As zero hour drew closer, the minutes either rushed by, or slept on the wind. However, the hands on the clock never stopped turning and the time of reckoning, constantly drew closer. They were all going to meet at The Old Toll House, at 7.30 p.m. and if fortune was on their side, they were going to rid the canal bank of it’s apparently ancient demon and resolve a series of murders that everyone else, had chosen to neglect.
Nick had finished an overnight shift at midday and once he’d got back home, he’d spent the remainder of the afternoon getting stoned and listening to the music, on his iPod. He decided on this course of action, after giving it much thought and coming to the conclusion, should something go horribly wrong, then he wanted his last conscious moments, to be as laid back and peaceful as possible. He wanted them to be utterly devoid of fear, so he changed nothing in his routine. Dread, however, was entirely another matter. Thoughts concerning his own death at the hands of this monster, waiting for them by The Ravens Gate, were definitely better handled when softened by a good dose of marijuana and music.
Alex, had spent the afternoon writing a letter to Jaqui, which, as it stated on the front of the envelope was, 'Only to be opened, in the event of my death.' He sincerely hoped, that it would never come to that end and the letter, would just gather dust for many years to come. Internally, he desperately wished that one day, in their old age, he and Jaqui would rediscover these words, written on this piece of yellowing paper, in some long forgotten about drawer and laugh at it’s earnestly written contents.
In this epistle, he explained how much he loved her and always had. He begged her forgiveness, for keeping this resultant unfortunate endgame from her. He tried to explain, how he had attempted to keep it quiet, for her own good and that, he was truly sorry. He had closed with, “Live long and prosper,” which made him smile and he hoped, would leave Jaqui, with a smile on her face, even if the worst possible scenario, came to pass.
Alex realised, that though this was hardly his preferred option, issues had to be settled with Powderfinger and the opportunity, may not present itself again. When he had finished, he read it back to himself and only when he had made a few more minor adjustments, here and there, was he fully satisfied with his efforts. He looked at the letter he was holding in his hand, carefully folded it and wrote,
“Never forget how much I loved you, Jinx,” in his elegant script. Then, once having written, “For Jaqui,” on the front of it, he carefully sealed and placed the envelope, squarely in the middle of his desk. If, all went well and he returned, in the morning he would pick it up but for now, this was the best place for it. This way, if everything turned brown, at least he knew she would get it, later on.
Alan had taken the afternoon off work by using up some more of his in-lieu time, he was owed from the last stock take. He was sitting in the window of his lounge, looking out at the view along the canal, considering the hazardous escapade he had signed up to. He sipped at his coffee and in the distance, he observed the clouds darkening. He watched, as the thunderheads climbed towards the heaven’s, before exhausting themselves and falling back down towards the earth.
“I hope it doesn’t rain this evening,” he casually said to himself, as he watched another massive cloud, visibly reaching for the stratosphere somewhere out over the plains, beyond Barton. The wind, not an uncommon occurrence at this time of year, was being fuelled by the approaching storm. It was picking up strength on the back of all the violence taking place in the sky above the flatlands, which stretched for at least forty miles, on the far side of Barton. From what he could see of the dark turbulent clouds from his window, he judged, that if the wind held, the body of the storm would slip away to the right hand side and there may be no precipitation worth talking about this evening. He could only hope his educated guess about the weather, proved to be correct and the remainder of the afternoon and evening would stay dry.
Arch on the other hand, was the only member of 'The Cabal,' who was actually quite excited by the prospect of the evenings planned escapade. He was the youngest of the group and as Alex had informed them,
“He’s not got enough miles on the clock, to be bothered about much.” That may have been generally correct but right at this moment, he was worrying about Kayleigh and her feelings, should things go horribly wrong. Then his mind drifted towards the possibility, of his experiencing intense agony before he died, should Powderfinger prove to be invulnerable to their best efforts and just slaughter them all. He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head, “no,” he told himself, he couldn’t afford to dwell on such things. He and Alex had an appointment with destiny, somewhere on the canal bank and they couldn’t afford to be late. There was no way the light would hold for ever and they did not want to face Powderfinger, in total darkness.
“Come on Sir, we can’t afford to tarry. They’re expecting us and it would be bad form, if we were the last to arrive for Alan’s ‘P’ Day junket, into the underworld.”
Alex, smiled at this use of a term, that Arch probably had no idea about the origins of, but he was using it, to lighten the load on his boss’s shoulders. They were just about to leave the station precincts, when Arch stopped the car and said,
“If you look in the back Sir, you’ll find something I’ve brought along for you to use, should Powderfinger sneak up on you this evening.”
Alex, leant over the back of his seat and looked down at the floor of the squad car. He saw something metal, that was old looking and rusted. “What is it,” he enquired.
“It’s my old Great Grandfathers ‘Napoleonic’ garden fork and spade. Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate the key to the station’s bayonet locker, so I brought along the next best thing.”
Alex laughed out loud. “Jesus Arch, you think of everything.”
Arch glanced over at him and simply said, “Well, it’s my job, Sir and I always did think you looked like a Garden Fork, kind of a guy.” Alex now realised, that his D.S, was loving every minute of this exchange and he envied him, his apparent poise. “Your choice of weapons, of course,” said Arch, who was still grinning inanely.
“I am quite capable of looking after myself you know, but I have to admit, I never would have thought of that one. I don’t know where you get these ideas from, all I came up with was a hammer,” he said rooting around in his attache case and producing a D.I.Y. variety of the afore mentioned household tool, which he placed on his knee. “Plus, this baby,” he triumphantly exclaimed, as he withdrew, what appeared to be, a brand new and rather sturdy looking senior hacksaw. “Granted, it’s hardly high tech but killing, is a brutal practice and they don’t call this stuff, Hardware, for no reason.” They both dissolved into peel’s of nervous laughter.
Alex, was the first to regather his wits and returned to the task in hand. “This one to wake him up,” he said, touching the hammer, then reaching over to the glinting saw, added “and this ’honey,’ to grab his attention.”
Now, it was Arch, who was seemingly impressed. “One to wake the fucker up and one to pull him in,” he marveled. “Nice one.”
It was Alex, who was now returning an appreciative smile at his colleague. “Quite a team, eh Arch?”
“Quite a team indeed, Sir,” replied Arch. Then, their words tailed off, as they both fell silent, lost deep inside the cavernous wasteland, of their own thoughts, now rapidly filling with the fears and the expectations of this evenings endeavours.
Alan made a bet with himself, that Nicks, would be the first one to drive through the gates that night. He lost. The first vehicle to arrive, was a steel grey BMW, which suggested to him, The Police had won the newly invented, 'Altorro Sweepstakes' and he’d just lost his wager. Alan stood up there in his lounge and watched as Alex and Arch, swiftly exited the executive grade squad car.
He grinned, as he watched Arch, almost make it to the door, before he stopped, returned swiftly to the warm vehicle and retrieved something bulky wrapped in a cloth from behind the passenger seat. On returning to the door, Arch unwrapped his parcel and held forth two implements. Alex picked up each one, felt it’s weight and balance, then wielded each one individually, to test it’s effectiveness. Finally he settled on the garden fork, leaving the spade for Arch.
'Wise choice indeed, Mr. Findlay,'thought Alan. 'I would probably have done a similar thing.' As he reached the bottom of the stairs, the door bell sounded and Alan opened it, with a suitable look of a man who had been working hard all afternoon, on his face.
“Gentlemen, you’re the first ones to arrive. Would you care for something hot to drink, while we wait for Nicks to appear?
Alex, looked up at the darkening sky and took a breath. “Coffee for me, thanks. How ’bout you Arch? He enquired.
“No, I’m fine, thanks. I don’t want to piss my pants, now do I?”
Just as they were about to go inside, ‘Deke,’ and Nick, growled in through the open gates and stopped askew, in the small driveway. As he got out of The Volvo, he couldn’t help but notice, that everybody else was stood looking upwards at the approaching black clouds, that occasionally flashed bright, as the sheet lightening silently rent the sky in the middle distance.
“Come on inside and let’s go upstairs and have a warm drink, before we set out to do battle with the unknown.” Said Alan, as a particularly bright flash of lightening passed overhead, silhouetting the entire length of the visible canal.
“Whoa,” squeaked Nick.
“And cue the lightening,” added Arch, as they went inside.
Alex, Arch and Nick, all took their chosen places and sat down, while Alan, went into the kitchen and prepared three hot coffees.
“How are we going to go about this?” Inquired Nick.
“Well,” responded Alex. “I’ve been thinking about this, for the last forty-eight hours, or so and if anybody has got a better idea, now is the time to speak up.” The others just looked at him quizzically, there was nothing for them to comment on, as yet. Alex, viewed their collective silence, as permission to continue, with his plan of action. “Right then, I’ll carry on,” he said and launched into an idea, that felt more akin, to a set of instructions. “We have four bridges we will have to watch and there are four of us. By my reckoning, that’s one span each.”
Nick, was going to speak but before he could utter a word, Alex, just ploughed on with his plan.
“According to Nick’s research, most of the incidents take place, between, Jenkins’ Hollow and The Ravens Gate bridges. So, seeing as myself and Arch here,” he waved his thumb, roughly in his DS’s direction as he spoke, “are the only two people who carry any authority and are ‘combat’ trained, we will be stationed on those two spans. I will be taking Ravens Gate, which it appears is the epicenter of all this killing and Arch, will be watching the old Jenkins’ Hollow Walkway. May I suggest to you, that Alan stands on Balaclava and Nick, you take up residence on Quaker Crossing.”
All the participants, were nodding their heads in approval of his words, only too happy to follow his patterns of thought. After all, it was Alex, who had chosen to confront the entity, Powderfinger, at The Ravens Gate.
“I’ve brought along an air horn for all of you,” he said as he reached into his case and withdrew four cylinders, all with a horn contraption attached to the top and handed them out. “One blast when he passes your allotted bridge, that’s all I will be asking of you and hopefully, that will be sufficient to alert me he’s coming. I’m expecting him to emerge from somewhere on the inside, of the old Battersby’s Tar Works and I will be keeping a sharp eye on that one myself.”
Alex halted in mid explanation of his “Get Powderfinger,” scheme at this point and his shoulders visibly sagged. “You may be wondering why I volunteered myself for bait and I feel, that I need you all to be clear why.” Alex glanced at the assembled conspirators, who were now leaning in towards him with rapt attention. It appeared, that nobody was going to say anything at all, so Alex continued.
“A few days before the deaths of Nesbitt and Draper, I was investigating the Tar Works, in connection with the murders, of Debra Foxx and Eleanor Ross, the two women who’s murder’s kicked this whole thing off. I went inside that large black No1 shed and whilst there, I had an unnerving experience.”
Nick and Alan, were both listening closely, as they each took a big gulp of their rapidly cooling Coffee’s. Arch, on the other hand, was riveted by his bosses elaboration of his feelings of remorse and need for redemption. He seemed to be burying all his ghosts and confessing many of his sins.
“There’s a malignant consciousness in there, I could feel it all around me, as I was searching for evidence.” He sighed deeply, as if he were considering something else, that he had not previously mentioned. “I know that it, whatever it, may have been in there with me, was stalking me. The creature was fully aware of the nature and the depth, of my fear and manipulated it, to it’s own ends.”
Then Arch broke into Alex’s recollections. “Why didn’t you say something in The Black Dog?” That, interruption, jerked Alex back to life, with a start.
“It would have proved nothing Arch, can you imagine the reactions, if I had said, that a ‘ghostly presence,’ frightened the life out of me in an old, long disused building at the back of the Tar Works?” He shrugged his shoulders resignedly, “They’d have loved that, wouldn’t they. I can see them all now, down at the station, sniggering behind their hands.”
He and Arch, looked at each other. “Mr. Shifter, throws a wobbler, they’d all have said and that, would have been a confession too far.” said Alex. “So, I kept my big mouth shut and now, I fear that my abject cowardice, resulted in the deaths of Nesbitt and Draper.”
Arch looked stunned. His boss, was fallible after all and that somehow, disturbed him. Nick had been looking at the rusting garden fork, with it’s well worn wooden handle, for a while and was just about to enquire as to its purpose, when as if by magic, Alex provided him with the answer, that he was seeking.
“In case you were wondering about this item,” he said holding it up for all to see, “This, is Arch’s Great, Great Grandfather’s garden folk and it’s standing in for a Napoleonic bayonet, Arch is armed with his spade. I am aware, it may not have a similar impact on Powderfinger but to be quite honest, I have no desire to find myself, with just my dick in my hands, when the monster arrives.”
“Stabby, stabby,” said Alan.
“Precisely,” responded Alex. “Do you two gentlemen have any weapons,” he enquired hopefully but his question, lacked any conviction. Alan reached under the coffee table and withdrew a towel wrapped around something heavy. He cleared a spot on the table and peeled the wrapping back to reveal two enormous old steel spanners he used on his steam engines.
“One for you Nicks, and one for me.”
Alex nodded approvingly and reached into his bag again, pulling out the police issue Coms and handed them around. Then he demonstrated how to use them, “Now keep these open at all times, so we can all pass messages to each other, easily. The air horns are our safety blanket. After all, I’m not sure I’ll be able to hear the radio if I’m banging and sawing through metal, plus you never know, when, or if the Tech will fail.”
Alex was not overly confident this was going to work but what other choices, did they have? Powderfinger, it seemed, had been hanging around this area, for hundreds of years and had survived all the new devices life had thrown at him. So, it was time to get back to the basics and allow the latest attempt, to put an end to his reign of terror, to begin.
“O.K, guys are we ready for the off?” asked Arch inquiringly,
“That’s enough delay, let’s just do it, before we chicken out,” replied Alan. They each, picked up one of Alex’s Police Issue air horns and Coms, as they departed the lounge and made their way down the stairs, out through the front door, back to the gravel driveway.
“We all know what we’re doing, I take it,” said Alex, he looked one to another, each nodded, dry mouthed and they set off, to take up their individual station on their allocated bridges. A bright flash of lightening lit up the last glimmers of the fading twilight and for the first time, a faint rumble of thunder, could be heard rolling across the deserted, sodden peat bog, that was euphemistically known as ‘The Moss.’
“Just what we need. Rain,” said Nick.
“Trust me,” injected Alan, “It’s not going to rain. This baby, is slipping by to the West, then off towards the sea. It’s what we call a dry storm.” It was only a few more steps and then, he took a sharp left turn and headed off towards Balaclava Bridge.
“I’ll see you on the other side,” called Nick, as his friend disappeared into the darkness.
“Not if I see you first,” came the fading familiar reply.
The remaining three members of ‘The Cabal,’ continued walking purposefully along The Old Toll Road, heading for their allocated bridges.
“Just think,” said Arch. “This, is how the Watchmen must have felt, all those years ago, as they tried to keep the banksides safe from all the Brigands and Vagabonds.”
“That’s a comforting thought, eh?” Said Alex, “Trust you to cast the best light on the situation.”
Nick, was the next to depart. “Remember, one long blast, if you see anything,” reminded Alex, from within the failing light, now enveloping him as he and Arch moved off and gradually disappeared into the darkness.
Nick, silently nodded his acknowledgement and uttered a simple, “Hmm,” which was just enough to convey his understanding of the developing situation, to the two departing policemen. In truth, Nick now fully realised, that for all intents and purposes, he was alone. He also began to appreciate, just how scared he really was. 'Why the fuck did you agree to this insane idea? Christ, what made you think, you could do anything to alleviate a century’s old affliction haunting this section of the ancient watercourse.' He stared down the canal below him and despaired.
One span further along the bank, Arch and Alex, halted as they reached The Ravens Gate crossing and breathed deeply. “Give me a couple of minutes to get there,” pleaded Arch, as he set off jogging, toward the old stones of Jenkins’ Walkway. No sooner, had he taken a couple of steps towards his goal, than the whole area lit up again and away in the distance, a clap of thunder began rolling its way towards the canal. The vivid flash of light, that momentarily lit up the towpath, added to his sense of urgency and he upped the pace to reach his allocated position, on the old stones of Jenkins’ bridge.
Using his torch, to light the way, Arch could easily see the roughened stones, that made up the old trackway, across the footbridge. The stones themselves, were easily traversable, with a modicum of care, and it wasn’t long before he was standing on top of the span and leaning on the uneven dressing stones. He looked out along the waterway, towards the old Ravens Gate Tar Works. Suddenly he realised, as if it were a revelation, that if something went wrong in this exposed and deserted location, this could easily turn out to be the last night of his life. All his mind could envisage was blood and excruciating pain, followed by a lingering and cruel and brutal death, at the claws of Powderfinger.
That ugly conclusion, appeared like a premonition of the outcome of this foolhardy endeavour. After all, it had only been cobbled together, over a few stiff drinks. Arch took a deep breath of the cool evening air, it was too late to back out now. No, he was here now, time for this to begin. Realising that time had run out, he reached for his radio and dry mouthed, he almost whispered into his Com,
“In place, Sir.”
Nick was having similar thoughts, just two bridges down the water from Arch, with only the spectral frame of ‘The Gate,’ standing between them. At least, he had a little gentle illumination given off by the replica gaslights on the bridge, that had to some extent, been maintained, over the years, by The Quakers. Again, the dark sky lit up as more lightening crackled above the structure. The rapidity of the responding peels of deafening thunder that followed, indicated the ‘Dry storm,’ as Alan had called it, was almost overhead.
On the next bridge along, Alan was becoming ever more afraid, standing there all alone on a deserted bridge, with a killer coming. The fact, that he had neglected to turn on his Police radio, was probably quite fortuitous as his voice had now taken on it’s characteristic weepy sound which accompanied any feeling of panic. Still, he always had the conciliation of running back home and hiding. Bravery, had never been his strong point, not even when he was a younger man. Alex had figured that out long ago and hence he had placed Alan exactly where he was, on what it was hoped, would be the safest position available. He would have liked to call in more support but that was impossible, so he would have to make do with what he had and that was precious little to watch his back. There could be no mistakes tonight, there may be no second chances.
Alex for his part, was striding across The Ravens Gate Bridge, with a purpose. He was about to alert Powderfinger to their presence and make it abundantly clear, that The Cabal were here, with a purpose. The radio crackled in Nick’s pocket,
“Y’over,” he called and waited. Then he heard the sound of a familiar voice.
“I’m about to make footfall, on the works-side bank and it all seems rather quiet. Let’s see what we can do about that then.......Over.” Came the voice of Alex Findlay from the radio.
Then the sound of metal striking metal, could be heard resonating along the entire waterway. “Clang.” “Clang.” “Clang,” went the sickeningly, destructive regular blows and then suddenly, “Clunk.”
Something had broken within the sculpture’s body. 'That’ll get the fucker moving,' thought Alex, when he heard that deeper note.
However, unbeknown to him and the others, Powderfinger was already alerted to the presence of an intruder, and had been, since Alex had first set foot on the bridge. His presence caused the first dusting of rust from the struts used in the construction of this faux Baroque bridge work, to fall and coat the water. With each following blow, the small patch of floating dust, grew a little larger. Had anybody, been there to notice the growing sheen on the water’s surface, they may have suspected that, ‘He,’ would be coming.
Arch was so consumed with the need to protect his boss, that he failed to see the small almost invisible movements, of something ominous, stealthily prowling along the bank heading his way. As predicted by Alan, the sheet lightening and it’s inherent threat of rain, had passed by to the West and was moving away. It had been replaced by an almighty display of fork lightening, which was filling the entire sky with a stroboscopic conflagration of colour. The softer rolling sounds of the sheets, had been replaced by the far harsher auditory sensations, of the stabbing forks, now issuing from the black heart of the storm.
Arch, was leaning on the stoney ramparts of Jenkins’ Walkway, peering hopelessly into the night. The rising wind, was making his eyes water. The whole area, was a chaos of intermittent light and dark. Amid this pandemonium, Arch stood, looking back down the canal, towards the Ravens Gate, trying to see what was going on, his torch was of little use in these conditions and he was beginning to get disorientated.
As he was straining to make sense of the chaos playing out before his eyes, something dark was making its way towards his location on the old bridge. In seconds, it had covered the thirty feet to his position and was standing just inches away from his face, its presence masked by the cacophony of sound, created by the wind.
Suddenly, Arch’s subconscious kicked in and he became aware of the feeling he was not alone on this rocky footbridge. He froze, waiting for the next bolt of lightening to light up the sky, so that he could see if there was anything out there in the dark, or if he was just being paranoid.
He did not have to wait long. He turned, as the sky lit up and there he was. Powderfinger..... phasing in and out of focus before him. It was difficult to lock his eyes onto the thing, as it danced and swayed hypnotically before him. The gaping maw, with its rows of sharp teeth and it’s pale dead eyes, that were looking right through him, made him quail before this creature’s power. Its rotting flesh, was just inches from his face and the stench of it’s breath almost made him throw up, as it entered his nasal passages.
In his fear and surprise, Arch lost his grip on the Air Horn, which he heard splashing, as it fell into the canal below him. When he managed to tear his gaze from the phasing creature’s boney, desiccated face, out of the corner of his eye, he thought he could see something long and pale, almost touching the ground, being slowly raised up, in a gesture of deadly intent.
Arch had frozen like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a speeding car. His heart was pounding, cold sweat ran down his temples and he had stopped breathing. His hand felt futilely for the spade he had left propped up on the opposite bridge wall. When the creature, started to caress his face with that skeletal weapon, his resolve vanished and he simply waited for the vicious, deadly blow to fall.
To his surprise, Powderfinger did not strike, instead the creature, gently slid a fingertip over his cheek and with the precision of a surgeons scalpel, carved a three inch split in his face.
Arch screamed a scream that was all but drowned out by a crash of thunder overhead and instinctively raised his hand to protect himself from any more damage. This was a futile gesture, as on the next sweep, the bone like blade, went right through his hand and cut two fingers away, as he tried to deflect the strike of this unearthly weapon. His wide eyes looked at his injured hand, now missing two fingers with a certain incredulity, there was no blood. He could see the bones, inside of what was left of his fingers on the injured hand, but before he could react, he felt the searing pain of his thigh being rent apart. He promptly fell to the ground letting go of his radio, in shock and it dropped, onto the floor of the bridge, where Powderfinger, now fully corporeal, simply stepped on it.
Suddenly, the screech of Alex’s saw, biting into the sculpture pole, filled the air like it’s metal birds were all screaming at once. Powderfinger reared up, hissed through it’s mangled maw, then left silently, heading towards the Toll Road at great speed, in a swirling mass of bone and cloth, never touching the ground. The supernatural entity, seemed to simply float over the surface, without once touching the ever dampening earth.
It then appeared to Arch, that the spectre stopped, hovered briefly then uttered an unearthly scream, which seemed to originate from somewhere deep underground and chilled him to his bones. The dark creature then let out another wailing scream that merged with the wind and then easily spun away, into the building storm towards the Raven’s Gate bridge and an unsuspecting Alex Findlay.
Arch tried to move but his legs just collapsed under his weight and he was left propped up on the ancient stones feeling utterly helpless, in the face of this dark creature’s power. Immobilised with no way to alert Alex, despair almost overwhelmed him.
'That thing, isn’t human,' his mind was screaming, as he attempted to organise his thoughts, into something that could be described as coherent. 'Those teeth and that fetid breath.'The essence of which, still lingered in his nostrils, was followed by a sentiment far more dire.
“Fucking hell, what have we awoken,” he murmured under his breath, as he tried to move his legs again and with a little more success this time. He had to try and warn Alex that Powderfinger, was coming his way but not from inside the works, as they had expected but from the reverse direction.
Powderfinger was coming straight down the tollroad with malevolent speed and intent.
He recalled the fall of the air horn, but perhaps the radio still worked. That slender hope, was instantly destroyed, when Arch looked down at the ground and saw what appeared to be hundreds of small, smashed pieces of plastic and a few tangled wires, where his radio should have been. He forced himself to stand and attempted to walk. The pain in his thigh, was unrelenting and it made his eyes water, as he began his pursuit of the wraith like apparition, that was rapidly getting away from him.
He looked in the direction that Powderfinger, was last seen heading and realising there was no way he could catch him in time, grasped the coping stones of the bridge and turned towards Alex’s position. Then he yelled at the top of his voice, in the forlorn hope that somehow, the wind would pick up his plaintive cry and carry it to The Ravens Gate, almost half a mile away and alert him.
“Look behind, Sir. He’s coming.” Arch screamed, at a pitch that even he didn’t recognise. His voice somehow seemed, to be an octave higher and it’s tone was piercing. However, in the bedlam of chaotic light wind and thunder, it seemed very unlikely his warning would be heard.
There was nothing else for it, he had to attempt to alert his boss of the danger, fast approaching his position. So he grabbed his spade and using it for support, set off limping along the toll path, headed for The Ravens Gate, as fast as he could. Initially, every step was agony but with each pace he took, the pain declined.
However, with every second that passed, Powderfinger was increasing the distance between himself and his pursuer.
On The Quaker Crossing, Nick could barely see Jenkins’ Walkway in this fractured light. He was relying on the wail of an air horn, which was never going to come, to alert him of any danger, heading in his direction. He could clearly hear the screams of the sculpture as Alex relentlessly sawed at it. He reasoned, that if he could still hear the ‘screams,’ then all must still be well.
Nobody, barring Powderfinger recognised the significance of the expanding amount of dust, that was gathering under the bridge itself.
Nick, gripping his spanner tightly, in one hand and holding his air horn firmly in the other, turned to see how Alan was faring in this bizarre weather. As he turned into the gusty wind his hair kept blowing in his eyes making it difficult to see anything. The lightening flashes going off all around were creating a stroboscopic effect, just adding to the visual confusion. Try as he might to focus, he found he couldn’t locate Alan anywhere on the Balaclava bridge. It appeared to Nick, there was no trace of Alan on the span. For a few seconds the night was relatively still, he was just about to call into his radio, in the hope of raising Alan from his hidey hole when more brilliantly blinding forks of lightening, reached down to the earth like deadly fingers from the leaden sky and were followed almost instantly by crashing thunder.
The fact was, Alan had already succumbed to his ever growing fear and had quietly gone home. He was now watching the proceedings, from the safety of his lounge.
“Nicks? Alan here.” sparked the open Com, on the radio. “Sorry Man but I couldn’t take anymore of the battering, so I’m watching this thing play out, through the lounge window. If I see anything I’ll warn you...... Over.”
Nick, was not surprised. Alan was a clever sod but not very brave and never had been. It was probably for the best, now he didn’t to have to keep an eye on ‘altorro,’ if things got a little hairy.
“That’s O.K, what can you see from up there. Over.” Alan was silent for a moment and then he broke in with, “Listen, do you think that maybe, we could drop all the formalities and just talk to each other. All this ’Over,’ business is just getting in the way, as far as I can see.......Over.”
Nick looked back to the raised windows of The Old Toll House but couldn’t see anything through the smoked glass. “OK, so what can you see from up there?” Called Nick. There was a silence and then Alan spoke.
“There was something coming your way, from Jenkins’ Walkway and it was moving at quite a rate on the toll road. I’d been watching it as it got closer to your location but I can’t see it now. Maybe it’s crossed over to the other bank?”
Nick, spun around and gripped his Air Horn tightly in his hands, what Alan had been observing, could have been Powderfinger. He could see nothing, as his view down the toll road was obscured by ‘Sheila.’ The demolition barge, had been re-secured in its original position, and now it was blocking any sight of the first half of the Ravens Gate bridge.
Away down the canal, Arch was now in pursuit of a killer. His knees were aching and his face was sliced open but he was in full survival mode, after his vicious encounter with Powderfinger on Jenkins’ Walkway. His legs, were struggling to keep any resemblance of a consistent pace, as he hobbled down the toll road, using his spade as a crutch but he wasn’t going to allow this ‘Thing,’ to butcher his boss, not without a fight anyway. They’d figured out how to ‘do,’ for this creature, and his initial fear had now dissolved into deadly intent. His left leg was now starting to throb painfully, but he continued his chase, agonising as it was, nothing could halt him from his pursuit.
Just as Alex put down the saw and again raised his hammer, to continue the hacking down of the statue, Powderfinger reached the bridge. Alex, was expecting him to emerge from within the works complex, probably from No.1 shed. He was not expecting him to appear to his rear. Surely Arch, or Nick would have seen that and signalled, with their respective horns but Alex had heard nothing.
So, he continued with his efforts, to try and bring the iron Ravens, crashing down. As Alex and his hammer again thwacked at the obviously injured and rusting metal pole supporting the sculpture, Powderfinger reached the apex of the span and was staring down, at Alex Findlay’s unprotected back.
The creature, halted its advance and raised it’s maw towards the heart of the Tar Works. Alex, unaware of his presence, continued to bash away at the pole holding the birds aloft. Powderfinger, was now dancing again, with his arms raised through the dead hole on the canopy of the bridge, as if summoning something from within the old Tar Works.
At this point, Arch made it to the bridge. To warn Alex, he was going to have to pass the swaying, mesmeric creature, that stood between them. But how? He stood there, almost transfixed by the sight before his eyes. Powderfinger’s swaying form, appeared to be in two dimensions at once. It seemed to be in a constant phasic state. All Arch could think of was Nick’s voice reading the words,
“It appeared to slip off the eye, whenever you attempted to focus on it.”
Then, to add to the confusion, Arch thought he heard the vague sound of wings, beating on the wind. As he followed the line of the creatures gaze, out over the remains of the old tar works, it was with a dawning horror, he clearly saw a dark swirling mass of birds, streaming out of No.1 shed and heading in his direction.
'This is the chance you were looking for, don’t blow it,' he thought as Powderfinger, appeared briefly distracted, as he gazed up into the lightening rent sky, awaiting the arrival of his flock. With as much speed as he could muster, he slipped past the mellifluous creature, pressing hard against the old rusty handrail and praying, to every God, or Saint under the sun. He fully expected, at any minute to be summarily dispatched but miraculously, he made it past 'The Monster,’ unnoticed or just ignored.
Alex was so totally engrossed in the effort to cut the supporting pipe for the sculpture and jumped, when Arch tapped him on the arm to get his attention.
“Look behind you,” was all that he could manage, and Alex obliged. What he saw, rendered him utterly speechless. Swirling atop the canopy at the apex of the Ravens Gate crossing, was Powderfinger.
A dancing figure, in tattered robes, with lightening exploding all around it’s head. Surrounded by a chaotic flock of unearthly red eyed black predatory birds, flying rapidly in every possible direction, barely missing each other as they passed.
Alex, quickly and blindly searched for the garden fork he had handily placed against a piece of fallen masonry, while never averting his gaze from the ‘thing’ on the bridge. If they were going to die, then at least they could put up a good fight and maybe, even kill the monster now standing before them. One of the old Gildabrooke Watchmen, had managed to hurt it, so why shouldn’t they take it further and end the fucker’s reign of terror once and for all?
Suddenly, Powderfinger started to slowly advance towards Alex and Arch, bringing ‘The infernal Host,’ with him.
Nick had observed the massed arrival of the black birds and now could clearly see Powderfinger, as it’s form cleared the obstruction, that was 'Sheila’s’ enormous bulk.
There, in amongst the flashes, being created by the storm, blazing around this creature’s head, he thought he caught sight of something white and deadly looking, weaving around amidst the maelstrom.
“Powderfinger’s on the Bridge!” shouted Nick into his radio, hoping to alert them to the danger. Then he remembered the agreed procedure, so he felt around and located the button on the air horn, pushed it down hard and held it there as the horn’s voice burst forth. Alex had placed his radio, on the concrete plinth that secured the sculpture pole, so Nick and Alan, could clearly hear every sound coming from The Ravens Gate.
Powderfinger, was among them but they were absolutely powerless, to make anything like a meaningful contribution to any further proceedings. They were both too far away and paralysed by their own fears.
Having grasped the iron garden fork, Alex raised it and stood to face Powderfinger and those gruesome looking birds. As ‘The Devil,’ drew closer, he suddenly perceived, the magnitude of the task before him.
'Jesus,' he thought, as he saw all those teeth, grinning, mercilessly back at him from it’s great slavering mouth. 'Now what?' He thought, as bolts of lightening, like liquid fire, came from it’s brow and the cascading birds, which all appeared to be totally surreal, flew ever faster, in constantly tightening Avian knots before Powderfinger’s awesome dark and malevolent presence.
'This thing’s from The Pit,' thought Alex, in a rare moment of clarity. “Run Arch, run for God’s sake. Just run and save yourself,” he cried, in an attempt to at least save his DS, from purgatory.
Floating slightly above the ground, the creature, had to be eight feet tall and those talons, that it was now pointing at him, looked lethal.
Suddenly, the entity, was right there in his face. In the time it took mere mortal’s, to blink an eye, it covered at least fifteen feet and was now inches away and staring straight into his soul. The murderous malice, was plane to see and Alex thrust his fork forward but too slow.
Powderfinger, swirled out of phase and the fork smacked hard into the bridge wall. In surprise at the jarring, Alex lost his grip and it fell onto the parapet, then clattered over the edge. There was an ominous splosh, as it was swallowed up by the canal.
“Don’t let it touch you, those boney hands are razor sharp,” cried Arch but Alex, was already backing off. Then, as Powderfinger swung his claws at him, Alex, who’d heard Arch’s warning, jumped backwards to avoid the lunge but tripped over a loose stone and fell, uncontrollably into the damaged post, which only served to catapult him back towards Powderfinger’s deadly embrace.
Alex could see it coming, but it all seemed to be happening in slow motion. The creature’s fingers, were set in a triangular pattern and were held rigid, in that configuration, as his head drew ever closer. Alex knew what was happening. He was almost being bidden, unwillingly, to his imminent death at the hands of this beast and there was nothing that he could do to prevent it. His forward impetus, was simply too great for there to be any other outcome. As he looked forwards, Alex could clearly see the points of the monsters fingers, drawing ever closer to his face.
Nick and Alan, could hear his continuous screams on the radio, as the pointed tips of two of Powderfinger’s skeletal fingers, pierced Alex’s eyes, with a sickening sound and the third, entered his mouth. As the creature, flexed his finger like weapons, they sliced deeper into his fresh, on their agonising path to his brain, not stopping, until all three fingers exited his head at the rear. Then, with a series of crunching, popping sounds, as his skull exploded, the screaming ceased.
Nick stood there on the bridge, appalled at what he had just witnessed and Alan, through his spotter scope, had looked on horrified, as Powderfinger’s bladed fingers, cut ever deeper into Alex’s yielding flesh. They, never actually thought, that anybody was going to die tonight. The whole exercise, had, until this point, felt like a surreal game but now, it had suddenly become very serious indeed. The sight of Alex, writhing about, as those boney fingers had dug ever deeper, into him, almost made Alan throw up.
Arch, was still down there on the bank, in front of the swaying black sculpture and screwing up his face, he let out a scream, that even made Powderfinger stop dancing for a second, or two, before he began his advance, on the now noticed Arch.
“No. No. No,” Alan cried and in that small space, Arch braced himself and raised his spade into a defensive position. Now it was Powderfinger who was distracted, watching something beyond Arch, something that appeared to be moving in slow motion. Arch looked up, just in time to see the sculpture start to fall and simultaneously, the Ravens Gate Bridge, began to collapse.
It emanated an eerie, deep growling sound and then with a roar, it’s centre span imploded, as the sculpture pole suddenly snapped at the base. With a cloud of dust, the main body of the old crossing, fell into the waiting embrace of the canal. Then, as the water settled, just a few pieces, that were made up of the shattered remains of the crumbled bridge, broke the surface like jagged metal ice burgs.
All Alex’s hammering and sawing of the pole, his rocking it to and fro, had finally caused the last thin sliver of metal to break, due to fatigue. As the pole was slowly falling, towards the icy cold water of the canal to join the remains of the collapsed bridge, it parted company with it’s concrete base. The wrought iron edifice, toppled and several of it’s rusted pieces of metal birds, swept down and became entangled with Powderfinger’s flowing robes. The Creature screamed, somehow it managed to resist the sculptures colossal weight, for an agonising moment or two.
Arch’s pulse began to race, when for a few fleeting seconds, it seemed that Powderfinger, now held corporeal, may yet overcome the forces of gravity and throw off his burden. Then suddenly, his strength failed him, as he let out a long continuous howl, and started to fall, in an entangled mixture of bones, teeth, robes and metal birds, towards the water.
Powderfinger, still had Alex Findlay’s dead head and lifeless body attached to his hand, which was dragged into the ensnared mass.
Alex, even in death, had captured Powderfinger, his lifeless body had still had the power to anchor him in the corporeal state. Try as he might, he could not rid himself of Alex’s lifeless corpse, or the entangling steel sculpture. To escape as the fabled, 'Creature of light and air,' he needed to be free of all these anchors to this world. In this condition, he was prey to all the forces of the universe he was inhabiting at this instant, of his greatest peril.
Powderfinger, was falling ever backwards still screaming, propelled by the weight of the sculpture, towards the waiting cold of the canal’s depths. When suddenly, without warning, he ran out of bank to stand upon and Powderfinger, the steel birds and the corpse of Alex Findley sank inexorably into the dark water.
Powderfinger’s final angry screech was cut short as his maw filled with water. At that moment all the screaming host of black birds swirled, screamed as if released and seemed to slip out of phase, vanishing from this world.
Arch, tentatively made his way to the edge of the canal and peered into the deep. He needed to be sure Powderfinger, had succumbed to the embrace of the metal birds and the cold water. He began sobbing hysterically, as he plaintively screamed,
“He’s Gone, He’s Gone!”
From his position, on The Quaker Crossing, Nick could clearly make out his words and he knew, that what he’d seen was true. Alex Findlay, was no more. Slowly, it became apparent that something more fundamental had changed, he could feel it in the quietening air.
With the disappearance of Powderfinger, below the surface of the water, the wind that had been blowing all night, inexplicably ceased and the thunder and lightening faded away, to the West. As the calm reasserted itself, Nick, transfixed, looked up to the sky and for the first time all evening, saw a couple of stars peeping through a window in the clouds.
Arch, was left on his knees in a heap on the ground, sobbing, by the edge of the canal where Alex’s lifeless body had been dragged into the water, only to sink with Powderfinger and vanish into the dark depths. The tears, poured down his scared face and dripped onto the compacted surface of the towpath, which easily absorbed them.
“You fucking bastard,” he wailed at the water, “you fucking bastard.”
No sooner had he expressed his deepest feelings, than there was a movement in the canal itself. He drew closer to the edge, to get a clearer view of the origin of the mysterious ripples, now moving across the water. Below him, two dying eyes were looking back towards the surface.
Just as the glimmer faded and was about to go out, with his last spasm, Powderfinger’s eyes locked on his and the creature reached up, puncturing Arch’s eyeballs and punching his boney thumb, straight through his mouth and out of his head at the rear of his neck. There was no cauterisation this time and the dying fingers simply tightened and pulled another dead policeman, into the depths of the old canal.
“Jesus Christ, he’s gone,” cried Nick into his radio. “They’re both gone,” he wailed.
Alan, was up in his room, listening intently and staring blindly at the canal, tears flowing unheeded down his face. It was all over but at what price?