Pinky Makepeace returned to the Cross keys public house at around five thirty. His investigations into the culture and power structure of the world he now found himself had taken up most of a dull winter’s day and now the winter’s evening had crept into darkness.
He walked quickly along the wet pavements which reflected the light of the neon street lamps and illuminated shop signs, oblivious to the natives of this town who walked heads down, their minds turned to their stomachs and tonight’s television. The Scholar was in awe of the volume of brightly lit machines which roared past him on the central carriageway. The noise was tremendous to his ears, nearly as deafening as the Halls of machines he had visited on the odd occasions. If a technology could produce such machines in such profusion, then what could they produce in terms of military weaponry he thought idly to himself.
He waited in the market square for nearly an hour, his bundle of crumpled papers clutched under his arm. It was cold now and the rain which had fallen for most of the day had ceased. The air seemed to be turning solid, his exhaled breath turning into clouds of vapour as it condensed in the freezing air.
Pinky waited for a gap in the traffic, amusing himself while he waited by attempting to blow rings of frosty breath into the evening air. Eventually the volume of the rush hour traffic diminished and Pinky took his chance to run quickly across the market square to the alleyway where the sign of the Cross Keys hung silent on its hinges in the stillness which had now enveloped the town.
He entered the yard stealthily, his eyes seeking out the bakery for signs of the foul baker, and was relieved to see its lights out and the bakery silent. Pinky entered the inn by the side door, expecting to find the place in darkness and silence, but was shocked to find the bar room lit by bright electric light and inhabited by strangers, or so they seemed.
After he had cleared his spectacles of condensation and his eyes had adjusted to the unfamiliar illumination, he realised that the diners here were not strangers at all, but merely familiar faces in strange clothes. Mrs. Lovenberry sat at the head of the table and to either side sat Flax and Scoggins. Pinky’s master’s attire of a green woolly jumper and brown baggy trousers had lessened, to some extent, his usually menacing appearance. But when Flax’s eyes met his own he felt that familiar and malevolent, ever hungry soul, seeking out his.
Pinky shivered. Something had happened to his High Hat master. Today he seemed more intense, more malign than he had ever been before. Beside him Scoggins sat demolishing the mashed potatoes and beef stew Mrs. Lovenberry had prepared for them, with great enthusiasm and did not bother to look up. He now wore a bright, baggy tee shirt emblazoned with a strange design and the word ‘Motorhead’ in huge letters which, along with his tight, heavily patched, blue jeans made him look as normal as the noisy students, who had called the Scholar a ‘Mosher Fossil’ in the library.
From the head of the table Mrs. Lovenberry looked up and smiled. There was a motherly look in her eyes, Pinky thought. She seemed to have adopted them he realised and stifled a snigger at the absurdity of the idea.
The old woman was seeking some purpose in her life, she was revelling in the ‘family meal’ around her old dining table and this seemed to inject something meaningful into her lonely life again, either that - or the ten gold sovereigns that stood in a pile in front of her.
Flax smiled at Pinky and the astonished
Scholar nearly collapsed in shock. His master’s smile was the portal to a hive of malignancy and evil he thought, the forerunner of some terrible atrocity. Pinky shuddered as he hung his coat on the rack and took his place tentatively alongside Scoggins.
“Good evening my man, have a fruitful day?” Flax asked, grinning at him.
Yes Sir.” the Scholar croaked, totally unprepared for his master’s benign greeting. Flax nodded and smiled again.
“Mrs. Lovenberry has found these clothes for us as our others require washing.” he informed the Scholar. There are some for you too.” He added. Pinky nodded as Flax grinned amusedly. His master had assumed a character so amenable that anyone who did not know him could not be threatened by him, but Pinky was alarmed by it. He tore his eyes way from Flax’s dark gaze and began to eat from the plate Mrs. Lovenberry had placed before him.
Flax continued his strange discourse. “The weather is a little cool for the time of year, is it not Mrs Lovenberry” he droned almost threateningly.
“Yes, I won’t be surprised if we have some snow.” the old woman rattled back automatically.
None of the three strangers actually knew what she meant by snow, but all nodded their heads in agreement. Flax then looked questioningly towards the Scholar who merely shrugged his shoulders ignorantly while Mrs. Lovenberry’s mind, triggered by the mention of snow, drifted into the past.
“Yes.” she sighed. “1947 that was a terrible Winter, so cold, so much snow. I hope we’re not in for another like that one, God forbid” she said as her eyes became unfocused and began to recount to her dinner guests, the much narrated and legendary tale of the winter of ’47. She had told the tale so many times that she was hardly conscious of what she was saying or perhaps even conscious when reliving it, even though the stories were highly detailed, if not subjected to a little factual embellishment here and there.
She remembered the red faced men with frosted white beards, the tunnels beneath the snow dug out by displaced persons and Italian prisoners of war. So much snow! But things didn’t grind to a halt at the slightest sprinkling like they did today, oh no! People were made of sterner stuff in the olden days. Agnes Lovenberry chuckled often and sighed much throughout her monologue, mentioning her late husband, Ernest, many times.
The three men sitting around the table listened intently at first, the stories of the extreme weather at first strange and fascinating, but gradually grew bored and began to fidget uncomfortably. Scoggins produced his favourite stiletto and began to manicure his fingernails. The Scholar, after rapidly and noisily finishing his dinner, shuffled the notes he had assembled that day in preparation for his briefing that evening with Flax.
Only Silus himself sat as if entranced by Mrs. Lovenberry’s recollections, his dark eyes fixed on the ancient freak of a woman, but in reality he too had his mind on other things.
The old woman continued for nearly an hour then, with a final self-satisfied chuckle, her tired eyes closed and she entered a dream world filled with the good old, bad old days; the memories of a early post-war England.
As she nodded off in her chair head slowly lowering onto her chest, Flax turned to the Scholar.
“You have some useful information for me then?” he queried the old menace returning to his voice. His servant nodded excitedly.
“Indeed I do your Eminence.”
Silus rose from his chair and glanced disgustedly at the old woman, checked that she was asleep by blowingon her head and motioned that Pinky follow him. At the foot of the stairs he stopped and spoke again.
“Let us compare notes then, my man. The old bitch has filled us in on a few details about this place. She now thinks of us as foreigners, ‘Albanians’ in fact. Whoever they are.” he laughed without any hint of humour in his voice. “There are, a few things us ‘Albanians’, us ‘foreigners’, should know and she has informed us of them.” he smiled horrifically. “Let us see if her grasp of reality corresponds with your hard and scholarly facts shall we?” His smile fell away, leaving his pock marked mien expressionless and he led a now nervous Pinky Makepeace up the stairs.
Seeing his companions depart, Ivor Scoggins left the table and donned the blue denim jacket Mrs. Lovenberry had acquired for him from the huge pile of ‘jumble’ that the Women’s Institute stored in an unused room on her premises. He looked curiously at the old woman sleeping peacefully at the table. How had she ever been able to get so old he mused? Whatever world lay out there he was about to find out. With a final glance at the now softly snoring Mrs. Lovenberry and disgusted shake of the head, he slipped quietly out of the door and into the night.
The rain which had persisted during the day had now ceased and an icy breeze caused him to shiver. He stood for a while and looked up and stared open-mouthed for a while at the dark, star studded alien sky and then sniggered to himself.
This world was undoubtedly beautiful he thought, so different to the one to in which he had been born. Yet he felt no different here. His desires, his needs remained the same, yet the prospect of fulfilling them here excited him intensely. It was a challenge and the rewards would be so much greater.
Flax had told him in bed that there was an abundance purity, innocence here that he himself had only ever experienced in one individual amongst the millions in Dubh. To desecrate and destroy it would drive him to an ecstasy Scoggins had never experienced before. Flax had told him of how he had been deprived of that experience in their home world and had now licensed his playmate to experience it for him, by proxy. His only warning had been to leave no trace and no trail back to the Cross Keys. Ivor Scoggins stepped out of the yard and instinctively sought welcome embrace of the shadows. Moving with the fluid grace of a feline predator, he slipped along the alleyway and out into the market square.
The street lights lit up the area here with a light almost as bright as day. Scoggins cursed softly to himself. Here the stalking of his victims would be difficult, no deep pools of shadow in which to become invisible, no protective cloak of darkness from which to surprise his prey. But there would be other alleyways and other places, like the one he had just emerged from, where the artificial light did not reach.
As he walked slowly across the market square towards its central monument, Scoggins observed the movement of people and machines from place to place. There were plenty of people here walking in groups and pairs from the ale houses which were now alive with the sound of music and raised voices, shining like beacons to attract custom.
Scoggins scanned his potential prey, wetting his lips with the tip of his tongue. He sensed the purity Flax had spoken of. It hit him as whiteness, softness, a smoothness waiting to be darkened, cleaved and corrupted. Not all had it and many bore the dark grain of life, had been tainted by it, though all were a thousand times more pure than their counterparts in Dubh.
The assassin sauntered towards a street corner opposite the huge church and watched as a young couple approached him. The young man was powerfully built, his muscular frame displayed under a tight fitting vest. His dark hair was set in a mass of collar length curls and his face was smooth and devoid of any hair. The youth was dressed in denim and, as he and his female companion approached the stranger who loitered on the corner of the street, he looked up at Scoggins and laughed as she whispered something in his ear.
They both looked at him as they passed by. The youth was confident and his look was intended to intimidate Scoggins who remained expressionless. His female companion smiled. She was attractive in her culture, but to Scoggins she was attractive because of what she was irrespective of any physical attributes or gender.
She was pure and untouched, yet despite the male on her arm and her innocence, her physical attitude, her body language, reached out to summon Ivor Scoggins. But it was not taking her virginity which aroused Scoggins, no minor physical rupture was his goal.
To fulfil himself he would have violate her soul then end her life in the slowest and most despicable way possible. Unconsciously, he sighed and fingered the knife belt strapped across his stomach and hidden beneath his baggy Motorhead tee-shirt.
As the girl passed close to him, so deliberately close that he could feel the warmth of her body. She looked him up and down, her eyes teasing him, as did her body covered in skin tight, white leggings and an equally tight body stocking.
The assassin’s heart began to pound. Her provocative attire did nothing for an animal which was neither male or female, or a libido which lusted not for its own satisfaction through the gendered procurement of pleasure. Scoggins arousal was centred on the simple prospect of inflicting pain and destruction upon the living flesh of another organism. The non-physical eyes that saw this prospect began to glow darkly; a voice spoke.
“I am the centre of all things.”
The couple passed by and the youth cast another warning look at the assassin, who just grinned back unimpressed by the threat. Scoggins inhaled the perfume of her innocence as the object of his lust went by, his eyes watching her long blonde hair it gently caressed her shoulders. The youth tightened his grip around his companion’s waist as he looked back, now nervously at the stranger who he had failed to warn off and who remained at the street corner staring as they made their way across the street towards the churchyard.
She would be his. He would present no obstacle - him first, then her. He waited until the darkness of the churchyard swallowed his prey then followed slowly. As the inky blackness enveloped him, Ivor Scoggins felt safe and at home. His eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness and he became tense and excited.
Moving with a practised stealth, he followed the couple as they wandered aimlessly amongst the gravestones toward the top of the river bank and thin strip of woodland on the bank top. He could not see them, but did not have to. He sensed her presence, the purity of her life force shone for his dark soul like a beacon, which he must extinguish.
Scoggins kept his distance, moving in the darkest shadows and always in complete silence, he did not even seem to breathe, the couple blissfully unaware of that which stalked them. He was an animal of pure instinct now, his senses heightened by the hunt. He smelt the odours of human arousal as he slipped from the shadow of one gravestone to the next, crouching low as he did so.
He startled a cat which hissed when he materialised at its side. He silenced it automatically with a thin sharp blade that twisted skilfully through its skull. The couple, only a few yards ahead, became quiet, stopped and listened before they dismissed the sound and continued laughing and giggling towards the thinly spaced trees at the top of the river bank where soon they slipped to the floor wrapped in one another’s embrace.
Despite the coldness of the night the youth’s passion did not cool. They kissed noisily and gasped in the icy air. The youth’s instincts had control of him now. His rationality had been used to make this moment possible, had become enslaved to his passion, he wanted her badly becoming more aggressive and, squealing playfully in mock protest, she pushed him off.
Then she looked at him and he knew that they had both been playing the same primal game. The girl peeled off her legging to reveal nothing beneath and lay back on the grass, her eyes holding him. Tonight would be her night. He raised himself to his knees and began to unbuckle his belt unaware, lost in the rising of his animal passions, that a shadow rose up behind him and steel glinted in the starlight. But she could see everything.
The slim shadow solidified into a menacing human form against the moon. Time slowed, almost stopped. Her would-be lover smiled at her terrified expression, he thought she was afraid of him, he himself unaware of the shadow’s arms which had risen slowly above his own head. Two thin, steel blades glinted in the moonlight.
Time froze for her and her heart seemed to stop, its pounding ceasing as she waited for the knives to descend in flashing silver arcs, each one aimed at weak spots in the skull of her naively, grinning boyfriend’s temples.
The shadows mouth opened and a crescent of a smile appeared. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw three dark shapes emerged out of the dense undergrowth which covered the river bank. A horned beast stood upright and howled. The smile of her boyfriend and his assailant
disappeared as their heads snapped towards the source of the chilling cry. The boyfriend’s jaw dropped open in disbelief and terror and the shadows teeth flashed in a grimace of anger at the leading intruder which hurtled with an unnatural speed from the bank edge.
A split second later the horned intruder thundered into Ivor Scoggins. The assassin’s knives flashed toward his attacker only to be deflected by the shield it held in front of it. The fist of Scoggins’s attacker struck him in the neck and its sharp talons dug into his throat and he found himself lifted easily from his feet to hang in the air.
The fury of the attack released the shocked couple from the paralysis of fear and they stumbled to their feet and began to flee. He sprinted before her, forgetting her existence in his haste. She stumbled after him, leggings around her ankles, allowing herself only one brief glance toward the scene they had left.
There, behind her, three dark figures stood over a crumpled form which twitched on the ground in front of them. She saw a impossibly tall and gangly man, a crouched and horned monster and one other figure standing over the body of the shadow which had meant to attack her and her would-be lover.
The scene then disappeared as a ragged grey cloud passed over the moon, deepening the shadows and covering her nightmare vision as she ran sobbing through the graveyard towards the sanctuary of the neon lights, wondering where her heroic lover, who only moments ago seemed so keen on taking her virginity from her, had disappeared so quickly.