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The Evil Gnome
The Moon was rising over the brow of Clayton Hill casting a shadow, both physical and spiritual, over the village of Clayton. For centuries the curse surrounding Clayton Hill had unsettled the lives of the villagers, but it was always assumed that in the modern technological world, the wand of science would have banished the terrors of myth and legend.
It was late evening, and John Harrow was walking back home from his girlfriend’s house. It had been a good night, and after a romantic meal she had agreed to his idea of buying a house together. She had offered him a lift home, but John had declined – not wanting her to be out this late, even if driving.
His journey home took him across the edge of the woods at the foot of Clayton Hill. As dark and creepy as this route was, it far more preferable than having to take the main road past the groups of drunks that hung around the Old Hermit pub in Clayton, and also cut nearly half-a-mile off the journey. The moon was bright and the sky cloudless, so the path was easy to follow, and John walked confidently albeit briskly. Some superstitious locals would have questioned his choice of route, but John was not bothered by silly ancient legends. The tale of the Evil Gnome of Clayton Hill was common knowledge in local folklore. The rhyme went:
“On this long and lonely lane,
you will find the Evil Gnome,
and when you finally see him,
you will wish you stayed at home…
On this long and lonely lane,
you will find the Evil Gnome,
and when you finally meet him,
you will wish you died alone!”
John remembered the stories from when he was a child. His Grandfather would come up stairs to tell him a ghost story before bedtime, much to John’s mother’s disapproval, but the Grandfather always maintained he spoke the truth. The legend ran that the Evil Gnome was the ghost of a deformed hermit who lived on the Hill and had been burnt alive by the villagers for suspected witchcraft in the 17th century. Since his execution, the hermit’s ghost was alleged to have started abducting children who strayed too far from home at night, draining their souls and leaving their bodies lifeless husks. Adults caught on the Hill after dark could be driven insane by his appearance, fleeing in terror over the hill. They were usually found the next day, lying dead in a ditch, their necks broken, or so the legend told. The sceptical believed that these latter victims were simply drunks who stumbled over the numerous rocky outcrops and fell to their deaths at night.
John’s Grandfather elaborated the tale, he said that the Evil Gnome would come and get John if he didn’t behave. The Evil Gnome lived in the cracks in the walls, the cracks in the pavement. You could lock your doors and windows, it would do no good – he would find a way in. There was no hiding from the Evil Gnome.
There was always the real event of little Jimmy Taylor, who ran away from home twenty years ago. His friend Mike said he had seen him with a small thin man on the Hill, but this was put down to an overactive imagination. Jimmy was never found. John of course didn’t believe the ghostly stories, but thought it would make a good film one day.
John turned off the road, and vaulted over the stile that led up to then slopes. The concrete and asphalt of the footway very soon gave way to gravel, mud and twigs once it entered the trees. John had walked this path many times, but this was the first time at night alone. John was fit, regularly attending the gym – and the gentle slope did not deter him from maintaining a brisk pace. It was only about ten minutes and John had reached the highest point of the path.
“Good, down hill now” he thought to himself. The path now entered the more thickly wooded leeward side of the hill, and the friendly scattered trees that had been his companions so far were now replaced by twisted, low-branched, crowded broadleaves – closing in over the path with a slight air of menace, obscuring the moonlight and making the way ahead difficult to discern.
John had not been long in the dark woods when there was a cracking sound from the path behind him. At first John didn’t even notice it, but after a few more foot falls – he became aware of its presence. Surely, just twigs falling from the trees, but there was no wind that night.
“Stupid foxes” muttered John to himself.
“Geez, I am talking to myself now” thought John. He started whistling. The cracking sound got louder.
John quickened his pace, but the cracking sound kept up. John glanced nervously over his shoulder. It was too dark to see anything clearly. Was that a dark shape hovering about twenty feet behind him?
“John, stop it!” he audibly told himself, trying to shake off his paranoia. Just then an icy breath blew on his neck causing John to shiver.
“Hey!” John spun around again. No one was there, but it was starting to get misty. John felt a small kernel of panic growing in his chest. He scoffed at ghosts and goblins, but something was controlling his imagination now. The more he looked in the fractured moonlight, the more he convinced himself that shapes were moving in the mist behind him.
“Stupid, stupid” said John, loud enough to startle a near-by squirrel. “I am not in some horror B-movie.”
John walked briskly along the path. The chill on his neck became more intense. He tried to ignore the feelings his imagination was playing on him, and tried to think of anything other than his Grandfather’s eerie tales.
“If I saw an evil gnome, I’d break his bloody fishing rod” laughed John nervously to himself.
The mist was entwining itself around his legs, like spectral hands, holding him back. There was a loud crunch on the path behind him. John took one last look behind. He was sure there was definitely something on the path behind him, the mist was being disturbed by something or someone.
John stood momentarily rooted to the ground, but when nothing appeared out of the misty darkness, he regained his self-control and began to run along the path, home. The cracks became thumps, the mist was overtaking him. John was running faster and faster. His heart was pounding. He dared not look behind him. The dread sight of what could be following him was too much. John’s lungs screamed for some respite, but his mind drove him on. Home, he must get home, where there was light and safety. Home!
John stumbled out of the woods and onto the road. No streetlights warmed this part of town, but John could see by the moon and the way home was familiar to him. He took one fleeting glimpse back at the woods but saw nothing following him. He paused momentarily to catch his breath, wheezing and coughing but thankful he was out of the woods. After gathering his thoughts for a second, John began again on his journey. The lights of the town centre were nearing and the first houses was just in front on his left.
“Nearly there..” thought John to himself, “Nearly there..”
An icy chill then ran over John’s back and neck, and he instinctively looked behind before he could stop himself, but there was nothing to be seen.
He eventually made it to his street and pounded up the path to his front door. He felt sure that once he was inside, he would be safe. Monsters only lived in dark woods and not in cosy houses.
John checked all the doors and windows. Bolted and secure. He was safe. Suddenly feeling a little silly, he sat on the bottom step and put his head in his hands.
“Whoa, John my boy. You are getting silly. There are no such things as ghosts. You fool. Still that was a good bit of exercise” he thought.
John thought back to his Grandfather’s stories about how the Evil Gnome sought out naughty or lost children, even in their own homes.
“I’m twenty nine, not a child.”
After making himself a drink and checking the football results on the TV, John felt that he must get some sleep before he dozed off on the sofa. Going slowly upstairs, John left the hall light on, just for reassurance. In his bedroom, all was dark and calm. John sighed, undressed and slumped on the bed. The chill on his back still seemed to be there however, even though the house was warm and the bed comforting. John looked across at the half-open bedroom door, and felt an inner vulnerability that he never normally felt. He got up, shut door and locked it. He then went over to the windows, and locked them too. Without consciously knowing why, he took the key out of the lock, tore up some paper tissues and stuffed them into the keyhole. He then put the key on his bedside table. Once again flopping down on his bed, John at last felt safe, alone and relaxed. Nothing would find him here, neither real nor imagined bogeymen. John leaned across flick off his bedside lamp.
Suddenly out of the darkness came a disembodied voice. It said menacingly “Good, now we are both shut in for the night......””
“Booo!” cried Jack, jumping up from his seat in the boat.
“Hey Jack, stop pissing about!” shouted Aidan.
“Lighten up dude!” replied Jack, “You don’t really believe in ghosts do you? I was only having a bit of fun!”
“Well, it wasn’t very funny” added Elizabeth.
“Children, children” said Jed, as he put down his book he had been reading to the others.
Jack sat back down in the little dinghy, his rocking motion antics still being felt in the stomachs of his friends. The small dinghy bobbed and swayed in the swirling wind. What had started as a fun fishing trip was losing its novelty fast. The fine weather had broken, no fish had been caught and tempers were now fraying.
They had all, reluctantly, followed Jack’s suggestion of a bit of sea fishing, and now he was the first to become bored. Nevertheless, it was the last day of their holiday and were all determined to have a good time.
Clayton-on-Sea was not your typical holiday destination. A medium sized seaside town, it had definitely seen better days. It perfectly encapsulated the ‘end of the railway line’ bleakness, being stranded on the end of long peninsula with very few hills to give any protection from the wind and rain blowing up the English Channel. The one geographical feature of note was Clayton Hill – mentioned in the ghost story and truly known locally and infamously as Claw Hill. It was a large rock monolith left behind from years of coastal erosion. Its rutted and pitted escarpments gave it the appearance of a large clawed beast, sitting ready to pounce over the town at its base. At least it has escaped the widespread rioting and civil unrest affecting most of New Britain at that time.
The four friends had met at college and had thought that a week away to mark the end of their last summer before going off to University would be good idea. Aidan Beaufort and Elizabeth Quinn had been dating for over a year now and had spent the majority of the holiday in their room, studious Jed Holden was a year older and wanted some quiet time to read away from the pressures of home and to prepare for his degree but had been largely prevented from doing this by the fourth member of the group, the heavy partying Jack Storm. Jack idea of a good time was trying to consume a brewery’s worth of alcohol in one night, trying to sleep with as many ‘chicks’ (as he called them) as possible before waking up in some random location before doing it all over again the next night. Orphaned as a baby and spending most of his life in abusive institutional care had obviously affected him. He often pestered Jed to join him in his nightclub adventures, which usually ended with Jed carrying the unconscious Jack back at 4am. Jack kicked the floor of the boat in boredom, but then produced a pack of playing cards from his jacket pocket.
“Alright then, who’s for a game of strip poker?” he said almost menacingly, looking straight at Elizabeth.
“Get lost you creep,” sniped Elizabeth.
“Aww, you’re no fun” sulked Jack as he put down the cards, and pulled out a cigarette and matches from his pocket.
“Oh, don’t smoke – it stinks” moaned Elizabeth, and she snatched the matches from Jack’s hand.
“Cow!” cursed Jack, and sat back sulking.
“Hey, you take that back,” interrupted Aidan, protecting his girlfriend.
“I have a better idea. A magic trick” said Jed, putting down his book and taking pack from between Jack’s feet. Jed shuffled the pack, and then started to flick through the corners of them, holding the cards so only the others could see them. “Say stop and look at the card revealed” said Jed.
Jack said “Stop!” almost immediately, hoping to catch Jed out.
Jed said “Remember the card but don’t tell me.” He then reshuffled the pack and began to turn each one over dropping them face-up on the floor of the boat one by one. He had thrown all the cards in his hand onto floor and then said “Did you see your card drop?”
“No.” said Elizabeth, puzzled.
“Look in your jacket pocket.” he said to Jack, and there was the chosen card – the jack of clubs.
“Bloody Hell Dread! You jammy Arse. Ever since you got into all that magic and hypnotism at the ruddy joke shop in town, you’ve been showing off too much.” said Jack.
“My name’s Jed, not Dread, and well, it seemed appropriate for you – Sir JACK of the NightCLUBS.”
“Again, again.” said Elizabeth, but a rumble of thunder cut the frivolity in an instant.
“Think we’d better get back.” said Jed, looking concerned at the growing black cloud in the mid-distance. The four of them put the fishing equipment away and Aidan pulled the cord for the motor, but a smokey splutter was all his reward.
“Try again.” said Elizabeth nervously, but the motor still did not respond.
“The sails.” ordered Jed, and with some difficulty they raised the flimsy canvas. None of them were experienced sailors and it soon dawned on them that the wind was blowing in the wrong direction for them to have any hope of making back to Clayton Marina, the technique of tacking being beyond even cerebral Jed.
“It’s no use, we must get shore and find some cover.” said Jed, as lighting flashed, another thunderclap sounded and now hail began to fall. The wind was blowing them quite fast, towards the dunes and the ruined manor on the foreshore.
“Perhaps we can hide out in that old house?” said Aidan.
“You can, I’d rather take my chance with the storm.” replied Elizabeth, “It looks unsafe.”
“You might be right.” said Jed. “That place looks certainly as though it has seen better days. Locally it’s called the Wave House”.
Jed had been reading Overlooked Britain by local author Professor Hercules Leviathan Scudder – full of myths, legends and factual history about their island home. He explained that once, Berry Manor had been an impressive Victorian manor – perched on shingle banks overlooking Clayton Bay. To its rear were formal gardens that backed onto the woods at one end of Clayton or ‘Claw’ Hill, intersected by a narrow country lane leading back to Clayton town centre, but since the World War, Berry Manor was not much more than a crumbling, eerie and deserted ruin.
Its last owner, Gethin Kerr, was a despised local figure who had been suspected of shooting his older brother in the back to inherit the house and land. Although arrested and question, Kerr’s guilt could never be proven at the time and after release, Kerr lived alone in the house, shunned by the people of Clayton. One night, a huge storm blew in from the sea – breaking through the dune defences and swamping Berry Manor and its grounds. Gethin Kerr was never seen again and it was widely believed that he had received divine justice for his crime. The surrounding land became salt marsh regularly flooded at high tide. No heirs could be found for Kerr and the house passed to the local council, who left it to collapse into the sea. High metal fencing was erected on the landward side to keep people out of the dangerous structure and only the brave or foolhardy could approach the water-lapped building from the sea, hence its new nickname – the Wave House. Strange lights could be seen there at night, and eerie sounds could be heard after dark. These were dismissed as marsh gas and the wind; but the legends persisted that the site was haunted.
The dinghy beached itself on the shore and the friends nervously clambered out. The quartet pulled the boat as far up the beach as possible and looked about. The tide was also sweeping in and had already cut off any hope of walking along the beach back to Clayton. They had no option but trudge inland over the bog and past the Wave House. They squelched their way up the bramble bank and got a better look at the house. It stood in large, overgrown gardens, with muddy channels criss-crossing what had once been manicured lawns. The windows were mostly smashed or boarded up, but all the ground floor ones had metal grills fixed over them to stop vandals entering. The ragged remains of heavy weather-worn curtains fluttered in the breeze, beckoning to the passers-by of the menace within.
“Man, that place looks like the perfect haunted house. Wooooo!” joked Jack, running a fingery hand over Elizabeth’s shoulder, making her jump.
The four of them scrambled down and picked their way through the boggy grounds looking for the drive that would lead them back to the main road. It was difficult to find their footings in the growing gloom and the rain made the ground even more slippery.
“Curse this, I’m going to hide out of the rain.” said Jack, and he veered over to the ruined house.
“Come back.” said Jed, but Jack was already at the door. The others followed, reluctantly, as the rain pelted even harder.
Out of sight of the friends, in the dark corner of the grounds, a lumbering two-legged shape stalked their movements, its long scythe-like weapon trailing in the mud behind its uneven steps.
Upon entering the hall of the Wave House, all four were surprised to find that it was much less ruined than the decrepit outside would have suggested. It put Jed in mind of a theme park ghost train ride that was all haunted old ruin on the outside, but concrete and steel building inside. The hall was very dark, lit only by the twilight from the open door and smashed windows, but it was smooth floored with wood panelling on the walls, but lacking furniture, save a few book cases and wardrobes.
“Come on, let’s have a look around.” said Jack and he darted off through another door into one of the reception rooms. Jed, Aidan and Elizabeth followed cagily, only for Jack to jump out from behind the door with a loud “Boo!”
“You idiot!” said Aidan and he sprung at Jack and gave him a shove that made Jack stumble backwards. He nearly regained his footing before his left foot caught itself on a loose brick on the floor and he crashed back against one of the wooden panels on the wall. It swung back effortlessly and Jack fell into the void, with the panel clicking shut behind him!
“Oh my god!” screamed Aidan, and he ran over and pummelled on the panel, trying to get it to open.
“Jack! Jack! Can you hear me?” shouted Jed. The only sound was the wind outside. The three remaining looked at each other in horror.
Jack picked himself up off the floor. He guessed that he must have fallen at least fifteen feet down a smooth shoot, but apart from a few bruises – felt fine.
“Bloody Aidan!” shouted Jack, but there was no hollowness to the echo and the room was pitch black. The room felt solid like a prison cell. Picking his way across the floor, Jack tripped and stumbled over objects on the floor. He held out his arms in front of him, reaching for a wall or a door. Something then knocked him in the face. It was something dangling from the roof, like a boxer’s punch bag. Jack felt uneasy. He then remembered that his mobile phone had a small LED torch built in. He reached into his pocket and was relieved that the torch still worked. He joy was short lived. The beam shone on the dangling object. It was a strange greenish-brown colour, and it dawned on Jack that it was flesh. He raised the beam up the object, and nearly vomited when he saw it had the outline of a human torso, its head held in place by a gibbet-like cage at its shoulders. The beam also illuminated some more of these corpses, hanging in rows behind this first one. As if on cue from the torch light, their putrid eyes opened and stared at Jack!
“Oh my god, oh my god!” Jack cried as he staggered back in terror. Something standing behind him in the dark stopped his progress, and Jack spun round to look up. Jack barely had time to shine his torch on the creature’s armoured chest before the phone torch was knocked from his hand. The giant figure then grabbed Jack, holding him tight. Jack was turned back to look into the darkness. Two small red pinpricks of light could be seen in the darkness, low down. Out of the gloom appeared a frightful dwarf, with a long pointed finger similar to a sharp syringe. The dwarf leered at Jack, who desperately tried to break free. Suddenly the dwarf leapt into the air, landed on Jack’s chest and gabbed the syringe-like finger into Jack’s neck. The large creature released Jack as the dwarf jumped back to floor. Jack screamed in agony as dark pulsating veins erupted over his exposed skin, tracing a web towards his terrified bloodshot eyes and then darkness overtook him.
Meanwhile, Jed, Aidan and Elizabeth were still trying to force open the panel, but it remained rock solid and shut. They continued to bang and shout, but no response from Jack.
“I bet that creep is still playing tricks on us.” said Aidan, anger trying to cover his guilty conscience.
“Come on, we must search for him. Let’s split up.” said Jed.
“Can I stay with Aidan”. said Elizabeth, scared.
“Very well, you try opening the panel, I’ll check to see of there is a door to the cellar.” And with that Jed left.
Jed looked down the hall. There seemed to be no obvious door under the staircase, and he made his way into the room which he thought might be the kitchen. There was indeed equipment in there, but not what he was expecting. Metal tanks and desks filled the room, all marked with a strange geometric symbol – a sort of cross with a straight vertical bar but a barbed horizontal one. Jed was well-read and he recognised it as an ancient runic symbol called the Wolf Hook that was used to ward off supernatural beasts, but what it was doing here he could not fathom.
“Argh!” cried Jed as out of the darkness a huge blade sliced down next to him, grazing his forearm. He turned around and saw a seven foot creature, vaguely humanoid with glowing red eyes wielding a huge reaper scythe. It raised the weapon again but Jed, gritting his teeth, managed to dodge the second strike, the scythe embedding itself in the wooden floorboard Jed was temporarily disorientated by the attack, but at least the creature was relatively slow in its movements. Jed tried to clear his mind and focus, as he had trained himself to do. He saw that a large wooden cabinet rested against the main wall of the room. As the creature began to try and extricate the scythe from the floor, Jed gingerly moved over to the side of the cabinet and pulled with all his strength. The cabinet was top-heavy - it tilted and then toppled over, right on top of the creature. Jed was breathing hard, and looked down at his arm. It was only a small gash but the cut looked dirty. He spat on his handkerchief and wiped the wound clean as best he could and made for the door.
Crack! Jed spun around to see the fist of the creature smash through the back of the cabinet, followed by its arm and another fist – splintering the wood as it emerged. Just at this point, Jack appeared at the door.
“Dread, this way!” he shouted, and Jed clambered over the broken piled of equipment to make his way out into the hall. He slammed the door shut behind him.
“What happened Dread?” said Jack.
“Dunno. Someone attacked me. Huge man, looked freaky. Where have you been?” spluttered Jed.
“No where. Sounds weird Dread” said Jack. Jed looked at his friend, unsure of his feelings.
“Jack, can’t you say anything but Dread?”
The evening light shone down the hall. It had an almost spectral quality. Jack looked blankly at Jed, not answering. At that point there was a break in the clouds. Moonlight shone straight down the hall, silhouetting Jack. Jed was dismayed to see strange luminous purple and green veins glowing under Jack’s skin.
“Jack, what’s wrong?” said Jed.
“I have a gift, I have a gift, I have a gift…” repeated Jack, as if in a trance.
“Jack!” shouted Jed. Jack stared at Jed, his expression turning into a sinister sneer.
“Orak commands!” shouted Jack, and as he spoke his skin beginning to crawl, dark veins began to swell and Jack’s hands became claws. Jack leapt at Jed with bestial fury screaming “Orak commands!”
Stunned, Jed was floored by the mutated Jack who started to try and strangle his former friend. Jed managed to grab Jack’s arms and pulled them away from his own throat, and then punched Jack in the face. This temporarily disoriented Jack. Jed scurried across the floor, and found a piece of rubble. Jack was by now back on his feet and rushing towards Jed, his clawed fingers dripping green ooze from the talons. Jed wielded the rock, and managed to strike Jack on the side of head, sending him to the ground with a thud. Jack’s mutant, lifeless body lay on the floor – the dark veins melting slowly back into his skin. Jed stood up painfully, and walked over and knelt down next to his friend.
“Oh Jack, what is going on?” asked Jed quietly to himself.
Kerump!! The door and frame next to him burst open and the giant scythe creature staggered into the hallway, sending some rubble down on top of Jed and Jack. Jed tried to pull Jack away from the creature, but his exertions had exhausted him. Jed staggered back, expecting another scythe attack at any moment. He could now see the creature in better light. It was not a pretty sight. It was about seven feet tall. Jed couldn’t tell clearly if it was naked or dressed in a skin tight black rubber suit, but either way it has ragged peeling bits all over. It legs were booted and its arms long and clawed. Its head was bald, green and black and mostly featureless except for a slit of a mouth and two piercing red eyes that glowed in the twilight. It was the stuff of nightmares but this was all too real.
The monster swung its scythe down towards Jed and Jack’s position. It missed Jack and would have struck Jed had he not slithered out of the way with milliseconds to spare. The monster roared a ghastly screech and thumped its fist into the wall. Another avalanche of rubble and dust fell down on Jack and Jed. Jed had no choice but had to abandon his friend on the floor and get away. Crawling back along the hallway to the front, he found the door to the room where Aidan and Elizabeth were. It was locked! To his horror, a quick look around told him that he was trapped in this hall, the only way out was passed the creature, or maybe…..? Jed got to his feet, took a small run and charged at the wall. It cracked, but so did his shoulder. Trying to blot out the pain, Jed took another run up and then did a flying kick at the crack. The crumbling masonry heaved over and he pulled himself through the hole in the wall, tumbling in a heap at the feet of Aidan and Elizabeth.
“Jesus, what happened?” asked Aidan.
“Attacked…. Jack …. Dead…. Attacked….creature..” garbled Jed.
“You’re bleeding.” said Elizabeth, who tried to wipe the blood off Jed’s face and arm.
“No time, it’s out there. It’s got Jack.” said Jed more firmly.
“What has? We were in here trying open the panel, then the door slammed shut and was locked. We then heard a lot of crashing and banging, then you emerge through the wall!” said Aidan.
“Quick, help me barricade the door and the hole,” said Jed, panting. “I was looking for Jack, and was attacked by this thing – I don’t know what it was. Some giant zombie or something crazy. Then Jack appeared, but he seemed to be changing into a zombie and attacked me too. They’re both out in the hallway. I can’t get my head around it.”
“I don’t care what you say,” said Elizabeth, “this house is haunted and we’re gonna die.”
“No, no.” said Jed quietly, “Something’s not right here. I am sure ghosts do not exist. This is something else, more sinister.”
“More sinister than ghosts?” chided Elizabeth.
“No time for theories now,” interrupted Aidan, pointing to the hole in the wall. The creature’s clawed hand was reaching through – scrabbling for purchase. Jed, Aidan and Elizabeth pulled what items of furniture they could to block the door and hole. Aidan threw a couple of bricks at the beast through the hole – enough to make it recoil so they could slam the cupboard across the gap.
All their hearts thumped almost painfully. This was indeed a nightmare. They couldn’t abandon Jack but at present they were fighting for their own survival.
“That should hold it for a bit.” exhaled Jed.
“What happened to Jack?” asked Elizabeth, unsure that she wanted to hear the answer.
“He was…” Jed paused, “Changing before my eyes. A bit like the Borg in Star Trek, wiry black veins over his face. I felt sick.”
“Could it be some infection?” asked Aidan.
“Whatever it was, we may soon find out.” said Jed, pointing to the door.
Thump! Thump! Thump! The door shook with each strike from the monster beyond. The wood around the lock started to splinter.
“Have any of you got a torch?” asked Jed.
“No, why?” asked Aidan.
“Wanted to inspect the walls. If there is one secret panel, there may be another? We can also try and open the windows.”
“No use.” said Aidan. “Tried that. They are all blocked with metal bars, screwed tight. Too small to squeeze through.”
“I’ve got some matches.” said Elizabeth. “Took them off Jack on the dinghy.”
She illuminated the gloom with the flickering flame, which shook even more in the draft and her unsteady hand.
“Ah, here’s another panel.” said Jed, “Ah, that’s interesting.”
“What’s interesting?” asked Aidan, “We haven’t time for one of your mysteries.”
“The markings on this panel match those on the equipment I saw in the other room. Its an old runic symbol from ancient Norse legend; but is embossed with laser cut precision.”
“So?” asked Elizabeth.
“So, whatever is happening here is technologically advanced.”
CRASH! The door exploded off its hinges, sending wood and the stacked furniture flying into the room. The towering scythe creature stood leering through the doorway, its red eyes searching the room for living flesh.
Elizabeth screamed and dropped the match. As luck would have it, the match landed on some rags on the wooden floor and immediately caught them alight. The flames licked and spluttered across the floor.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” whimpered Elizabeth.
“Don’t worry, this might be our saviour.” said Jed.
The flames arced around the room, not blocking the trio from the door but did make their escape through the door narrow and precarious. The scythe creature looked blankly at the roaring flames, and it slowly made its way forward towards them, still dragging its weapon behind it. It seemed fascinated by the dancing lights – unsure if the fire itself was another creature itself.
“Now!” shouted Jed, and grabbing both his friends arms, pulled them towards the open doorway. The creature turned to look at them, but Jed had already barged his shoulder into the creatures mid-drift. Pain surged through Jed’s shoulder as it connected with the monster’s carapace, but it gave them enough time and space to dart through the gap and back into the hall. The front door was locked, but both Jed and Aidan’s repeated kicks managed to break the lock and they were free.
They looked back as they stumbled into the garden. The scythe creature stood silhouetted in the front door against the flames, not attempting to follow them out. The fire had taken hold now and the soon the whole building was an inferno.
Jed, Aidan and Elizabeth stumbled in the darkness – using the light of the flames to find their way fortunately to the old driveway. Looking back one last time, they saw the old house collapse in on itself with a sickening crunch.
“Sorry Jack.” said Aidan quietly.
They ran up the driveway, their sodden shoes slowing their progress, Elizabeth losing hers altogether in the mud.
“What do we do now?” asked Elizabeth. “We have to go to the Police. Jack’s dead.”
“And tell them what exactly? That we broke into a dangerous building? That we were attacked by a giant bug-eyed monster and our friend turned into a zombie before we burnt the place to the ground. That really sounds convincing!” snapped Aidan.
“I only…” replied Elizabeth, hurt, before Jed interjected.
“I don’t know what is behind all this. Maybe it was supernatural, maybe it wasn’t. Either way – we are still in trouble and I don’t think the Police can or will help us.”
Eventually, they made it to the main road running back to Clayton. It was getting later in the evening, and the street lights of the town centre were a welcome focus for their journey. It was about two miles back into town, but the roads were quiet. Surely someone in the village must have seen the flames coming from the Wave House? Arriving in the town, Elizabeth marched straight to the police station.
“What are you doing?” asked Jed.
“We must tell them what happened!” she shouted.
“It won’t help Jack. We could be in all sorts of trouble if we confess to tonight’s happenings. Jack had no family. We can keep it to ourselves.” said Jed calmly, clearly wanting to avoid any unnecessary entanglements with the authorities.
“How can you be so cold?” said Elizabeth and he hurried on and into the Police Station. The grizzled sergeant looked up from the desk. There was a crackle of noise from the police radio – reports of an incident near Berry Manor.
“Can I help you?” asked the policeman, in a dismissive tone.
“We were at the Wave House. Caught fire. Attacked by someone. Our friend might be dead. You must help us” blurted Elizabeth.
“Whoah! Did you say you were at Berry Manor?” interrupted the policeman, reaching under the desk with his right hand.
“Yes, it caught fire and our friend was trapped.”
“I see..” said the police sergeant menacingly. At that moment, a side door opened and two unformed officers came into the lobby. The grabbed Elizabeth by the arms.
“I am arresting you on suspicion of arson and being under the influence of a banned substance.”
“Hey wait!” shouted Aidan from the doorway, but he too was over powered by more constables. Jed, standing outside on the steps, couldn’t see what was happening but heard raised voices. From out of the gloom came a tall thin man with a dishevelled appearance, wrapped in a long black leather coat.
“Got the time friend?” asked the stranger.
“Urm, about eleven thirty.” replied Jed, looking at his watch.
“Thank you.” replied the stranger. Jed turned back to look at the police station door, but received a painful strike to the back of the head, sending him to the floor.
Jed awoke in a cell. Aidan was sitting cross-legged on the bench next to him.
“Wondered when you would wake up” he said.
“How long was I out for?” asked Jed.
“Not long, ten minutes or so. Elizabeth’s next door I think. We are in deep trouble. I was dreading something like this but she wouldn’t listen” replied Aidan.
“Dread not. How many policemen are there?” asked Jed.
“About four I think. We must find a way out of here.” said Aidan, ponderously.
“Only four, that’s ok. We must get out of here. Police don’t cosh people over the head like that, even in New Britain. There is something deeply amiss here. Aidan, here’s what I need you to do.” Jed whispered, “Collapse on the floor as if you are having a fit. Make it convincing. I’ll do the rest.”
Aidan put all his amateur dramatic experience, including frothing at the mouth, to good use whilst Jed pummelled on the cell door.
“Hey! Hey! Help! My friend’s dying. He’s having a seizure. Someone please help!” shouted Jed. After a small pause, the viewing hatch opened. A weasely looking face peered through.
“What?!” asked the Policeman.
“It’s my friend. He’s had some sort of a fit. He’s got problems with his lungs and heart.” pleaded Jed.
“Hah, nice try.” replied the policeman “Any idiot can roll around on the floor.”
Just then Aidan coughed and spluttered. The policeman casually looked over, planning some sarcastic comment when suddenly a stream of blood was ejected from Aidan’s frothing mouth.
“Oh Geez.” said the policeman, and he quickly unlocked the door. Jed stepped back, and allowed the officer. He bent down over Aidan. Jed saw his opportunity, and with a clean strike to the back of the neck – knocked the officer out cold. Aidan opened his eyes, grinned and jumped up.
“Wow, that was impressive.” said Jed, “How did you manage that blood?”
“Bit a chunk out of my lip as I lay down. It hurt but was worth it for the effect.” replied Aidan, rubbing the blood and saliva from his sore mouth.
“Quick, got the keys, lets get Elizabeth.” said Jed as he dragged the policeman further into the cell.
Outside, there were no other policeman, and Jed locked the cell and then found the key for Elizabeth’s room.
“Quick, no time to explain, gotta go!” said Aidan.
The three of them quietly paced down the cell corridor, opening the end door. The other policemen were in the office, the sergeant talking excitedly on the phone. Jed couldn’t hear the detail of the conversation, but was pretty sure it was about the incident at the Wave House.
The sergeant replaced the receiver and addressed the other two, who nodded and left the building. That left only one to overcome. Jed whispered “Let’s wait until the other two have driven off before we sort the old guy out.”
After a few minutes, Jed coughed loudly down the corridor. The sergeant turned around and called “Williams, is that you?” No reply.
The sergeant made his way toward the door to the corridor. Jed, Aidan and Elizabeth skulked back into the corners behind the door.
“Hallo? Williams?” said the sergeant again, pushing the door fully open. All the cell doors were shut bar one. Surely Williams was in there, attending to the girl.
“Hope he keeps his hands off.” smirked the sergeant. Perhaps he ought to take a look.
Jed delivered another one of his finely-honed hand chops to the old sergeant, sending him to the floor. They did not waste time locking him up. Jed fumbled about looking for the file with their names on it and personal effects. Fortunately it was lying on the sergeant’s desk.
“That’s coming with me!” said Jed.
Bundling out of the police station, the three friends ran back to their holiday cottage.
“Grab our stuff!” said Jed.
“We haven’t time for that.” replied Aidan.
“Yes, yes, we must. Can’t leave anything to identify us.”
“What about the booking reference?” asked Elizabeth.
“It was in Jack’s name. Hopefully the trail will end with him.” said Jed coolly.
They had enough time to clear their tracks and bundle into the car. Aidan started the engine, and quietly they trundled out of the town, not wanting to draw attention to themselves. There were two ways out of Clayton, one straight through the town centre past the Police Station and the other along the coast near the Wave House. Neither held much appeal but at least the Wave House route had not street lights for them to be illuminated by. Jed desperately wanted to floor the accelerator and get away, but he knew that it would be more noticeable to those tracking them.
There was a strange humming sound overhead. All three of them tried to see up out of the windows. It was a helicopter, with a searchlight – but it wasn’t apparently looking for them. It overtook them and headed towards the Wave House site. Suddenly, another flying vehicle followed close behind the helicopter – but this was quite different. It looked like an upturned bath, with grey markings. A bit like a typical Hollywood UFO, but it glided behind the helicopter – matching its speed. The UFO’s searchlight was also aiming towards the glowing embers of the Wave House.
Distracted, Aidan did not notice that he had missed the last turning onto the main road, and had come to a dead end near a barn on the edge of the Wave House grounds. To their horror, the three friends saw a whole group of people clad in white protection suits. They were spraying the field and animal corpses! Aidan slammed the car into reverse.
“Quickly!” shouted Jed.
Bullets started flying around the car. Sparks flew off the bodywork. Aidan spun the car around, smashing his rear lights on a gatepost, before speeding off into the darkness of the night....