cooking, and kissed his wife on the cheek.

‘How about you? He placed a hand onto his wife’s belly. ‘And not forgetting the little one in there.’

With a smile as warm as baked bread, she placed a hand over his and looked into his eyes. ‘A little uncomfortable today, if truth be told, little blighter has been kicking like a trooper for most of the day.’

‘Not long to go now, though, Martha, and we’ll have him –

‘Or her.’

He smiled. ‘Of course, or her, in our arms.’

‘I can’t wait,’ she said. ‘I can’t wait for our little family to be complete.’

Pulling her closer, he held her tight. ‘After the last few years, I never thought that this day would come. I think the blasted war saw all of our hopes and dreams washed down the drain.’

They stood like that for a while, holding each other close, feeling each others warmth, the dark years behind them, the bright light of the future on the horizon but growing ever clearer by the day.

‘So,’ said Robert, pulling away, ‘are we all set for this evening?’

Martha nodded. ‘I think so, yes. He telephoned earlier on to say that he would be a little early, but I said that was no problem. So he’ll be arriving in about an hour.’

‘Excellent. Ill pop and have a wash and brush up then and we can start setting up.’

In one hour’s time there would be a knock at the door and a man would enter. A man in a shabby raincoat and a flat cap, the strong smell of cigarette smoke hanging from his clothes, a day’s growth upon his drawn features, the slight hint of the cockney in his walk and a lie so deadly that that night would be their last.


The rain was still falling as the 12.15 from St Pancras to Manchester pulled out of the station. Taking their seats in the quiet carriage the pair set to discussing the possibilities of what they heading in to.

‘We both know that there are hundreds of stories and folk-tales regarding missing children, but this one,’ Cora paused, her gaze flicking to a father and his daughter taking their seat across the aisle. ‘Well, this one, I can’t recall anything mentioning them coming back and doing anything like this.’

‘What did the Union have to say?’

‘Not a great deal that they can say yet, not until we’ve seen it all in the flesh, so to speak.’

The Union were Harry and Cora’s bosses and held all jurisdictions over any case that could be termed ‘odd.’ Taking into account the four victims and the fact that each had been drained of every drop of blood, this particular case fell right into their lap.

‘So we’ll tramp all the way up there, take a look around, write up the report and then Devlin will jump in and take all of the credit, yes?’

Cora held back a smile. ‘Now now, Harry, promise me that you’ll play nice with him, we can’t afford any more broken toys now can we.’

‘Come on, Cora, we both know how it works, I don’t even know why they bother keeping us sometimes.’

Leaning in closer, she lowered her voice. ‘You know why they keep us, Harry, lets not go through this again. The least we can do is what they ask of us.’

Holding her glare for a moment, he soon looked away. The rain still hadn’t eased; streaked across the window and partly blurring the dark and lonesome landscape. Above, a thick black cloud coursed across the sky like million tiny birds in flight.

Silence descended between the two for a good half hour. Finally, Cora looked up from her iPad.

‘You ever heard of Y’uural?’

Harry lifted his head from where it rested on the window. ‘Sounds painful, whatever it is.

Cora raised an eyebrow. ‘Funny.’ Looking back to the iPad. ‘Y’uural is an underworld demon that inhabits the body of the living and feeds on the souls of the young?’

Resting his head back on the window, Harry closed his eyes. ‘And you think that’s what we’re dealing with, do you? Some kind of demon?’

‘I think it’s quite safe to say that we have no idea what we are dealing with, so any idea is a good one, and, in truth, it’s a little more than you are doing.’

Opening one eye, Harry took a brief look at Cora before closing it again. He then smiled. ‘I just think that we should wait until we get there and get all the facts, is all. You know that’s how I like to do things.’

A sharp thud on the table from Cora’s hand and Harry jumped out of his skin.

‘What was that for?’

‘Oh, I don’t know, maybe I’d like it if you paid a little attention for once, take things seriously. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, do you?’

Harry shrugged, a hint of a smile. ‘Come on, what’s not serious about me?’

Cora fell back into her seat, hands over her face and gave out a low moan. ‘I give up, I just give up.’

‘Ok, ok, I’m sorry; I’m just a bit tired is all.’

‘Tired? Well maybe you should try and get some sleep instead of staying up drinking all night.’

Cocking his head to one side, ‘Who says I was up drinking all night?’

‘Harry, please, I could smell it on your breath before you even walked in the door this morning. Not to mention you haven’t shaved in what looks like a week, and look at that shirt,’ she gestured with her hand. ‘Do you even own an iron?’

Taking in the barrage of criticism, Harry blew out his cheeks, letting out a long breath. ‘It’s broken, and it wasn’t all night, well, 4am, so I guess near as.’

Cora leant forward, her elbows on the table. ‘Listen, it’s not the shirt, its not even the all night drinking, well, OK, it is a little, it’s more that,’ she paused. ‘I don’t know, you just don’t seem to care any more.’

He took a moment to consider his answer, the drinks trolley rumbling past in the aisle with no takers, rain outside now heavier, the sky black. Slowing to a halt the train pulled into another faceless station.

‘Do you ever tire of all this? You know, what we do?’

Cora frowned, setting the iPad to one side, ‘But you know that we don’t have a choice? You know that this is what we do, otherwise-‘ she tailed off. The look in her eyes telling all that needed to be told.

Harry scratched an itch on his forehead, his gaze wandering for a moment. ‘Having a choice or not doesn’t mean that I’m not tired of it.’

‘And that explains the late nights and the drinking, does it?’

‘Maybe. A little. I don’t know.’

It was then that the train lurched, a screech of brakes, a high pitched scream from somewhere along the carriage.

Grabbing the table for support, Harry let out a ‘what the fuck!’ Cora jolting across in the seat, her head thudding against the window. A moment later and the train came to a halt. A wave of silence followed by a collective sigh of relief.

Over the tannoy system the crackling, nasal tones of an announcer apologised for the delay. The emergency brake would need to be re-set before they could be on their way. Sorry for any inconvenience. A rumble of discontent from the passengers.

‘Fucks sake,’ said Harry, then looking across at Cora, a trickle of blood emanating from a small hairline cut, ‘bloody hell, Cora, you’re bleeding.’

Raising a hand she dabbed at the wound as Harry passed her a tissue. ‘It’s nothing, really, just a little cut. I’ve some plasters in my holdall, Ill grab one when we get there.’

After a delay of no more than fifteen minutes, they were once again on the move, the rest of the journey passing without incident until their arrival at Manchester’s Piccadilly Rail Station at just after 14.30.

Gathering their bags from the overhead compartments, Cora stepped out and onto the platform, pulling out her mobile from her bag. Harry, behind her, slipping on his jacket, then felt a tug at the leg of his trousers. Looking over his shoulder he was met by the blank face of a young girl. Her hair in pigtails, her pink coat adorned with a large Peppa Pig badge.

Harry cocked his head to one side, his eyes briefly scanning the empty seats behind her. ‘Hey, are you OK? Are you lost?’

‘No.’ she said, her voice flat, lifeless.

‘Where are your parents? Do they know where you are?’

She shrugged. ‘Maybe.’

‘Well, how about I call the guard, just encase they are looking for you. They’ll be worried if they don’t know where you are.’

Again, she shrugged, a grin curling the corner of her mouth. ‘They said they are coming.’

Harry nodded, a smile, and told the girl to sit tight until they arrived. Out on the platform he took a fleeting look back into carriage. But the girl was gone.

‘You ok?’ said Cora, as they walked side by side.


‘You’re miles away, what’s up?’

Harry took a breath. ‘Nothing, its nothing. Listen, fancy a coffee before we get going?’

Looking at her watch. ‘Yeah, why not, we’ve a little bit of time; a nice caffeine hit is a good idea.’

Into Starbucks, two vanilla lattes and two Danish pastries to go they pushed their way out through a gaggle of Chinese tourists making up their minds and into a commotion of sirens and curious onlookers.

‘Looks serious.’ Said Cora, more to thin air than anyone in particular.

In front, a young woman, straggly dark hair, ears lined with piercings, a badly inked rose tattoo that looked more a red dog turd on her neck, turned. ‘Two people been attacked on the train. Fucking messed up good and proper apparently. Wouldn’t surprise me if it weren’t fucking terrorists. Tell you what, this country –‘

Cora didn’t need to hear much more to know in which direction the woman’s rant was heading. Walking back along the platform they headed for the exit and a fuck load of trouble.

January 12th 2013 – Folkestone Harbour. 00.01am

Just after the stroke of midnight. The light from the milky moon a Vaseline smear on black velvet. A solitary male figure dressed head to foot in dark clothing, strolls with purpose towards an agreed rendezvous point.

Two men wait, both bearded, dressed for the sea, idle chat flitting between them. Upon hearing the thud of heavy boot steps they turn in unison towards the direction of the sound.

There was silence for a moment as the three men regarded each other. The gentle lapping of water beneath their feet, a light breeze rocking the flotilla of boats in the harbour. The knocking of wood on wood, the light tinkle of a bell.

The man spoke in a deep register. Pronounced and precise. ‘They’ll be no issues with this journey; I needed everything to run smoothly.’

Exchanging glances, the larger of the two bearded men stepped forward, arms folded over his barrel chest.


The man narrowed his eyes. ‘The transaction will take place upon successful completion of the job, and not before. That was the deal, and you’d be wise not to forget it.’

The second bearded man, slightly smaller in stature than his cohort, piped up. ‘And how do we know that you have this money, anyway and won’t just skip out without coughing up? Eh? We don’t know you from Adam.’

A smile then cracked the man’s face, a gold front tooth catching the light. Reaching into an inside pocket he pulled out a brown envelope, showing its contents. ‘Now, shall we.’ 

It wasn’t long before they were aboard the small rickety vessel, riding the dark waves of the English Channel towards the designated coordinates, the man standing on deck, the harsh wind ruffling his hair, chaffing his face to red.

He could feel it in his bones, pumping through his system like a Jet fighter, his heart hammering, the dull thrum of voices calling his name, beckoning him towards his destiny and the beginning of the end.

At just shy of ten miles from the light of the shore, the man signalled for the boat to be stopped. Coming to rest, the anchor dropped. The man stepped to the side and sank to his knees.

With quizzical looks traded, the bearded men watched as their passenger slowly started to chant. His head bowed, his arms at his side. Some hippy, dippy shit that they didn’t understand or comprehend.

‘What the fuck?’ one mouthed to the other.

‘Hey, what the fuck is this?’ the other called out.

No reply.

‘Hey, mister, I said what the fuck is this?’

Again, no reply. The chanting growing louder. Louder. Louder. Louder. Until…


The sky above lit up in a blue flash, the two men dropping to the deck like fallen cards, hands over their ears, each exalting a thin reedy cry. A brief moment, amid a crackle of static like noise, and a low prolonged hissing sound, a thin streak of lightnng slammed into the water not ten feet from the boat.

The vessel shook, violently; the men thrown like pillows from this way and that, a twist and tumble of limbs, all the while their passenger remained glued to the spot, head still bowed, arms at his side, the mantra like chant now, though, an almighty bellow.

Another crack of lightning lit up the dark canvas above. Then another, and another, and another, the water now starting to boil, steam rising in great plumes.

The larger of the two men called out in protest, his voice a dull whine compared to the fearsome roar that surrounded them. Struggling for purchase, the two men terrified, the noise intensifying even further, the lightning strikes battering the water one after the other, time and time again, until…silence.

As the steam slowly dissipated around them, the water calming, the boat coming to a stop, the passenger got to his feet. Turning to face the two men, on their backs, eyes large like saucers, hearts pounding under their rib cages, a final streak of lightning sizzled from the heavens, this time striking the man at the top of his head.

Holding his arms aloft, a cry of agony as the light engulfed his entire being; the men shielded their eyes, cries of their own mingling with those of their passenger.

Sinking to his knees once more, clothes singed, skin black with blisters bubbling and leaking dark ooze, there was, again, silence.

It stayed that way for a long moment. The two men half in paralysis, their minds dull with shock. Finally, the larger of the two managed to form something that resembled a sentence.

‘Are you, you, shit, are you alright?’

The sound that came back wasn’t human. A deep guttural moan like the fiery belly of hell had awoken and was ready to consume everything in its path. A moment and the man rose to his feet, staggering at first, tottering like a new born calf, legs like alien sticks beneath him.

‘Jesus fucking holy hell.’ Shouted the smaller of the two men, clambering back and away as far as he could, soon to be joined by his comrade.

The passengers ruined face appraised the two men as they cowered in, hand around the throat, vice like fear.

Stepping closer, hands balled into fists, a thin wheeze escaping lungs, a strong smell of burning meat, clothes hanging in tattered strands, the man spoke.

His voice was as ragged as his appearance, what was left of his lips, blistered and raw, pulling back to reveal bleeding gums and blackened teeth.

‘They said they are coming.’


The B&B that Cora had booked them into was small and cosy, or, as Harry pointed out, cheap.

Stood waiting for the keys to their rooms while the irritable and overweight owner bellowed down the phone at a member of his staff. Harry cast his gaze over the surroundings.

‘What’s wrong with a Premier Inn? Even a Travelodge would be better than this. It’s like stepping back in time.’

‘The closest one is seven miles away, and we don’t have a car. Staying here we can jump on a bus or get a taxi.’

Harry frowned. ‘I’m sorry, a bus? A taxi? You mean they aren’t even providing us with transport?’

‘Harry, we are ten minutes down the road, we can-‘

‘Room’s eight and nine.’ The owner said, interrupting his phone call and holding out two rather large keys with a chubby hand. ‘We are short on towels, and the chef has gone sick. So you’ll have to eat elsewhere, unless you can get by on crisps and chocolate bars, I think the vending machine works outside the ladies bogs, otherwise there’s a café along the street.’

With that he dropped the keys onto the counter, turned, and disappeared into a back room and closed the door.

‘Remind me again why we are staying here?’ said Harry, picking up their keys.

Cora didn’t need to reply, a simple showing of a middle finger being more than enough.

Their rooms were as expected, peeling paint on the walls, worn and frayed carpets. A single bed and not much more.

‘Good job there wasn’t anything on the TV that I wanted to watch tonight,’ Said Harry, half hour later as they climbed into a waiting taxi. ‘I mean, what kind of a place doesn’t even have a television?’

Cora snapped. ‘Give it a rest Harry, for God’s sake; it’s only for one night, two at the most. I’m sure you’ll survive.’

Harry gave it a second. ‘Everything ok?’



A sigh, chewing on her lower lip, Cora looked out onto the landscape skipping past the window, before turning to face him. ‘What you said on the train, about being tired of all this?’


‘Well,’ she paused. ‘It’s nothing, forget it, just ignore me.’

‘No, come on, spill it.’

She took a second. ‘How about I told you that I was tired of all this as well, I mean, this being dragged around all the time.’

Harry put a hand over hers, and squeezed. ‘How long have you been feeling like this?’

‘I thought it would go, but, well, it hasn’t.’

‘And there I was thinking it was just me. Why didn’t you say something sooner?’

She shrugged, that was all, just a shrug. At the traffic lights two young girls scampered across in front of the car, their faces full of mischief, before disappearing out of sight. Cora’s phone then rang.

Fishing it from her bag she answered. ‘Yes…No…We had a slight delay…of course…about ten minutes…ok…bye.’

‘I’m guessing that was his master.’

Dropping the phone back into her bag, she nodded confirmation. And ten minutes later, almost on the dot, they arrived at their destination.


The cosy three bedroomed house, with its well manicured garden and pristine net curtains, up until forty eight hours previous had been the home of The Strang family. Now, however, empty of all life, it stood, with an air of solemnity in the quite Salford street.

Paying the taxi fair, Harry and Cora climbed out and made there way along the neatly paved path to the front door, upon where they were greeted by the tall, whip thin figure of their superior, Garrett Devlin.

Rocking back and forth on his heels, hands behind his back like a schoolmaster, his shock of black hair perfectly quaffed, he cast his gaze between the two, ‘Better late than never, I suppose.’

Ignoring the jibe, Cora subtly gripping Harry by the arm, the pair smiled, bid him good afternoon, before entering the house.

Behind them, Devlin went over the details as he knew them. ‘The bodies were found in the front room by the husband’s mother first thing this morning. She had been stopping in each day after disappearance of the child. Safe to say that she had quite a shock.’

Harry stopped in the middle of the long hallway, each side lined with framed photos of smiling faces. Beach holidays and Christmas celebrations. Children’s parties and summer barbecue’s.

‘And the bodies were drained. Right?’ he said.

Devlin nodded.


Devlin narrowed his eyes. ‘You did get the memo, didn’t you?’ knowing full well that they had.

‘I’d rather have the facts face to face, is all, nothing lost in translation then.’

Devlin took a moment, shuffling on his feet, his mouth twitching at a corner as though it was being pulled at by invisible thread. ‘Everything in the memo is exactly how it is, Metcalfe. Both bodies drained of blood. The information I send isn’t just sent for fun, you know.’

That was how it always was, between Harry and Devlin. Tense. Cora the peacemaker. Rolling her eyes she changed the subject.

‘Shall we get cracking, then? You know, have a look around.’

With her hand on the small of Harry’s back she ushered him into the living area, where the chaos of the attack became a reality.

Upturned and broken chairs, the legs of the large wooden dining table splintered and cracked, smashed ornaments and lamps. Photo frames pulled from the walls, wallpaper torn. The upholstery of the leather sofa ripped to shreds. It was as though the proverbial bull had run amok in the china shop. And then there was the blood. Despite both of the victims being drained, it still didn’t stop a good proportion being splashed liberally onto every surface and not forgetting the smeared ‘we’re home’ legend on one of the walls.

‘The yellow dots that you see are to mark the more noticeable of the finger and handprints,’ said Devlin, entering the room behind them like a bad smell, ‘and, as you can see,’ He paused, stroking his goatee beard with ladylike fingers, a beard that, according to Harry looked as though it had been scribbled onto his face by a child. ‘They are mostly all those of a child.’

‘So what we guessed is true, then?’ said Harry.

Devlin turned to face him. ‘And what exactly is your guess, then, Metcalfe? Even though you know that we don’t deal in guesswork, only in facts.’

Harry took a step forward, his fists clenched at his sides. Cora sensing his thread about to snap decided it a good time to interject.

‘Unless this is all some elaborate and sick joke, then we are looking at the culprit being Amelia Strang, the child of the victims.’

Devlin smiled, his gaze lingering on Harry for a moment longer before switching his attention to Cora. Devlin had never once had an issue with Cora. Ever since he had become their boss she had played the game and carried out her duties with the utmost professionalism. If he was entirely honest she was the kind of woman that he could have seen as a something more, something ‘off the record’ but, alas, he knew it would never be possible, nay, allowed.

‘Precisely,’ said Devlin. ‘A child that went missing without a trace, along with her entire class of fifteen, five days ago, leaving three people, two teachers and the coach driver, butchered and a shit load of questions to be answered. Now, all we need to find out it how on earth that is possible. More importantly, where the fuck had she been.’

The room fell silent for a moment. The gravity of the situation like a rough and threadbare blanket covering them and blocking out any hope of reasonable thought.

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My Horrible Orgy of Nightmares

You may not be too surprised to know that apocalypse movies, you know the ones where some virus or whatever accidently (or not, as is sometimes the case) is released into the atmosphere, turning the worlds population into walking corpses intent on mauling everything in sight to quench some rabid blood-lust?

Well, if you’re like me then you’ve seen, literally, hundreds of them, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Zombie Apocalypse. Brain Sucking Freaks (I may have made that last one up, and maybe the one before, but you get what I mean.)

Anyway, I can guarantee, with some degree of certainty, that for those of you who have seen movies such as these (Evil Dead, that’s another good one) that whilst watching, you will, at some point, have said to yourself, or indeed turned to the person next to you, and said, ‘You know what, I’d be great in a zombie war.’

You’ve done it, haven’t you? Come on, admit it. You’ve sat there, popcorn in hand, watching an endless stream of milky eyed, blood-thirsty, walking cadavers marauding through a city or town just like yours, and screamed at the television/cinema screen (you’d have to scream internally in the cinema, of course, I learnt that, I still don’t know what happened at the end of Night of the Undead 5) until you are blue in the face that you could do a better job.

But, you know what, you’re all wrong. Wrong, wrong, shit I’m so fucking scared that I’ve just messed myself, wrong!

Picture the scene. You’re sitting at home, minding your own business, maybe you’re watching one of these movies, maybe you’re cooking a meal or playing with your kids, or even tossing one out, it really doesn’t matter, when you are disturbed by an insistent banging at the window. Slightly annoyed (as you would be if you happened to be the guy who was playing with himself) you head off to investigate, only to be confronted by the wide eyed stare and gnashing teeth of a hideous, brain dead abomination intent on chewing your face off just for the sheer fun of it.

Now this, as unlikely as this may sound, and I understand that it does sound a little far fetched, is exactly what happened to me seven weeks ago. And, I am also afraid to admit that, yes, I did shit myself.

That wasn’t the only thing that I did, oh no (if shitting myself wasn’t bad enough) I screamed like a girl and ran away, my hands in the air and hid under the bed.

It’s different when you are there, face to face with one these salivating freaks. I mean, I’d bragged in the past about this very moment and what I would do, bragged with a grin on my face and excitement in my voice to anyone who cared to listen (or anyone that didn’t, depending on how much I’d had to drink) that if there was anyone to have on your side during a zombie invasion then it would be me. That I’d weald that cricket bat without haste and like a pro and administer the severest of beatings to any rabid creature that came anywhere near me. You may have guessed that my confidence in this matter was without limits.

I remember now, however, cowering under the bed amongst the dirty magazines and used tissues, a trickle of excrement oozing from the leg of my jeans, feeling that I was nothing other than a useless failure. All the while, downstairs, the rattles, bangs and groans increased to a monumental level as hordes of the undead smashed their way in. Oh, if they could see me now. The last of the famous international pussweed’s!

I did manage to drag myself clear of my infested house, though (otherwise, well, I wouldn’t be writing this would I.) I’d shut and locked my bedroom door, giving me a little time to make my escape (after cleaning myself up and changing into less soiled underwear) through the window and down the guttering, before legging it across the back garden where the beasts had yet to infiltrate, and, after a brief standoff with the neighbours’ stupid fucking little dog, yapping to high heaven and doing its best to alert every slack jawed freak to my whereabouts, into the woodland that lay behind.

I don’t really know what I was thinking as I ran for my life, probably something along the lines of ‘oh my fucking god, shit, fuck, ball bag motherfucker, don’t let this be my last day on earth, especially not when I was within touching distance of getting inside Hayley Tyler’s knickers.’ Or something along those lines anyway, I mean, what are the chances.

So, there I was, two hours later, shacked up in an old barn in the middle of a field as far away as my legs could carry me. Dirty, sweating and, oddly, considering my predicament, as horny as fuck.

And that was how I stayed for god knows how long, just laying there, thinking. Thinking and listening. To the sound of car horns and screams in the distance. Knowing that my friends and what remained of my shitty family were amongst them, amongst the carnage of the end of the world. That she, Hayley, was out there, somewhere.

As night fell and the cacophony of noises grew I found myself doing something I hadn’t done in a long time, I cried. Long, bone shaking sobs. 

Outside, the light of the moon caught my eye through gaps in the rotten slats of the barn’s roof. It seemed brighter, its face clearer, and it was at that moment that I knew I had to do something, something that I thought would never have crossed my mind. I had to go back. Fuck, I knew that it would be a perilous journey, but I knew that I had to. I had to save her.

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The Winter of Death – pt 12

September 5th 1990

He couldn’t wait to see the look on Maria Mason’s face when she discovered him in her home, waiting, white mask covering his face. The devil come to take her soul. His meticulous planning over the weeks previous had led him to this moment. His immaculate moment.                                                                                                              Sitting in the stolen car, the target house in sight, he waited for the front door to open and for the forlorn and semi lifeless figure of Keith Mason to appear into the cold December morning. He didn’t have long to wait. Shuffling along the garden path decked in winter attire, beanie hat pulled down tight onto his head, hands warmly settled into thick gloves, his wife at his side, baby in its carry cot, they slowly climbed into the waiting taxi before being swept away into the distance.                                                    Now was his time. Pulling on a pair of surgical gloves, he climbed from the car, black holdall at his side; implements of terror contained within, and made for the house. He had time, about an hour, before Maria Mason was to return, young son her only company, and he had to make sure that everything was in place. Once inside the house, using his own key to gain entry via the back entrance, he stood in the semi darkness and took in the surroundings of what was soon to become the scene of his greatest triumph.
His house of death.                                                                                                                  Laying his bag onto the floor he slowly unzipped and removed the first part of the plan. Three vials of blood and a small velvet string bag. Holding them in his hands he turned them over and over, the red liquid as it swished and swilled inside the narrow containers catching the light in the room, memories of each girl flooding back to him, each and every cut and slice to milky white flesh, a smile stretching across his face. Then, peering inside of the bag he took in the sweet aroma of the clump of hair that sat inside, again, strong memories cascading over him.                                                                                        He was going to enjoy the next few hours. With that he descended into the cellar.

13th December – Police Station. Late Afternoon.

Returning to the station, his mind in a state of turmoil. The thought that one of their was now part of a madman’s little game, McCann paced into the office and headed straight for his desk in the corner. Discarding his jacket, he sat down heavily into his seat. It was then that he noticed the envelope sitting in front of his keyboard.                                             Grace Montgomery hadn’t let him down.                                                                             Peeling it open he laid the contents out in front of him. He knew that it was a long shot, and, possibly, a waste of time and energy, but, after being let onto the existence of a handful of photographs of Keith Mason in the months before his arrest and, subsequent, charge, and the existence of a man by the name of Edward Lincoln, his curiosity had piqued. Glancing through the handwritten note that accompanied the photo’s, Grace Montgomery told of a few more that she had yet to find, but hoped to be able to forward them on within the next day or so. Placing it to one side he picked up the ten or so photographs, some better than others in quality, and flicked through them.                                                                           They were, in the main, grainy and amateurishly shot and all taken in a garden setting. A garden that he guessed to be Mason’s. A summer barbecue with smiling faces, drinks and burnt food and a wave to the camera. Flowers in bloom, colour and vibrancy. But none of the man that Grace Montgomery remembered as being called Edward Lincoln. Nothing out of the ordinary and nothing of any interest. That was until he reached the last of the photos. He felt something tug at him. Something pull. A face that had, until that moment, escaped his attention. Moving the image closer he focused on a figure stood, drink in hand, a wide smile beaming. Carefree and without concern.                                                               Up from his desk, heart beating in his chest, he paced across the room, grabbing Conrad’s attention as he went, and entered DCI Stone’s office, dropping the photo down onto his desk. Glancing at the image for a brief moment, Stone looked up, meeting McCann’s gaze. ‘What’s this?’                                                                                                                             ‘Maria Mason.’                                                                                                                            Stone frowned. ‘Who?’                                                                                                           McCann knew that he could no longer keep it to himself. Knew the wrath he may encounter for not revealing his private escapade sooner.                                                      ‘You remember the case of the Lonely Hearts Killer?’                                                      Stone’s eyes narrowed. ‘How could anyone forget. Explain.’                                           McCann took a deep breath, a glance at the floor. ‘Nineteen ninety, Keith Mason was charged and sentenced to life for the murder of five young women. He always denied his involvement in the killings, even top psychiatrists at the time said that he wasn’t capable-‘ Stone lent forward in his chair. ‘McCann, if there is a point then please get to it. Quick.’ ‘The first crime scene. It struck a chord. The MO, the bolts through the wrists, it was the same as in the Mason case. It was uncanny. I remembered reading about it at the time, remembered the details, the disgust when they were revealed. I tried to dismiss it, but, the second scene was the same, same MO, same everything, and now we have a third, again, the same.’ Pointing down to the photo. ‘Now this.’                                                                Stone lifted it from the desk, frowning. ‘You might want to start making some fucking sense McCann. What the hell has this to do with –‘                                                                   He paused, prepared himself. ‘What if Mason was innocent?’                                                    ‘I beg your pardon?’                                                                                                                  ‘What if Keith Mason didn’t commit those crimes.’                                                               Stone sat back in his chair, chewed on the side of his mouth. ’So, let me get this straight. You’re saying that the real killer, the one who framed Mason, is still out there? That he’s lain dormant for the last, what, twenty two years, and decided that now would be a good time to go on another fucking rampage? That’s what you saying?’                                Turning and leaving the office, McCann paced across to the large evidence whiteboard. Standing, Stone came around his desk, just as McCann returned. In front of him he held up a further image. ‘Look closely, what do you see?’                                                              Conrad, a moment’s hesitation, ‘Gemma Dawson.’ The realization setting in. ‘Shit, they could be the same fucking person.’                                                                                    ‘Exactly.’ Reaching across the desk, McCann picked up the image of Maria Mason and held the two images up, side by side. ‘I’m willing to stick my neck out here and say that whoever is doing this has been keeping Gemma Dawson for the very reason that she is the spitting image of Keith Mason’s wife.’                                                                                        The room fell silent. Minds ticking on overtime.                                                                         So why hasn’t he killed her yet?’ Stone said.                                                                    McCann. ‘We don’t know that he hasn’t not one scrap has been seen or heard from her since she vanished. For all we know she could be part of some grand finale.                    Stone sighed, a hand through his hair. ‘You do realise the significance of what you’re suggesting, don’t you?’                                                                                                          McCann raised his eyebrows. ‘I am aware of how bizarre it sounds, but I think its a real possibility that in nineteen ninety the wrong man was imprisoned for those murders. And now the real culprit, for whatever reason, is back.’

Standing in front of the thick wooden door, a smile playing on across his lips, a satisfying tingle spreading through his loins, he slowly pulled across the cover of the viewing window and peered in. The figure inside the small, dank, room, with its bare copper pipes and stark brickwork, was unmoved, laying, prone, on the stained and tatty mattress  legs curled up in a fetal ball, hair over her face. Softly, he whispered her name. No reaction. Again, this time with more volume. No reaction. Pulling the key from his trouser pocket he inserted it into the lock, turned it slowly until the click, and entered. Once inside, the blood coursing through his veins, a thumping at his temples, he closed the door behind him and stood in the semi darkness. Again he spoke her name. This time there was a movement, the jerk of a leg, a low moan as her head raised slightly. Then came the scream. Scrabbling back against the wall, hands up in front of her, the girl pleaded through wracking sobs. He wasn’t going to hurt her, though. Had no plans of laying a finger on her to do harm.
For he only wanted the best for her. The news reports and television reconstructions of her final movements that had been playing out over the previous weeks had been calling her Gemma. But he knew her by another name.
A name that brought back sweet memories.

14th December – Interegation Room. Early Morning.

The warrant for the search of Harold Bart’s’ house was rushed through at the request of the Chief Commissioner. The team of officers that entered the premises at just after nine pm on the cold, grey evening previous had no idea as to the extent of the evidence that they would find. Upon leaving some eight hours later there would appear to be no doubt that the man that the media had dubbed the Blind Date Killer, had finally been apprehended.
In the small interrogation room, the solitary figure of Harold Bart sat, ashen faced, and awaited the start of proceedings. A few moments more and the door opened, the room greeting McCann and Conrad.
Pulling out the chairs opposite Bart and his solicitor they both sat and made themselves comfortable. With a nod from McCann, Conrad started the tape recorder.
‘Time is eighteen minutes past six on the evening of 13th December. Present are Detectives DI McCann and DC Conrad along with Mister Harold Bart.’ McCann paused to remove his jacket. ‘Ok, let’s get started.’ Leaning his elbows onto the table, his gaze fixed on Bart. ‘You are entitled to representation, you do know that?’
Bart sat, arms folded, a cold look scratched upon his tight and lifeless face.
‘I’m an innocent man, detective, I don’t see why I should waste the time of a solicitor, do you.’
McCann took a deep breath. He could just reach across and strangle him. Would anyone stop him? Would anyone really care? Maybe not.
‘You do realise why you’re here, don’t you?’
‘No, why don’t you enlighten me so we can end this little charade and then I can be on my way.’
McCann shuffled in his seat, his anger about to peak. ‘Charade? Is that what you call this?’
‘An innocent man being pushed to breaking point by police with their petty accusations until he collapses under the strain. I should have you charged with harassment, detective -‘
Conrad, silent up until that point and seeing McCann’s fuse grow ever shorter.
‘Mr Bart, you will be aware that yesterday a warrant was used to gain access to your house in order for a search to take place. A search during which a number of, shall we say, interesting items were removed.’
‘I have no idea what you are talking about.’ Bart said with a defiant tone.
‘Really?’ McCann again, holding out a hand out to Conrad. ‘Exhibit one please James.’
Reaching under the desk, Conrad lifted a small evidence bag and handed it to McCann who slid it across the table until it was directly under Bart’s nose.
‘For the tape, Exhibit one is being shown to Mr Bart.’
With a deep frown creasing his forehead, Bart recoiled in his seat, a hand coming up to cover his mouth. ‘Where on earth did you find this?’
‘Tucked neatly in between your precious books, wasn’t exactly difficult to find.’
‘This is ridiculous, I mean, this is utter madness. You can’t possibly have found this in my home. It’s just not possible.’
McCann ran a hand over his stubble flecked chin. ‘But you can confirm that the girl in that picture, the girl bound and gagged to a chair with her throat cut open is Emily Cooper, the same Emily Cooper who rented a room from you?’
‘Well, yes, but…’
‘Then how about this.’ McCann passed across another bag. ‘Exhibit two is being shown to Mr Bart. A selection of poems, the very same poems that were found on each of our three victims. You like poetry, don’t you?’
‘This is…’
‘Shut up, I haven’t finished.’ Holding up another bag. ‘Exhibit three, a small handled knife, which not only contains traces of blood from all three of our victims, but also, and you’re going to like this, your fingerprints. And then, as you already know, we have the issue of the coins that have mysteriously vanished from your collection.’ McCann paused, a smile. ‘It’s quite a find, don’t you think?’
Silence. Bart flicked his gaze quickly between the two officers, before banging his fist down onto the desk.
‘This is preposterous, I tell you.’ His voice raised. ‘There is no way that any of these items could have shown up in my house. No way. This is wrong.’
‘How about you tell me where you were on the nights of the murders.’ Looking at his notes he reeled off the dates in question.
‘I was at home, where I always am.’
‘You have anyone that can confirm this?’
Bart sighed. ‘I live alone, you know that. So the answer is, no.’
‘So,’ McCann sat back in his seat. ‘Not only do we find some quite damming evidence in your home, you also have no alibi as to your whereabouts on the nights of the murders?’
Bart was silent, the smug attitude of moments previous now washed away.
McCann stood. ‘Why dont I give you a few moments to think about whether you want any representation.’
Leaving the room, McCann closed the door behind them.
‘That certainly shut him up.’ Conrad said. ‘You think we’ve nailed him?’
‘Cant lie against the evidence, James, that’s for sure.’
‘You think he’s the one for the 1990 case as well?’
McCann shrugged  ‘He’s certainly the right age. We’ll need to look into his background a little more, but -‘
The call came from across the office. Looking over his shoulder, and answering the call of his name, McCann approached the fresh face of PC Harper.                                                 ‘Had a phone call, sir,’ glancing down at a slip of paper. ‘Grace Montgomery, said she’d found some more photographs, said you’d know what she was talking about. ’            Thanking the young PC, McCann took the slip of paper. Turning towards his desk he sat down and dialed the number. The conversation was brief, the information centering on the found photographs, that she’d found the others quicker than she thought she would and that she could send them over. Discussing the best means of sending them, he provided her with a fax number, and was advised that they would be on their way within the next few minutes. With his heart firmly in his mouth, he paced across the room to where the machine was situated, and waited. The next few moments were to stay with McCann for a long time. As the green light began to blink and the image slowly crept its way from the mouth of the machine, his pulse began to pound at his temples. Two men, stood side by side under a blazing sun, smiles on their faces and drinks in their hands. To the left, Keith Mason, and to the right, the man that McCann was now positive to be responsible for what the press, twenty two years ago, had dubbed the Lonely Hearts Killings. The very same man who had, more recently, been given the moniker of The Blind Date Killer, and who he was now positive to be responsible for the brutal murders, over the last seventeen days, of three young woman.                                                                                                                Picking the image from the fax machine, McCann paced across the room, his mind reeling from the discovery and entered the DCI’S office.                                                             ‘Edward Lincoln, worked as a porter at Medway hospital from nineteen eighty eight to ninety one. Fell off the radar around the same time as the Mason killings.’                      Stone looked up from his paperwork. ‘You’re not still following this line are you McCann?’ McCann dropped the photo onto the desk, and waited. Narrowing his eyes, Stone glanced down. A few, brief, moments passed before the realisation hit.                                            ‘You are fucking kidding me?’                                                                                                          ‘I wish I was, sir. It seems that Lincoln also changed name, found himself a job, met someone and raised a family. Then, for some reason, resurfaced three weeks ago to start this little campaign of terror.’                                                                                                   Stone looked back to the image, a hand massaging his brow. ‘You do realise the implications of this, don’t you?’                                                                                                                            ‘If you mean that every officer and official involved in the Keith Mason case, twenty two years ago, were wrong, and, not only responsible for his imprisonment, but, ultimately, his death, then, yes.’                                                                                                                      Stone’s face hardened. The cogs turning. Everything that McCann had just stated buzzing in his mind. ‘We don’t have any evidence from any of the scenes, McCann, to point us in his direction, to give us a reason. We have nothing to go on apart from some faded photo that shows that he knew Mason.’                                                                                                        ‘But this is too much of a coincidence, don’t you think? This is something that we certainly can’t ignore, sir.’                                                                                                                          Stone let out a breath. ‘Ok, suggestions?                                                                                ‘We’ll go back, more questions, just routine. He doesn’t have to know anything, the old softly softly approach, you know. Its not as though we don’t have reason to be speaking to him again, besides, if we are right, he’s responsible for killing his own daughter.’           Stone thought for a moment and then gave a curt nod of his head, a knowing look passing between the two. A look that carried the sizable weight of a case that had dragged them apart at the seams. But now, a glimmer of hope flickered on the horizon, a flicker that lay at a door of their first victim and with Emily Cooper’s father.                                                 Jacket on, and descending the staircase, Conrad at his side, McCann briefly explained the current situation.                                                                                                                      ‘You’re shitting me?’                                                                                                              McCann shook his head. ‘I wish I was.’                                                                                      ‘And its definitely him?’                                                                                                                  ‘Its definitely him, James. No question about it.’
‘What about Bart?’
McCann didn’t want to think about that right then. Into the lobby and across the sun dappled surface, the pair were almost at the door.                                                                  ‘Sir.’ A voice from behind them.                                                                                          Turning, the pair were met again by the fresh face and neat complexion of PC Glen Harper.                                                                                                                                           ‘Can it wait, Glen, in bit of rush.’ McCann said.                                                                         ‘The DCI said I should go with you, bit of back up, should it be needed.’                                  A quick glance to Conrad and a moments pause. ‘Odd, he never mentioned anything. I only left his office a moment ago.’                                                                                                          PC Harper slowly shrugged his shoulders. ‘I don’t mean to tread on anyone’s toes, sir. Maybe he thinks it’ll be good for me, bit of experience.’                                                   McCann sighed. ‘No, its fine, not your fault. Be good to have you along.’ A brief clap of his hands. ‘Right, lets get going.’                                                                                                 Outside into the cold winter sun and into an unmarked car, McCann took the wheel for the short journey.                                                                                                                                   He wasn’t to know, however, that a member of the car he was driving would take it upon themselves to see that they never reached their destination. Halfway along the B2004, the river to their left, the power stations of Grain off in the distance, a deafening explosion of a gunshot shattered the calm. A single bullet ripping through the back of the passenger seat and exploding out through DC James Conrad’s stomach. A fine mist of blood spraying the spider cracked windshield. The shock causing McCann to lose control of the wheel. Leaving the road with a lurch, the vehicle, engine screaming, jostling like a roller coaster, bumped down the embankment towards the river, eventually coming to a stop in a patch of muddy undergrowth. With his head clouded with confusion, a high pitch ringing in his ears, McCann sat back in his seat, the panic then hitting him like a train.                                  ‘What the fuck, Glen, what have you fucking done. Jesus!’                                           Fumbling at his seat belt clasp he unlocked and lent across, the blood seeping from the hole in the centre of an unconscious James Conrad’s stomach and seeping into his shirt and jacket.                                                                                                                                        ‘James, can you hear me. James?’                                                                                          There was a click from the back seat. Turning, McCann found himself staring down the barrel of a gun. The face of PC Glen Harper, mouth twisted into a sinister grin, his eyes large like saucers. It was then that he twigged. The two white masked figures that had appeared like ghosts on the CCTV footage back at the station. The reference to Samael the guardian angel of Esau.                                                                                                              ‘You.’                                                                                                                                              Harper smiled. ‘Very good, McCann. You’re pretty good at this detective lark, aren’t you. Now, get out of the car.’                                                                                                             Looking between his stricken colleague and PC Harper, the anger began to rise in McCann’s throat. ‘You fucking what? Glen, I don’t understand, what-’                                   ‘I said, get out of the car,’ he yelled, spittle at the corners of his mouth, jabbing the gun in the air. ‘don’t make me repeat myself.’                                                                               Against orders McCann delved into his pocket for his mobile phone and began to dial. It was then that a second gunshot shook the car, the right side of James Conrad’s head disappearing in a cloud of blood, bone and brain matter. The interior of the car spattered in red. He wanted to cry out, to tackle PC Harper as he sat there, a sinister, cold expression on his face, gun held firmly in his hand, but he couldn’t  Any sound once there repressed before it had a chance to escape.                                                                                                 Out of the car and stood in thigh high grass, feet squelching in wet mud, Glen Harper nudged McCann in the back with the gun. ‘Move, and don’t even think about doing anything stupid, I Know what you’re like. There’s someone who is just dying,’ he snorted. ‘dying, how apt, to meet with you.’                                                                                          ‘Glen, listen, please-‘                                                                                                                   ‘Shut up, McCann, please, did I say that you could talk? Did I? Oh, and I’d appreciate it if you’d drop calling me Glen, Esau will be just fine from now on.’                                     Pushing McCann further down the bank and towards the river, his feet partially slipping from underneath him, he was followed, closely, by Harper, a mobile phone briefly produced from his pocket before being tucked away again. Looking back up the hill and past his captor, McCann glimpsed Conrad, slumped against the steering wheel, the side of his head a mess of blood and shattered skull fragments, eyes fixed in a wide stare. He knew it was too late, gritting his teeth against the emotion that was threatening to wash over him like a flood. The loss of a colleague, and more importantly, a friend. But right now, he needed to clear his mind. He needed to stop this madness. Before anyone else paid with their life. Before he, too, found himself joining the dead.

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Henry Took and the Secret of Christmas

Up the rickety and creaky stairs you go, each side lined with old, grainy, pictures of stern faces, adults and children alike. Then, following the narrow and dimly lit hallway, all the way to the end, don’t be scared now, you’ll find a small, round, window that looks out over a quiet village and rolling green hills. To the left of this window is door, and behind this door, all but for the click and clack of a clock, is the cold sound of silence, a silence that is, very soon, to be broken.
Inside, the room is small and sparse. On one side, the right side stands a tall, tatty, wardrobe, overflowing with clothes, its double doors bulging under the volume of its contents. Moving your gaze left you’ll next see, situated under the window, all manor of trinkets and knick-knacks, along with a film of dust, covering its surface, an, equally tatty, chest of drawers. Finally, against the left hand wall, a black, metal frame and white mattress is partially hidden by a thick, red, duvet. It’s from underneath this duvet that our story begins.
Like an animal emerging from a deep slumber, Pa Took slowly opened his eyes, still stuck together with sleep, stretched his arms out from underneath the covers, and slowly sat himself up in bed.
For a few short moments he sat there, as his tired, sleepy, brain kicked into gear and his eyes took up focus. The tip of his nose like a block of ice, his mouth parched with a raging thirst.
With a wide yawn he swung his, thin, bony legs out from underneath the warmth of the covers, and snuggled his large feet into his cosy, red and white, slippers.
‘Brrr.’ he said, shivering and rubbing his hands together. ‘It’s ruddy freezing in this house.’
Standing up, he slowly made his way across the hard wooden floor to the far wall, the icy cold of the air encasing him like a frozen blanket, and turned the knobs on the radiator. A few seconds and the room was met with a series of loud clanks as the pipes burst into life, soon to deliver the much needed warmth to the room.
Shuffling around the bed, and careful not wake the sleeping figure of Ma, still curled up and cocooned in the duvet, he approached the window and snapped back the curtains.
It took a good few seconds for his eyes to adjust the light, but when they did, he was overcome with joy.
‘Oh me, oh my!’ he said, his voice a shriek. ‘What a sight I see.’
The night had brought a thick covering of snow to the small village of Digden. Everywhere as far as the eye could see was as white as white can be, the scene confronting him standing like something more familiar to that of a child’s snow globe.
The usual lush greenery of the fields and gardens were now like the white icing on a Christmas cake. The main street that ran through the middle of the village turned from a busy through road into a children’s playground, snowballs filling the air, sledges and toboggans sliding from here, there and everywhere. Even Frank, the old garden gnome that stood by the front gate, had disappeared under a clump of white, his tiny little fishing rod the only thing now visible.
Looking across the street, Pa spotted the tall, gangly, frame of Mr. Frekkle, decked out in full winter clothes. A brown, fur lined coat, woolly hat pulled down low on his head, thick gloves and scarf, clearing his garden path. Glancing up he caught Pa’s eye and met it with a shrug of his shoulders. With a small, one-sided smile and a brief wave, Pa stepped back from the window and turned to Ma, unable to hide his child-like joy.
‘Look Ma, look at the snow, look at what the night has brought us, look, look!’
Ma, herself just beginning to stir, and completely unaware of the reason for Pa’s excitement, half opened one eye, took one look at the clock, then settled it upon Pa.
‘Do you know what time it is you big dope? It’s the middle of the ruddy night is what it is!’
With the wonder in his voice remaining, Pa switched his attention from Ma and to the scene outside. ‘But look, Ma, look.’
Pa’s, he thought, exciting news, seemed to have the reverse effect on Ma. With a deep breath, she drew herself up onto an elbow and looked at him, now with both eyes open, and her face full of scorn.
‘I was hoping to get a lie in today, but I guess that’s out of the question now.’ Shaking her head, she sat up further, pulling the covers up with her around her chin. ‘How about you put yourself to some ruddy use and make me a cuppa.’
But Pa was in the midst of pulling on his red and white stripy dressing gown.
‘I must run and tell the boy. I just must.’
‘You’ll do no such thing Pa Took!’ shouted Ma, stopping him in his tracks. ‘You’ll leave him to sleep and do as your ruddy well told. You could even try and get that ruddy teas made to work for once.’
Shuffling to the edge of the bed she hit the top of the dust covered contraption that sat on the bedside table with the flat of her hand.
‘You know, this thing that you said would be the end of our days of having to get up in the cold and go all the way downstairs to have ourselves a cuppa. “‘It’ll change our lives'” ‘you said, a nice brew in the warmth of the bed to start the day,’ but look!’ Angrily she smacked the top of it again, not once this time, but three times. ‘Look, nothing! Not even a bloomin’ drop have we got from it since the day you brought it home with you.’
Pa’s head dropped, the air forcing its way from his lungs like a deflating football.
Ma continued. ‘I’m going to the bathroom for a soak in the tub; have a piping hot cuppa waiting for me when I get out. You can manage that, can’t you?’
With a face like thunder, she grabbed her dressing gown from the end of the bed and barged past Pa and out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
Tying the cord of his dressing gown tightly around his waist, Pa muttered his thoughts under his breath.
‘What was that?’ Ma’s voice came back from the hallway.
Pa jumped in his skin. ‘Erm, nothing dear, nothing, just looking at the snow is all.’
‘Well quit looking at the ruddy snow and fix me some tea you big oaf!’
SLAM! Went the bathroom door.
With his orders made perfectly clear, Pa Took went about trying to fix the teas-made. The very thing that he did indeed announce, the night that he brought it home from work, and not from the pub after a meeting with a man who could only be described as ‘odd’, would change their lives.  The thing that he did indeed announce would be nothing short of revolutionary in the way their tea was brewed, and the most perfect start to any day. The rest of the family on hearing his ramblings took no notice, Pa, however, had thought that he had struck gold, pure gold.
Sitting down on the bed he lifted the machine from the table. He began by shaking it; it seemed to be the best way to start, but still nothing. Reaching into the bedside draw he next took out a screwdriver, with which he proceeded to prod, poke and jab at it, not that he knew what he was prodding, poking and jabbing at, mind, but, again, he thought it was the best way forward. You see, Pa was less than a dab hand with anything like this. Anything technical, even the most basic of tasks, would have him stumped. Putting up the odd shelf and tinkering in the garden was just about his limit, and even that would require his best concentration and, on occasion, a manual of some description.
There was really only one thing for it, only one more option available to him. Clenching his hand into a fist he set about hitting the contraption, hoping, praying, that this method might just work. But, after five good thuds, and one for luck, still the thing was showing no sign of budging and providing the tea that Ma wanted, and Pa knew that if a piping hot cuppa was not waiting for her when she came out of the bathroom then…well, he didn’t like to think of that!
With a deep breath of resignation, he decided that he’d just have to take the traditional route of going on down to the kitchen, and hopefully getting back in time before Ma came out from the bathroom.
Leaving the bedroom he stepped out into the cold hallway, quietly shutting the door behind him to keep the warmth inside. Passing the bathroom he stopped and pressed his ear to the door, listening intently to see if Ma was in the tub, the splish splashing of water and out of tune singing, confirming to him that she was.
Knowing that he only had a few minutes to be downstairs and back again in time, he quickly paced along the corridor and down the stairs.
Tucked away on the first floor of the house, in a room no bigger than a shoebox, the other member of the Took household, awoken by the commotion of upstairs, was also beginning to stir.
Slowly opening his eyes and stretching his arms above his head he gave a huge yawn. For a moment or two he laid there, his eyes searching the ceiling. The spider, who he had named Trevor, was still tucked away in the corner by his Harry Potter poster. He wondered if he was happy, if he liked being up there. He thought about whether a spider would make a good pet, but soon thought against it. He couldn’t see Ma and Pa liking the idea. Besides, they didn’t even like cats and dogs.
Sitting himself up, and wiping the sleep from his eyes, he yawned once again, before swinging his legs from under the covers and dropping down to the floor. It was then that the coldness of the room struck him.
‘Blimey, it’s f-f-freezing.’ He muttered to himself whilst sinking his small feet into his snug slippers.
Quickly pacing across the room, he grabbed up his thick, warm, dressing gown from the old wooden chair in the corner, and slipped it on, it’s furry warmth immediately encasing him.
Turning to the window he then reached up and grabbed the curtains in order to let some light into his little space. Pulling them apart it took his eyes a short moment or two to adjust to the light, but when they did, the surprise sent a jolt of excitement coursing through his small body.
‘Woo-Hoo!’ he yelped at the top of his lungs. ‘Look at all the snow. Look at it!’
For a moment his brain seemed to freeze inside his head, the cogs and motors numbed by the overwhelming joy of what he had seen.
Regaining himself, he turned on his heels and dashed across the room and to his chest of drawers, before hurriedly pulling out a pair of socks from inside. Then, sitting down on the old wooden chair he rolled them onto his feet, slipped his slippers back on, and bolted from the room.
Dashing along the narrow hallway, almost knocking one of Ma’s prized vases from its stand, his little legs moving nineteen to the dozen, a big smile on his chubby little face, he soon reached the top of the stairs. Taking them two at a time, his pulse now racing like a steam engine, he quickly came to the bottom. Then, darting through the kitchen, past where Pa was stood at the worktop, a steaming kettle in his hand, he pulled open the back door, set himself on the step, his smile now stretching at his cheeks, before diving, headlong, into the snow.
‘Pa, Pa, look at all the lovely snow!’ said a very excited Henry, rolling around on his back. ‘It’s going to be a white Christmas.’
Thumping the kettle down, Pa turned towards the open door, a cold breeze drifting around his ankles, his face bright red with anger.
‘Boy, get yourself in here right this second! He said. ‘You’ll catch your death!’
‘But, Pa…’
‘No buts boy, get yourself in, NOW!’
With a sinking feeling, Henry slowly pulled himself to his feet.
‘Come on, boy, step to it, I haven’t got all day!’
Stepping back into the house, his dressing gown and slippers covered with snow, water dripping onto the kitchen floor and pooling at his feet, Henry stood with his head hung down onto his chest.
Pa looked Henry up and down. ‘Look at you boy, you’re dripping all over Ma’s nice clean floor!’ He said. ‘She’ll have your guts for garters, she will.’
‘But, Pa, I just…’
‘ENOUGH! Pa bellowed, his face becoming redder by the second. ‘Get yourself upstairs and out of those wet clothes. I don’t want you ill for Christmas.’
With a big sigh, and a longing look back over his shoulder at the snow that was quickly becoming deeper by the second, Henry trudged out of the kitchen and made his way back up the stairs, a moment later to be followed by Pa, a hot cup of tea in his grip, and hoping that Ma was still splish splashing in the bathroom. In fact, he was praying that Ma was still splish splashing in the bathroom and desperately tried to shift from his mind as to what would happen if she wasn’t.
Reaching the first floor, his head still hung low, his clothes still dripping water; Henry made his way along the corridor and back into his room, slamming the door, hard, behind him. From inside, he heard the dulcet tones of Pa.
‘Get yourself dry and downstairs for breakfast boy, and be quick about it!’
Waiting for a response that didn’t come, Pa carried on up the stairs to the next floor where he hoped that Ma wasn’t waiting for him. He could picture it, though. Opening up the bedroom door, and there she’d be, scowling, her arms folded across her large bosom, dressing gown wrapped around her, her hair tied up on top of her head in a towel. Then the shouting would start.
Reaching the bathroom and with his heart in his mouth, a slight perspiration appearing on his brow, he placed an ear to the door. A few moments and he was met with nothing but the stony sound of silence. A panic quickly set in, his pulse quickening, he felt like a brick had been dropped into his stomach. But, then, he heard it. A loud splash followed by Ma’s unmistakable out of tune singing.
With a relief that caused him to almost drop the mug of tea that he was holding, he dashed along the hallway and into the bedroom. Placing the steaming hot mug onto the bedside table, and with a smile of relief on his face, he left as quickly as he had arrived and headed back to the kitchen.
Back in his tiny room, Henry stood, still dressed in his wet pyjamas, in front of the window, his chubby face pressed to the glass, and looked out at the white world before him. The snow had now stared to fall even heavier than it had been, millions and millions of tiny flakes tumbling from the slate grey sky above and covering every inch of the landscape. 
From his vantage point he could see Mr. Frekkle, still struggling to clear his path. The Dibble twins, Dennis and Derek, were assisting Mrs. Gladstone, with very little success, in trying to dig her car out of the snow. No matter which way you looked, the village had come to a virtual standstill.
With a deep breath, and with Pa’s words of a few moments previous still ringing in his ears, Henry decided that he had better get out of the wet pyjamas, besides, he’d had enough of being shouted at for one day.
Rummaging through his chest of draws and the small rickety wardrobe he sought some dry clothes. After a few moments of searching he found his favourite brown corduroy trousers, and a stripy blue and brown jumper that his Grandma had bought for him last Christmas, and, before you could say, ‘look at all the lovely snow’ he was dressed, back downstairs and, once again, in the kitchen.
With one eye on the goings on outside and the other on Pa, stood at the old stove, wooden spoon in hand and stirring a large pan of porridge, he took a seat at the table.
‘Do you want some boy?’ Pa asked, without turning.
Too busy staring out of the window and day dreaming of snow angels and building the biggest and most perfect snowman he could, Pa’s words passed him by.
‘BOY! Bellowed Pa, now facing Henry, his face red like a tomato, ‘I said, do you want some porridge?’
Henry sat bolt upright, his attention drawn from the window and now onto his father.
‘Erm… yes please, Pa, just a little.’
Slopping a big spoonful of porridge into a small white bowl, Pa dropped it down onto the kitchen table with a thud. Pulling his chair closer, Henry began to scoff his breakfast like it was the last meal he would ever eat.
‘Easy boy, you’ll choke on it. The snow will wait for you.’ Said Pa.
Once again, Pa’s words escaped Henry, and, after five big mouthful’s he pushed his bowl away across the table. Just as he was about to jump down from the chair, dressed in a bright pink dressing gown, wrapped tightly around her bulbous frame, her wet hair hanging lank and lifeless onto her hunched shoulders, and sipping her tea, Ma appeared in the doorway.
‘You managed to fix it then Pa?’ she said.
Looking up from the bowl of porridge that he had just started to eat, ‘Erm…yes…yes I did, just a small technical thing, you know.’ said Pa, stumbling over his words, trying not to give anything away. ‘It was quite simple, really.’ 
Not having a clue what they were bumbling on about, Henry shrugged his shoulders and, once again, headed for the back door.
‘And where do you think you’re going boy?’ said Ma.
Henry stopped in his tracks, without turning, his face scrunched up. ‘To play in the snow.’
From behind him he heard Ma let out a hoarse laugh. ‘No you are not, you’re going to help me put the lights on the tree and decorate the front room ready for the arrival of Gramps and Grammy Took.’
Henry’s shoulders slumped, he turned to face her. ‘Oh Ma, can’t Pa help?’ he said. ‘I just want to go out and play in the snow, just for five minutes.’
With a thud, Ma put her mug of tea down onto the table, hot liquid splashing onto its surface. ‘No! Pa has things to do today and I need some help, so that leaves you, you got that?’ She said, with a huff.
Standing there in his warm clothes, Henry could feel his chubby little face becoming redder by the second, if things carried on this way then all of the snow would have melted before he had a chance to go outside and enjoy it. With a last, desperate, look at Ma and Pa, and with a vain hope that they were joking, their faces, however, saying otherwise, he trudged past them both and stomped back up to his room, behind him the voice of his Mother ringing in his ears.
‘Be back down in half an hour boy, so we can start the decorating! Don’t make me come up and get you.’
Back into his room once more, Henry, with a scowl on his face, dropped down onto his bed and cursed his parents for spoiling any fun that he might have.
Sitting there, his head now in his hands, he thought of all the other children in the village, Tommy and Ray, Peter and Melody, all with nicer parents than his, outside enjoying the white world, throwing snowballs, smiles on their faces, and a skip in their hearts, when,
Startled, he glanced around the room. All was still. All as it should be. Odd, he thought, returning his mind to his parents and wishing that they would turn into slugs so he could squish them. The noise then came again.
This time he caught sight something out of the corner of his eye. ‘Strange,’ he said to himself, ‘what on earth was that.’ Jumping down from the bed, he slowly walked over to the window, and peered out.
Looking from left to right, then right to left, he scanned his eyes over the village, now deserted of a soul, a frown creasing his forehead. He was about to step away.
This time he jumped back from the window as something, a stone, hit it, and bounced away. It was followed by three more in quick succession.
‘Tap, Tap, Tap.’
He was now a little frightened, to think that someone was outside, throwing stones; maybe there was more than one. Oh dear.
He pondered what to do, should he hide? Maybe go and tell Ma and Pa? No, that wouldn’t be a good idea at all; they would just think that he was telling tales, just like they always did. ‘Stop lying, Henry.’ They would say. ‘You’re always making things up. Why can’t you be a good boy?’
There as only one thing for it, he was going to have to find out for himself.
Walking back to the window once again, he carefully peered outside to see if he could try and spot the culprit of the stone throwing. From the church in the east and all the way up to the parade of shops to the west he searched, his eyes flicking from one place to the next. A minute passed, then two and then three, the passing of each causing his heart to pound harder in his chest, but he could see nothing. But then, about to give in, and from the corner of his eye, he caught sight of something moving.
He wasn’t sure what it was but there was definitely something there, right below, down in the garden. Pressing his chubby little face closer to the glass, he craned his neck in order to get a better view of what might be lurking. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t slightly scared, but something inside of him just had to know.
It took another moment or so until he saw it again, a figure, hiding in the bushes next to Pa’s garden shed. But, apart from glimpsing a flash of colour and the bobble of a hat, he couldn’t quite make out whom, or indeed, what, it was.
At first he thought it might be one of the kids from the next village, messing around like they always did, trying to scare him. Maybe, and he gulped at the very thought, it was the school hard boy, Biffa’ Barry, come to duff him up, for no other reason than he was mad and liked to eat little first years for dinner. He didn’t like it, he didn’t like it one little bit.
Now sweating, his brain all of a tizz with worry, he decided against wanting to know after all, that was until the figure stepped out from the cover of the bushes.
Recoiling from the window, his eyes wide like saucers, Henry stared down at the, well, he didn’t quite know what it was. It certainly wasn’t, to his relief, Biffa Barry, or indeed any one of the children from the next village, in fact, it wasn’t a child at all, and it wasn’t even, as far as he could make out, a human being! What it was he hadn’t a clue.
Stood in the garden, dressed in a pair of green dungarees and black boots, a red bobble hat pulled onto its large head and staring up at him with wide eyes, was a creature of the like he had never seen before.
‘Oh my.’ He said, under his breath, ‘what on earth is that.’
Stepping away from the window, Henry pondered his next move. Did he wait in the safety of his room until it went away, until whatever it was went and bothered somebody else? But what if it didn’t go away, what if it came into the house looking for him. What if Ma and Pa saw it, and what if it attacked them? Actually, that might not be such a -.
Shifting the thought from his mind, he slowly went back to the window, undecided as to whether he wanted it to still be there, and peered, eyes half closed, over the windowsill.
Stood in exactly the same spot as where it had been a few moments previous, the snow building up around its small legs, the creature, once again, caught Henry’s eye, this time, raising a long, bony, finger, and beckoning him outside.
‘This isn’t happening.’ Henry said to himself, rubbing his eyes and shaking his head.
But it was happening, and of that there was no doubt. Henry Took had woken that morning, as usual, the excitement of the impending festivities and over night snowfall overloading his mind. He had eaten breakfast, been shouted at by his parents, which was no surprise, and now, when all he wanted to do was go outside and play in the snow, he, not only had his mother pestering him to help her with the chores, but he was being confronted by an unknown creature of whom he didn’t know whether wanted to play or beat him up.
Stepping back once again from the window, Henry stood in the middle of his room, head spinning, and in an instant made up his mind. He was going out.
Finding his woolly hat under a pile of comics at the end of his bed, he pulled it down tightly onto his head. Then, slipping on his snug winter jacket and gloves, and after a big deep breath, he was ready to go.
If there was one thing that Henry was good at, it was his ability to manoeuvre around the house undetected and without a sound. His many midnight trips to the kitchen for snacks and fizzy drinks had allowed him to memorise the location of every creaky or loose floorboard that could possibly give him away.
So, slowly opening his bedroom door, and checking that the coast was clear, he tiptoed out into the hallway, and then, gently pulling the door closed behind him, he set off on his journey to meet the creature.
He knew, along the narrow passageway from his room to the top of the stairs, that there were six creaks to the left and two squeaks to the right. Following that, stairs two, five, eight and eleven groaned if you stepped on them too close to the centre, whereas stairs one, three, four and six if you stepped to far to the right. Stairs seven, nine and ten, however, were his favourite, because they didn’t make any sound at all.
After a few, short, moments, and with all the stealth of a cat, he reached the foot of the stairs, then, poking his head around the kitchen door, to see if Ma and Pa were anywhere in sight, which they were, but both with there backs to where he was, he quietly moved through the back of the kitchen and into the living room.
From here his journey was a simple one, and it was only a few moments more and he was at the front door, turning the handle, and stepping outside to freedom.
The village was silent, the sound drained like a television on mute. The usual morning hustle and bustle now replaced by an eerie stillness.
Moving slowly, and with soft steps, along where he knew the garden path to be, Henry kept his eyes peeled to his surroundings. From within the safety of his bedroom a few moments previous the adventure had seemed like a grand idea, but now, outside in the cold, and with huge flakes of snow drifting down from a menacing looking sky, he had to admit that his courage was beginning to fade.
With the church bells chiming upon the hour, their sound cutting through the silence like a knife through butter, Henry reached the garden shed, and the bush of which he had seen the creature hiding behind.
Bracing himself, and avoiding the prickles and spikes, he slowly reached his hands in amongst the naked branches, and after a deep breath, his little heart beating ninety to the dozen, swiftly pulled them apart.
What he saw caused him to gasp in relief, for behind the bush, and apart from the shape of two small, neat, boot prints, was nothing but an empty space.
With his brow furrowed he stepped back, his mind ticking overtime, the silence of the air seeming to cling to him like Christmas wrapping paper, and pondered on what he was going to do next.
Suddenly, from behind him, cutting short that moment he so desperately needed to think, he heard the sound of crunching snow. Turning on his heels he looked back toward the house, his eyes large, and took a few seconds to scan his gaze over the snow covered garden.
All but for a lonesome blackbird, drifting to a stop upon the handle of his father’s wheelbarrow, all was still, all was calm. This had to be a dream, he thought to himself. Strange little creatures, like the one he had seen, well, that was something you only saw in dreams and on the pages of books, of course, but this wasn’t either of those things.   
Alert for any sounds or movement, no matter how tiny, Henry began to slowly walk back towards the house. He’d forgotten all about his parents. About what they would say, or more importantly, do, if they found him outside, and not in his room where he should be. No food for a week? Grounded until forever? Locked in the cupboard under the stairs with the cold, bare walls and the spiders? But the thing was, he couldn’t go back now, he just couldn’t. No matter how frightening he imagined his quest could become, and how fierce his parents’ punishment, he had to soldier on.
Within touching distance of the house he heard another noise, this time a sharp bang. Frozen to the spot, a shiver washed over him, the blackbird once again taking flight and fluttering over his head and disappearing out across the street and into the distance.
BANG! BANG! Louder this time, and he was now starting to get scared. He thought about running, running back indoors, pulling the curtains and hiding away, but he had to find out what it was, he just had to.
Glancing along the thin alleyway that ran down the side of the house, he caught sight of a shape darting from sight, and, seeing this as his chance, and mustering up all the bravery he could, he took up chase.
Dodging dustbins, full to the brim with smelly rubbish, and the old, rusted frame of Pa’s bicycle, he soon found himself at the rear of the house.
With stealth he moved along the long narrow garden. Past the old apple tree with the rope swing, and his climbing frame he went, all the while keeping his eyes peeled for any sign of the creature.
A gust of wind rustled through the trees, a noise to Henry’s right hand side. Turning, he caught sight of a flash of colour, towards the rear of the garden.
It was then that he saw the creature, stood, looking straight at him, beckoning him as before with a long, bony, finger, before disappearing out through the garden gate and towards the dark woods beyond.
Henry’s breath caught in his throat, his heart skipping a beat. The thought of the creepy woods, with its trees bent and twisted like old men, their branches like spindly fingers, made him shudder with fright. If he was going to follow, and he was, then he was going to have to be extra brave.
He had never been in the woods behind the house, well, not alone anyway. It had always been forbidden of him, and it was the one rule that he had never, once, considered breaking. But, if he was going to get to the bottom of this, then that was going to have to change.
Crouching behind the old apple tree, Henry took a brief moment to compose himself. It was pointless trying to deny that he wasn’t frightened; for he was possibly more frightened than he had ever been in his life.
After a quick look back towards the house, checking each of the windows in turn for the spying eyes of his parents, he, keeping low, made a dash for the undergrowth at the rear of the garden, then, after summoning up all of his courage, exited through the gate.
Standing on the edge of the woods, a certain something hanging in the air that he couldn’t quite put his finger on, he looked into its darkness and tried hard not to think of all the bad things that he imagined were hidden within. From ghosts and goblins to witches and monsters, and everything else that scared him. He then realised why he had never ventured this far before.
Pulling the collar of his coat up around his face and his hat down further on his head he slowly took a step forward. It was then that he heard it.
With a shiver rippling up his spine and his heart thudding hard in his chest, Henry took a step back, pressing himself up against the garden gate.
It came again, this time a little louder.
Looking from left to right, a bead of sweat appearing from under his hat and trickling down his face, he called out.
‘Hello, who’s there?’
To his left, a flock of birds took flight from the tree tops, disappearing into the greying sky, the eerie silence, once again, taking hold.
He repeated. ‘‘Hello, who’s there?’
A rustling from the undergrowth directly in front of him caused him to start. A brief moment and he heard it from his left, then, to his right. The thought then dawned on him, what if there was more than one. What if he had been lured into a trap, at any moment a hoard of little creatures jumping out and pulling him into the darkness?
With that thought heavy in his mind, the decision was quickly made that he would rather be in his bedroom after all, safe and warm under the bed clothes, and with just Trevor for company.
About to turn and head back through the gate and to the, relative, safety of the garden, he was stopped in his tracks by a tug at his sleeve.
Spinning around, and almost stumbling in the process, his hands instinctively coming up in front of himas protection, Henrygave a yelp as he came face to face with the little creature.
‘P- Please, don’t hurt me!’
The creature looked up at Henry with large eyes.
‘I mean Henry no harm.’
Slowly lowering his hands, Henry took a short moment to look the creature over. ‘Wh-what are you, and how do you know my name?’
‘Snick is my name, and I know all about you.’
Henry frowned. ‘You do, how?’
Snick shrugged. ‘I know all children’s names. I know where they live and what they wish for. We all do.’
Henry frowned. ‘All? You mean there are more of you?’
Snick nodded. ‘Oh yes, Snick isn’t the only one. There are many, just like me. There’s Dill, Moom and Judd. There’s Hopp and Habby, Avro and Uff. And not forgetting Roop and Farz. Oh and there’s Tavvo and…’
Henry held up his hand, whilst glancing towards the dark woods with worry. ‘And are they all here now?
Snick looked down at the ground, his face clouding with sadness. ‘No, Snick is alone. That is why I came for you, for help.’
‘Help?’ Henry said, slightly confused.
‘Yes. Snick is lost, you see. My sleigh was blown from its course and I crashed into the trees. If I can’t get it going again Santa will be very cross.’
Henry’s eyes lit up. ‘Santa? You know Santa?’
Snick nodded. ‘Why, yes. We Christmas Troll’s work for Santa to help deliver the…’
‘Christmas Troll’s?’ Henry interrupted, again looking rather confused.
‘Yes. Snick is a Christmas Troll.’
Henry frowned. ‘But I’ve never heard of such a thing before, an Elf, yes, but, a Christmas Troll?’
Snick sighed. ‘No-one knows about us. There are so few of our kind, and our job is not as important as the Elf’s, so, well, we are kept a secret.’
Henry’s fear of a few moments ago was slowly starting to fade. This little creature wasn’t a threat at all, in fact, he was anything but, and Henry was starting to feel a little sorry for him.
‘I’m sure that’s not true, you know.’ He said. ‘I bet that your job is just as important.’
Snick raised his head again to look at Henry. ‘Do you think so?’
‘Of course, I mean, why wouldn’t it be. Would you tell me what it is?’
‘Snick would be happy too.’ The sadness faded from his face. ‘The job of the Christmas Troll is to gather all of the materials for Santa’s workshop. We travel the world collecting this and that and anything else that we think could be useful in the making of the all the presents for all of the girls and boys. We also tend to all of Santa’s reindeers, making sure that they are fed and watered and ready for Christmas Eve.’
Henry’s face gave away his excitement. ‘Wow! That sounds like a brilliant job to me! I still can’t believe that no one knows about you, though.’
Snick sat down in the snow, his face looking sad once more. There seemed to be tears forming in his eyes.
‘Are you ok?’ asked Henry, taking a step closer.
Snick dropped his head into his hands. ‘I’m just worried that I will be stuck here, and that Christmas will be ruined if I can’t get going again.’ Tiny tears had started to drop down into the snow at his feet.
Henry stepped closer and sat down beside him. ‘Come on now, don’t cry. We can get you going again. I can help you if you would like?’
Lifting his head, Snick looked at Henry, the faint trace of a smile forming on his lips. ‘You are very kind; Snick knew that Henry would help.’
Quickly to his feet, Snick dusted the snow from his trousers and wiped his sleeve across his face. ‘We must get to work quickly; there isn’t a second to lose.’
Without another word, Snick turned and was off towards the darkness of the woods.
‘Wait!’ Henry shouted. ‘I have to help Ma with the decorations first, I’ll be in big trouble if I don’t.’
Stopping in his tracks, Snick turned back towards Henry. ‘Don’t you worry about that, everything will be ok. Now, come.’
Following behind, and trying not to lose the little creature as it headed into the woods, Henry could feel a sense of apprehension wash over him as he entered into the darkness.
‘Snick, what do you mean everything will be ok, we only have a little while. Ma won’t be pleased. I’ll be grounded forever!’
‘Trust me, Henry,’ came the reply from up ahead. ‘Trust me.’
Deeper into the woods they went. Be it in his mind, he just couldn’t work it out, but the temperature seemed to be dropping, the ground becoming more sodden, and the noises in the air more sinister.
It was then that Henry lost sight of Snick.
Stopping at a clearing he looked all around for the little creature, but he was nowhere to be seen.
‘SNICK, WHERE ARE YOU?’ he called out.
Silence. The only sound that of Henry’s own breath. He couldn’t lie, even if he wanted too, but he was feeling rather scared now. He had never been this deep into the woods before, not without the company of either Ma or Pa.
Looking all around him, the darkness closing in tight like a velvet glove, he called out again, but with the same result.
He considered turning back, making a dash for it and back into the safety of home, but he wasn’t sure as to whether he would be able to find his way out again.
Back to the path along which he had seen Snick disappear moments previous, he slowly made his way deeper into the woods, every few feet calling out his name, and every few feet receiving the same silence in return.
Deeper and deeper he went, every second the darkness creeping ever closer, the twisted trees reaching out with spindly fingers, black and naked against the crisp whiteness of the snow.
Just when he was starting to think that he’d never see the creature again, doubting that he’d actually seen him in the first place, and that the whole episode was nothing but a dream.
‘Hello, Henry.’
The voice from his right saw Henry almost jump out of his skin, his feet twisting underneath him as he spun around, causing him to fall, headlong, into a muddy puddle.
Pulling himself to his feet, and wiping a hand across his dirty face, Henry stood, muddy water dripping from his coat, and looked at Snick.
‘What on earth do you think you are you doing?’ he said, angrily.
Snick took a step back. ‘I – I didn’t mean to scare you. Are you ok?’
‘Does it look like I’m ok? I’m covered in mud and soaking wet. Ma will have my guts for garters when she see’s me!’
That sad look returned to Snicks face, his head dropping down.
‘This is my best coat, my only coat! Look at me!’ continued Henry, his voice getting louder.
‘Snick is very sorry. I am nothing but trouble.’
Henry stopped, sensing that Snick was upset, feeling bad that he had snapped at him for something that was nothing but an accident.
Taking a step towards him, Henry placed a hand on Snicks shoulder. ‘I’m sorry that I shouted. And it’s not true that you are nothing but trouble.’ He paused. ‘Well, maybe just a little.’
Looking up and seeing a smile on Henry’s face, Snicks mood brightened.
‘I have found my sleigh; it’s just over there, through that clearing.’ Snick said, pointing through the trees. ‘If you still wanted to help me, that is?’
Henry nodded. ‘Of course, but promise me one thing?’ Snick raised his eyebrows. ‘No more jumping out on me, ok?’
With a smile, Snick agreed and without further ado, and with Henry in hot pursuit, headed off deeper into the woods.
After a few moments, and no more than one hundred yards, the tree’s parted, bringing them to the spot where the sleigh had crashed down. Its side and front bashed in.
‘My my.’ Henry said. ‘That is a bit of a mess isn’t it.’ Looking off to one side, he then spotted something else. Pointing towards it. ‘What’s that?’
Just off to one side, Snick approached what Henry had pointed at. Kneeling down at its side, he put a hand on the creatures head.
‘This is Ambrose, my reindeer.’
‘You have your own reindeer?’ Henry said, coming closer.
‘Yes. We all do. And I won’t be able to complete my job if he isn’t well enough.’
Henry knelt down at Snicks side. ‘What’s wrong with him? He doesn’t look ill.’
Stroking the reindeer on the neck, Snick whispered something that Henry couldn’t quite make out into its ear.
A brief moment and, with a slight groan, the animal rolled onto its side, revealing a paw that was bent at an angle that didn’t seem natural at all.
‘Ouch.’ Henry said. ‘That does look painful, the poor thing.’
Snick was beginning to look agitated. Climbing to his feet he began to pace back and forth.
‘We need to work fast, Henry, I’m running out of time. Santa is counting on us trolls. If I don’t getting going soon, then, well…’ He stopped, not wanting to think of the consequences.
‘It’s ok.’ Henry said, in his most reassuring voice. ‘We’ll fix it. My Dad has loads of things in his shed that we could use to fix up your sleigh.’
‘What about Ambrose?’ Said Snick still pacing up and down. ‘I can’t go anywhere if he can’t move.’
‘There must be something in the shed that we can use for that as well. It’ll be ok.’
Snick stopped in his tracks. ‘You will be in trouble with your parents if you are not back soon, I can’t have that. I can’t have any more trouble.’
‘Don’t worry about them,’ said Henry. ‘We need to get you home first, that’s the most important thing.’
With that Henry stood, brushing the snow from his knees. ‘Come on, the sooner we start the sooner we can get you home.’
Grabbing hold of the sleeve of Henry’s coat, a note of alarm on his face, Snick spoke in a quiet voice.
‘There’s no time, Henry, no time. There’s nothing else for it.’
Leaving Henry’ side, Snick walked over to his sleigh. Pulling across the cover on a back compartment, he leant over the side, his little legs leaving the ground momentarily, and pulled out a small, red, drawstring bag.
Henry frowned. ‘What’s in there?’
Heading back towards him, the bag cradled in his hands like it was the most precious things in the world; Snick gestured towards the trunk of a fallen tree and asked Henry to sit down.
‘Do you believe in magic, Henry?’ Snick said as they sat side by side.
Henry’s eyes widened. ‘Magic? Oh, yes, I love magic. My Pa has a very good trick that he does with a pack of cards.’ He looked down at the bag that Snick held. ‘Are you going to do a trick?’
Snick frowned. ‘Sort of, but…’ he paused.
Henry edged closer. ‘But what? Maybe it’s the same trick that my Pa does.’
Snick looked away, shaking his head; he never imagined it coming to this, never imagined having to tell anyone the secret that he kept, but he didn’t see any other way.
‘Can you keep a secret, Henry?’
‘A secret?’ Henry said, frowning.
‘Yes, but not just any secret, a secret so big, so important, that if breathed to another living soul would,’ he paused, ‘would mean the end of Christmas, forever.’
Henry gasped. ‘The end of Christmas?’
Snick nodded. ‘No more presents, no more Santa, no more anything. Can you imagine that?’
Henry shook his head. ‘I don’t even want to think of it! No more Christmas? That’s horrible!’
‘Then promise me, Henry Took,’ Snick said, his eyes large. ‘Promise me that you will never tell anyone the thing I am about to tell you.’
‘I promise, of course, I promise.’
Snick shuffled where he sat. ‘Christmas is the most magical time of year, a time for celebration and a time for giving and sharing with the ones who we love. But for those of us involved in making it all happen, us trolls, the Elf’s and, of course, Santa, its very hard work. Not only do we have to collect all of the materials for the workshop, the Elf’s then only have a short while to make all of the toys and gifts for all of the boys and girls. Then, of course, there are the reindeers. They have to be groomed and fed so they are in the best shape and then, if that wasn’t enough, Santa has but a few short hours to deliver everything to the four corners of the world.’
Henry frowned. ‘But I know all of that. That’s not much of a secret.’
Snick sighed. ‘That’s not the secret, Henry.’ Holding up the little red bag, Snick then looked Henry in the eye.
‘It’s the contents of this bag that is the secret of Christmas.’
Looking between the little bag and Snick, Henry took a moment to think. ‘What on earth could be in there that was such a secret?’
Slowly pulling apart the string that fastened the bag, Snick reached inside. ‘Remember I asked you if you believed in magic?’ Henry nodded. ‘Well, watch this.’
Pulling his hand from the bag, his fist closed tightly, Snick closed his eyes. After a short moment and a muttered word that Henry couldn’t make out, he threw his arm above his head and opened his hand.
A short, sharp crack sounded in the air around them, causing Henry to cover his ears with gloved hands and give out a little yelp. ‘What on earth was that?’ He said, his voice all a quiver.
Jumping down from branch they where sat upon, Snick stood in front of Henry.
‘Every Christmas Eve, all of Santa’s helpers load up his sleigh and securely harness his reindeers for the journey. Then, he takes a bag, just like the one that I have, reaches inside, and pulls out a handful of dust, magic dust, and throws it into the air.’
Henry gasped. ‘Magic dust?’
‘Yes,’ Snick said. ‘And that, right there, is the secret, a secret that has been passed down through the generations. A secret so, well, secret, that it has the power, if let into the wrong hands, to destroy Christmas.’
Henry jumped down from the branch. ‘But I don’t understand, you still haven’t said what this big secret is.’
Snick smiled. ‘Look around you.’
With a frown, Henry did as he was asked. It took a moment or two for him to notice, but when he did…
Turning on the spot, his mouth open in amazement, he looked upon his surroundings. Everything, from the snow covered ground and up into the tall trees, from the birds in flight and the snow flakes as they fell from the sky, was frozen in time.
Snick stepped to Henry’s side. ‘That’s the secret of Christmas. In order for Santa to deliver presents to all of the boys and girls all over the world and be back before sunrise, he, just for a few hours, stops time.’
Henry looked at Snick with wide eyes, he wasn’t sure that he had ever seen or heard anything so unbelievable and amazing in his whole life.
‘I…I…don’t know what to say.’ said Henry, still a little confused. ‘I do have one question, though.’
‘Of course.’
‘Well, if the magic dust causes time to stop, then, how come it hasn’t stopped me?’
‘But you know the secret.’ Snick said. ‘And that is exactly why it is so very important that you never breathe a word of this to anyone, for those who know the secret will be instantly freed from the effects of the magic dust, and the spirit of Christmas,’ he paused. ‘Would be ruined.’
Henry could feel the weight of the whole situation starting to rest heavy on his shoulders, that the very existence of Christmas, the best, and by a country mile his most favourite time of the year, could, with one slipped word, be lost, forever. But he knew that helping Snick in returning home was important, and, right now, that was all he had to concentrate on.
With the landscape frozen in time around them, the wonder and bewilderment of it all causing Henry to feel just a little giddy, he lead Snick back through the woods from where they had come. Picking a snowflake from the air as it hung, as if suspended from an invisible wire, he marvelled as it rested upon his gloved hand without melting. He wasn’t sure, at that moment, that anything in his life would ever top what he was seeing. Until something else caught his eye, that is.
‘Wow!’ Henry said, jogging off ahead towards the stump of a tree.
Perched on a thick, gnarly branch, he had spotted a Robin. Stepping closer, and fully expecting the little bird to flutter its wings and fly away, he quickly realised that, even if it wanted to, it couldn’t.
‘I’ve never been this close to a Robin before.’ He said with excitement in his voice, his nose almost touching the tiny creature. ‘Look at its red chest, and its tiny wings. Oh, and look at its little feet!’
Snick frowned as he approached Henry. ‘Come along Henry, we haven’t got that long. I only used a tiny pinch of dust. The effect could wear off at any time.’
Making their way, quicker now, through the woods, the tree cover finally started to thin, and, before long, they found themselves, once again, back at the gate into Henry’s back garden.
Stepping inside, Henry led Snick back down the long narrow garden, past the old apple tree with the rope swing, and his old metal climbing frame, on top of which, now, sat Eric, the neighbours’ cat, paw in the air and mouth open as a blackbird swooped close by, both suspended in time, just as the robin had been earlier on.
Closer to the house and Henry spotted his Ma and Pa, stood at the kitchen window, looking out upon the white covered world. His heart skipped a beat at their presence, their blank faces and eyes, seemingly, staring right at him.
‘They can’t see me, can they?’ He said, looking back at Snick.
Snick shook his head. ‘No, no. They can’t see you.’ He smiled. ‘You don’t have to worry. But come on; let’s keep going before they can.’
Along the side of the house, past the overflowing dustbins and Pa’s rusted old bike and they were soon in the front garden. Looking out across the village, Henry was, once again, flabbergasted.
Picture a Christmas card scene, or a painting on an artist’s canvas, even. The image depicting a group of children, all wrapped up in their cosy winter clothes, having fun and with smiles on their faces, snowballs soaring through the air, sledges slipping and sliding. Well, that was exactly what Henry saw, except, that this image wasn’t on the front of a Christmas card or an artists canvas, it was frozen in time in the street that ran outside of his house.
Looking upon the scene, mouth open, his mind whirling with the amazement of all that was happening, he heard a noise to his left. Turning, he spotted the door to Pa’s shed open wide, huffing and puffing coming from within.
Stepping to the open door, Henry entered.
‘We are going to need a lot of this.’ Snick said, his back to Henry as he rummaged through boxes and cupboards. ‘We can fix the sleigh with these bits of wood, and there must be something in the first aid kit that we can use to help Ambrose.’
Turning back to Henry, his arms full of supplies, Snick kindly asked his new friend to collect up all that he himself couldn’t carry, and, with time against them, they set about making their way back to the woods.
Along the path at the side of the house and into the garden, Henry took a moment to glance back at Ma and Pa, still frozen in time at the kitchen window, and couldn’t help a little giggle to himself along with a silent wish that would stay like that forever. It would certainly make his life a lot easier.
Following in their footprints from earlier, Snick led the way back up the long, narrow garden, out of the gate and into the darkness of the woods.
‘Hurray.’ Snick said, jogging ahead. ‘We haven’t much longer.’
Reaching their destination, they both laid out all of the things they had collected from Pa’s shed onto the ground and set to work.
While Snick made himself busy with the repairs on his damaged sleigh, sawing wood to size, banging in nails here and there and wrapping thick tape over anything else that looked as though it may, at any time, fall off, Henry set to tending to Ambrose’s injured leg.
Opening up the first aid kit, and taking a moment to rummage through its contents, he took out a roll of bandage. About to wrap it around the creature’s leg, an idea, then, hit him. 
Jumping to his feet he quickly went over to the pile of wood that was built up next to Snicks sleigh. After a brief look through, he came across a small enough piece that he hoped would do the job that he had in mind.
Back to Ambrose, and after a quick tickle of reassurance under his chin he placed the piece of wood, gently, onto to its injured ankle. Then, slowly, he began, as tightly as the creature would allow without hollering out in pain, to wrap it around and around.
After a few moments more they were both done, and Snick stepped to Henry’s side. ‘Excellent job, Henry, well done, Ambrose looks happier already.’ He then sniffed at the air, his eyes closed. ‘Time is almost up, we must be quick. I must find somewhere to take off.’
‘These woods lead out onto some fields.’ Henry said. ‘My Pa took me there once. It shouldn’t be too far from here.’
Snick smiled. ‘Fantastic. There’s no time to lose.’
As quick as they could, they both helped Ambrose to his feet, Snick stroking the fur on the top of the creatures head and whispering quietly into its ear, before harnessing him to the patched up sleigh.
‘Will you get back in time?’ Henry said.
‘I’m sure that I will, yes. The dust should last for a little while longer, so it should give me enough time.’
Stepping forward, Snick, then, wrapped his arms around Henry’s waist, squeezing him tightly.
‘I can’t thank you enough, Henry. Without your help I would have been stranded here, and who knows what would have happened to me, or to Christmas.’
After initially being terrified of the little man, and thinking that the only reason he was there was to eat him up for his dinner, Henry was, now, more than a little sad that Snick was leaving. Their adventure, albeit short, had been the most enjoyable thing that Henry had ever done, and, in that time he had grown to like him very much.
Climbing aboard his sleigh, Snick settled himself into his seat, and looked down at Henry. ‘You’ve saved Christmas, Henry Took, and for that Ill make it my personal duty to inform Santa of your good deed.’
Henry smiled. ‘Ill never forget you Snick.’
‘And Ill never forgot you. But remember our little secret, and remember how important it is that you never tell another living soul of what you know.’
Nodding his head, Henry then watched as Snick shook the reins for Ambrose’s attention and the sleigh slowly began its journey along the path that lead from the woods and out into the fields.
Watching as they built up speed, Henry then began to run after them, his little legs moving him quickly across the ground.
‘So long Snick!’ he called out. ‘So long Ambrose.’
Turning back in his seat, Snick flashed a smile and gave a wave of his hand, before ever so slowly the sleigh began to lift into the air. Reaching the edge of the woods, the snow covered fields rolling off into the distance; the sleigh rattling and rumbling, Snick called out a final goodbye, and gave another tug on the reins. Before Henry even had a chance to wave back, they were gone.
Gazing up into the grey sky, Henry looked for any sign of them, but without any luck, for it was empty but for thick clouds and frozen snow flakes.
Turning away with a heavy heart and a tear in his eye, his mind awhirl with all that had happened, and knowing that he didn’t have too much longer before the world around him unfroze; Henry began the journey back home.
Had it been a dream? Was he soon to wake up to the realisation that it had all been nothing but a creation of his sleepy mind? If that was indeed so, then all he could say was that it was the best dream that he’d ever had!
Taking one last chance to admire the robin up close, he was soon back at his house. Along the side alleyway he went, past the dustbins and Pa’s old bike. At the front of the house he took a moment to look out upon the frozen scene of the children at play, then, with a smile, he re-entered the house.
Through the hallway and into the front room he soon came to the kitchen, and with one final look at his parents as they stood at the window, the thought flitting through his mind that if only they could be like it all the time, he began to climb the stairs to his room.
Once there, he sat down on his bed and closed his eyes. He then dozed off.
Jumping from his bed, eyes wide, Henry looked around the room, his mind in a dither.
‘HENRY!’ The call came again. ‘Get yourself down here right this second, these decorations aren’t going to put themselves up, you know!’
Sighing, his shoulders dropping at the realisation of his Ma’s voice, Henry removed his coat, hat and shoes and put them back where he had found them. He, then, thought of Snick and Ambrose and the little adventure they had had together, still wondering if it had even happened at all.
His mother’s dulcet tones, then, rang through the house again. ‘HENRY! You’ve got one minute. Don’t make me come up there!’
Before answering her call, he took a quick peek from the window, just to check that everything was normal again, to find that it was.
The children’s games were, once more, in full flow. Snowballs flying in every direction, sledges slip sliding on the cold, frozen ground. All accompanied by shouts and laughter. The birds were flitting through the sky and the snow had started to fall again.
Stepping back from the window and aware that he needed to be downstairs to save him from the wrath of Ma, Henry quickly made his way from the room.
The next couple of hours, being bossed around by Ma, weren’t the most fun that Henry had ever had. ‘Don’t put that there.’ ‘Stop doing that.’ ‘Why can’t you take things seriously?’ But Henry didn’t care; all he could think about was his adventure with Snick. He wondered if he had got home safely, and hoped that Santa wasn’t too angry if he hadn’t. He also wished that he could have gone with him, away from here and to a better life with people who cared for him.
Back upstairs, with a flea in his ear, Henry lay down on his bed with a sigh and closed his eyes, his request to go outside and play in the snow, just like everyone else in the village, seemingly, was, had been denied. He had argued, of course he had, but that had just made Ma more angry. Pulling the covers over his head, he went to sleep.
Christmas morning came around quickly and Henry was awake at 6:30am. Sitting up in bed, the room cold and dark, his breath visible in the air; he stretched his arms above his head and yawned.
Climbing out of bed, the cold air wrapping around him like a blanket, he quickly pulled on his dressing gown and slipped his feet into his slippers, hoping that it wouldn’t take too long for him to warm up.
At the window he opened up a gap in the curtains and peered out into the gloom, just making out the gentle fall of snow in the light of the streetlamps, the big white moon hanging silently in the sky, its face smiling down on the world. But Henry didn’t feel like smiling, which was unusual, for Christmas was his favourite time of year, but all he could think about, was Snick.
It had been magic, the time that he had spent with the little creature. He’d never felt more alive. The sights that he had seen, he knew, would stay with him forever, the robin, Eric, the neighbours’ cat, and, especially, the scene in front of the house of the village children, frozen at play. He so wished that he could just close his eyes and be back there, but he knew that couldn’t happen.
With a big sigh, he stepped away from the window. Quietly tip-toeing across the room, he gently pulled open his bedroom door, and stepped out into the corridor. The house was silent; the only noise to be heard, the faint ticking of the big old grandfather clock downstairs in the hallway. Using his trusted trick, he manoeuvred himself, like a cat, quiet, but with haste, along the corridor all the way to the end, then down the stairs to the bottom, he shuffled through the kitchen and into the living room. Flicking on the light, he was confronted by a mound of presents under the tree. Rushing over, he stared at all of the gifts, with their brightly coloured wrapping paper and bows. There seemed to be quite a few for him, which made him smile.
Knowing, however, that he wouldn’t be able to open any of them until every member of the family was up and washed and dressed, which, if it was to be like every other year, would mean close to midday, he decided that the best thing would be to head back to his room, and wait.
With one last look at all of the presents, and about to switch off the light, something caught his eye, something on the mantelpiece on the far side of the room. With a frown creasing his forehead, he headed towards the object, and only when he was within touching distance did he realise exactly what it was.
‘Oh my.’ He said to himself.
Reaching up, he took hold of the object and brought it close to him. In his hands he held a small, red, drawstring bag, just like the one that Snick had used. Opening it carefully, his excitement at boiling point, he peered inside, and, to his delight, a smile breaking over his chubby little face, he saw the dust, the magic dust. But, there was something else.
With trembling fingers he, carefully, dipped inside, and pulled out a small, tightly, folded, piece of paper. Opening it up, he read:
Dear Henry,
Well, I got home in time, just! And, without your help I know that I wouldn’t have made it at all. I spoke to Santa, just like I said I would, and he said that he would leave you a little gift as a thank you. Oh, but there’s just one tiny condition, make sure that you use it wisely.
I’ll never forget your kindness, Henry Took, and, you never know, maybe I’ll see you again some day.
p.s you might need a little something to make it work, so check your dressing gown pockets, but don’t forget, it’s our secret.
Folding the note up, Henry reached into the pockets of his dressing gown and pulled out another slip of paper, upon was written a single word:
‘This must be the magic word.’ Henry said to himself.
Staring at the note, a voice from behind made him jump.
‘What are you doing, boy?’
Spinning around, Henry was met by the stern, tired face of Ma as she stood in the doorway.
‘Erm, nothing Ma.’ he replied, carefully slipping the note and the bag into his dressing gown pocket. ‘Just taking a look at the presents is all.’
Ma folded her arms across her chest. ‘I hope that you haven’t opened any presents yet. You know the rules.’
‘No, of course not.’ Henry said.
And with that, Henry walked past Ma and back up the stairs to his room. Once inside, he retrieved the gift from his pocket, the smile returning
to his face, and placed it, carefully, onto his bedside table.
Stepping to the window, he pulled back the curtains. The snow was still falling, and the village of Digden was slowly starting to come to life.
Christmas was good that year.
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The Winter of Death – Pt 11

Watching as the semi conscious figure of Harold Bart was loaded into the back of the ambulance, a small throng of passers-by ogling from the opposite side of the road, McCann stepped to one side and pulled his mobile from his inside jacket pocket, to be greeted with five missed calls and a voice message. Entering the menu he connected to his voice mail, at once feeling the callers fury as it blazed along the line. A short moment was all it took for the message to be conveyed. Slowly lowering the phone from his ear he was, then, aware of a presence behind him.
Turning, he looked into the face of DC Conrad. ‘Guess what?’
Conrad narrowed his eyes. ‘You’re shitting me?’
The concise shake of McCann’s head told everything that needed to be said.
‘Listen, go with Bart to the hospital, make it clear that he is not to be released, ok’
Conrad turned to depart. ‘Oh, and James,’ stopping he half turned, ‘Keep what happened in their to yourself.’
 Reaching his car he climbed into the driver’s seat in started the engine, the warm air from the heaters a welcome relief from the biting cold. It was then that his phone rang. He considered ignoring it, but on the umpteenth ring, he picked up. He was glad that he did.
There was a pause, a crackle on the line. McCann held his breath, the killer again, surely not.
‘Hello, is that Detective McCann?‘ his mind calmed, the voice soft, that of a female.
‘It is yes, can I help?’
‘I’m not sure. I’ve just returned from holiday and I have a message from you on my answering machine to call you.’
It then clicked. ‘Miss Montgomery, yes, thank you for getting back to me. I trust that you had a nice holiday?’
‘Yes, thank you. I hope that nothing is wrong. I was a little confused with the message.
‘No, not at all, it was actually some information that I was after.’
A pause. ‘Information?’
‘You want to talk about Keith, don’t you?’
McCann took note of the punch in her voice.
‘Please let me explain first. I don’t want to dig up the past, I just want to ask a couple of questions, no more.’
He waited, patiently, for what seemed like an age for a reply. Waited for the line to click.
‘Ok, but this is the only time we speak Detective. After this, no more questions. Is that understood? The past is exactly that, and I don’t intend to drag it up.
McCann nodded along with voicing his agreement.
‘Ok then, detective, you have two minutes.’
McCann proceeded. ‘Did Keith have any friends that you know of, I mean, anyone that he was close to, say, in the final year or so?’
A long deep breath. ‘Friends? Well, no, not really. He wasnt much for making friends, even when he was a child. Maria and Simon were all he had after, well, you know. Hang on, though.’ she paused. ‘There was someone, actually. Someone he spoke about, only once or twice, someone he met at the hospital.’
‘Would you happen to know this persons name?’
‘Yes, Edgar, I think. Or was it? No, Edward, that’s it, yes. Edward Lincoln.’
‘And did you ever see him, this Edward Lincoln?’
‘No, never in person, only in a photograph.’
McCann felt a skip of anticipation. ‘I don’t suppose there is any chance that you would know where this photograph was, would you?’
‘As it happens, yes. It’s in my loft. There are a few as far as I recall.’
‘Is there a chance that you would be able to send me copies of those photo’s? I’ll happily pay any costs you should incur.’
‘Well, yes, but can I ask of what relevance this is? It’s all a little odd.’
McCann went on to concoct that it was part of an ongoing case, a missing persons case. That Keith Masons name had, by chance, come up and as the person involved was a worker at the same hospital and at around the same time that he was a patient, they were contacting anyone linked to him. He had no idea as to whether she would buy it, fortunately she did, and with a smile on his face he gave her the address to which to send them.
Bound to an old, high-backed, wooden chair. Thick, coarse, rope cutting into her ankles and wrists, small cuts smarting on her arms and legs. The girl, slowly, awakened.
With a sensation as though floating underwater, her heart beating like a drum in her chest, and trying, desperately, to compose herself, to regulate her breathing, she cast her gaze, through half-opened eyes, over her surroundings.
She was in a small, dark, bare bricked, room. The floor underneath her ragged and uneven. In front of her, a large wooden door with a small, what appeared to be, viewing section three-quarters of the way up. Casting her mind back over the previous few hours of her life she tried to recall the events that led to her being in that place. She knew that she should remember, knew that it shouldn’t be this hard. Her woozy mind, however, had different ideas. A few snippets were there. She recalled the smell of perfume, of slipping on her best jeans. A Taxi ride. A glass of wine. Closing her eyes she tried, in vain, to bring it back, to will it to the front of her mind, to spark it to life, but it just wasnt coming. It was as though her memory had been partially erased. It was then that the panic started.
Crying out, and struggling against the ties that bound her, her arms and legs like jelly, she soon realised that there was no escape. It wasn’t too long, however, before she understood everything.
‘No one can hear you.’ Turning her head from left to right, eyes wide; she sought the source of the voice. It came again.
‘Did you hear me?’
Trying to twist in the chair to get a better look of the room. ‘I can’t see you, where are you?’
There was a pause, a sob. ‘I don’t know.’
‘Can you see me?’
‘No, I cant. I heard them bring you in last night, though.’
She tried to think straight. ‘Do you know what this place is?’
‘No, I think that its divided up into different rooms, like a, a prison of some sort.’
A prison. That made her shudder, but she tried to stay as calm as possible.
‘Do you know if there is anyone else here with us?’
This time there was a crack, a break in the tone. ‘I don’t know. People have been arriving since I came.’ She paused, a low moan, another sob. ‘I’ve heard screaming, oh fuck, the screaming, pain. I don’t know what happens, but-‘
She cut off, full on sobbing, no more words possible.
‘Its ok, stay calm, please. Try and stay calm.’
A moment passed, the sobbing subsiding. A whisper. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘You’ve no need. Now, tell me what you know, tell me how you got here.’
‘I met someone, a date. I don’t know how I got here, its, its hazy. I don’t know what they want.’
‘Yes, there’s two of them, the other one is older, he keeps calling me, ‘the one.’ He just, just stands and stares at me through the grille in the door.’
‘And the other one?’
‘He’s the one I met through the website, I’m guessing that he brought me here.’
It then came back, like a flood. The date, the small pub. The man called Martin who she met on the dating website. Walking out into the dark car park, the arm around her throat. The pin prick sensation in her neck. She fought back the terror that was rising all the time in the pit of her stomach.
Her body tensed. ‘Is your name Gemma?’
There was a gasp. ‘Yes, yes, its Gemma. Gemma Dawson. How did you know that?’
She swallowed, her throat dry. ‘My name is Abbey, I’m a police officer.’
13th December – St Margaret’s Church. Rainham. Early Afternoon.
Standing under the glow of the winter sun, the trickle of an icy breeze creeping through the air, McCann looked upon the churchyard with the feeling of dread firmly fixed in his stomach.
“You ok sir?” said DC Rhodes, coming up on his right flank.
Without removing his gaze from the dominant structure of the church towering up into the morning sky. “There’s something about churches, don’t you think?” now turning his head to face his colleague. “I mean, they’ve got a strange aura about them, you know, in equal parts calming and sinister.”
With eyebrows raised and a slight nod of his head, Rhodes acknowledged McCann’s thought. “I wouldn’t go as far as saying calming, considering what’s on the other side of that wall.

McCann agreed with a brief nod of his head. ‘Anyway, where’s the DCI?”
With a point of his finger, DC Rhodes indicated over a low wall and off to his right. ‘Through there. He’s not a happy bunny, though.’
Moving off with a shrug of his shoulders, McCann neared the perimeter tape. The grounds were alive with flashing lights and the hustle and bustle that usually occupies a fresh crime scene. Pacing down the path, towards where the majority of the activity was concentrated, an ashen-faced figure, dressed head to foot in black, and stood to the right of the open church doors, became apparent. Approaching, DCI Stone turned to greet him, his face a blank canvas. Peeling off to the side he gestured for Stone to follow. Out of ear shot, and before the DCI had a chance to get the first word in, he pulled from his pocket the small evidence bag containing the item been found at Harold Bart’s residence, and handed it over.
The look on Stone’s face spoke a thousand words. ‘Where the fuck did you get this?’
‘We located the origin of the coins. They were bought from a small antique dealer in Camden by a Mr Harold Bart.’
Stone frowned. ‘The landlord of the first lass?’
‘The very same. ‘That’s where DC Conrad and I were earlier.’
‘And that’s where this came from?’ said Stone, holding up the item.
McCann ran his tongue around his top teeth, a flicker of hesitation. ‘Yes.’
Stone’s blank look and fixed stare said an explanation needed to be quick in coming.
‘Ok, look, we may not have gained this by, shall we say, legal means. But, sir, we are fucked, you know that as well as I, and -‘
‘What exactly are you saying, McCann?’
‘It came to light that his collection was short of a few of the very coins that have been found at the previous crime scenes. He maintained that he had no idea as to how they came to be missing, and he then, well, he passed out.’
‘And you thought that you’d take advantage of the situation?’
McCann nodded.
‘Without a warrant?’
A raise of an eyebrow told Stone all he needed to know.
‘And you do know that this is useless without following procedure?’
McCann stayed silent. Looking to the sky and then running a hand through his hair.
‘I told you yesterday not to cause me anymore grief, did I not? Didnt I warn you?’ Shaking his head he took a step closer, his eyes narrowing. Looking, once more, at the item at the item he held in his hand, Stone pushed it into McCann’s chest. ‘I didnt hear what you just told me, ok. If this helps nail this bastard, then, well, we’ll say no more. Just keep that safe for now, and I’ll sort it.’
No more than a smile passed between the two as McCann slipped the bag back into his pocket. ‘How are things looking here?’
Stone cast a quick glance at the church behind him. ‘You know whats in there McCann. Its fucking carnage. Poor lass has been ripped open like a bag of sweets. There is one difference, though. No photo this time.’
McCann raised an eyebrow. ‘How about a code?’
‘Oh, yes, we’ve got another one of those. Already off being looked at.’ He took a deep breath. ‘You think this Harold Bart is our guy?’
McCann offered a shrug of his shoulders. ‘I dont know, sir, but, with what we’ve found today, we could just have hit the jackpot.’
Stone nodded. ‘First things first, then. We’ll have his place turned over and see what that brings up. I’m guessing that DC Conrad is at the hospital with him?’ ‘Yes, I’ve told him not to let Bart out of his sight until advised otherwise.’
Stone nodded. ‘Good, good. Right, Ive a few things I need to get sorted, I trust you’ll be ok here.’
‘Yes, fine.’ Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of the figure he had seen moments previous.
“I’m guessing by the look on the Rev’s face that he discovered the body?”
Glancing over at the pale face of Reverend Flynn and then back to McCann. “Yep. Arrived first thing to open up, found the door open and, well, you can guess the rest.”
A deep breath, the cold filling his lungs. “Better go speak to him then, hadn’t I.”
A brief nod of thanks, he ran his tongue around his top teeth and passed Stone for the Reverend. Reaching him it quickly became evident at just how shook up he was.
“Reverend Flynn?”
His wide eyes darted to the sound of McCann’s voice, dragging him from his thoughts. “Y-Yes.”
Holding up his badge. “Hi, my name is DI McCann. I just need to ask you a few questions, if that’s ok?”
A frown formed on his forehead. “Questions? I-I’ve already told as much as I know to that officer over there.” He said, pointing a shaky hand in the direction of DS Rhodes.
“I do appreciate that, but I just need to go over a few details with you again, it wont take too long.”
Silence hung between them for a brief moment, Flynn’s eyes, once again, darting in their sockets. It was never easy, questioning those who had been witness to savage crime. To the sheer brutality that human beings could inflict on one another.
“O-Ok. I do have some things I need to attend to, but I’m sure that they can wait.”
Stepping aside to a quieter area of the scene, McCann began with his questions. Not wanting to press too much or shake him any further than he had already been.
Apart from detailing, for the umpteenth time, as he mentioned on more than one occasion, what he had been witness too, Flynn also spoke of the love of his church. Of the newly restored building that gilded him with pride. Of the parish that he was setting about restoring and how this tragedy will do nothing but set back the good work that had taken place over the past year. McCann understood and felt a pang of sympathy. Living in the area most of his life he had been privy to the demise of St Margaret’s and the often tried and often failed attempts at its restoration. Harry Flynn had come to be hailed as something of a local saint in his relatively short time for his work, and this situation would have come as the greatest of shocks.

Thanking him for his time, McCann shook hands and advised Flynn that there may be some further questions, but as for now he was free to go.
Breaking off from Reverend Flynn, McCann’s attention was grabbed by a commotion coming from within the church. Walking across he was joined by DCI Stone and met by a white suited, male, official exiting through the large wooden door, a small plastic bag held in his hand, a look of concern on his face. ‘Everything ok?’ McCann asked.
Approaching and holding out the plastic bag, his voice laced with a hint of uncertainty. ‘You may want to see this.’
With a frown creasing his forehead, McCann took the bag. It took a long moment for its contents to fully sink in. The shock fizzing through his body when as it finally did. The face of Abby Fletcher to register in his mind.
Stone, a brief moment to compose himself. ‘Where the fuck did you find this? I was advised it was only a code with this one?’
‘On first look it was, sir -‘
‘On first look?’
‘Yes, sir. This wasnt found on the body, like the code was. This was found inside.’ he paused. ‘In her vagina, to be precise.’
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The Winter of Death – Part 10

13th December – Mid Morning. St Margaret’s Church, Rainham .
All but for the gentle hum of passing traffic, the churchyard was quiet. The early morning winter sun had begun to peek its way over the treetops, casting its rays over the battered and worn headstones, long shadows stretching out like fingers. Underfoot, the grass was wet from an overnight frost, and from above, the sweet chirpings of a blackbird emanated from the bent and twisted branches of the bare Yew tree that overhung the old dry stone wall. The scene, at first glance, was one of peace, one of picture postcard beauty. That was until you looked closer. Reverend Harry Flynn had been at St Margaret’s for almost three years. His broad smile and warm demeanor, coupled with his seemingly boundless levels of energy and enthusiasm, had helped, in that short space of time, to turn around the fortunes of the small local parish, with countless fundraising and charity events, and helping to see the church on its way to being rescued from almost ruin to being on the verge of being restored to its past glories. His day usually started at just before seven am, the early morning papers with breakfast, then dropping his children at the child care centre before returning to open up the church for the day’s events. This morning, though, was a little different and he’d allowed himself an extra hour or so in bed. When he rose, however, he would soon find that this day would be a day that which would leave a scar on the very fabric of his being, and leave him questioning the very God that he prayed too.
Climbing from his car he strolled down the narrow path from the parking area, to his annoyance, overgrown on both sides with tatty grass and weeds, a tedious pop song on repeat in his mind, something about a poker face, and headed for the gate and into the church yard itself.
Once inside the grounds he admired, as he did every morning, the restored splendor of the church, rising high into the morning sky, with its repaired stained glass windows, twinkling as they caught the sunlight, their colour and majesty re-invigorated from the dull, washed out sheen, that had built up over the years of neglect, everything that had been falling apart and cracked on the day that he took residence, almost back to its prime state.
It was as he approached the entrance that he noticed something was out of place. It didn’t occur to him straight off, but moving closer he saw it. The large wooden door, usually locked tight on his departure, was now open, not much, just a crack, but open nonetheless. Slowing his pace he frowned, pondering if he had, as he could have sworn he did, locked it up the night previous. He knew he had, he knew that he never forgot, never dared too. It wouldn’t be worth the wrath of his superiors if he did, knowing that any damage caused after the redevelopment and the mountain of funds spent on it, would be the end of his tenure there, or anywhere for that matter.
Stepping closer he felt a shiver ripple down his spine, the morning air, already laced with a chill, feeling as though it had dropped several more degrees. Reaching the door he took a deep breath, before gently pushing it open. The scene that confronted him sank him to his knees.
From his position there was no telling the gender of the person that was sat on the stone cold floor propped up against the altar at the far end of the church, legs splayed straight out in front in a V shape. Not for failing eyesight or for the need of a pair of spectacles, but simply because their wasn’t much left, through the blood and horrific mutilation, to determine one way or the other.
13th December – Rochester. Mid morning.
The dilapidated town house remained exacly as it had been since the last time they had paid a visit to Harold Bart, and McCann wasnt under any illusion that the man’s attitude would be any different either.
Along the weed-strewn path, they reached the front door, upon which McCann hammered twice, hard.
A few moments and a faint voice could be heard from the within asking them to wait. A few moments more and the door opened a crack to reveal the ever descheveled face of Harold Bart.
Looking between them, a frown appeared. ‘I thought I’d seen the last of you two.’
McCann stepped forward. ‘We’d just like a few more moments of your time, if that’s ok of course.’
Bart ran a hand down his face and regarded them again. ‘Actually, no it’s not, I was just about to -‘
It was enough for McCann to lose his cool. Climbing the last step he pushed open open the door, knocking Bart to one side.
‘It wasnt a question Mr Bart, now, if we can get on with this, please.’
Down the narrow coridoor, pursued by the protesting Bart, McCann entered the living area and dropped himself down into the chair in the centre of the room.
‘What in the hell do you think you are doing?’ Yelled Bart, now stood, looking down at McCann. ‘You can’t just barge in here without permission, I’ll make you -‘
Quick as a flash, McCann was up from the seat and nose to nose with Bart. His voice level with calm.
‘You’ll make me what? Huh?’
Stepping back, Bart’s eyes twitched. He looked towards DC Conrad.
‘Are you going to just stand there and let this, this, animal, behave this way?’
With a shrug, Conrad averted his gaze and cast his eyes over the, seemingly, endless stream of books that lined the room.
McCann continued. ‘Now, if we can all just calm down, then we can be out of your way sooner rather than later, ok?’
Bart glared at him, not a sound passing his lips.
‘I said, ok?’
With a reluctant nod of his head Bart agreed. ‘Well, I’m all ears.’
Walking over to the window, grime covered and with a small crack running down half its length, McCann looked out on an overgrown garden, a small shed at its foot. Turning back to face the room.
‘Medusa coins. Ring any bells?’
Bart shrugged. ‘Maybe, why?’
‘Yes or no?’
‘Good. Now, did you or did you not, this past week, receive a package that contained these very coins?’
Nodding, Bart placed his hands into his trouser pockets. ‘I did, yes. I fail to see what this has to do with anything, though. I’ve been collecting coins since I was a boy.’
Stepping away from the window, McCann moved closer to Bart, a whaft of cigarette smoke invading his nostrills.
‘Ill tell you what it has to do with it, shall I. Five days ago the body of a young girl, whom you knew, whom you were landlord too, was found just a few miles from here. Then, yesterday, as you are probably aware, we had a second body dumped on us. Now,’ raising a finger up in front of him, ‘Both of these victims, apart from the obvious, had one, small, thing in common. They both had a little something left about their person. Two silver coins. Medusa coins, to be exact.’
Bart shrugged. ‘I still fail to see what this has to do with me.’
Smiling, McCann stepped closer still. ‘Really? You dont think that its at all, I dont know, suspicious, maybe, that in the very same week that you order a set of coins from a private dealer in Camden, that coins of that very same model should turn up on the bodies of two young girls?’
‘I can see how that can be looked upon as being suspicious, yes. But, I can guarantee you that those coins you speak of certainly didnt come from my collection.’
‘Well, how about you prove that?’ said McCann, an eyebrow raised.
After a long inhale of breath, Bart turned away and shuffled to a large, six foot, cabinet that sat against the far wall. With a key pulled from the pocket of his cardigan he unlocked a compartment at the top right hand corner and pulled out a smart looking, blue, velvet box. Turning back, and joined by both McCann and Conrad, Bart placed the box down onto the table next to the chair and unlocked it.
‘I think that you will both find that my collection is -‘
What happend next couldnt have been expected, especially by Bart, judging by the look on his face. The box was organised into layers. Six wooden compartments housing coins, in circular cavities, from an array of times and civilisations. The second layer from the top was where the recently bought coins had been placed. Only, there was an issue. And that issue was simple, It centred around the eight empty cavities, once filled, but now void of their coins.
Barts face dropped, his gaze focused on the tray. ‘I, I dont understand.’
‘When was the last time that you checked on this box?’ Conrad asked.
There was a moments pause. ‘A few days, I cant recall. No more. But I know for sure that they were in here,’ he gestured at the box.
McCann drew in a breath. He gaze drifting between the box and Harold Bart.
‘Mr Bart, I need to ask you simple question, and I need you to consider your answer very carefully. Is there anything, and I mean, anything, that you wish to tell us. And, be warned, that I can make this very difficult for you.’
It was then that Harold Bart collapsed.
Taking a step towards the prostrate figure, Conrad felt an arm across his chest.
‘Wait.’ McCann said.
‘What? He might be serious, sir.’
McCann quickly glanced around the room, knowing that what he was about to ask was nothing short of reprehensible.
Leaning down he placed two fingers againt Harold Bart’s neck. Locating a strong pulse, he then turned to Conrad.
‘Search the place.’
Conrad frowned. ‘But, sir, dont we need-‘
‘James, just do it, ill put in a call to the emergency services in a minute. He’s not waking up for a while and we need something. I refuse to admit that those missing coins are just a coincidence, ok? So, go grab some gloves from the car and get searching.’
Conrad knew that pleading ignorance, should this little charade ever be discovered, would, possibly, lessen any punishment that may come his way. Besides, what with McCann’s popularity with the authorities waning all the time, he was sure that pleading force to an act that contrevened every rule in the handbook would be a safe get out clause.
With gloves on, and one eye on Bart, the pair went about the business, as thoroughly as possible in the time constraint that binded them, of searching the pig sty that Harold Bart called home.
McCann wasnt all to sure as to whether they would find anything of any use, but, he wasnt going to waste the opportunity that they had been presented with.
It was tough to determine what exactly they should be looking for, and more importantly, where it would be kept. A drawer. A cupboard. Inside an old shoe, maybe. The house was in such a ramshackle state that it could take weeks to find something that you were actually looking for, so shooting in the dark and without a clue would prove anything but easy. Something which Conrad happily pointed out.
‘Sir, this is ridiculous. This place is a shit hole.’
McCann, his hands rummaging through a large chest of drawers on the far side of the room. ‘Just keep looking James, another few minutes.’
With a brief shake of his head, Conrad followed the order. Walking over to one of the larger bookcases he stood and gazed up at its dizzy height. At first he didnt think anything of it, poking out between the end two books on the top most shelf. Focusing properly, though, onto tip toes to get a better look, he reached up and slid it out of its nestling place. It took a moment or two to settle his beating heart.
‘Sir,’ he said, turning, his gaze still fixed on what he held in his hands. ‘You may want to take a look at this.’
With a frown creasing his forehead, McCann made his way across to where Conrad stood, seemingly, in some kind of a daze.
Handing it over. ‘I think this may be something of interest.’
Conrad was right. It was something of interest. Something that caused McCann’s heart to race. He looked back across the room at the still figure of Harold Bart.
‘Got ya.’
September 4th – 1990
The three days previous had been spent creeping evermore into Keith Mason’s life, and keeping one eye on the every news broadcast and daily newspaper that were, seemingly, taking great pleasure in the unfolding events. He had taken time, in the quiet hours when he was alone in the hospital, when the only sounds that echoed through the corridors were the buzzing of strip lights and the occasional shrill cry of a patient, to fully read up on the notes in his file.

It was fascinating reading. Sitting in the little back office under the dim light of the table top lamp, a mug of Bovril and some bread next to him, knowing that he wouldn’t be disturbed. The extent of what Mason was suffering making his very soul tingle with delight as he thumbed through the pages.
Patient – Keith Mason, 34.
Dr Hildaire
Patient suffered the loss of mother, father and younger sister in RTA on 21/04/1990. Due to event has developed severe symptoms of Post-traumatic stress disorder.
Previous experience of anxiety and depression as a teenager.
Chronic physical signs of hyperarousal.
Issues with concentration.
Increased signs of anger/ irritability.
Sleep issues and trouble concentrating for any period of time.
Patient has recurring experience of night in question, including flashbacks, nightmares about the trauma and/or dissociative reliving of the trauma.
Emotional numbing is present, lack of interest in activities (anhedonia) wife, Maria, has sought further help of family counseling and conflict resolution education as patients symptoms of anger have become higher than first thought.
Treatment using medication of Sertraline and Clonidine. So far progress is slow.
The notes continued for some five or six pages but from just the first he garnered all the information that he needed to know, every word like a little drop of honey onto warm toast, soaking through into his every fibre and sinew and making him warm inside.
Leaving the room he made sure everything was as it had been on his entry and closed the door behind him. His mind ran away with him as he made his way along the dimly lit corridor, the familiar smell of disinfectant filing his nostrils. He thought of the days to come and everything that it would bring. Of pulling apart the Mason family forever and walking off into the sunset.
His date of the previous evening then popped into his mind, the leggy blond with scarlet lips and good-sized breasts. Starting of with their meeting at a remote pub for some food and a few drinks, the afternoon passing in a haze of chat and flirtation. And ending with her writhing on the floor of his basement, wide eyed and clutching at the deep gash in her throat. Sitting and watching her desperate pleas for help he couldn’t help but laugh, the blood running through her fingers, her legs kicking at thin air, the life slowly draining away like water through a sieve.
After a few more moments the kicking stopped and the figure became lifeless, her glazed eyes staring towards the ceiling, a large pool of blood circling beneath her. A smile played across his lips as he tossed and turned in his mind what to do next. The possibilities were numerous and he had considered every one of them in detail. After a few moments, he reached for the hacksaw.
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