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The Clamps

By M K Lee All Rights Reserved ©


Short Story

It was the kind of story that kept you pinned down in terror and the younger children believed in full fear, while the older boasted of their bravado and pretended they had no fear at all.

The beds strewn with blood and tell-tale yellow staining painted a picture that some people chose not to see.

The Workhouse had been in operation since 2013, right before the World Leaders had had enough of fighting over who was right and just decided the easiest way to have full world supremacy was to set off all of their nuclear weapons at the same time. Much like an apocalyptic firework display that filled the skies with death and eradicated the overpopulated planet problem in a matter of days.

The straggling survivors, after the fighting and destruction of all that the world had taken for granted for so long, were left to scrabble in the dirt to scratch out an existence of sorts. There really wasn't much left to work with. Nothing really worth arguing over. But argue they did, right down to the very ends of humanity until all that was left were pocket groups of renegade existence who had somehow managed to survive the apocalypse so many had feared for so long.

Those more resilient and born to leadership quickly showed their faces, and some sort of society began to take shape. People with the skills of agriculture were quickly in demand, especially those with the knowledge passed down through generations of farming without the conveniences of technology. In a huge shock to the individual that resonated perhaps more than the almost-obliteration of the planet, former employers in computing, electronics or finance suddenly found themselves powerless and weak. There were no computers. There was no electricity anymore, and the only currency system available now was barter.

Once all of the useful people had been put to work, the rest had been left to fend for themselves. There was no sense of community or well-being, not on mass anyway, and houses were broken into, shops looted, homes taken over and claimed. These people began to hoard things, and these people became the Buyers who prayed on the Residents of The Workhouse.

Children were without parents and left to fend for themselves, which is how The Workhouse in The Angel was built. On the site of the entrance hall to the old Underground station, people sheltered from fearful sandstorms and torrential rain. Tired, scared, and hungry, huddled together for a false sense of security or rocking, head on hands, in solitude, the population gathered.

George, in the former world, had been a taxi driver, and had been relatively successful. Able to switch between banter and fake concern, all the while hiding his hatred of all those who had achieved something better than him, George knew an opportunity when he saw one.

He set up The Workhouse as a sort of halfway house of exchange. People would have a bed and be expected to earn it by performing various services. Buyers would come to George asking for a particular service, and he would direct them to the Resident who would provide this, in exchange for his protection and a roof over their heads. Often there was a little something given to the Resident by the Buyer too, and this was how Residents kept hunger at bay. So if someone came to you and asked you to sing them a song in exchange for a bit of bread, you did it, and if you sang well, you got more bread.

A request for a song was rarely made; all sorts of other things, but rarely a song.

The general consensus was that being under the questionable protection of George at The Workhouse was somehow better than fending for yourself out there and setting up your own barter system, at the mercy of who knows who seeking who knows what.

The Angel Entrance Annex specialised in beds for children.
Older residents had somehow set up bunks and other forms of shelter throughout the station and it was said that these residencies stretched down into the tunnels and into former spaces last occupied during the Second World War.

For a while, the children would wander around, dazed, without parental guidance to know what to do. Children between the ages of five and fifteen were the most precious of all Residents. So when they took to wandering, George had to find a way to keep them from escape.

The Clamps were installed on all resident beds within the first year. This is how it worked. Each resident, old or young, had a narrow strip of a bed on a metal frame. Sleep time was between Dark Out and Sun Up, which altered depending on the time of the year. If you were not in your bed before Dark Out, you were shut out to fend for yourself.

Once in your bed, you were expected to stay there until Sun Up the next day. This is where The Clamps came in. Under the metal lats of the bed frames were packed an intricate system of insect-like legs that lay dormant and idle if not disturbed. They were installed on intermittent lats, tucked up and unable to be seen from above, hidden within the frame mechanism.

The general premise was that if you wriggled around too much in your bed or tried to get out after dark, the legs would unfurl, encasing you in a multi-legged prison until the morning at which time they would release and silently tuck themselves away. If you were caught on the way out of the bed, the legs could spear you in place, and horror stories of people waking to find others pinned, bled out on the floor, with nothing but fear in their eyes, became legendary amongst the Residents.

Sometimes, the children said, the beds just got hungry. The legs extended, curled as if to embrace, then pulled you down to ingest you like metallic spider. If you didn't put your fingers in your ears you would hear a sucking noise, like when a straw would hit air at the bottom of a slush puppy in the Old World. There were no screams, because the victims were paralysed by some sort of venom. There were never any bones, only a pool of blood in the very centre of the bed. Once a lone shoe was found at the foot of the bed, covered in a thick green gloop that no one was brave enough to touch. But never anything more.

And, the children said, if the bed caught you listening, discovered you overhearing its midnight snack, it would hum. Not a lullaby to soothe you back to sleep, but to wake its brother, let it know that it also had a feast waiting. Then you would feel the tell-tale jab in the back and you would no longer be able to move. But you'd be awake. Right from the piercing with venom, through to the slow digestion of you from the inside out. Paralysed and helpless.

But that's just a story for children.

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