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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12. Chapter Twelve

CHAPTER TWELVE

 

 

Tom Bishop was leaning against the chimney smoking an ordinary roll-up.  The weather changed suddenly, and it had been a hot spring day.  The wind was cool in the dusk as he stared contemplatively down the Terrace and smoked.  Except for the bus garage and cars, the roving mobs hadn’t turned their attention to this street.  Yet.  Would they?  He somehow doubted it.  Archway, Holloway.  Not high on the list of desirable neighbourhoods.  Nevertheless there was something unpredictable about the chaos taking place in London – and everywhere else, it seemed.  Two days ago he and the Red Yank walked up to Hampstead.  The devastation was nightmarish – and continuing.  The violence surged into the wealthy areas first before ebbing away to burn and cauterise the merely well off.  But the mobs were unpredictable as they changed targets and tactics, and sometimes they would raze a slum on their way to destroy rows of elegant Georgian terraces or semi-detached phoney half-timbered mock Elizabethan houses owned by braces-snapping stockbrokers.  If the properties were occupied, the people were killed or pressed into slave gangs before the houses were shattered by demolition balls or put to the torch.

 

He and the Red Yank were not prepared for what they saw on the way to Hampstead.  The Bishops Avenue was nothing but a smoking ruin.  The majestic houses there were gutted, smouldering husks.  The walls were pushed over and broken.  The driveways were smashed into chunk-sized pieces which had been thrown around in fury.

And the smell was everywhere, the smell of death.  It was a stink so constant they were almost used to it by now.

It appeared a little strange at first.  Everywhere they went motor vehicles were attacked and burned.  Even on Ptolemy Terrace not one car or motorcycle remained intact.  The Red Yank lost his beautiful Triumph which he had chained to the front garden railings.  Its twisted remains were flung on the roof of a smoke-blackened van.  The bus garage was the only building in the street which was torched.  Petrol was thrown over everything first, and Bishop remembered seeing a couple of the smackheads from the middle of the Terrace helping out.  The Somalian joined in, too.  And naturally the Horse was there, along with some of the other local bus drivers, and their fuel was revenge.

Bishop chuckled as he drew on his fag and sucked the smoke deep inside him.  The Horse.  A big simian woman with a low brow and the heavy arms of a dock worker.  She was far too ugly and aggressive for any sober man to approach her, but she preyed on the weak males, made weaker over the years by the absence of sexual activity.  The Horse didn’t care what they looked like when she was hungry.  She just collared one and brought him home.  Bishop later noted them raking the back garden or helping to wash her car.  It was rumoured the Horse occasionally shared her exhausted sexual partners with her mother, but Bishop wasn’t sure he believed that.  Anyway the thought made him want to throw up.

 

The Horse, the bus drivers, the smackheads, maybe one of the Breeders.  There were quite a few from the area in the raging crowd the night the bus garage went up in smoke.  Much screaming and cheering.  The Red Yank was afraid the fire was going to spread up the Terrace, but enigmatically it roared a couple of hundred feet into the sky before collapsing into a funereal mushroom cloud of dark smoke.  All over in a few hours.

But The Bishops Avenue – that was the worst they had seen so far.  Even the street lights were pulled down and twisted.  There were burnt-out Bentleys, Porches, Mercedes, Jags – all standing in puddles of melted rubber.  It was the Red Yank who pointed to the first body they saw hanging from the trees.  It was a naked elderly man.  His hands, feet, genitals and ears were cut off, and his entrails hung lewdly from a deep gash made by a sword or machete.  He was only the first.  There were many others.  The Red Yank began singing softly as they walked slowly along the scorched pavements.

 

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth The scent of magnolia sweet and fresh Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck for the rain to gather for the wind to suck for the sun to rot for the tree to drop Here is a strange and bitter crop

 

The Billie Holliday song about lynchings in the southern American states.  So many bodies in the past few days slowly eroded the sense of shock.  The spooky and the weird, the horrible and unthinkable soon become the foundations of normality.  You have to get on with it somehow.  So you get on with it.

What was happening?  Who were the ringleaders?  Were there ringleaders?  How extensive did the rage extend?  News sources couldn’t be believed.  The Red Yank laughed and said the news media were unreliable at the best of times, because everything was loaded with regard to the interests of those the media cravenly served.  Television news was patchy and then went dead altogether.  There were still commentaries on the radio sandwiched between blasts of martial music, but it was increasingly difficult to make sense of the broadcasts.  One day the announcers would claim all the land in Britain would be divided equally among the workers.  The next day land ownership was going to be abolished.  Then the land was going to be divided amongst those not found in possession of suits.  Suits were the clothes of the devil, and god’s retribution demanded everyone found with a wardrobe of suits be gutted and hanged.  The days of the automobile were gone.  Horses and people were taking their place.  Chariots and carts were pulled by teams of naked landowners and bankers.  Free transport for all.  In one broadcast it was Armageddon, with the announcer squealing and screaming about the end of time and purity through fire.

 

There was a strange mixture of revolutionary radical socialism and revivalist, evangelic fervour.  There were Stalinists and Trotskyists and anarchists.  Other voices raved nationalistically and called for the restoration of absolute monarchy.  It was sometimes difficult to tell the intellectual provenance of some of the speeches.  Those calling for a new monarchy, for instance, demanded that a priesthood be created to interpret God’s will.  The monarch would then carry it out.  Gunfire could occasionally be heard in the studios, and then the radio would go dead for a few moments before the martial music came on again.  When another speaker took the microphone, the message had changed.

The only motor vehicles allowed on the roadways now were Land Rovers, and invariably these were loaded with heavily-armed young men, some hanging from the sides.  The only uniform was a beret – the colour didn’t matter.  No one was certain yet exactly what happened to the armed forces.  Helicopter gunships were seen during the first week, and some said they had spotted tanks in the streets.  Everyone was puzzled.  The Red Yank had a theory of rolling mutinies as the army personnel caught the same crazed virus as the rest of the population.  They abandoned their bases, ignored orders and took their guns with them to join in the rape and slaughter and pillage.

 

Bishop sucked on the last drag of his cigarette then flicked the butt in a long arc into the street.  He had other ideas.  He disagreed with the Red Yank, and he knew he was right.  The earth – or at least this part of it – was a cauldron of the blackest and darkest magic.  An alien culture had altered the nature of the human race, then farmed it for its own sustenance.  Human beings in general, like herds of cattle, were unaware of the genetic modifications and re-programming.  For centuries the human herd was bred, culled, selected, moved from field to field and spread to the corners of the earth.  As with cattle, the victims ate and went about their increasingly complex business as they were comprehensively milked by their owners.  The concepts of free will and independence were encouraged, as the populations went through various layers of selective and cruel ironies.  Freedom.  Always a good thought for a laugh.

Whatever was happening now was something new.  Bishop didn’t know the answers, but he suspected their inorganic owners had applied too much pressure for far too long.  The seams of reality finally blew open and spewed out lava flows reeking with the condensed shitiness of what remained of the human soul.  The human organism could bear no more pressure.  Somewhere in another inconceivable universe, shadowy shapes argued that the planet Earth was no longer fertile.  Growth was impossible in soil which was now dead, little more than sand.  The crop needed cutting well back.  Maybe that was the process now under way.

 

Bishop had an idea other things were involved, too, but the images from his trances were too ghostly to make any sense to him yet.  The beings who owned humanity were opposed by others, and the others were more…humanoid.  Not necessarily in looks but in spirit.  It reminded him of Biblical stories of angels and devils, and he wondered often about these ancient tales.  Were they eternal figures in the collective unconscious?  Or were they "real”?  Lately he had been following a thread of investigation that was leading him to suspect human beings were once angels.  Not the ones with wings.  Beings more in harmony with the universe.  These angels had huge collective power, but it had been broken up long ago, and the survivors were pressed into the barbarous conditions on Earth.  Enslaved, de-sensitised, de-cultured, spiritually lobotomised and programmed to furnish devil-beings with the harvests of stress.

Bishop was tormented by the recurrent question.  Why were they seemingly being spared?

 

“I don’t know much about your theories, Tom,” said the Red Yank as they walked on up the hill after the smouldering devastation of The Bishops Avenue.  “But we’re not the only ones.  There’s the Patrolman, for instance.”

“Yeah,” Bishop admitted as they began to cut across Hampstead Heath, “but he’s a loony – you know, a day release case.”

“OK,” the American replied, “but I’m not so sure about who’s crazy and who’s not – even before all this shit – this madness…”

They met the Patrolman when they were on their way to The Bishops Avenue.  He was on his same round that included Highgate, Crouch End, parts of Hampstead and as far south as Highbury.  Despite the heat of the day he was dressed in the same uniform he always wore.  Filthy Russian fur hat with the flaps up, crusty leather jacket zipped to the throat and black walking boots with well-worn soles.  Oddly, it was the first time either of them had seen him with a tie.  It was perfectly knotted around the collar of a dingy sport shirt.

 

“Hey, Shorty!” the Red Yank said to him.  “I like the tie.  But it could get you into trouble.”

The Patrolman seemed delighted to see them.  His eyes brightened as he unsholdered his old army knapsack.

“I, er, asked the Council again,” he stuttered as he fished around in the knapsack for papers.  “You won’t, er, believe what they said…”

He had the papers in his hand now and used the dirty forefinger of his other hand to point south.  “They wouldn’t face, er, the statistical, er, nature of my researches, so I went to them…”  He pointed north now.  “…and, er, what do you think they said?  Well, I’m not, er, prepared to go into all that, er, right now…”  His forefinger moved east as he took a breath.  “…but when I, er, tried to pinpoint the whole matter and, er, ventilate the questions, they, er, just didn’t want to know…”  He now pointed to the west.  “But I wouldn’t, er, let them off the, er, hook so easily…”

 

“Hold on, Shorty.  Hold on,” the Red Yank said with a grin.  “You’re takin’ on water faster than you can bail.  Personally I don’t think there is a Council any more, and you can probably take your pick of the Highgate flats, though most of them are fire-gutted.”

The Patrolman had a long grievance with the Council about being moved from Highgate to Highbury – obviously without his consent.  But he seemed oblivious to the terror on the streets.  He kept to his rounds and just averted his gaze from what was happening.

“They don’t see the Patrolman,” the Red Yank said as they continued across the Heath.  “And they don’t see us, either.  They look at us, but they don’t see.”

Bishop stopped, thinking.  He noticed a pack of about a dozen dogs standing at the edge of a copse.  They were milling slowly around.  He turned to the Red Yank.  “Do you notice what happens?  Sometimes they are distracted as soon as they see us.  Something else happens nearby to pull away their attention.”

 

The American shrugged.  “Not all the time.  Yesterday I was scrounging around Junction Road, and one of the Land Rovers pulled up.  They asked me if another patrol had come by, then they asked for a light – one of them was smoking a little cigar.”

Bishop nodded.  “What was your attitude?”

 

“I kind of smiled at them, gave the guy a light.  One of the others offered me a cookie – which I took – and we made a little small talk.  They were friendly, so I started to ask a couple of questions about what was going on, but then I heard some radio activity, and the guy scratched off, going towards Archway.”

“Not scared?”

 

The Red Yank shrugged.  He saw the dogs and squinted his eyes, distracted.  “Well, no.  Not really.  I mean, they shoot people as soon as look at them.  I’ve seen that.  But I’m too old to run.  Come to that, I was never any good at running even when I was young.  I had to find another way then, and that way always seemed to work for me.”

The two of them continued walking.  “They still didn’t see you, even though they talked with you.  It may even be slightly different with you and with me.”

 

“Well, with me, they see but don’t see.  I don’t register in their red zone.  Which is a kind of insult.”  The American nodded his head towards the copse.  “What about those dogs.  You think they see us?”

“Crows see us.  Why not dogs?”

 

“Maybe we should carry something if we come across the Heath again.  A stick or truncheon.”

Bishop shook his head.  “You know, I think the key to it so far is that we don’t carry weapons.  No guns, no swords.  You have a different attitude when you’re unarmed and unfrightened.  A kind of aura.  A halo effect.  I’m beginning to think this is because the angels are protecting us.”

 

The Red Yank laughed.  “You mean like in the Old Testament?  The Passover?  The marked doors of the chosen?”

Bishop joined in the laughter.  “The chosen, yeah.  Would you believe it?  You, me, the Patrolman…”

 

“There’s probably more.  If we could travel around a bit.  This is as far as we’ve been.  Hampstead Heath.”

They had skirted Kenwood House and were now passing the pond where the open air concerts were held in earlier times.  It loomed on their left, and they had already noticed the noise and activity coming from that direction.  Building work could be heard, and a JCB was careering along the embankment at the front with a heavy load.

 

The two men looked at each other.

“I’d sort of like to risk it,” Bishop said finally.  “You up for it?”

 

The Red Yank scratched his beard.  “Dunno.  Surprised they didn’t burn it down.  Looks like a lot of people up there.  I’m not sure I’m in the mood to test my theories.”

Bishop moved off slowly towards the big house.  “We’ll keep the coastguard out, all red alert while we go in.”

 

The American hung back, reluctant to move as Bishop strode off.  He raised his voice.  “You know, one of the reasons the Patrolman survives is that he won’t look at anything.  Or anybody.  He won’t interfere.  If we push out into them, could be they’ll push back and notice us.”

Bishop stopped and looked back at his friend.  “Won’t know until we try, and this seems a good place to have a little experiment…”

 

They went up the hill together at a relaxed pace, as if they were walkers on the Heath in the days before the Horror.  Scattered clumps of cumulus clouds occasionally obscured the sun, and the temperature would fall briefly.  Like everywhere else, though, the Heath throbbed with an electric air of menace and uncertainty.  Except for those at Kenwood House, no one else was about, not a soul.  But the house was clearly throbbing with activity.

The two men climbed carefully up to the path in front of the huge house.  They could now see a huge pen had been constructed with rough planks, posts and razor wire on the right hand side.  This went back as far as the old tea garden and then all the way over to the line of trees, forming a kind of potato-shaped enclosure.  Armed guards were placed at 25-foot intervals.  Most of the guards sat in wooden folding chairs, guns across their laps.  Some were smoking.

Inside the pen were huddled several hundred naked human beings.  From the smell they must have been living in their own excrement.  Some were milling around, but most of them were huddled together for warmth.  There was a large gate near the entrance to the tea room.  The gate was open, with guards posted on each side of it.

Wordlessly Bishop and the Red Yank approached one of the benches that lined the path and sat down.  A couple of the guards seemed to take note of them but said nothing.  From inside the house construction work could be heard, punctuated by laughter and screaming.  Someone at the side barked orders, and immediately a squad of men wearing Wellington boots entered the pen and dragged out four people, two men and two women, all of whom looked to be in their mid-thirties.  These people were marched at bayonet-point into the old cafeteria.  Not long afterwards there was a clatter from the other wing of the house, and a kind of chariot rolled out and onto the path.  The chariot was light-weight with space for two seated passengers and a driver.  An awning was attached overhead, and the chariot was pulled by two men and two women, the men in front.  They were attached to the tongue of the vehicle and wore rope sandals.  There were plumes on top of their heads, and all were in full leather harness.

 

The driver stood at the front of the chariot and held a long whip in his right hand.  The reins were gathered in his left, and he appeared to be trying to teach his team how to move as a unit.

“Don’t empathise with them,” muttered the Red Yank.  “Keep an emotional distance.”

 

Bishop’s lip curled in scorn.  “I don’t give a fuck for them.  As far as I’m concerned, they deserve it.  Why not?”

They both were silent as the rig approached them.  The four people making up the team walked briskly in step until the driver yelled at them.

 

“Double!”

Immediately the team began to trot in tandem. Bishop and the Red Yank saw all four of them had backsides covered in red weals.  Suddenly the whip came down on the shoulder of one of the women. She screamed – suddenly and powerfully.  But she couldn’t object, couldn’t pull away and dare not break the rhythm of the trot.

 

“Faster,” the driver shouted, “To my mark.  One, two, one, two, one, two….”

The end of the whip flicked one of the males.  His scream was every bit as loud as the woman’s, but the carriage moved relentlessly onward.  It passed by the pen of mute prisoners and right down to the end, where the charioteer skilfully turned the team for the return journey.  He was liberal with the whip, and the screaming punctuated the sound of the rubber-tyred, spoke wheels on the gavel.

 

Tom Bishop breathed deeply and sat back on the bench.  “It’s a stable.  They’ve turned Kenwood House into a training stable.”  He laughed.

The Red Yank threw one arm over the back of the bench and looked back at the pen briefly.  “I don’t know, bo.  You can’t damn ’em all individually just because they served a rotten system.  They’re walking around in their own shit in there.”

 

Bishop pursed his lips.  “That’s exactly what they’ve done to us over all these years.  Why should I waste my energy?  Did they care for us?  No.  They just polished the gilt of their own lives, laying down fortunes for their heirs and denying themselves nothing that money could buy.  Personally I think the driver’s too soft.  Give me the whip.  I’ll show him how to do it.”

“Naw, dammit,” the American muttered, “it gives me the creeps.  I know every revolution is bloody, but I’ve got a weak stomach.  I can’t stand it.  My instinct is to go try and set those people free.”

 

The chariot clattered by behind them.  The screams from one man and two women drowned out their conversation for a moment.

“Look,” Bishop said when he could speak again.  “The people in the pen come from the place of no pity.  Now they are faced with retribution.  From the same place.”

 

“How do you know all of them are like that?”

“Because they didn’t turn their backs on that life.  They accepted it, lived it.  The lie, the churning hypocrisy.  They invented the Horror.  They brought it on themselves.  Now they have to live it.”

 

Without reply the Red Yank got up and started down the hill.  His friend joined him as they moved away from the chariot that clattered back and forth in front of Kenwood House to the syncopated screams of those pulling it. They were headed in the direction of the dog pack, but they didn’t talk and neither of them looked back at the new Kenwood Stables.

After walking in silence for a few minutes, Bishop nodded towards the dogs.  “I thought you were worried about your courage.”

 

The Red Yank adjusted his leather cap to shade the glare of the sun.  “Courage is a funny thing.  It constantly flickers with cowardice, like a light turned on and off in a dark room – blink, blink, blink.  Not a rational reaction.  The same man can have courage and be a coward in the same day.  The first time I saw those dogs I was afraid.  Then something else happened.  The fear dropped away like a mood, and I knew we had to walk through those dogs.  If we don’t, we’ll fear them.”

“They’re looking at us.”

 

“How are you feeling?”

Bishop thought for a moment before answering.  “A little twitchy, I suppose.  Those animals probably belonged to the people turfed out of their houses in Hampstead.  Pets.  But when pet dogs form packs, their values change.  So do their loyalties.  Several of those mutts look like they could do some damage.”

 

“Yeah.  That one pack could kill us both.  But I reckon we’re gonna have to deal with them, because there are gonna be an awful lot of stray dogs from now on.”

Bishop stopped suddenly and pointed upward.  “Look!”

 

It was an amazing display.  A squadron of crows was attacking a lone gull, a very unusual sight.  The gull was desperately trying to gain height against the raucous and noisy onslaught.  The crows were well-ordered and diving on the gull from above.  When one of them finished the attack it flapped back up to those circling above.  The gull was being driven lower and lower.  It was a much bigger bird, but when it would try and attack angrily, several crows would hit it again from above.  It was quickly becoming a desperate fight.  The gull was losing altitude rapidly and tried to wheel towards the safety of the pond, but the crows seemed to sense the strategy.  Their attack became ferocious.  The gull did not make it.  It dropped about fifty feet short of the pond, and the crows swarmed on the struggling bird like an organised gang of thugs.  The noise was incredible.  There were white feathers and black feathers everywhere.  Then there was silence as the crows began feeding on the dead gull.

“Fuck,” the Red Yank murmured.  “It’s happening to everything.  Not just the people.”

 

“It’s more than a revolution,” Bishop replied solemnly.  “The earth is in revolt.  Something mammoth is happening.  If I had to guess, I’d say the whole universe is rumbling.  I wish I knew more…”

“Look at the dogs.”

 

Some of the dogs had been standing.  Others were lying on their sides panting with tongues out.  The alpha male was an Alsatian with a business-like black snout.  It made a decision and, with ears pricked and brow furrowed, began trotting in their direction.  The rest of the pack followed behind in a fluctuating triangle with the Alsatian as point.

“What are you going to do now?” Bishop asked.  “Run?”

 

“Naw.  I’m gonna take my sunglasses off so my eyes don’t look big.  Then I’m gonna relax.”

Bishop didn’t say anything else.  The dogs were close now.  He could smell them.  He closed his eyes and cleared his mind with his controlled breathing.  In – steadily.  Hold.  Out – steadily.  In – deeper.  Hold.  Out – more slowly.  He sensed the dogs around him now.  He felt their presence and heard them as they panted.  Then, as if by magic, the smell and sound retreated.  He opened his eyes.

 

The dogs were gone, and as they passed they broke into a run.  The alpha male was at the front with his nose down and eyes blazing.  They were after the crows!  More accurately, they were after the dead gull – but that meant chasing away the crows first.

Bishop was nodding his head.  Other than that, neither man moved.  “The dogs didn’t see us.”

 

“Or didn’t want us.”

“They went round us, through us.”

 

“I feel high as a kite,” said the Red Yank.  “It was powerful.  I think they saw us, but they don’t see any threat.  Something like that.”

Instead of nodding his head, Bishop shook it.  “No.  We weren’t ‘here’.  We’re not in the same place.  Or the same time.  Something is ajar.  There’s a reality crack, and we may be standing at the epicentre.”

 

“Well, you feel your way, and I’ll feel mine.  I don’t think there’s any god sitting in judgement.”

Bishop wasn’t listening.  He squatted down and watched as the dogs tore apart the dead gull while the angry crows watched from the branches of trees.  “The crows see us, though.  I think that performance was for us.”

 

The Red Yank did a double-take.  “You saying that wasn’t a coincidence?”

“I don’t believe in coincidences.  Not now.  I think there was some kind of message for us. They want us to know they know we’re here.  And they’re watching us.  They’ve not forgotten…”

 

The Red Yank put his hands in his back pockets and squinted at the dogs.  “Goddammit, I think it’s just a revolution.  I mean, that’s enough to be getting on with, isn’t it?  It turns the world upside down.  It shakes the shit out of everything.”

“No.  I’m convinced it’s Armageddon.”

 

“Armageddon?  Arm a geddon outta here.”

“And you make jokes.”

 

The Red Yank grinned.  “Nope.  Just quoting Marx.  Groucho, this time.”

*

 

Whitestone Pond was red with blood.  At the edge of the Heath, near Spaniards Road they passed a huge pyre of still smouldering flesh.  Both of them were nauseated as they struggled to try and get upwind of it.  The pyre must have been a hundred square yards, and trees were cut down to nourish the blaze.  There was still a huge hill of charred flesh that looked like a northern slag heap.  It was impossible to estimate how many people perished in the flames, but it was obviously several hundreds.  Maybe even thousands.  They talked about it without the benefit of experience.  What do a hundred or a thousand or a hundred thousand charred bodies look like?

The two famous pubs – the Spaniards and Jack Straw’s Castle – were destroyed.  The silence was spooky as they approached Whitestone Pond.  No one was to be seen anywhere.

 

“Even the birds are quiet,” the Red Yank muttered through his teeth.  His eyes were fixed on the bloody pond.

“I don’t think there are many songbirds left,” Bishop replied.  “Just crows, rooks and magpies.”

 

In the end they had to circle Whitestone Pond because of the smell.  Blood stinks when it rots, just like other organic matter.  And there had been a lot of bloodletting at the top of the hill.  There were thick stains everywhere – on the banks of the pond, the pavements, the grounds, the streets.

Bishop felt deeply nauseous as he surveyed the scene.  “I think they must have slaughtered them here, then dragged the bodies to the pyre.  Which is just over there.  Cut their throats, probably in some kind of new ritual.”

 

The Red Yank scowled.  “Could have been a battle of some sort.  I mean, the rich are going to fight back if you start taking their money.  Mostly they’re used to the police and army doing if for them.  But when there’s no armed forces any more, well, I can’t see ’em all just turning out their pockets and lying down for their throats to be cut.”

They found a bench upwind of the pond and sat down for a rest.  They could see part of the shops in the high street from there – or what was left of them.  Little twists of smoke hovered over the street and residences surrounding them.

The Red Yank continued with his thought.  “Who knows what’s happening beyond here – in the rest of the country or the world?  The scraps of news you do get on the radio say it’s hell everywhere, but you never get the truth.  Never did in the past, either.  Reality is stitched together with a political thread that uses our fear and assumptions, desires and hopes to squeeze us for its interests.  Namely capital and its accumulation by large, cancerous corporations.”

Bishop leaned back and spread both arms on the top of the bench.  “It’s all downhill from here to Archway.  Fancy wandering through the high street and the leafy bower of Hampstead Village on our way down?”

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