Saturday, 2 October 2010

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Prayer was jolted awake by the impact, her head pounding, barely able to breathe, gasping and coughing amongst the scattered boxes. She was seeing afterimages of storms in her vision; legions of glimmering lights that seemed to arc and dance like photo-negative fireflies. She could just about see the handgun beside her and snatched it in her palm.
They’re coming…they’re coming, Becky…and they’re not gonna stop. They’ll take you back there and this time you won’t get out alive. They’ll make you pay for everything you almost achieved. They’ll sacrifice you at the altar of big business, as your magic is reduced to science.
She shook her head to clear it. With a quick blur of movement she tossed the boxes away, breathing deeply. She saw the gold coin glinting at her feet and snatched it up. The back doors hung open, revealing a side view of the car maybe fifteen feet away. She heard the door on the battered police sierra click before she saw it open.
I’m reading now.
She lunged forward through the van, raising the gun as a bearded policeman stepped purposefully into the night. She shot him in the face as she leapt from the back of the Transit, her shape blurring into indefinable shadow on shadow like an animal in lust, her mind collapsing into a slipstream, a girl in love.

From the back seat, Dr James Cullen saw the back of Andrew’s head pop in an arc of blood as he stepped from the vehicle. He was hurled backwards to the ground, dead before he hit it. In the next moment something black and shimmering slammed down onto the bonnet of the police sierra like it had fallen from the sky. There was a resonant boom as it hit, crushing the bonnet, the engine, buckling the suspension instantly.
Cullen gazed up through the shattered windscreen.
He saw a figure standing there, its fists clenched, its mass shifting and flowing within its outline like black mercury. It had no eyes but he was certain it was peering down at him. Behind it a train roared across the railway bridge, lighted windows in the belly of a night snake.
For the first time in six years, Cullen was struck blank and blind. He cried out mindlessly and fired through the shattered windscreen again and again, hearing the silencer grow weaker with every shot until he heard the click of an empty chamber. He lunged for the briefcase beside him. He managed to grasp the quartz key locked into the coil, but in his terror and fury he couldn’t see the thing as it lunged forward like a blur.
And then it stopped inside the car with him, between the two front seats.
A violent buzzing flared in his bones and teeth, like an alien bass-line drilling into the core of his being. Nearly hyperventilating, trying to keep his eyes open, he realised it was watching him. An outline of shoulders and a head; liquid darkness boiling like the surface of an ocean in hell – no eyes, no mouth, nothing except churning ink. With a gasp of some radiant nameless feeling, Cullen felt his bladder and sphincter go as he simultaneously shit and pissed himself. He pressed his eyes shut but they flew open again as the buzzing grew in his teeth, threatening to shake his skull apart. He had no choice but to stare at the thing. And then a voice in his mind, distinct.
A voice that sounded like two voices overlapped; one male, one female.
Scout-walker…? The realisation pierced him like a dagger. This thing was Prayer…this thing was Rebecca Cole. All respectable sanity seemed to fall away in that moment. Ripper…I remember you. Do you see it now? Do you see how these lies burn? They burn for us, Ripper. All of us.
It seemed to raise a quivering, inky hand. There was a gold coin there; long, thin fingers of black mercury curled around it, and then the coin was consumed by an orb of shimmering green flame that swelled in its palm. The sphere of green fire made a staccato crackling sound like burning plastic and Cullen was momentarily lost, but, as if on some deep-seated instinct, he twisted the quartz key that was gripped in his hand.
The ‘coil’ flared bluish-white and the monstrous thing let loose a shriek that seemed to deafen him, so close. The orb of green fire rippled away into nothing, the buzzing vibration ceased instantly, as did the pain, but Cullen was still lost to the moment, watching as the figure began thrashing violently inside the car with him, shifting and blurring and shrieking.
And then it lunged forward between the front seats as Cullen glimpsed the suggestion of inky hands before they slipped around his throat. Death didn’t fall upon him, embodied in the living shadow. He waited, still terrified. He realised the thing’s cries had stopped.
Eventually, he opened his eyes. Dr James Cullen let out a long, shuddering breath and was struck by the realisation that he was afraid to move even slightly, despite what his eyes were showing him.
Rebecca Cole, looking very human, was lying slumped between the two front seats.
After many moments, he reached for his phone.

The second unit was there within two minutes; a metropolitan police van, with a six-man containment crew inside, all dressed appropriately. In under a minute they had the entire road cordoned off at both ends. Moments after he made the call James Cullen removed the needle from his jacket and, hands trembling, injected Rebecca Cole at the base of the throat.
Now he sat on the bonnet of the battered police car, hidden from the road by the high wall of the railway bridge, staring down at his bearded associate. Andrew lay on the concrete like a surprised, disfigured mannequin as containment milled around him, talking quickly and barking orders at each other. The rapid-fire flash of cameras went off. Cullen glanced at the driver’s seat and saw his other associate slumped there, a black hole at his temple, the right side of his face slick with blood and brain that was still warm. The driver looked astonished too.
Cullen felt like a ghost amidst the carnage. Someone gripped his shoulder, “Ripper, we need to move, now…we’re on a deadline.”
He took a trembling breath and nodded vaguely.
In another two minutes they loaded the bodies of his associates into the back of a nondescript brown estate car, transferred the boy and the girl to a blue Honda, sprayed the area with a vapour-solution and drove away the battered Sierra and Transit.
He watched all this from inside the back of the police van, with a containment agent; a pretty girl, twenty-five at most, who checked his blood pressure, the pupil dilation of his eyes, and his ion charge, all with an unfazed efficiency that he would have found surprising at any other time. He sat through this in a numbed silence. It was a wonder that he was still physical at all. He felt wholly incorporeal.
“Welcome to Oz,” he murmured at no one.
Another of the containment team hurried to the open doors of the police van. “They’re being shipped to Branton in Earls Court. C-SOL says you’re to follow.”
Cullen asked quietly, “So they’re alive…?”
“Yeah, both of them. Unconscious. Superficial head wounds. Medic gave them something to keep them out for at least a few hours.”
James Cullen nodded vaguely at the man. “Let’s get out of here.”
The containment unit had been on site for a total of twelve minutes. The cordons were removed and they left, a few puzzled pedestrians standing around on the pavement at the end of the road, watching the succession of police vehicles as they drove away into the night.

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