When They Whisper

Suddenly a hundred, a thousand voices were about me, whispering his name. They sounded urgent, rushed, longing. I was afraid, I’m not going to deny, as Matt and I were the only people on the entire street.

It was clear by this stage that I was hearing the voices. They were high, low, loud and quiet, but all saying Matt’s name and all with that hungry whisper. I started hitting the side of my head with my fist, breathing heavily. I didn’t know what else to do and my insides were clenching.

They didn’t go, and if anything, grew. Next thing I knew, I had my head in my hands and was yelling, doubled over.

Suddenly, one voice broke over the crazy noise: mine.

“Matt!” I yelled, my voice cracking, “Matt!”

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6. Cider Patronage

I could hear Max heaving up the stairs, trying very hard to keep his breathing even. My bedroom door was closed and I was sat on the bed like some old person who needed help just to stand up. I really felt that messed up. I was staring at my bedroom door as Max approached it, only the creaking of the landing now breaking the silence that had fallen between us: the tension.

I listened to his thoughts as he decided against knocking or entering. Instead, he seemed to glue his voice a centimetre into the wood and say softly.

“Oliver?”

I didn’t answer. I didn’t move my eyes. Not that he could see. I didn’t know what to do, I was like the three year old that had just thrown a tantrum: I wasn’t going to avoid the fact that I’d had an angry outburst at Max and felt bad. But then Max really hadn’t made things easy to take in or understand.

“Oliver, I’m so sorry. Let me finish explaining.”

There was a quiet scraping sound as Maxwell slid down the wall to the left of my door. He wasn’t planning on leaving me alone any time soon without feeling he had said all he could.

However Max did not speak. He was waiting for me to react, to do something, anything. I couldn’t speak to him, every nerve in my body was tired and fed up. I’m sure he felt the same. What the hell did he expect me to do?

Sighing inwardly, I knew I had to listen to Max. If anything I had to let him get everything off his chest before he went even more mad. I said I was a listener and this was an example of me being compliant and giving in. I slipped from my bed as quietly as possible and glided to the door. I faced the closed wood for a second and listened for Max’s breathing. It was still heavy and close by. He was still waiting.

I did what he’d done on the other side of the wood. I hugged my knees to me like a girl and rested my head against the wall, now in a tiny ball on the floor. But this felt better. Not being able to see Maxwell made it easier for me to listen, took the pressure off me to reply or react.

“Go on,” I let myself say softly.

“Please, let me go back to your mum for a minute. Because there she was, twelve years old and without a family. She was put into care and adopted by my parents. It was clear to my parents that your mother was an Immune: they were too. That sort of thing can run in families, which is why I’m immune.

“You see, the Immunes stick together. Marry each other, have kids like them: they don’t need to mingle with ordinary people.”

Seriously, now Max was calling himself some superior sub-race?

“That’s because the fates are easily angered, especially when they can’t have people they want. So they attack the people close to Immunes: family, friends, communities. It drives some Immunes mad, seeing those they love suffering because of them. That’s why there are only really two ways an Immune can die: old age or suicide, which is surprisingly common.

“But anyway, for that reason, my parents, two married Immunes, adopted your mum. She grew up with us and was soon displaying all the signs of an Immune and my parents had been right. But it didn’t stop your mum finding the man of her dreams and having you.”

I could hear Max smiling through the wood. His tone suddenly changed as though a grimace.

“But when she died, when she died, there was a very strong possibility that you would be like her. That’s why I’ve always been here: to protect you and your Dad from the Fates, something your mum would have done.”

So Max had only ever lived with us to replace my mum? This was sounding more and more crazy. But I’d promised myself to stay silent and listen to the end. Everything was still hurting and all I wanted to do was punch Maxwell, or something. Still, my inner voice of reason was amazingly stopping me.

“And that’s where you come in. When you had your accident, I always suspected that you survived because you’re immune. But then again, I was keeping a close eye on you and had the ambulances on their way before it had even happened.

“But now, it’s clear that you’re just like the rest of us. You can’t help it and it’s just a way of life you’ve been dealt. I’m sorry if this still sounds crazy, but I wouldn’t lie about this to you, right?”

I squirmed inside. I knew he was right: Max would never lie to me like this. The only person he could lie to was himself. He’d tied up nearly all the loose strands, but still.

“Oh, and that’s another thing, a side effect of being immune to the Fates. We are connected to them, on a subconscious level. Immunes can hear the collective consciousness of the Fates. And that is how you hear the names being called out. You are actually hearing the Fates as they plot and pick out their next victim.”

I banged my head back against the wall. That was the craziest thing yet. There was no way that could be true.

“Just think, Ollie. Last week, you heard voices, right? And they were calling out Matt’s name, Matthew I guess. And that would have been about a minute before the car exploded? You ran over and without realising it disrupted what was going on and got Matt away from the car. The car exploded and the voices stopped?”

I nodded before realising Max couldn’t see me. But he was right, that was exactly what had happened, as little as I wanted to admit it.

“Matt shouldn’t be alive. You saved him. You preserved his life from the Fates without even realising it. Now someone like Matt we’d now call an Impossible: saved by an Immune who broke the laws set out by the Fates. There are lots of Impossibles: you were one, or we thought you were. Immunes protect Impossibles and create them, a vicious circle, but it’s what is going on around you and there’s no hiding it anymore.”

Maxwell sighed deeply.

“It’s not fun and games. It’s not superheroes or the avengers. It’s crap, it’s a burden, it’s a hard lot. But we stick together, look out for each other. Like a secret society, gentleman’s club! You should come along to a meeting, it’s just a social thing really, but everyone else will be able to explain it more than I just have. Maybe then you’ll believe all this weird crap as well.”

I tilted my head. A social for the local retards that were physic?

“We’re called the Whisper Order, all Harry Potter, I know, but we’re older than that. It’s been around for decades. Immunes group in areas where there are units, young and old.”

Ok, I was trying to get this straight in my head. There were Immunes saving and protecting Impossibles, sticking two fingers up to the Fates, creating little societies for themselves whilst listening in to the collective consciousness of the omnipotent force ruling the world?

I stood up and opened the door, keeping my eyes wide and staring with pursed lips down at Max.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I finally said, shaking my head in disbelief with immensely raised eyebrows.

Max collapsed with relief. He knew me too well. I had surrendered.

“We meet on Thursday. That’s two days away, soldier.”

“Whatever you say,” I sighed, powerless, shaking my head.

 

They met in the town hall. On Thursday, driving up through the main square in the centre of town there were many cars parked there and lights flashing through the windows. People were milling about inside and on the pavement with raised voices and laughs. So much for a secret society.

In Max’s car, had we been driving by normally I would have dismissed the sight as a private function or party. But if it was the same thing every week with the same bunch of people, surely someone would notice?

“We call ourselves the Anglo-Scandinavian Fishing Society, on all the bookings and stuff,” Max voiced the answer to my question.

“Seriously? What if a Scandinavian moved in who like fishing? Are we all pretending to be Swedish or something?”

Max chuckled at my predicted reaction, pulling into a parking space.

“Well, A: that’s never happened and B: no one’s ever asked.”

“Bit popular for a foreigners’ fish nutter gathering, wouldn’t you think?”

“People can be very unobservant when it suits them.”

Maxwell was already getting out of the car and I had no choice but to follow him. I hate to admit it, but I was nervous. Oliver Marsh, the miracle boy with balls of steel and the tongue of a serpent was nervous about walking into the town hall and meeting a bunch of weirdos. I’d never experienced a Thursday night in the middle of October like it.

We walked up to and through the posh heavy wooden doors almost unnoticed. The town hall was an Edwardian building: marble and full of pointless flights of steps to nowhere and colonnades that were constantly about to collapse and having building work done on them. Red carpets and dark wooden desks matched this which just about made me feel physically sick.

Most people hanging around were smoking, heading the same way as me and Max or waiting for other people to arrive, glasses of posh looking wine clasped in their hands. It was astonishingly busy: well dressed people everywhere, lots of laughter and all accompanied by the tinkle of glass and jewellery.

“Is this really all the Whisper Order? Is there a private function going on as well?” I muttered to Max under my breath, trying not to bend my head too far in his direction. I hated formal occasions. I always felt I was doing and saying the wrong thing.

Max let out a light hearted chortle.

“Of course not! Meet the gang!”

We had descended another flight of steps and broken into a bit more of a normal looking room. We were below the street level and the ceiling was a normal height. However the sudden bombardment of people, sallow lighting and the presence of a thick green carpet completely changed the atmosphere of the crowd of people. They were still laughing and chatting politely, but I could spot a few younger faces amongst the crowd, more casual conversation and raucous laughter.

This was no drawing room. It was a function room with spindly chairs dotted around little tables, low hanging lights and more modern artwork covering the whitewashed walls. A bar stood in the far corner, the same dark brown wood as on the ground floor, only manned by a barman and surrounded by people. I could have been in a pub.

“Who pays for this all?” I was astounded by the quality and quantity of it all. If they did this every week it would cost an arm and a leg.

Max pointed to a man in a tux clasping the waist of a youngish woman in the nearest corner. She was dazzling, with rich brown hair perfectly moulded against a bond girl style dress.

“She works here, gets amazing discounts wherever she goes and is amazingly rich. Madeleine Parkinson.”

I nodded, partially in awe at the woman, Madeleine.

Maxwell had started to steer me through the people and further into the room. Not many people had noticed me, the stranger in their midst. It was only eight in the evening and already people were holding onto rails and sloshing drinks all over the floor. Most were in at least suits and the women in dresses or posh evening gear. I felt terribly underdressed in my jeans and shirt, but Max was the same and spying a little closer I could only see the worst of the pompous dressed so formally.

We reached the bar.

“Two ciders, thanks, Bill,”

I had a cider shoved into my hand.

“Trust me, this is the best around,” whispered Max into my ear, “and it’s a good way to start the evening.”

So the Whisper Order also supplied the best cider in all the heart of the English Countryside? Nice one.

“Haven’t seen you here before, mate,” added the barman, Bill, just as Max leant against the heavy wood to take his first, big gulp.

“Oliver,” I tried to sound casual, “Max is my uncle.”

“Oh, of course!” rang Bill, slapping the counter hard, “I remember you mentioning.”

Bill was an extremely tall man and thin as a stick. Even his face was strangely elongated and a spattering of wiry hair seemed to cover his entire being. Although he looked like a goat, Max seemed to know him well.

“Any wise words about the Whisper Order, then?”

Bill picked up a glass and began to fill it with some more cider. He let his eyes drop then pick back up to form a dramatic peer at me.

“Drink lots, be merry and forget about the rest of the world.”

Fair enough. Bill, whoever he was, seemed to have it sorted. That didn’t make any of the actually important stuff any clearer. I guessed that would be coming later, when I was under the influence and more comfortable. All the same, Max was going to have to drive us home, so surely he wouldn’t be drinking. I was now determined to also stay that way. Easier said than done, something I knew all too well from past experience. OK, certainly not on a Friday night with the gang, but I had been to a few larger parties over the years thrown by cool kids with more money than friends.

“Oh, and I’d get a good word in with Parkinson before you leave. She likes to know whose beer mug she’s filling.”

“Don’t you worry, I’ll sort out the formalities.” Maxwell laughed.

He had to be kidding. In his words, this was supposed to be a fun get together, an informal social occasion. But then again, everything was like that to Max.

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