Stone The Crows

Synopsis


Tom Bishop knows something is happening. But when The Horror begins, it will be too late for everyone else.

The crows outside Bishop’s flat have destroyed the morning birdsong. A vicious, aggressive black cloud of razor-sharp beaks and talons begin to taunt then attack him, a stark warning that the delicate fabric of daily life in the commonsense world is about to be altered forever.

The woman, the Japanese assassin, is pursuing him through the snaking dark streets of London. No matter how hard he tries to shake her off, she is always there waiting for him like a spectre. Is she some kind of shape-shifter morphing into familiar surroundings, lulling him into some false sense of security before she attacks him again? What does she want? Why him? But she is only a small fragment of this apocalyptic puzzle.

He knew they existed. The Inorganics. Flickering around him, as if on the extreme border of his consciousness, corporeally invisible, Bishop felt their presence as strongly as any worldly creature. It was as if energy had seeped into his existence and acquired a predatory soul. He knew some Inorganics could be harmful, but through his training he could defend himself  so far.

Roulla Mavromati, the enigmatic woman he meets one day on the train, craves his knowledge. But these will not be the lessons found in any university surrounded by the leafy comfort of academia. She will be pushed to the very edge of pleasure and pain to discover they spring from the same source. As her thirst for Heaven and Hell intensifies, Bishop has to find new extremes where the boundaries of flesh and consciousness dissolve. Roulla possesses a power Bishop has never encountered in any woman he has known. Unleashed, the potential could be devastating. As Roulla excels in her studies, Tom Bishop realises this is the woman he was always destined to meet and that these are not merely games of master and slave but a frightening prelude of what is to come.

Then it begins

It is during one of the many conversations with another resident of the house, his philosophical sparring partner, the Red Yank, an out-of-work actor with a passion for classical music, pipes and women. His flat is cluttered with chaotic displays of his theatre and film work, and he shares it with the love of his life, a politically incorrect parrot called Louie.

At first it seems like a simple car accident in the street outside with the two drivers in an angry stand off  maybe an exchange of blame, then insurance details? An axe swings, bullets spray from a gun and a man lies dying on the floor. A hate-fuelled mob floods the neighbourhood charged with insanity and chaos as Bishop and the Red Yank unbelievingly crane their heads out of the window to watch as the police, outnumbered and helpless, disappear beneath a tidal wave of blood and anarchy. It could be the beginnings of a long overdue revolution. But this is what Bishop has always known. The Horror had begun.

The landscape has dramatically changed overnight. Dismembered corpses hang from trees, the dead litter the streets as the crows and rats feast on the banquet. At first it seems that the only living creatures are the crows. Patrolled by armed guards, huge razor wire pens have been constructed. Inside, a new breed of animal is being broken in and conditioned to obey their new masters. Naked and dehumanised, the filthy rich, the ex-rulers of the people and the upper echelon, have become the primary fuel as they pull the new order around in makeshift chariots. Whipped into a pulverising subservience, these scarred and tattered people scream out for a system that has crumbled into the bloody filth and human detritus of stinking London streets.

Animals with reborn primal savagery hunt in packs, tearing apart anything in their path and adding to the growing carnage. The Horror is engulfing everything, not just people. The earth is in revolt.

Tom Bishop and the Red Yank find to their amazement they can walk around without drawing attention to themselves while watching the blasphemy of deconstructed humanity at their leisure. But the crows see them. The crows always see them, and the crows haven’t forgotten.

Then Bishop hears The Voice and learns why things are the way they are. Why they always will be. Why The Horror has to exist.







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21. Chapter Twenty-One

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

 

 

The Red Yank was in his front room, his eyes closed.  He was sprawled on the sofa where Roulla Mavromati had been sitting before the abrupt sexual explosion which punctured his world below the waterline.  His body was lifeless, and he was incapable of thinking about the possible effects of the events which took place during the past hour or so.  Consciousness was cleared of trees and foliage, and the earth was ploughed and seeded – the moist woman-smelling earth where he lay helpless as he was cocooned by the silk spun between the spidery legs of a black widow.  Even though his eyes remained closed, he could imagine even now the dark, inviting opening in the soft underbelly of the spider hovering above him.  His inert body lay below, wrapped in layers and layers of the thinnest, strongest silk.  The hard, shiny body of the black widow would soon settle on his cocoon of self.  Precise and fussy little mandibles would tease his body slowly into the hole.  Unable to move a muscle, he could only watch as a kind of participating spectator as the hole closed, sealing him into a hot, dank, Stygian, suffocating, humid, acid environment that seemed to be dissolving his history and his present.

 

The Red Yank imagined minute particles of himself coursing through the bloodstream of the entity which had consumed him.  Over time they would become one, though he – as self – would no longer exist in the same sense.  The nourishing sustenance of his body and his self would be sucked slowly out of every crevice of his carcass.  Then the mouth would open again, and the cocoon with its empty husk is dropped to the ground where the wind picks it up like a dry leaf before blowing it away.

Images fluttered across the rolling autumnal landscape.  Man becomes woman, and the woman seeds the earth with men.  The Red Yank’s inner eye caught sight of himself in a mirror as he realised with equal portions of fear and elation that he had morphed into a feminine body.  He was Roulla Mavromati standing naked in front of a huge rippling mirror.  Her legs were apart, and when he opened his mouth, her mouth opened.  He felt the body with his hands.  The sensations were strangely but beautifully erotic – her hair, her breasts, hips and thighs.  The magnificent swelling bottom.  His hands continued to caress as he closed his eyes and threw back his head.  Her head, her hands.  His mind – or a portion of it – had been sucked into hers.  He opened his eyes again, and she smiled at him.  It was a wicked smile but also a triumphant one.  His eyes moved down her body, as luxurious as a goddess.  He was drawn to the triangle of black pubic hair between her legs.  A sudden ache caused him to catch his breath in a spasm of wistfulness  He was filled with desire to penetrate that pulsing delta – with his cock, his hand, his arm, his self – but he realised he was no longer capable of penetration.  Instead he had become the object of his own desire, never to be fulfilled, never complete.  He was doomed to be an abridged fragment burning in the ovens of perpetual lust.  With a cry of despair, he threw his arms around himself and hugged her flesh to him…

 

*

Tom Bishop was a frozen statue of himself as he watched Roulla Mavromati being taken up by the green shaft of light into the body of the moving ropy muscle.  His being was flooded with the realisation that he and the Red Yank had been lured into the assassin’s lair.  It was a classic situation.  Infiltrate the enemy, pretend that their aims are your own.  Make love to them so that you polarise their loyalties, thus blinding them to treachery.  He realised now, too late, that he should never have allowed the Greek woman into his flat or his confidence.  He knew she had mesmerised the Red Yank as well.  Where the Japanese woman failed, the Greek one succeeded.

 

With a huge rush of determination, Bishop shrugged off his self-pitying accusations.  “Well, fuck it,” he thought with tingling flesh, “I’m going to die.  We’re all going to die, and I won’t be the last one who fails to succeed.”

He looked up.  The thing in the sky above him was close, and he felt the massive weight of it.  “Come on!” he shouted out loud.  “Eat me, whatever you’re going to do.  I hope I stick in your throat like a fish bone!  I hope you can’t shit for weeks!  I hope I poison you!”

 

But it was too late.  He was caught in the shaft of green light.  The sensation was unexpectedly thrilling, as every molecule in his body hummed like a power line.  It was the sunniest day, the brightest rainbow, a meadow of honey-scented wildflowers.  His body lightened as he was effortlessly lifted up towards the gigantic churning knot of matter.  If these were his last moments as a consciousness he recognised as himself, they were designed by angels.  There was a freshness and cleanness in the air he breathed.

Breathing!  His old method of defence!  He breathed in, then out, relaxing, concentrating on his abdominal chakra, pulling the breath through him and out through the lotus.  But still he rose towards the awful mouth of the infernal being.  Would he meet her inside?  Would she taunt him as they replaced his freedom with greed?  Or would she finally be given control of him, as she took the reins and the whip?

 

His nerve broke as he passed through the oval oral opening.  And instantly he realised it was not a mouth.  Nor was it a body.  It was not a spaceship, either.  He had no words to form any kind of definition.

He was aware of a fluctuation and liquidity as his self elongated and acquired mass.  He seemed to stretch from the beginning to the end as he experienced the deepest kind of darkness and a dazzling brightness that alternated in length and depth.  Confusion spread like warm treacle.  He no longer knew who he was or where he was.  And, disturbingly, there was no temporal reference at all.  It was as if he were outside time – or beyond it.

 

The alternating existence of light and darkness suddenly receded into a landscape like the surface of the moon.  It wasn’t the moon, though, because the planet had an atmosphere, and Tom Bishop was still breathing, still drawing air into his abdomen.  He was sitting on warm sand.  He looked up and shielded his eyes from a sun twice the size of his own.  It was hot.

“Tom…”

 

He turned around.  He thought he was alone.  Roulla Mavromati stood looking down at him.

“You did it, you bitch.  Where all the others failed.  Congratulations.”  His eyes were hard, and he spun his words with irony.  “You’ve let them in through our sector, haven’t you?  Before I lose the ability I want to call you what you are.  A scumbag traitor.  I should have cut your throat…”

 

“Shut up, Tom,” she said wearily.  “And listen.  And observe.”

As he got to his feet, she steadied his shoulder.  Then she smiled broadly.  “You’ve forgotten everything.  Like how to laugh.  Don’t you remember?”

 

“I tried laughing,” he said bitterly as he shrugged her hand off his shoulder.  “They’ve won.  Don’t you realise that?  Laughing is no use any more.  We’re alone.  On our own.  Where the fuck are we?”

She stepped closer to him.  “Let me tell you something while I can.  I don’t know what’s happening any more than you do.  But I see things in more dimensions…”

 

His voice was sharp.  “What the fuck does that mean?”

She stood for a moment with her lips pursed, as if she were searching for words.  “The Red Yank is with me.  We are together.”

 

“Huh?”  His eyes bulged.

She passed a limp hand in front of her face as if shooing a fly.  “I don’t know how to explain it, Tom.  I don’t know why any more.  I don’t know where we are, but I do know a little bit more of…things.”

 

“Things?”

“Like the thing that took us inside of it.  It’s…they’re trying to show us something, Tom, and I don’t even know who they are.  Good or bad.  Whatever.  But I want to laugh now, and you have to join me.  Us.”

 

“Fuck off, Roulla.  I should have known it at the beginning, but you lured me.  Just like you lured the Red Yank.”

“Aw, come on, asshole,” the Red Yank’s voice said.

 

Startled, Bishop look around instinctively for his friend.

“It’s me, here!”  said the deep voice.

 

Bishop looked back at Roulla Mavromati.  “This is magic.  Black magic.  That confirms it.”

“There isn’t a lot of time,” she said in her own voice as she began to giggle.  “You’ve got to join us.  Laugh, Tom, laugh.  I’m not lying.  It’s me, really.  No assassin, not on anyone else’s side.  With you.  You’ve got to laugh.  Laugh.”

 

Then it was the Red Yank again.  He was roaring as he guffawed.  “She’s right, Tom.  Don’t be such a bonehead, you egotistic motherfucker.  We don’t have much time.  It’s really important.  Urgent.  Freemocracy!  Don’t you remember Louie?”

The sight and sound of the Red Yank’s voice coming from Roulla’s mouth was too much for him.  She had to open her mouth really wide to get the low syllables, and her whole face rutched up in a gurning tangle as she reproduced his laugh.  He couldn’t resist it any more.  It was too weird for words.  They were standing together in some sort of desert under some other sun in some other galaxy probably, and here was a Greek woman with a Greek accent doing a basso profundo from the American Deep South.  They were detached from their own world, and it was beyond a nightmare.  Yet it wasn’t dreaming, and he knew it wasn’t dreaming.  This was an actuality of some sort.  Yet any “independent observer” would think they were trapped in a surrealist painting.  He was beginning to laugh now.  It was too ridiculous.  Beyond imagination.  You couldn’t really do anything else.  Gulped down by a big convulsing bowel with a green light in its arse and transported to a hot, arid planet on the other side of the universe to meet a redneck hick in the beautiful body of a Greek woman.  He tried to stop himself but couldn’t.  Fuck it.  Let them have him, then.

 

Roulla put her arms around him.  She held her head against his chest as he tried weakly to back away from her touch.  But they were both laughing together as they staggered around in the warm sand.  And then there was the cold of the sea as the sky began to cloud over.  Little waves lapped at their ankles as they laughed and laughed and laughed.  Bishop freed one hand, and she placed her hand in his.  They danced as the sea washed over their ankles and rose to calf level.  The black clouds were now boiling overhead.  Strange orange lightening threw frightening shadows over the beach and the sea.  The lightening didn’t stop but seemed to walk closer and closer to the laughing dancers in the surf.  It struck in front of them and beside them again and again.  And they felt the current in the water as it zapped into their bodies and made every individual hair stand on end.  Roulla’s hair fanned around her head like a tingling corona.  Bishop’s was shorter and straighter, making it seem as if he were wearing a blond helmet.  They looked at each other and laughed at each other.  The dance became a tarantella, faster and faster, madder and madder.  The lightening, accompanied by kettle-drum rolls of thunder, struck again and again around their dancing bodies…

Bishop could no longer resist the laughter now.  It was an involuntary spasm that wracked his entire being.  He couldn’t stop even when he became aware she was taking him into her, absorbing him slowly.  He felt himself dissolve.  He looked at his hand holding hers, and it was ghostly white against her vibrant flesh.  Bishop was being manipulated cruelly, and he suddenly foresaw his own gruesome fate.  It was his old recurrent nightmare.  The giant mollusc on the beach, taller than any man.  The two halves of its shell opened just wide enough for him to get his shoulders through.  Inside, the flesh was warm, and an irresistibly pungent perfume filled his lungs.  It was too alluring, much too much to resist.  He no longer had any resistance.  It had been eaten away, like the enamel of a tooth, leaving only the outline of throbbing nerves.  The two halves of the shell closed softly and powerfully, and he could no longer move at all.  He was being slowly digested, and when she finished her meal, the shell-halves would re-open, and his white meat-free bones would clatter onto the sand – a warning to other men, but also a hypnotic attraction.  He was a part of her now, and he almost enjoyed her dancing, laughing body.  He felt her wet hair on his neck and the wonderful sensation of her breasts moving under her shirt…

 

They all heard the Voice this time.  But it did not speak in language.  They knew it was the Voice, though.  There could be no mistake.

Their combined consciousnesses were aware that they were joined together for a purpose.  Simultaneously it was to increase their understanding and the closeness of their co-operation.  It was very clear that they were still free people.  If the two men chose, they could abandon the project and return to their own bodies.  Such a wish would break the spell that enticed them into her.  Yet the three of them appeared to understand better now, and the more they understood, the closer they became.  The element who was Bishop realised that the earlier shadow Voice with its mechanical overtones had lied.  It was simple when he knew the answer.  He only missed it because his insulated self wanted to believe the lie.  Because he was the creator of the shadow Voice

 

…and in the same way the element of the Red Yank showed that they were creators of the Real Voice, too.  It was their solidarity and their humanity which allowed the harmony for the Real Voice to emerge.  A kind of unification web existed in a special curvature of time and space that was immediate in all sectors of the universe.  There was no time lapse, nor did it cause displacement of space.  The universe was an unbounded idea whose existence was and was not – at the same “time”…

…and the element of Roulla showed that, even with their combined consciousness, they were incapable of seeing any kind of entirety – because there was no such thing.  However, they were important to the continuity of the universe’s entirety, and it took all three of them to comprehend the seeming paradox.  There were other “beings” and different “beings”, and it was at times necessary for them to join together with them spiritually to reflect and deflect another composite of character, the “shadow”.  It was a universal struggle.  It was continuous…

 

…they perceived a glow which seemed to be creation.  The shadow cast by the glow was deflation and decay.  It was a dynamic relationship, not a static one.  Its change was a condition of its existence.  Those opposing the shadows must recognise the repetition of the shadows within themselves.  It was this kind of affirmation which was necessary as creation was now reaching one of its “peaks”.

The Voice made them aware that this imagery was still far from adequate.  What was happening on their world was of virtually no importance.  At the same instant, it was decisively important, as were the continuing efforts of the Ghost Society.  In other “words”, their own world could fail, ensuring their extermination, without threatening the continuity of the universe.  But if it did fail at this particular point in the accumulation of events, then a precipitous tremor could travel along the lines of the web and ensure terminal decay of the whole organism.

 

Roulla Mavromati found a large black rock jutting from the sand and sat on it.  As she looked towards the horizon, she could see the storm clouds clearing.  She was quite aware that she had become a host for three – or was it more?  It was like the tales she read as a child about being possessed by demons.  She felt alien to herself, as if she were a stranger with certain familiar features.  Her memories were hers, of course, but she could suddenly be taken by the thought of Tom or the Red Yank, and their characters would suffuse her being.  It would be them.  She would be them.  They could all see each other but not all of each other.  The edginess was gone now, and they all felt a certain warmth at the extraordinary experience, the closeness, the knowing of each other.  In a bizarre way, she was grateful for the experience because she could reveal emotions to them, so they could see there was no betrayal in her behaviour.  Tom was excitement for her, an access to a keystone of her being.  She was fully involved and mystically illuminated by their earlier sessions together.  At the same time, she could see his own dubiousness about love and the circuitous route it took through the passage of his histories.  And what appeared to be a seam of coldness was simply a spacer he inserted in early years to “protect” him from the world.

The Red Yank had been unexpected for her.  It wasn’t logical behaviour.  It had to be seen as a continuation of her engagement with Bishop.  Tom provided an earthing device that finally centred her after all these years, and the Red Yank was a…father.  The father.  A kind of sky, a kind of sun.  She was warm in his embrace and his desire, and that had never happened before.  She was thrilled that both of them were very male, but she was also proud that she could open the undulating doors of her femininity so they could see her as themselves.  Roulla Mavromati loved the maleness of a male – the lyricism as well as the barbarousness, the smell, the leathery skin, the hardness, the softness.  It was her instinct to pull them into her and let them fill her completely.  The three of them completed a circuit.  She enjoyed Tom’s dominance, and she anticipated great pleasure in dominating the Red Yank, yet she would probably turn to the Red Yank as a leader for the three of them.  Dominance was illusory.  It was a kind of connecting handshake in the twilight world of emotional turbulence.  In a sense, the submissive current was strongest anyway, and she was delighted to feel Bishop’s own submission when he allowed himself to be taken into her.  It all fit together somehow.  She was not betraying one of them when she was with the other.  If anything, she was providing illumination for all three of them.

And she sat on a water-worn stone on an unknown planet.  The sky was as new to her as the horizon, and she allowed herself to feel satisfaction.  Inside, her two friends were more content as well.  They looked in awe with her at the new world.  They were curious.  They wanted to know.  And the three of them craved everything beautiful that was available in all the worlds, whatever their sequences.

The Voice answered on its own canvas.  It was what made them free and whole, when so many of their species were content to feed on the finite.  To live the lives of slaves, submissive to every whim of their masters.

 

And who were the masters?  It was a question coming at the same time from the Red Yank and Tom Bishop.  Who were the masters?  Was it the State – or did it have an alien origin?

The Voice revealed that nothing was really alien – except for the “normality” imposed by structures such as the State.  There were many other such structures in the universe.  They were dangerous and necessary.  The system of the State on earth had indeed become toxic – to humanity and to the living system that was their planet.  This State was supported by other entities and reverberations, but its creation and maintenance was purely human in origin.

 

The three of them could tell the Voice was struggling with metaphor in order to give them an even clearer picture.  Many human myths referred to a “state of innocence” or some kind of garden, like Eden.  Myths were good carriers of complex ideas, but like everything else, they could be corrupted – or created in aid of corruption.  A myth like Prometheus or the Garden of Eden was able to contain paradox without disturbing the integrity of the story - unlike a “rationally” told story.  According to the Biblical tale, knowledge belonged to the gods.  If lesser beings wanted knowledge, then they must grapple with the shadow of evil.  They must accept a finite world, along with birth and death.  It was these “new” beings as described in the creation tale, then, who brought duality to the universe.

The Voice paused for emphasis.  Because the next instalment was important.  It was this duality which allowed the universe to exist and so, therefore, was also responsible for the “gods” who bestowed the choice on the beings.  The Voice seemed to be shaking with passion.  This was not a refutation of gods (which was unnecessary) but a conceptual story that turns back on itself to demonstrate that time is not a sequential value.  The sensation that it is sequential is a result of the knowledge that was “stolen” from the gods.  Because this knowledge was then used to usurp or devalue the knowledge of the gods.  This knowledge (as opposed to that stolen from the tree), is accessible immediately via the god within man – the infinite within the finite.

 

Roulla’s eyes were closed, and she was so still an observer would have thought she was a part of the rock, an inanimate piece of the landscape.  She was fused to the rock and to the land beneath the rock and the sky above for as far as it reached, even back to and including the beauty of their own earth.  She – along with those inside her – was a part of the continuum at the twist of time and space.  The vibrancy within her was coming from the Voice as it portrayed things in music, laughter, bright and dancing images.  Words were couplets or puns or were sung in spirited rhymes.  The three of them together had achieved rapture.  Perceiving the godlike was not then impossible.

The Voice was almost nodding its head excitedly.  “Yes, yes, yes!” it seemed to be saying.  The god-idea is an important one, not to be rubbished by the relatively recent icon of rationality.  How else can you conceive of an important factor in the composition of the universe?  The actual word “god” or its translations into religious trappings in service of the State were meaningless.  God was not another being so much as another and necessary concept.  Without that concept understanding was impossible.  And, no, the Voice was not god or a god.  But the Voice was a continuation of the idea of that which was godlike – as were Roulla, the Red Yank and Bishop.  The shadow of god, if you like, is satanic.  It is a way of understanding the forces tugging at the tides of energy in the universe.  Beware of using “good” and “bad”.  These are not ethical terms but social ones, conforming to the interests of one party or another.

 

It was Bishop who formed the next “question”.  “How,” he as much as asked, “do we know the truth comes from you and not the other Voice.  How do we really know who is the liar?”

He was overwhelmed with the immediacy of the response.  You don’t, you can’t, you don’t, you can’t…  The oscillation stopped finally as the Voice collected itself.  The other Voice, the one you associate with a mechanical delivery, is different.  True.  What it told you is not a lie.  It is another version of the truth, the rest of it.  Give this other Voice great respect but not fear.  If you fear it, it will eat you, consume you, cast you into a finite longitude.  That was the truth.  It said it was Us, and that was not a lie either.  If this makes sense to you, then you are beginning to understand.

 

Roulla Mavromati was still sitting still as a statue on the black rock, but a series of changes were already beginning to take place.  She was elongating slightly, assuming a kind of liquidity, as if she were a reflection in a calmer sea.  She was in the process of becoming a ribbon of laughter and music which rose from the surface of that planet like textured steam from heated waters under chilly skies.  This ribbon flew through “space” like a giant sail surfing the hail of cosmic energy before beginning its re-coagulation…

*

 

She opened the front door of the house on Ptolemy Terrace.  It was the grey of early morning light, and there was a hint of rain in the air.  There was also a main battle tank in the street, and the gun in the turret was pointing directly at their door.  In addition to the tank, the street was full of Roos, and the ones standing between the tank and the front door held their automatic weapons at the ready.  The top and the bottom of the street were sealed off by armoured personnel carriers.  An officer of high rank stood in front of their door.  He wore a pistol, but it was not drawn.  His legs were planted apart, and he looked tough in his orange beret.

“Yes?” she said.  “May I help you?”

 

“This house has been watched for some time,” the officer said in a thick East End accent.  “Strange goings-on, like.  It has been decided that you are a threat to the security of the State.”

She placed her hand on her chest.  “Are you talking about me?”

 

“You and your accomplices who live at this address.  Don’t try and hide from me, and don’t bother with the porkies.  We’re come to arrest the lot of you.  If you resist arrest, we will destroy the house and all what’s in it.  I hope we understand each other, Miss.”

“May I ask about the charges?” she enquired.

 

“’Course you can ask, but that don’t mean I’ll answer.  Now, are you prepared to surrender, or am I going to have to slam a 105mm shell through the front door?”

She smiled warmly and leaned against the doorway.  “Don’t you think that’s an excessive use of force?  A huge cannon for a helpless woman and an innocent family of two adults and two children?”

 

The officer raised an eyebrow.  “Where’s the other two, then?  The American geezer and the skinny blond layabout?  They was here yesterday.  They was here last night.  As a matter of fact, they was here right up to the moment we arrived.  I want the three of you down here.  Right now, no horsing about, no fucking around.  I don’t mince me words.  You understand what I’m saying to you?”

Roulla Mavromati stood aside and waved the officer through.  “Please.  Search the house.  The former tenants lived in the first and second floor flats.  I’ve been staying in the loft.  I don’t know where the other two tenants are…”

 

“Right, then.”  The officer spun on his heel and shouted out.  “Sergeant Major!”

“Sir!”  A burly, thick-set man with a 20-inch neck stepped forward.  He held a submachine gun.

 

“Take six men and search this house from top to bottom.  I want every living sod in the place down here.  If they won’t come, drag ’em down by the scruff.”

“Sir!”

 

The Buxtons were rigid with fear as they cowered in the hallway after the soldiers had thundered through the whole house, including the roof and garden.

The Sergeant Major saluted.  “Complete house searched, sir.  These are the only inhabitants.  All cupboards checked, bedding bayoneted.  It’s an old house, no proper place to hide.”

 

The officer frowned and rubbed his chin.  Then he sighed and swept the beret off his shaven head with a single swipe of his right hand.  “There’s witchery in this somewhere, and I don’t like it one little bit.  I have eye witnesses who told me about the massacre the other day.  The entire chapter of Hitler’s Angels, like they was chucked in a chip basket and dipped in a fryer.  Would you mind telling me just how that happened?  Whisper it in me shell-like, if you want to make it private.”

She leaned forward and whispered.  “Those men in that gang tried to kill us.”

 

“Are you taking the piss?  I asked you a question.”

“I’m answering your question.”

 

The officer cocked his head.  “I reckon you did it with electricity, meself.  You had some grid laid on the road, right?  But then that raises the question of how you was producing the electricity.”

She shook her head.  “No, it wasn’t electricity.”

 

The officer slapped his beret on his thigh.  “We got outbreaks of dengue fever now.  Cholera.  Down by the river, there’s millions of rats.  Sergeant Major?  Strip this fucking bint and take her to headquarters, hang her upside down and beat her until she talks, I don’t care how long it takes.  Show her the branding irons.  I don’t give a shit.  We want those other two geezers.  So take the family as well.  Work on the kids until somebody tells you where they fucking are.  And I want this house destroyed.  I don’t give a fuck if the whole terrace comes down with it.”

“Excuse me,” Roulla said.  Her voice was low and firm.

 

The officer slapped her across the face with the beret.  “Strip off those fucking clothes, you tart.  I don’t know why I bother being polite…”

The words trailed off because everyone’s eyes were now focussed on the glistening ball of fire above their heads.  It seemed to sizzle, crackle in the air.  Several of the Roos put weapons to their shoulders but hesitated before shooting at it.  The blistering white ball had appeared at the Greek woman’s fingertip as she raised her arm.  It rose immediately about twenty feet above their heads.

 

“What the fuck is it, Sergeant Major?”

In answer, the ball dipped down with an alarming suddenness and touched the turret of the tank.  In a single instant a huge mobile puddle of molten steel, lead and brass had replaced the battle tank.  Gravity pulled the puddle slowly down the melting tarmac, sparking and steaming as it cooled.  The temperature in front of the house was like the atmosphere before the open door of a blast furnace.  The Roos broke rank and shrank away from the intense heat, dropping their weapons in fear.

 

The officer turned slowly to stare back at Roulla Mavromati.  His eyes looked as if they were painted on two white cue balls, and his jaw was open and slack.

“You better haul ass, sonny boy,” the deep voice of the Red Yank said to the stunned officer, “before I cut your ass too thick to fish with and too thin to fry.”

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