Joe Crilly, stood with his hands on his hips, his legs apart and his eyes firmly set on the imposing metal gates with their mass of startled, ferrous birds, rising from the apex, which he supposed were some artists representation of the Ravens, that this edifice was colloquially known by. This striking image, was the main layman’s introduction to the Ravens Gate Works. He stood on the ramp to the bridge with four other Police officers, waiting for Arch Deacon and Kaylie Western to arrive, so that they could begin the days search. It was a beautiful warm afternoon and Joe could envisage a few pleasant hours, wandering around the derelict factory, looking for clues in this strange case.
All of his chosen Gendarmerie, were standing about in shirt sleeves, just looking around at the canal bank and observing their chosen aspect of the scene that lay before them.
“They sure made things to last in those days,” he idly commented, to anyone who cared to listen. “The whole works, is just rotting away but the guy who made those metal birds, is still getting his kicks, they look almost new.” The voice of someone by his side, answered his rhetorical statement by adding,
“Your right there Joe, by the look of those horrendous birds, they’ll still be here, long after we’re gone.”
Crilly listened, considered the salient points, of the incursion and vacantly replied, “You’re probably right. Give it ten years and those things, will probably be guarding the entrance to a place where death is just around the corner, like they always have.”
Arch Deacon and Kaylie Western were, at this moment, stuck in a traffic snarl up just yards from the turning that would take them down the modern link to the old toll road, for their next appointment with the Ravens Gate. To be honest, Arch was quite thankful for this unexpected delay, at least it allowed him an opportunity to gather his thoughts, before he arrived at the disused Tar Works. Under normal circumstances, Arch would have found this hold up infuriating, but it was simply too pleasant a day to get excited about something he had no control over. After all, the Boss had put him in charge and DCI Findlay, must have faith in him and Westie, or he would never have been so sternly informed,
“You are in charge of this search, not Joe Crilly, you set the general rules and parameters, of the days investigations. Joe’s a stubborn man and he’s been in the service for a long time, but that doesn’t mean he knows more about this case than you and Westie do. I purposely selected Joe and his team because he is incredibly diligent and very thorough. So, although it may seem to you, that things are moving at a snails pace, I would advise you not to hurry him along. If you give him time and little patience, you may be surprised what turns up. Head office and I have great faith, in D.C Crilly’s meticulous methods.”
Arch, was now fully prepared for his search with Joe Crilly and he was generally feeling good about today. He looked over at Westie and smiled to himself. Whilst he had been replaying the bosses prep talk in his head, she had been dedicatedly, trying to gain access to a BLT sandwich she’d purchased earlier in the canteen. She noticed, out of the corner of her eye, that he was watching her struggles and thought she could sense him vibrating, as her travails amused him a little more, with each frustrating second that passed.
“What?” she barked, “Never seen a woman completely failing to get through the outer packaging on a crappy sandwich?” Westie found that she couldn’t get through the last few words, without giving in to the mirth rising in her stomach. They just looked at each other, and that did it, the laughter filled the car and it wouldn’t stop. Each time it subsided, all that was required, was one meeting of their eyes and it started again.
pathetic, it’s just like being back in Junior School,” commented Arch, but that in itself, was sufficient to set him off laughing again. “Oh, enough, enough,” he squeaked, as the first beads of sweat started to appear on his brow.
He barely had sufficient time to open the car window, before the traffic moved along just enough to allow him a chance to make his intended turn, down towards the old toll road.
“Hmm, that was a stroke of luck, and I hope only the first of many during today,” he said to himself, as he approached the dark eminence that was the target of this afternoons search. Having avoided all of the potholes and loose pieces of broken masonry, he parked in the empty car park, on the canal bank, opposite the imposing Tar stained edifice, commonly known as Ravens Gate. Arch, intended to use the walk along the bank towards the wrought iron monstrosity, to gather his thoughts and give, an all important aire of confidence to the waiting officers who were standing lazily by the bridge, quietly awaiting his orders. Alex Findlay, had briefed him on the conditions they were likely to encounter, when they looked below the surface of Joel Battersby’s extinct tar works.
“Deep breaths Arch and always think of your fellow officers,” he said to himself, as he approached the ramp, that led up to the bridge.
Joe Crilly, had observed Deacon and Westie’s squad car as it traversed the toll road, bumping along the uneven surface, as it moved towards his position. Joe, was a stickler for details and that was why DCI Findlay wanted him and his crew, on this part of the search. As he approached, Arch noticed, that all of Crilly’s officers were standing there, jacketless, with their sleeves rolled up. 'Smart move, Joe' he thought, as he stepped onto the dark concourse of the bridge. This was going to be a distinctly warm afternoon and the team didn’t need to get too hot, while they were investigating the remains of a once thriving industrial complex.
“Good afternoon, Sir” said Crilly, “We’re all ready to go, so what’s the plan?” he looked down at his watch and tapped the dial. As if by reflex response, Arch Deacon, looked at his own timepiece and then addressed the gathered officers.
“I’m reliably informed, that this place, is a lot bigger than it looks and that it may take longer to search, than it appears on first impressions.” Arch then attempted to explain the nature of the place based upon the information he’d received from the Boss. “You will find, that when we get inside the gates, the air, will somehow seem a little thicker and warmer, than you were experiencing previously.” He looked at the assembled officers, to assure comprehension, before he continued. “These conditions increase, as you make your way further into the works and remember, this place has a cloying smell you may not notice at first. However, you may find it becomes quite nauseous, as time passes.” He then quickly thought about the information he’d just imparted to his teams and that perhaps, it had been a touch perfunctory, but seeing the team straining at the leash, eager to be let go, he simply added, “It’s probably nothing more, than the stench of old tar residues and general decay, but I thought I should warn you about this, in case you feel a little off colour during the search.” He paused and looked at the officers, in order to gauge their reactions to the information.
“You heard the man” Crilly interjected “We don’t want anyone fainting in there or having an asthma attack, now do we?” The assembled officers, mumbled their acquiescence, as they waited to undertake their given roles, in the days search.
Arch, on the two previous occasions he had worked directly with Joe Crilly on the searches of the canal bank in this case, had found him to be a straight down the line sort of copper, if perhaps a touch gruff. He was the kind of bloke who was getting rarer in the service these days, as University degrees and PC attitudes, seemed to count an awful lot more than good old fashioned policing. Not that Arch, had any problems with intelligent, publicly sensitive coppers, but Crilly, was a bit of a Policing Dinosaur and needed careful handling.
“I want this search to be done in pairs, with one officer to stay back at the gate to ensure, that no one gets past us. Keep your Coms’ open and check in regularly with the Sergeant.” Here, he took a leaf out of DCI. Findlay’s book and held them all, within his eyeline for a second, before adding, “Right, has everyone got their torches?” Arch, then glanced around to ensure all the officers were up to speed, “Remember, when you get inside, I want you to start with the smaller sheds.” Echoing Alex Findlay’s words, he continued, “You’ll find, that some of the doorways are rusted shut and many of the others, are blocked by fallen roofing materials, or bits of masonry. Check around, and if there is no other way in then move on to the next target.” He paused, then added the obligatory “Any questions?”
He looked at the assembled officers again but there was no response from Crilly’s team. 'Excellent' he thought, whilst he held them with his gaze for a minute.
Then Joe spoke quietly in his ear “They are a very disciplined unit, Sir. It takes a lot to phase them.” He turned and smiled at his men, then continued with a great deal of pride “I trained them all myself and I can tell you this, if there is anything to find in there, this team will root it out.” With that Joe Crilly stood to attention and waited for Arch, to give the go ahead to start the search.
“Oh yes,” Arch rapidly added, “there’s a large black building located at the end of the main concourse. Can at least one team ensure, this place, is searched thoroughly. Remember to keep your eyes open in there for anything, that is, how shall we say, unusual.” Almost as an afterthought, he added, “I’m reliably informed there may be an awful lot of those large black birds in the rafters, so watch out for them,” and he closed with, “OK, I think that’s about it, so let’s do it and good hunting men.” He looked over at Crilly and nodded, just the once. Joe, took this as his sign, to separate the group and direct the officers in their given searches.
Arch and Joe Crilly, led the way through the gates, the teams separated and as ordered, spread out to investigate their allotted routes, leaving only Leita Costello to guard the exit. Arch and Joe, took the left hand passageway which led to the old supply basin, the other teams covered the remaining two alleyways, leading to the central ‘Hub,’ which allowed easy access to every part of the site. Westie found herself lumbered with Karl Hewlett, a dour but brilliant officer, who, like Joe, had refused so many promotions over the years, that finally, the Bods at Head Office had simply stopped offering them. He and Westie had been allocated, the extreme right hand ginnel and were dutifully exploring it.
The remaining pair of detectives, Keith Nesbitt and Terry Draper, were allocated the central route into the Tar Works inner sanctum.
“Wow, this is place is fucking amazing. Look at the size of it, who’d have guessed all this was still here?” Terry Draper, said with a certain amount of amazement in his voice. “It’s incredible, when you think about it, all the years that have past, since it closed down and just look at it. The place, is still recognisable as a factory. It’s anything but a bomb site.”
Keith Nesbitt, couldn’t disagree with his younger colleague and simply stood and silently peered down the Boulevard style roadway, towards the centre of the complex. He half turned towards Terry, and sarcastically said,
“Bet they didn’t teach you, about this kind of place, at school, did they?” Terry Draper, was the youngest of Crilly’s team and just stood motionless on the ancient cobbled access road, with his hands in his pockets, gazing in wonder at the old industrial complex.
“Jesus, I never, not even in my wildest dreams, or nightmares, imagined that a place like this existed so close to the station. It’s like an ancient ruin, that some old professor might find....” He cut his soliloquy short there, adding only the caveat, "Although, it’s not exactly a ruin, is it?” There was a snort of chuckled derision behind him,
“I think you might be getting a bit carried away there,” commented Keith Nesbit, who was slightly older and a lot more cynical than his younger, freshman colleague.
“No way. I mean, look at this place” insisted Terry. “The structure of the old works, is still recognisable. Just stand still for a moment and take a deep breath. You can almost ‘feel’ the ghost’s of this place, moving all around you and they’re all sweating in this oppressive heat and the god awful musty smell.”
Keith Nesbit, absently nodded his agreement, to his partners observation. “Can you imagine what it must have been like to work here, Tex?” He didn’t really expect an answer to his rhetorical question so just continued with his train of thought “Fuck me, I’d rather have been a chimney sweep, or something equally grotty, than work in this place. Can you imagine, what it must have been like, back then?”
Terry Draper sighed, as he considered all those men, who through no fault of their own, ended up working, and in quite a few cases, dying, within the precinct of Battersby’s Tar Works. “Yeah, but times were a lot harder then and a job, was a job, even if it killed you. I suppose, it was a case of work in a place like this, or starve.”
Keith Nesbit, shrugged his shoulders in a gesture of resigned acquiescence, then quietly spoke into the still air, his voice almost a whisper “I suppose it was times like these that led to the founding of unions, the Welfare state and all that Health and Safety stuff, that nowadays, we spend our time moaning about. I tell you what though, we’d be screwed if it wasn’t there.”
Tex Draper had heard most of his partners melancholy thoughts before. Sometimes more than once, so he reckoned if he grunted every so often, and uttered phrases such as, “Yeah, dead right,” and “You’re spot on there, Sir” he could pretty much get away Scot free, without ever having to engage his senior, in any form of political or religious debate, which was never a good idea. He often felt, that P.C Nesbit, didn’t actually wish to listen to his viewpoint, he just needed a cheerleader for his diatribe.
In the dense silence, that was enhanced by the heavy still air, it seemed to Keith Nesbit and Terry Draper, that the rest of the world had simply stopped. Once inside the spokes of the wheel, all sight and sound of the other teams had quickly disappeared and the air was definitely warmer and thicker than it had been when they entered the works fifteen minutes ago. They were both quiet now, the increasing heat and diminishing air supply, were taking their toll. On either side of them, were the rusted remains of semi broken down structures.
As D.S Deacon had briefed, many of these smaller structures were inaccessible, empty and had been disused for decades. All the surfaces, were covered with a sticky deposit of dark sooty brown material, which had a sickly yellow tinge to it. As you moved about the place, the surface of the deposits rose up chokingly into the air. Keith Nesbit looked around for some kind of landmark, but the ruins of the last fifty or more years, looked remarkably similar. So, he cast his gaze forwards and moved towards the most noticeable feature within his vision, the central hub itself with it’s clocktower. There it stood, in the centre of the works, still towering over the whole enterprise, like some malevolent jagged finger, looming over them, as it must have, over the old workforce, as they went about their daily labours.
“Let’s get to the centre and see what we can do from there,” said Keith and purposefully, strode off towards the jagged spire, that sat in the centre of The Ravens Gate works. “Christ, it’s getting more and more stifling, the further we get towards the middle. I thought this would be a pleasant afternoon’s efforts, Jesus, was I wrong!” As he wiped at his sweating brow, he added, “Come on Tex, let’s just get on with it.”
Their investigation of the first spoke complete, Nesbit and Draper now stood before the wrought iron spire, that marked the heart of Raven’s Gate. They stared upwards, at the somewhat flaked and rusting ironwork sculpture, which sat atop the mesh of twisted tubes, that made up the body of the supporting pylon and the clock itself. The old timepiece, had worked almost perfectly, for many long years but on the day the place had closed it’s gates for the final time, it suddenly stopped. That was many decades ago and the fingers, had never moved since. The infrequent wafts of a gentle breeze here in the middle of all this decay, occasionally created a creaking sound from the pylon and a disturbing screeching tone from somewhere high above.
'What a creepy place this is,' thought Terry as the structure squeaked it’s rusty song once more. “What the hell is making that awful noise?” Asked Terry, as he spun around and instinctively looked upwards again.
“It’s coming from the top of this thing,” observed Nesbit as he patted the base of the twisted tower. “I think it’s some kind of old fashioned weather vein, or something like that but it’s obviously seen better days because it appears, that these days, it only wants to point in one direction.”
Both officers were now peering upwards, into the pale blue sky, to observe the pointer of the weather vein, perched precariously above the clock. The huge black bird atop of it, was fixed pointing only one way. Terry Draper, looked around to see if anyone else had penetrated so far into the complex but there were no other signs of life, so he turned to Keith Nesbit and grinned,
“Looks like we’re the first ones here, so we get first choice where to go next.” He said furtively “So where do you want to go, Sir?”
Keith Nesbit looked up at the Raven shaped weather vein atop the twisted spire, “The Raven seems to think we should go that-away, and who am I to disagree with him?” Then, having called in and informed Control, that so far, there was nothing to report, and that they were about to try and gain entry to ‘The big shed.’ With one more glance upwards, at the cast iron Raven, Nesbit and Draper, set off towards the brooding hulk, that had once been the beating black heart of the Ravens Gate Tar Works.
While Keith and Terry, took the most direct route to the wheel hub, Arch Deacon and Joe Crilly, walked by the main basin, where, in the past, the great barges, that plied their trade on this waterway, loaded their cargoes of processed bitumen for delivery to Partington and beyond. Battersby’s Tar Works had been set up next to Jenkins’ Mine, as the coal had a very heavy bitumous quality so the two had worked in concert until the collapse of the mine and the development of modern transport links. This dual enterprise, had carried on uninterrupted, for almost two hundred years. Many families had been born, lived and died along the waterway.
"It must have been quite invigorating, working here on the canal, before everything got too mechanised," mused Joe, as he and Arch, both idly threw a stone each into the still water, causing a series of concentric ripples to spread out from their respective points of impact. As if in response, a fish jumped close by and the three sets of ripples, then collided silently, in the glass like water.
“I don’t know about that,” interjected Arch, “I should imagine that working six and a half days a week, in a shit hole like this place must have been in it’s heyday, wasn’t much fun. Did you take a look at the metalwork on the bridge? You don’t get that amount of discolouration if the air is anything like healthy to breathe.”
Getting no response, he continued “You know this place had a terrible reputation when my grand father was a lad. He used to say to me, that if I continued doing whatever it was that pissed him off, he’d leave me at the Ravens Gate Works for the birds to peck out my eyes, or for the Battersby bogeyman to drown me in tar. It scared the shit out of me as a kid.” He looked over at Joe and closed with “This has never been a good place and it seems it hasn’t improved.” Arch threw another stone into the water and then, turned to follow Joe.
“Wow, he was a scary guy then, your grand dad,“ commented Joe, “But I suppose, that you’re right and you just don’t get the right impression of this place, on a sunny day like this.” Secretly, he thought, 'Yeah, but it feels good, to be a touch romantic, sometimes.
Arch and Joe, made their way carefully along the bank of the old basin, checking every fallen down unit they passed but came up with nothing connected to the case. Being the senior officers involved in todays search, they could not afford to pass up, even the smallest of clues and hence, they were the last to reach the rusty old weather vane, in the centre of Ravens Gate. Joe Crilly, got on his radio and contacted Westie and Leita, to check their status and to not end up, with another team, repeating the search area.
“Nobody seems to have come up with much, are you sure there’s anything to be found in this place?” he enquired.
“The Boss, seems to think there’s something going on here. I dunno what exactly, but the other day I was informed, that an old tramp who doss’s about on the canal, saw something abnormal moving along the canal bank, somewhere near here. 'Mr Shifter,’ seems to think the source is quite reliable and not just the imaginings of a gin genie. He seems to think it could be important but I’m not exactly sure why or how....” Arch, then just let his voice tail off and he again looked up, at the stricken spire.
“So they still call him that do they?” Joe chuckled and was about to continue, when there was a loud crackling sound, from his radio. He stopped and gave it his full attention, then turned to face Arch, whose face was a picture of curiosity. “That was Keith Nesbit reporting in, he and Draper are about to enter the big warehouse at the end of the site.”
Arch felt his blood run cold at the thought of entering that darkness and encountering, the Ravens that lived within. Those birds, he had been told, “Pecked little boys eyes out.” Arch jumped a little, as Joe’s radio sparked again, instantly breaking his childhood terrors. This time it was team three. Arch, could just recognise Westie’s voice in amongst the crackles and pops,
“Just letting you know, that there’s nothing to report down the right hand ginnel’s Four and Five and we’ll be doubling back to the centre up ginnel two. Over.”
He could hear the excitement in her voice, she was relishing this moment of responsibility that DCI Findlay had given them both. Joe Crilly gently smiled inside, at the sound of her excitement. “Hmm, I was like that, once upon a time,” he mused to himself. Then, he and Arch, carried on searching the decrepit old sheds arranged around the wheel hub.
Keith Nesbit and Terry Draper, were now standing, on the threshold of the massive black structure which was the main workshop of the old Ravens Gate Works. In its heyday, Shed No. 1, had been the largest construction along this length of The Partington Canal.
A privately financed piece of eighteenth century hydro engineering, that amongst other things, joined the Joel Battersby’s Tar Works to their main customers, and to the major canal network giving access to the rest of the country. Keith Nesbit, had heard all the tales of industrial might and other such triumphs of empire, when he was a youngster at his grand dad’s knee. Now he felt strangely privileged to be standing before the monster, knowing that he and Terry Draper, were about to violate its most inner sanctum.
“Ready, Tex. Left, or right?” He turned his head and looked carefully down, in both directions, at the black corrugated edifice, which stood languidly before him.
“I’ll go left, I think and see whatever I can over thataway?” said Terry. Keith Nesbit, simply nodded and started to walk down, towards the far right end of the humungous shed. After he had covered around fifty yards, he turned and called to Terry,
“If you can’t find a way inside, because the entrance is blocked off, or something, we’ll meet back up in the middle and try that entrance instead.” Terry, could see no flaws in that plan, the last thing that they wanted right now, was to mess up Joe’s search of The Ravens Gate works. They would never be allowed to forget it, if they did. This one had to go like clockwork.
“Right you are, that’s fine by me,” he called back and made his way, towards the left end of the building and stopped, as he looked at the great sliding doors, that barred his entrance to what at one time had been The Old Tar Rendering Hall.
Keith Nesbit, was faring little better. The similar doorway at the right end appeared to be shut fast and it’s rollers seemed rusted solid. Keith walked over and grasped the iron rod, that seemed to be the release handle and pulled hard. To his surprise, it gave a little.
Encouraged by this, he heaved on the handle again but all that happened this time was the wheels squeaked and the doors groaned. One more big effort, he thought and he may be able to gain access to the interior, so he gave it another great heft, but to no avail. Try as he might, he could not get the giant barrier to move another inch. He peered into the abyss through the crack in the doors, but it’s sliver of light was too weak to illuminate more than a few paces inside. Frustrated, he put in one more massive effort to try and force the old rusty doors open.
“Open you fucker,” he wheezed, whilst straining at the handle. “Urrrrgh,” he spluttered hopelessly, as it refused to budge. Thwarted, he relaxed his grip on the handle and settled for kicking the thing instead. A great ‘boom’ echoed from inside the darkness and he booted the stubborn entrance doors again, just for good measure.
Terry Draper, however, was having a slightly easier time of things. Although he was being challenged, by an identical set of problems at the left end of the building, he was fortunate that somebody, probably some snotty little kid, had attempted to gain entry to the old shed by peeling away a small section of the corrugated iron panel, on one of the huge sliding gates. He stuck his head inside, trying to get a look at the inner workings of the great structure and to see, if there was an easier way, for him to gain access to the interior.
However, just like Keith, at the other end of the monstrosity, the scope of his vision was limited by the modest opening. He began, by trying to crawl inside, which soon restricted nearly all his movements. The opening was a little too small and Terry began to feel uncomfortable. From the little he could see, the enormous shed was truly cavernous and very dark. He stopped and listened. The shed, appeared to be deserted, silent apart from a slow dripping sound emanating from somewhere deep within.
“Plop...... Plop...... Plop.”
Tex Draper, continued wriggling in through the small, twisted pieces of corrugated panelling. The more he inserted himself into the gigantic building, the more that pieces of his uniform, began to snag on the jagged bits of corroded metal. They were beginning to pose quite a hazard, for both his clothing and his skin.
Keith, on the other hand, had long ago given up on his febrile and frustrating attempts to get into No. 1 Shed through the large end doors. He had backtracked, to the small rusted doorway, that he had spotted shortly after they had left the narrow passageways, that fed the main processing building. As he neared the tiny metal entrance, he could plainly see, that it was swinging quite freely.
“How did we miss that?” he asked himself, as he stood before the obviously easy entry point. “Terry, come round the front, the middle door’s been open all along,” he called into his walkie-talkie........ “Sorry my fault,” he pleaded to his partner, in the hope that it would somehow placate him.
When Keith Nesbit called out to him, Terry Draper had already gained access to the interior and he heard absolutely nothing, as his radio had been damaged in his struggle with the corrugated iron, during his attempt to get inside. He was now standing, silently looking down the entire length of the unit and was struck by all the needles of light, streaming down from all the pin pricks in the corrupted fabric of the roofing material, which had mouldered away over the years. The darkness that purveyed the interior, seemed to be somehow deeper and he reached for his pocket torch, to aid him decipher the lay of the land, inside this huge derelict industrial cathedral. Casting his solitary light, back and forth, as far as it would penetrate the gloom in every direction, he was astonished to see that there was there was not one single track mark on the dusty floor.
“You’ve got to be having a laugh,” he exclaimed, incredulously. On first inspection, it appeared that nothing had disturbed this entire area, since the place had closed down all those years ago. He tried to see through all the splintered beams of light, to make out, if Keith had managed to find a way into this humongous warehouse. It was impossible, with all the shards shooting down from the roof, fracturing his vision. Try as he might, Terry could not see or hear anything moving down towards the other end of the building. So, he assumed that Keith had not been as successful as he had, in gaining access to this foreboding place.
“Plop. Plop. Plop,” the incessant dripping continued, uninterrupted, it’s place of origin was still cloaked in mystery. Then suddenly, there was a noise coming from further down the shed. Terry, jerked his head in it’s direction, perhaps this was somebody, who had been lurking in the protective darkness, now deciding it was time to make a move.
“Halt, Police,” he called in the general direction of the sound.
“It’s O.K. it’s only me,” came the reply from within the shadows.
“Bloody hell Keith, you could have given me some kind of warning,” he called back.
“Christ Tex, calm down. It’s only me,” responded Nesbit. “I couldn’t get the fucking door to open, so I used this one here, that’s all. No big deal.” Terry Draper, said nothing in reply, to hearing his partners voice further up the structure. To be honest, he was feeling a little embarrassed by his startled response, to a simple sound coming from within the mirk.
“I’m going to have a look down, this end of this place, it sounds to me, like that water is getting in somewhere down here. Keep your wits about you and no more of that, Halt Police shit,” with that, the sound of his voice faded as he made his way, silently back towards the doors he’d failed toopen previously.
“Plop. Plop. Plop,” the water drops continued as their unearthly echo resonated through the structure. The incessant dripping, did seem to be growing louder, as Keith made his way towards the frozen metal doors, that sealed one end of this old No. 1 Shed.
He looked towards the gigantic panels and noticed immediately that the crack he had forced open, now appeared to be sealed.
'Probably just slid back to it’s original position,' he thought and dismissed it from his mind. 'That dripping sound, is a bit odd though,' his mind continued, while talking to itself in the gloom. 'There’s something, not quite right with the quality of that ‘plop, plop, plopping.’ It seems, as if it’s coming from down in a pit, or something.' Keith, moved on in search of the mystery rhythmic water sound and as he was doing so, the beam of his torch noticeably dimmed. When he tapped it, instead of a positive response, it started blinking on and off.
“Oh fucking marvelous, this is just what I need right now,” he spluttered. The blinking light, made it even harder to make out the dimensions of the structure, then it went out for good and he was left, relying solely on the needles of light, that were emanating from the ceiling above, to light his way.
Terry was looking out for the large black birds that DS. Deacon, had mentioned in the briefing. Birds, they were his nemesis. They had been, ever since that family holiday in Scotland, when he and his father had inadvertently wandered too close to a colony of Terns, nesting on a lowly sandbank. The Terns, took exception to their presence and began diving on them, in an attempt to drive them off. Many times, the birds fell on them and no amount of whirling of arms and shrieking, did any good in trying to drive them away. They were both struck, over and over again about the head and by the time he and his dad, had put sufficient distance between themselves and the angry Terns, they were both scarred and bleeding. Though the strikes, were both sharp and painful, the most terrifying memory, that he had carried with him, over all the intervening years, was the noise, that the Avians had made. It was loud and shrill, as they began their attack but it got even louder and more guttural, as the duration of the assault continued. Until, in the end, all he could see was a blur of stroboscopic light, the beating wings, the blood and of course the vicious ripping beaks and claws, that tore at his skull and face.
Just thinking about Arch’s warning, gave him the shivers. Terry shone the light from his torch mostly upwards, in the hope of being fore warned of anything coming at him from above, but as he stared deep into the mirk, he could see nothing. His flashlight did not reach far enough into the dark, to penetrate the rafters. His line of sight was being disrupted by the hundreds of shards, that were pouring down from above. As he moved beneath them, they periodically blinded him, as they played across his eyes chaotically.
Then, Terry froze, as something in the roof released a strangled
but mercifully, it fell silent again and resumed its slumber. “Oh God, it’s Deacons birds,” he murmured. He then irrationally, called out quietly to his partner in the hope of some company and reassurance, in this moment of childish dread.
His calls went unheeded, as Keith Nesbit was nearing his goal. The sound of the drips, were just in front of him and he was so concentrated on them, that failed to hear his colleague’s plea.
“Plop, plop, plop,” came the sound of the drops, as if they were resonating from somewhere deep within the earth.
“Weird,” said Keith, almost seeking validation from himself.
“Plop. Plop, Plop,” went the droplets, that were falling, just beyond where he could see but then another sound barely audible began. It was the sound of something scraping along the ground and the occasional rasping of strained breathing.
'The tramp,' sprung into his mind. Arch, had said something about a tramp, who was suspected of hanging around the Ravens Gate. Now it was his turn to fall back on the old tried and trusted methods and he called out, into the darkness,
“Police, stay where you are” but the scrapping sound continued, uninterrupted and it was drawing closer.
Suddenly, Keith Nesbit’s progress was brought to a sudden, painful halt, as he walked directly into the brick surround, of what seemed to be the side rim of an old well, only much larger, than anything he had ever seen before. He retrieved his torch from his side pocket and shook it and shone it, at the brick structure he had inadvertently walked right into.
“Fucking hell, that hurt,” he cursed and rubbed his spare hand vigorously, on his still smarting shin. He cast the flashing light, from his small fading hand torch on the object before him and he could then clearly see, that he had almost walked straight into some kind of enormous water filled trough. It’s dark surface glistened malevolently about twenty feet below. He realised with horror, that if his shin had not collided with the low rim of bricks, then he would have fallen, like some insect tumbling to it’s doom in a Fly Trap, until he had hit the glistening liquid below and then, he would have had the devils own task, to extricate himself from that oily trap.
As he was getting his breath back, after his near miss with fate, another couple of drops of water, fell from high above and down into the fetid pool. They both, made the same,
“Plop, Plop,” sound but Keith wasn’t listening to them anymore. His senses had been alerted, by the scraping and wheezing sounds, that now appeared to be almost upon him. He was almost close enough to get a whiff of the sour air, that was emanating from the stranger in the darkness.
“Police, stay where you argh ! ........” Was all, that he could get out, as a boney hand grabbed the top of his head, effortlessly bent it back and smoothly cut his throat. His heart pumped wildly, as he tried to scream, tried to breathe, then he was aware of a weapon slowly making its way through his back. He could feel it, as it sank deeper into his body. The burning pain was excruciating, as the implement drove its way in. He tried to scream , tried to turn his head to see his assailant but he could not move, his agony was intense, the weapon exited his chest and carried on moving forward.
Keith looked down at the blood soaked object that was protruding from his ribs, as three other points entered his body from the rear and the burning torment increased three fold, as they slowly cut through his flesh. Keith Nesbit’s mind, screamed one last strangled cry of intense burning pain, as he passed from this world and his lifeless body, swiftly released, fell forward towards the still water at the bottom of the glistening pit.
At the exact moment he died and his limp body fell downwards deep into that polluted pit of cold collected slime, disappearing beneath with an engulfing splosh, high in the rafters, numerous Ravens began to shriek loudly, into the thick darkness. The screaming grew steadily louder and Terry Draper could feel something inside him pulling him back to his childhood and his irrational fear of birds.
'Think Terry, think. Stay with it. It’s only some birds, that live in this place. They’re not Terns, they’re not nesting. That’s all it is and you were warned.' His common sense said those words to him but the little boy wasn’t listening, he was terrified. His logical mind was asking him just one question, over and over again and that was, how on earth was he going to get out of this shed, in one piece?
Frantically, he looked around for a quick way out of this mire. Once again, he began futilely calling out to his now dead colleague.
“Keith. Shout out and keep on yelling, I’ll attempt to follow the sound. Get it?” He remembered that Keith, had been heading off, in the direction of the dripping sound, down at the other end of the building.
So, he turned the light of his torch, from the ceiling up above, down towards the floor of the shed, in the hope that maybe he could pick up and follow Keith’s footprints in the covering of dust. Try as he might, he saw nothing, not a single mark left on the ground.
The screeching mass of birds, were starting to flap their wings. Another thought, fleetingly passed across his conscious mind, 'Who or what, had made that giant splosh, that hadwoken the birds?' Terror now gripped him in its gaping maw, he had to force himself to move towards the middle door, that Keith had used to enter the hall. In his short time as a Police officer, Terry, had never felt the cold fingers of primevil fear, gripping his mind like a vice, he did now.
Forcing a few steps forward, he again shone his small torch with its weakening light up into the heavens, to check on the crying birds. He couldn’t look, his feet were rooted to the spot by seemingly irrational terrors, born in the mind of a child, his eyes were tight shut. Slowly, he managed to win the battle with his own immature fears and with difficulty, he opened his eyes and stared upwards. The sight which met his eyes, filled him with a very new and all too real, horror. There were hundreds of black Ravens crowded together on the web of struts holding up the roof and they were all looking down at him. Their beady little eyes, now seemed to bore holes in him, as they twinkled in the torch light and he could have sworn that they were all, deep red in colour.
Terry was already beginning to panic, when one bird flew down and struck him a glancing blow on the top of his head. He could feel the blood dripping over his skull.
Instantly, Terry was back on that deserted beach in Scotland. He started to wave his arms around frantically, like he had done against the Tern’s. Any sense of direction, was lost in an instant. The building, was vast and the glistening needles of sunlight, that were raining down from above only served to disorientate him further. This godforsaken place, appeared to have no exits, 'Where’s that fucking door,' his desperate mind shrieked.
Then he shouted, “Keith, where the fuck are you?” He could plainly hear the hopelessness in his voice. Another set of wings, brushed against his face as the feathered wielder shot past in an instant and rejoined the milling throng.
Terry, could feel the draught, that the now countless flapping appendages created in front of his face. He attempted to get a better picture of the situation by ducking down, onto one knee and turning up his torch. The full beam, or what remained of it, illuminated the screeching mass of devilish Ravens whirling around, over his head. The vision that had met his gaze, was truly terrifying. He took one horrified look, sprang up and started to run. One of the flock, had been caught in the light and Terry could clearly see that it was making straight for him and he had no intension of hanging around to let it strike him, before he took off. Running now, he felt the flap of it’s wings approach, at the last moment, he ducked and the Raven attempted futilely, to claw the top of his head but he had been too tricky for it and it flailed wildly but missed its target.
Terry took his chance and set off blind down the length of No. 1 shed, with the flock close behind him, screaming ever more loudly. He would sneak a peek at them every few seconds, as he careened wildly down the length of the building, desperately hoping to find some evidence of Keith, or a way out. His flight raised clouds of dust and he gasped for breath, his lungs were bursting with the effort, the sweat ran down into his eyes and his heart pounded. Then, his foot caught on something and he catapulted forward, sprawling onto the ground. Gathering himself up quickly, he turned and shone his now pitiful light, at the pursuing chaotic flock, again. What he saw, almost stopped his heart. The terrible sight of all those birds, honing in on him, with their eyes red and their boney faces contorted by a frenzy of blood lust, their snarling beaks and ripping claws wielded as weapons, stirred him into running even faster, into the darkness ahead.
Dread, fear and loathing, filled Terry’s mind, as he fled. The pursuing birds, looked more like some hoard of rabid predators, than Ravens. He turned his head, as he ran on into the splintered, yet deepening dark, terrified the crazed flock would catch him. He dared not allow himself, to think beyond that point. Only pain and god knows what, lay further down that particular road. The cacophony, grew louder still until he thought, that his eardrums would burst and his ears would start to bleed. Any rational thought was impossible, in the face of this whirlwind of feathers and noise, that surrounded him. Terry, could hear his own heart pounding and the blood coursing furiously through his body.
Another strike from the rear propelled him onward,
“Shit,” he yelped and he held his head in an attempt, to rub away the pain, that the savage Avian had inflicted upon him. Another strike, made him stumble and then, two more, almost simultaneous blows, knocked him off his feet. He hit the ground hard and let go of his torch, which rolled away and out of the reach of his flailing hand.
Still a touch woozy, Terry swiftly regained his feet and as was about to set off running again, when he felt a heavy blow to the centre of his back, propel him forward. He felt the tide rising in his chest and realising, that he could never hope to outrun the horde, he suddenly called a halt to his flight. He stopped and turned into the wind, to face his pursuers. The vision, that met his eyes, came straight from hell. There were hundreds of the hideous birds, hovering just inches away from his face, with their countenances twisted into a snarl and their blood red eyes looking straight at him. Then, within the mass appeared something else. Something larger, darker and deadlier was coming, through the rolling and flapping mass of birds.
Terry, could plainly see, that something dire was approaching his position. It seemed to be spinning in and out of focus, almost as if it was dancing, as it drew closer. He couldn’t prevent it’s inexorable advance and he couldn’t flee, no matter how hard he tried, his aching legs, seemed to be immobile. Terry, realising that he was out of options, simply started to scream into the darkness, hoping against hope, that someone would hear his cries. Suddenly, without any command, all the birds just halted, then screamed at the same instant,
The tumult, was deafening and so unearthly, that he felt his knees buckle and the tell tale sting of a tear appear, in his eye. Dread, re-enpowered Terry Draper’s legs and he sprang up, just turned and ran. After a few steps, he looked behind, 'What the fuck is that thing?' his addled mind cried out? Running blind, suddenly all he could see were two glimmering white objects, directly in front of his eyes, both rapidly drawing closer. Terry Draper, stared disbelievingly at the two objects, until they burst through both of his eyeballs simultaneously, smoothly pierced his cranial cavity and effortlessly sliced into his soft brain tissue. Terry Draper, was gone. His body, was unceremoniously dragged by the eye sockets, over to the deep trough, where Keith Nesbit had met his end and was casually tossed into the same watery void.
Suddenly, as if by some etherial command, the Ravens fell silent and a deep, ominous stillness again descended over the old structure. As the dust settled, it covered all the scuff marks, that were created by the struggle inside, leaving the scene, to appear as if nothing had happened. The dark beast, that was No. 1 Shed, then returned to it’s previous posture and continued to sleepily fester in the glorious, late Autumnal sunshine.
Outside, Arch and Joe were wondering what had happened to Terry Draper and Keith Nesbit.
“Didn’t you receive a call from them, saying that they were here and that they were about to go inside, to have a look around?” enquired Arch.
“Yeah, I wonder where they are?” replied Joe, as he tried to get them on his radio again. Failing, he walked back over to the small hatchway and stuck his head inside. “There’s nothing in here but dust and to be honest, it looks as if nobody’s been in here for years.” He said and then lazily added, “There’s not a mark on the floor,“ and he closed with typical Joe Crilly finality.
“Well, they don’t seem to be in here, we’ll just have to look elsewhere for them.” When he took the call, there had been, a lot of crackling on the line and Arch reckoned, that he, must have somehow misheard the communique.
“No sweat, they must be somewhere around this place, we’ll just have to find them,” said Joe, as he again attempted to get his radio to work. From inside the monstrous corrugated structure, a single Raven, let out a plaintive cry and then fell silent, once more.