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The Assault


Dramatis personae

The Brotherhood of the Hand, a small society, dedicated to mystery, consists of four elderly men, in equally elderly grey suits, who correspond to the fingers of the human hand. Simon and Annie, brother and sister, have become members of the Brotherhood, as have their friends, Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko. There is also Adrian the seagull and Sniffer the dog, the eyes and nose of the Brotherhood. Sister Teresa a dedicated nun with strange powers, and Pat, an Irish academic. A new member is Morag, half-policewoman, half-faery. Together, they fight a war against their arch-enemy, Doctor Wrist, and his associates. During a journey to Hyperborea, the land of the faeries, they have succeeded in destroying one of the hated and murderous Wrist family. But now they await a final assault by their enemies, on their own headquarters. The scene is the seaside city of Brighton.



The door resounded with as series of heavy bangs, as if someone was beating on it with their fists and feet.

‘Please, please, you’ve got to let me in! The voice lowered. ‘Please, please! I’m all on my own out here, and you’re all inside. Let me in!’

The pounding began again, this time, frantically.

‘It’s Morag! You know me! You can’t leave me out here! Let me in, please, please, please!

The voice rose louder and louder. Let me in! Let me in! Let me in! Let me in! They’re coming for me! I can hear them on the stairs! Let me in!

The voice rose to a shriek. ‘LET ME IN!’

Simon looked at Annie, her face contorted with fear and anguish. She shook her head. He leant his face against the wooden surface of the door.

‘No’. he said, in a strained, but clear voice.



Some hours earlier

Simon and Annie sat side by side on Simon’s bed, carefully cleaning and polishing their faery swords, that lay across their laps, gleaming in the warm afternoon sunshine. They worked carefully because the swords, gleaming razor-sharp, were honed like wicked knives, glinting and very deadly. Simon had already found this out, to his cost, when he touched the edge and cut his finger, rather painfully. They said little to each other, because they had so little to say, suspended as they were, in that dreadful gap of inactivity before a battle, neither knowing what to expect, or what the outcome might be. As Simon had said once before, it was the dark period of waiting before something terrible might happen, when fear grips the stomach, and the body is tight and tense, anticipating and dreading what might lie ahead. They were prepared just to do something, anything, to avoid being idle and anxious.

Suddenly, the phone rang downstairs in the hall. Annie jumped, and her sword slid down and fell to the floor. ‘I’ll get it’. She called as she ran out of the door and down the stairs. Simon picked up her sword and laid it gently on the bed, next to him. He could hear Annie’s voice, talking quietly to whoever was on the other end of the line. He heard her put the phone down, and come up the stairs. He looked up as she came in.

‘Who was that?’

‘Mariko. She asked if she could come over for the afternoon, with Pei-Ying and Indira. I think they’re as jumpy and nervous as we are. We all need some company. Anyway, as the token male, you’ve got a bevy of beautiful maidens to keep you occupied’.

‘Apart from you, of course. Oww! He yelled as Annie cuffed him hard on the back of the head. ‘What was that for?’

‘For being so ungallant to your adoring little sister’.

‘Ungallant! Adoring!’

They grinned at each other, in a moment of deep affection. Then the doorbell rang.

‘They didn’t waste any time’.

‘They were already on their way. Simon, they’re as frightened as we are’. She ran down the stairs again. Simon heard the sound of voices, and the tread of feet upwards.  Then they poured in, each of them dumping their heavy holdall bags inside the doorway.

‘What an unbelievable mess!’ exclaimed Indira,, looking around in disdain.

‘Do you really sleep in…in here?’ asked Pei-Ying, doubtfully.

‘It is rather untidy’ said Mariko, politely, wrinkling her nose as she glanced around the room.

‘I hope you realise that a philosopher needs the detritus of life around him, as he ruminates upon the meaning and essence of life and  destiny’ Simon declared, loftily.

‘Don’t mind him. He’s talking rubbish again’.

‘Rubbish! How dare you!’.

But Mariko was staring at him. ‘Simon, is it true? That when you went to Hyperborea, you were shot and nearly killed?

The smile left Simon’s face. He realised that he had never mentioned it to them before. ‘That’s true. If it hadn’t been for Annie, Morag and Jezuban, I wouldn’t be here now. And yes, I  killed Grandfather Wrist. I’m glad about it, for all the things he did!’ He spoke so viciously, that they all fell silent. It was Indira that broke their unease. ‘Tell us about Hyperborea, again, Annie. I’d love to go there, when this is all over…..’ Her voice trailed away.

Annie came to the rescue. ‘You really want to know about our faery boyfriends, and girlfriends, don’t you?’ She pointed a mock-accusing finger at them. ‘All right, then….’

They were still laughing and giggling later, when Simon glanced at his little black alarm clock on the bedside table.

‘Annie, it’s time to go’. he said quietly. The fingers pointed at half-past four. They gathered up their weapons and left, closing the front door gently behind them, and began to walk down Ditchling Road, towards the city centre. Oddly enough, they all felt more at peace, without the restless disquiet of before. Now they were up and moving, toward whatever action lay ahead, they became purposeful and determined. They were soldiers preparing for battle. They passed couples, groups of people, chattering happily, clutching Sainsbury’s bags full of groceries, on their way home, bus-queues of weary shoppers, looking forward to a warm fireplace and the television, comfort and  the easing of limbs: children clamouring for supper, and kindly slippers waiting, after a long day.

But as Annie and the others walked along Ship Street, and then turned right into the narrow paved alleyway that led to the garden door of the Hand headquarters, they left behind all the noisy bustle and gaiety of Brighton. Night had fallen. It was much quieter here. They stopped and hesitated in front of the small black gate, so familiar to them with the row of rusty curved iron spikes mounted on the wooden lintel above. Behind it was an overgrown garden, and the very, very old fig tree that still grew from more than a century ago, They looked at each other nervously. Annie pressed the little plastic doorbell on the right-hand side of the gate. A bell sounded from inside the large grey house that stood inside. Almost immediately, the gate clicked, and moved open a few inches.

‘It all seems clear’. muttered Simon, as they moved in single file along the broken brick path up to the grimy front door. Annie looked carefully around at the trailing ivy and twisted bindweed, clutching at the remnants of ancient rhododendron bushes, and the mouldering benches against the wooden fence, that forlornly partitioned the sad old garden from the others. She knew this place so well, but she was still very alert, checking for suspicious shapes and shadows. They mounted, as quietly as they could, up the uncarpeted stairs onto the landing above. The door at the end was ajar, that led into their meeting-place.

Annie looked around. ‘Ready?’ she whispered. They all nodded. She kicked the door open violently.

‘About time too! Where did you lot get to?’

‘Adrian! I might have known!’

Annie looked hard at Adrian the seagull, busy preening his feathers. She decided to be very nice to him.

‘It’s good to see you here, Adrian. Glad you could spare the time’.

‘Yeah, well, just thought I’d keep you lot up to the mark. Where’s that bitchy copper friend of yours, then?’

‘If you mean Morag, then she’s on her way’.

‘Typical. The old bill never gets here on time. Stupid cow’.

Annie could feel Simon boiling over with rage. The others were glaring at Adrian, as he stood placidly, shifting from one webbed foot to the other.

Annie restrained herself with difficulty. Adrian could be rather awkward.

‘What’s the matter, Adrian? Your girlfriend, Gerry, gave you the push again?’ Simon couldn’t resist it.

‘Stop it , Simon! Adrian, did you see anything out there?’

‘Not a thing. Anyway’. said Adrian, with a baleful glare at Simon, ‘It was Gerry that told me to come here. Said it was my duty, and I’d better, or I’ll never see her again’.

‘I’m sorry, Adrian. Thank you for being here. Look, what’s happening?’ She looked around. The Four Fingers were busy closing shutters at the windows, and bolting them securely.

Index Finger, the tallest of the elderly grey men, walked across to her. She was startled to see a small sword, in its scabbard, belted around his waist, underneath his jacket. ‘You must all look at this’. He pushed a small piece of paper across the long wooden table in the centre of the room towards her. She picked it up and read it slowly.


“We attack at eight tonight, By midnight you will all be dead. Whoever harms the Wrist family will die in torment. That is our word”.

‘Scumbags! Nice of then to give us the times. They’d better be punctual! They nearly killed me! They really will pay for that! And  for Annabelle, and for all the other poor young girls that they put to death!’

The others looked shaken and shocked at Simon’s sudden fury. Annie  grasped his arm. ‘Will you sit down with me, Simon? Please’. She led him onto one of the two benches by the table. She looked into his face, twitching. He was biting his lip.

‘Simon, you have said to me, at least twice, that this is not about revenge, but justice, You can’t take things into your own hands. You mustn’t do that. Our friends are here. We have to protect them as best we can’. She paused, sadly. ‘I know you’re angry, and so am I. We both know that. Your eyes have turned grey, Simon. We’ve both become faery, perhaps, because of the talisman. I just don’t know. But don’t go berserk on me now, Simon. I need you, very much. Remember how kind and gentle the faerys can be. It’s not all about viciousness and brutality. Keep a calm, logical and rational mind, for your own sake. That’s what we need now. Promise me, Simon. My instincts tell me that we need everything we’ve got. Promise me, truly!’

Simon knew that when she made these slightly pompous speeches, she was desperately worried. Annie never did have a way with words. He became contrite.

‘Alright. I’ll keep the beheading and quartering to a minimum’. He looked around. ‘Where’s Pat and Sister Teresa? he asked, feeling suddenly concerned.

‘Here I am, boyo’. Pat had been sitting in a chair in the corner, with an open book on his lap, his long, lanky legs stretched out before him. He was clad in his usual cream-coloured suit, lightly frayed at the cuffs. He held up the book. ‘”Wars of the Celtic kings”. Battle strategies, though not much use in here’.

‘But where’s Sister Teresa?’ asked Annie.

‘Ah, now that, I don’t know. She was very mysterious, and said she had something to do first, and that she would be here later. Like a sphinx, that woman. You never know what she’s planning’.

‘I thought you and she were bosom pals, Pat’.

‘Aye, so we are, but that doesn’t mean she tells me everything. Knowing her, she’s got some crafty scheme up one of her large sleeves’.

‘And where’s Sniffer?’ said Annie, looking around.

‘Down ‘ere’. replied a muffled voice.

Annie knelt down and peered under the great long table that stretched across the width of the large raftered room. A pair of beady black eyes looked back at her from under a filthy clump of matted hair.

‘Don’t worry. I’m the silent and deadly one. Close quarter combat, that’s me. Ex-legionary, of course’. Look’, he lowered his voice. ‘Don’t mind Adrian, I’ll keep an eye on him. Doesn’t like being in confined spaces, you know. He’d rather be up swooping round the vaulted azure heavens. But he’ll make himself useful’.

‘I know he will’. Annie whispered back. She stood up. Simon was prowling around the large old schoolroom, moving chairs carefully back against the dingy whitewashed walls. He caught Annie’s eye. ‘More open space. Easier to defend. If…When, we get attacked, we can stay close to the walls between them, so our backs aren’t exposed’. He paused, and frowned at the old stone fireplace on the end wall, behind the long table, opposite the doorway, it’s marble surround chipped and broken by decades of use.

‘What about that?’ he pointed. Little Finger looked across.

‘As you can see, we have nailed a large sheet of plywood in the opening, to seal it. We hope that will be enough’.

Simon nodded and looked around the large room carefully. It was originally an old schoolroom, with large truss beams supporting the pitched ceiling above. They were painted black, but now bespattered with yellow and white bird droppings from Adrian and his brood. The heavy entrance door was to one side of the west wall, facing the fireplace on the east. Three tall windows, now bolted and shuttered from the inside, were situated along the south wall. The long north wall had no windows or doors, though a long heavy batten of wood stretched along its length, upon which solid ornamental coat-hooks had been screwed, thickened and discoloured by layers of paint. He could imagine the children here, sitting at rows of desks facing their teacher, in starched pinafores and collars, mechanically reciting their tables, gradually absorbing the knowledge that would provide them with a living of sorts, when they grew up. He thought sadly of Annabelle, all those years ago.

‘Simon!’ He jerked awake, suddenly. ‘Rope!’

He looked at Pat, who was standing expectantly, holding a coil of rope in his hands.

‘Men always need rope for useful things. Might be good here’.

‘Oh, Pat!’ Simon groaned, then paused. He looked up at the lights suspended from the beams above, filthy, their filament bulbs grey with dust, their so-called industrial shades, like chinese hats, so begrimed with dust that their colour was indistinguishable. What if they failed?

‘If you’ve got torches, give them to Pat! Emergency lights!’

A surprised Pat suddenly found his hands thrust full of electric torches.

‘What on earth do I do with these, Simon, my boy?’

‘Use the rope to hang them from those coat-hooks so that they can be switched on if we need them. The children won’t mind’.

‘What children?’ Pat’s Irish accent was becoming more pronounced, Simon noticed.

‘It doesn’t matter, Pat. Use your rope, but cut it into sections. Tie the torches to the coat hangers over there, but leave a long piece hanging down. Then tie that into a noose, to fit around everybody here, including those that aren’t, like Morag and Sister Teresa, just in case’.

‘Simon, you wouldn’t be thinking of hanging them that come after us, or your own people, would you? Like falling on our own swords!’

‘Pat, trust me. I don’t know what will happen, but I just feel that we have to take every precaution. Will you do that?’

‘I will. I trust you, my boy. You’re thinking ahead to something. Thy will be done. Your faery instincts are doing you proud’. He hurried off, before Simon could ask him what he meant.

‘We have brought provisions and drink’. announced Index Finger.  ‘It is best that we eat now’.

They sat down around the long end table, but ate little of the sandwiches and cakes that the Four Fingers had brought. Their eyes were endlessly shifting around the room, at the ceiling, the floor, the walls, nervously wondering where a sudden attack might come. Index Finger looked at his mighty gold watch, pulled out of some recess in his pocket.

‘It is eight o’clock’. he said, quietly. They all stood up, drawing their swords, though their hands were tense and sweaty around the hilts. They listened, but there was nothing. Sniffer had taken up position next to the fireplace, and lay, apparently composed in his usual furry heap, though Annie could see his black eyes darting and gleaming.

Then a small noise began. There were small scratchings and twitterings, partly around the old stone fireplace, and at the bolted windows. Annie and Simon stiffened. They had heard those sounds before.

‘Heavens above, what is that?’ Pat whispered.

The chittering and scratching became louder and louder, like rats scuttering behind the walls, the windows, the skirting-boards, the ceiling. It became even louder, so that they had to put their hands to their ears. But their eyes shifted towards the old stone fireplace, the noisiest place of all. As they watched, the large plywood panel began to bulge, as if something was heaving and straining behind it! The nails holding it in place began to loosen and shift. One popped out with a sharp crack!

‘Weapons!’ shouted Simon frantically. ‘They’re breaking in!’

But it was too late. The plywood sheet crashed to the floor with a bang, raising dust, and hordes of small black things poured out, like enormous scurrying cockroaches! Some leapt and skeetered up the walls, to hang above them from the ceiling. Others ran around the sides of the room. More leapt straight at them, their little clawed hands and feet scratching and clawing! Their swords were out, in a frenzied battle, cutting and slashing at the creatures. Sniffer had launched himself at them, as they poured out, his yellow canine teeth biting and worrying them like large rats, before tossing them aside. Adrian was snapping at them with his cruel beak, as he thrashed his wings in the air frantically.

Indira screamed as one of the creatures leapt down from the ceiling onto her back, digging its claws into her neck! She screamed, dropped her sword and desperately tried to pull it off. Adrian swooped across, and jabbed his beak viciously into it. Indira hurled it to the ground and smashed its white ovoid head under her foot! It cracked like an alabaster egg. Their swords whirled in gleaming arcs, cutting the creatures literally in two! Pat laid about him with an enormous cudgel, smashing heads and bodies in fury. The Fingers thrust viciously with their short sharp blades, methodically destroying everything in their path.

Then it stopped. The few remaining things scuttled into the fireplace and disappeared. There was a heavy thud or two behind them, as Pat disposed of any that were left. The chittering had stopped, and the only sound was their panting breath, as they leant on their swords. Indira was sitting on the floor, moaning, bleeding from the back of her neck. Mariko knelt behind her, carefully applying a hanker-chief to her wound.

‘Everyone all right?’ called Simon, his voice echoing in the sudden silence. He looked around. Everyone was cut and scratched but there was nothing more serious, apart from Indira’s badly gashed neck. She winced as Mariko finished tying the bandage around it. Then she gasped and looked around.

‘Where have they gone? There’s nothing left! But we killed them!’

‘They all melted away, straight after. Must be because they come from another dimension, perhaps’. Pat replied, his white moustache now drooping with sweat.

‘They had no faces!’ Pei-Ying gasped. ‘Just those little white oval things on their shoulders! They were like monkeys, scurrying in little blue suits, with claws! What were they?’

Sniffer spat out a piece of blue fabric, disgustedly. ‘Reckon you’d better ask our Annie and Simon about them, love. They’ve met them before’.

‘Simon and I call them the Chitterlings’ Annie replied, still breathing hard. ‘They wounded us badly in Blaker’s Park, when we challenged Doctor Wrist, and we had to be rescued and taken to Morag’s place’.

‘But they didn’t shoot those nasty little blades of theirs’, Simon added, puzzled. ‘Why was that?’

‘Reckon they might want to take us alive’. muttered Sniffer, his black eyes glaring at the gaping hole of the fireplace. Adrian was making short swoops around the room, then flew down and settled on the long table. ‘Don’t look now, mates, but I reckon something else is going to come out of that hole very soon. It’s not over yet. Its only just started’.

As he spoke, they could hear a faint stirring, a distant rumble, that seemed to come from deep down somewhere in the recesses of the grate. They all gripped their swords again, as they could feel a vibration beneath their feet, coming closer. Sniffer slowly moved back, his teeth bared. ‘Whatever it is, its getting closer!’ whispered Mariko. Everybody backed away from that dreadful gaping fireplace, and moved around the huge table to stand behind it. The light was fading quickly. The ceiling bulbs cast a harsh, but slightly dimmed light above them. Outside, they knew it must be totally dark.

Then the lights flickered and dimmed. They came back on, but then faded again, leaving the large room in semi-blackness. The bulbs were trembling, vibrating with the sound that began to tread heavily from the direction of the fireplace. They raised their swords slowly, the tips glinting dully in the faint light from above.

‘Pat! Can you go and switch the torches on?’ To Simon, his heart pounding, his voice sounded terribly loud.

‘Sure, boyo’. Pat turned towards the wall where the torches were hanging, and then the lights went out. It was pitch-black. They blundered into each other, in their sudden blindness.

‘Keep your weapons down! We might hurt each other!’ Simon shouted into the darkness. ‘Get to the walls, and stand against them!’

‘Simon!’ It was Mariko’s voice, sounding desperate. ‘There are things in the room with us!’

They could all hear a heavy dragging and strangely brittle sound of footsteps that seemed to be all around them in the blackness.

‘What’s that dreadful smell?’ someone yelled. It was the sickly stench of sweet rotting flesh and something else, animal-like. Simon recognised it from the battle long ago. Daemons! He thought to himself. ‘Pat!’ he yelled. He heard a curse behind him, as Pat stumbled into a chair next to the wall, his hands groping desperately. A sudden sharp beam of light shot out and pierced the darkness, dazzling them for a second. But it was enough to guide them to the wall, where Pat stood, barely visible in the dark.

It was only a respite. Simon heard a scream of pain, and then was nearly knocked over by a body crashing into his legs. Somebody was whimpering next to him. He reached down and felt the warm stickiness of blood. ‘Simon!’ He recognised Pei-Ying’s voice, from where she huddled against him. ‘It hit me! I couldn’t see it!’ Simon slashed out furiously with his sword, his wrist jarring with the impact of blade against bone. There was a loud snarl, and something claw-like hit him across the side of the head, knocking him down across Pei-Ying’s slumped body, dazed and disorientated.
‘Annie!’ he called out, frantically.

Annie, standing helpless, looked down at her hand gripping the sword. The talisman was pulsating brightly. ‘Please don’t let me down!’ she prayed. She held out her right hand, with the talisman ring. It shot out with a bright beam of light. It was enough to see three terrible things!. The talisman could only lash across the room, but it was enough to catch the enormous skeletal figures, draped in shreds of decomposing skin and fur, hanging down from their limbs! Their skulls were long and shaped like wolves, their long canine teeth gaping viciously. Their hands were huge with long fingernails, like claws!

‘They’re daemons! Dead daemons!’ Annie shrieked in horror.

‘Keep the talisman going!’ Simon yelled. He swiped viciously at one of the grunting and snarling figures, as it shone in the talisman’s bright light for a instant. His blade tore its head off, and it collapsed in a welter of dust. There was a heavy crunch as Pat swung his club, and another dead skull exploded in fragments. Mariko leapt out in fury and caught the remaining creature, thrusting hard with her sword. It simply passed through its ribcage, then its long bony claws fastened around her throat, lifting her off the floor! She squealed and squirmed desperately, desperately trying to tear the fingers around her neck, slowly beginning to throttle her. Then Annie’s sword sliced into the creature. The skull-like head fell and rolled across the wooden floor, with a dull thump, and the skeletal figure dropped and dissolved. Mariko crashed onto the ground and lay there, gasping painfully for breath. her throat hurting so badly, that she barely noticed as Simon dragged her back to the wall, where she lay against Pei-Ying, who was whimpering and crying softly.

The room was now dark and silent. The only light came from the solitary torch  that Pat had managed to switch on, its beam shining directly across the space, lighting up the opposite wall, and one of the bolted windows.

‘Reckon I should put some more torches on, Simon?’ Pat’s voice sounded in the blackness, somewhere to his right.

‘If you can find them, Pat’.

There was a scuffling and a few muttered curses. Then another torch came on, and then another, their white light criss-crossing the empty old hall. They didn’t help much, but they could see roughly where everybody was. They were all slumped along the west wall. Pei-Ying looked the worst. A terrible gash had torn her green dress open, and she was bleeding badly, her face white, and groaning in pain. Mariko was cuddling her anxiously. Indira knelt next to her, her face also pale. Pat was on his right, looking anxiously around. The Four Fingers were on his left, backs against the wall, their short swords held out in front of them, ready for any attack. Annie was next to him, her sword raised.

‘Simon!’ Mariko croaked. She couldn’t manage much more. ‘Pei-Ying’s hurt! Really badly! Can you do something for her?’

‘I’ll deal with it, Simon. You just watch out for anything more they want to throw at us!’

Annie knelt down by Pei-Ying. ‘Let the talisman heal you. Oh, Pei-Ying, love, it might hurt you at first. But it will help you. I mean it’.

Pei-Ying grinned faintly. ‘Do your worst. I’ll be all right, honestly’.

Simon winced as he heard her yelp of pain, as Annie gently pressed it to her wound, then a sigh.

‘I can feel it, Annie I can feel it healing me’.

‘Simon! Where’s Sniffer! Where’s Adrian?’ It was Pat’s voice, calling urgently.

‘Oi, I’m right here, doing a prowl! Right, where is Adrian?’

Simon pointed the torch down. Sure enough, there was Sniffer, on all four legs, unusually, smelling the air suspiciously around him.

‘Where is that thick git, anyway?’ Sniffer peered around. Simon shone the torch into a corner, where there was a huddled pile of white and grey feathers. As he looked, the pile began to rearrange itself into the semblance of a bird.

‘Oi! I heard that!’ Adrian waddled towards them, stretching his wings, painfully. ‘One of those bastard things clobbered me! Chucked me into that corner! Ratbags!’

‘Are you all right, Adrian?’ Simon asked anxiously.

‘I’ve felt better, but thanks for asking. Never knew you cared. Sorry, mates, I don’t think I’m up to flying for a while. Hey, how are your lasses?’ suddenly noticing the three lying against the wall.

Pei-Ying looked up weakly. ‘We’re all right. Better now. We just got a bit injured’.

‘I can see. OK, boss, what now?’ looking at Simon.

‘Why am I the boss, all of a sudden!’ Then Simon stopped. There was a dead silence.


The door resounded with as series of heavy bangs, as if someone was beating on it with their fists and feet.

‘Please, please, you’ve got to let me in! The voice lowered. ‘Please, please! I’m all on my own out here, and you’re all inside. Let me in!’

The pounding began again, this time, frantically.

‘It’s Morag! You know me! You can’t leave me out here! Let me in, please, please, please!

The voice rose louder and louder. Let me in! Let me in! Let me in! Let me in! They’re coming for me! I can hear them on the stairs! Let me in!

The voice rose to a shriek. ‘LET ME IN!’

Simon looked at Annie, her face contorted with fear and anguish. She shook her head. He leant his face against the wooden surface of the door.

‘No’. he said, in a strained, but clear voice.

There was another silence. They could hear footsteps walking away, down the stairs.

‘What are you doing! That was Morag! She’s on her own out there!’ cried Indira, with horror.

Annie looked around at her. ‘No, it wasn’t’. She listened at the door again. ‘That wasn’t Morag. That was a trick. I would know Morag if it was real’.

‘Then who, or what, was it?’

Annie just shook her head, and continued to listen.

‘There’s something else going to happen. I can tell it. Simon. What can we do?’

He looked around in despair. What could he do? Then the wooden planked floor beneath them started to tremble. Just little tremors at first, then harder vibrations. Simon’s feet began to shake underneath him. He stood there, breathing hard, wondering what to do. Then he decided.

‘Stay close to the wall! Pat, is there any rope left?’

‘Lots of it. I’ve left pieces of it hanging from those coat-hooks, where I tied the torches up!’

‘Move, everybody! Tie those loose pieces of rope around you, under your arms! Do it for pity’s sake!’

Those that were injured, got up, moaning, and laboriously began to tie the rope around themselves. Annie still stood in the middle of the floor, looking around to make sure everybody was where they should be. She shrieked in horror as the floorboards next to her flew open with a wrench of torn nails, as some force smashed its way upwards! She sheathed her sword, and gasped again as the wooden floor erupted in front of her! The sound of tearing wood and splinters exploded in every direction!

‘Annie! Get back here!’ 

As she began to run back to the wall, the whole floor literally disappeared! It descended with a great groan and rumble into the depths below. Annie made a desperate leap as the ground disappeared under her feet. She felt a hand catching her wrist, holding it fiercely. She clung on and looked down.

Simon heard her scream of pure agony. Then she went limp, becoming a dead weight. His left arm felt as if it was being pulled out of its socket. ‘Help me, someone! I can’t hold her for much longer!’ He tightened his grip in terror. But he could feel that she was beginning to slip, despite everything. It was Mariko who came to the rescue. She swiftly untied her own rope, and then began to swing across the coat-hooks, grasping one after the other, as agile as a young monkey, until she reached Simon and Annie. She grabbed Annie by the scruff of the neck, holding onto a coat-hook with one hand. Her neck still hurt badly.

But it was enough to take the weight from Simon. Clinging desperately on to Annie, he and Mariko began to wind the rope around themselves, and hooked it around the coat-hook above, binding all three of them together.  They finally let go, feeling themselves swinging, still holding tightly to each other, their feet dangling above that black void where the floor had been. Still groaning with the pain in his arm, Simon risked a quick glance at the others, to right and left. They were all still dangling along the row of coathooks, where children, long past, had hung their coats. They were all scrabbling with their feet, trying to find some purchase on the wall. They hung there, in a row, for what seemed like an eternity.

There was a rumbling movement below them, in that dark room. The floor rose up to meet them, crashing and eventually subsiding. Then it was there, again. The long wooden table was overturned on its side, the edges slightly splintered. Broken chairs, their legs twisted, lay around. Mariko cautiously felt downwards with her right foot.

‘I think it’s safe now!’ she cried. Everybody slowly lowered their legs, until they could feel the comforting planked surface beneath their shoes.

‘The floor’s back!’ someone shouted.

They gently untied the ropes and lowered themselves. It felt firm and hard. The shock of losing what you had always relied on, the only safe thing in the world, hung heavy over them. They now knew what an earthquake must be like. Pei-Ying was sobbing in relief. The rope had seriously hurt her previous wound. Simon helped Mariko to put Annie down, where she lay, curled up, but beginning to stir. He stood up carefully, and looked around again.

‘Is everyone all right?’ His voice sounded small and foolish in the dead silence. The torches still shone across the dim schoolroom.

‘I think so’. Pat’s voice sounded strained. Their heads turned quickly at the sound of a dull thump on the revived floor. Pat turned one of the torches hanging on the coathooks. At one side, they saw a bundle of feathers, and a body, which rose up indignantly.

‘Have you ever tried hanging on to one of those metal things with webbed feet? Bloody hell! I was made for swimming, not perching! Try it sometime!’

‘Good to see you, Adrian boy!  Versatile, as well as loud-mouthed!’ This was Pat, in genuine delight.

‘Where is Sniffer?’ asked Little Finger, walking gingerly, his little plump face pale with anxiety.

‘Up ‘ere!’

They all looked up. The torch revealed a dark furry form, clinging desperately onto one of the wooden rafters that spanned the room.

‘Don’t ask me how I got up here. I don’t like heights! One of you catch me, before I fall off!’

‘Here you go, boyo!’

Pat stepped across and held out his arms. There was a frightened growl, and something large and hairy dropped from the ceiling. Pat caught it neatly, and deposited it on the floor, where it shook itself, shedding a number of tiny black fleas, that disappeared in the surrounding darkness.

‘Cheers, Pat!.

‘Listen, boyo, you don’t half stink! I’ll have to fumigate myself now!’

‘Just camouflage, for undercover operations’. What’s the matter with Annie!’

‘Simon!’ Mariko was kneeling anxiously, holding Annie, who was sitting up. ‘Simon! There’s something really wrong with her!’

Simon leapt across, dropping his sword, and gathered Annie into his arms. He was shocked. Annie was white, and terribly cold, even though there were beads of sweat on her forehead, and down the sides of her face. Her mouth was twitching furiously. Her body jerked spasmodically, and her arms were shaking, her hands clutching at each other, but never quite meeting. All Simon could do was to cling on to her tightly, in fright, not knowing what else to do

There was a heavy knock on the door, which made them all jump. They stared at it. Annie was now moaning and whimpering, her eyes wide and staring.

Pat got to his feet. ‘I’ll deal with it’. He walked softly across to the door, hefting his large club in his hand. He listened, leaning against the door.

‘Let me in!’

‘Not on your life, whatever you are’. answered Pat, slowly. ‘You’re not pulling that trick again, you nasty little vermin’.

There was an incredulous pause. ‘Is that you, Pat, you disgusting Irish reptile? It’s Morag! What are you up to in there? Let me in, you Celtic bastard! Now!’ There was a savage kick at the door, then a yell of pain.


There was the sound of something, or somebody, hopping on the landing outside on one foot. A furious banging followed, accompanied by a long stream of very nasty swear-words.

Pat looked around at the others, with a faint smile. ‘Our police lass certainly knows how to cathart herself, doesn’t she? That’s our Morag this time, sure enough’.

‘How do you know, Pat?’ asked Index Finger, anxiously.

‘I can’t think of anyone else who can swear like that, unless it’s me”.

He undid the bolts, and peered around the side of the door cautiously.

‘In you come, darling!’

Morag thrust her way past him, glaring.

‘What the bloody hell do you think you’re playing at!’ she shouted furiously. ‘What’s been going….on?’

Her voice tailed off, as she looked around the dim old schoolroom. It was splintered and wrecked beyond recognition. Floor-boards, cracked and shredded, reared up from holes in the shattered floor. She could see the outlines of the rafters below, in the gaping spaces. The huge table lay on its side, one end lying across the old cracked fireplace. Dismembered and mutilated chairs lay everywhere. The air was full of old dust, still floating and whirling in the bright beams of the torches, hung askew from hooks on the left wall. She recognised huddled figures below them. Pei-Ying, her green dress darkened with glistening blood, was being comforted by Indira, a white bloodstained bandage tied tightly around her neck. The four grey figures of the Fingers were standing together in the middle of the broken room, their sleeves torn and grimed by dust and dirt, still clutching short swords.

She made out the matted bundle of Sniffer, crouching next to two others, held together in a fierce embrace, near the wall where the others stood or sat.

‘What happened here?’ she gasped, in horror.

‘You are looking at a battlefield, darling’. replied Pat, wearily. Morag turned and looked at him. He had lost his hat, and his cream-coloured suit was bedraggled and filthy with dust and streaks of dirt. He was holding a evil-looking wooden club in his right hand.

‘Annie’s in a bad way. She saw something. It’s hurt her. Anything you can do, Morag?’ He nodded to the frozen couple on the floor.

She recognised them with a terrible stab of fear. It was Simon and Annie, Simon holding his sister tightly against him, gently, softly whispering to her, rocking her back and forth. She saw Annie’s staring eyes, and heard her sobbing breath. She ran across and knelt by them, holding Annie’s face between her hands, overwhelmed by grief and emotion. She was dimly aware of Mariko, next to her, her long dark hair, plastered across her face, her lovely almond eyes filled with desperation.

‘Annie, Annie, sweetheart, darling, love, I’m with you! Don’t be afraid! I’m here, Morag, I’m here’.

Annie suddenly screamed in anguish, her face contorted.


They both clung to her, hard.

‘Morag, I don’t know what to do! Please help her!’ Simon cried in terror.

Morag felt utterly helpless. Nothing had prepared her for this, even her police training. She closed her eyes in utter frustration. Something stirred in her head. It shifted into her mind. Something she must do. It moved into her consciousness. Faery? She could not tell. But it was something that would help Annie. She opened her eyes. ‘You won’t like this, Simon’. she murmured very softly, so that only he could hear. ‘Trust me’.

She looked down at her talisman, flashing brightly on her finger. Without hesitation, she pressed it hard against Annie’s forehead. Annie screamed, her body convulsing. Then she grew still. Her arms fell to her side. She began to breathe deeply, her eyes closed.

‘What have you done to her, Morag!’ Simon shouted frantically.

Morag looked at him, steadily. ‘I have made her forget’.

‘Forget what?’ said Annie. She had suddenly sat up, looking confused and bewildered. She seemed normal again, her eyes, surprised, looking around. ‘Where are we?’

Simon flung his arms around her in desperate relief.

‘Get off, Simon! What’s with all this soppy affection? Morag, you’re here! Oh, right, I’ve remembered, we’re fighting off some nasties. What a mess in here! Simon, you’re hurt!’ 


‘Look at you! Your face is covered in blood, from that awful gash in your head! What is that sound I can hear?’

They all looked up and listened, intently. There was a heavy vibrating sound, as if it were coming from electric pylons, solid and pulsating. The walls began to tremble slightly.

‘Its coming from outside!’ cried Mariko, painfully twisting her neck around. They all, as if by instinct, moved towards each other in the middle of the floor, standing in two groups, the Four Fingers and Pat in one, the others next to them, on the left. There was a rasp of sword-blades over the broken floor, as they checked for a solid area to stand and fight. The humming vibration grew louder and louder. The floorboards began to creak. A broken chair began to groan. The humming was louder and louder, almost becoming unbearable. The whole room was beginning to shake. In the dim light of the torches, they could see flakes of plaster and paint beginning to fall off the walls, floating down like white feathers.

‘ I can’t stand this!’ cried Indira, clapping her hands over her ears. Her sword fell to the floor with a clatter, that they hardly heard. The intensity of the sound became unbearable, pressing them down to their knees with its unseen weight. Sword and weapons dropped from their hands, as they desperately tried to shut out that awful humming and the vibration, that made even their teeth shake in their heads.

‘The windows!’ someone cried out in horror. Even as they turned to look, the shuttered windows began to bulge inwards, beginning to bow and crack under the strain of that sound! The walls were starting to tremble. Large cracks appeared, zig-zagging across the crumbling surfaces. The roof above was shifting and gasping. Then, one by one, the torches dimmed and went out, leaving them in pitch-black darkness, pressed and huddled against each other in panic! Someone began to sob.

But Simon could hear voices in his head. They sounded very faint and far away, but they seemed to be coming nearer, slowly, very slowly. He tried to concentrate on the voices. At first, the darkness and vibration drowned them out. Then they became closer. He could recognise what the voices were. They were singing, or rather chanting. Something from his childhood that he recognised! It was so familiar, that he couldn’t at first believe it! But the voices were now clear and distinct. He listened, then felt a stab of joy!

‘The voices!’ he shouted. ‘I can hear the children! The children are here!’

‘What voices, what children?’ said a muffled voice next to him. ‘I can’t hear them!’

‘Just listen! You must hear them!’

‘I can hear something’. said another muffled voice.

‘So can I!’

‘They’re repeating something!’ said another.

‘Concentrate! Listen to the children! Their voices!’ Simon yelled again.

For a few moments they all listened, despite the humming and the sounds of the disintegrating room. Suddenly the voices became loud and clear. Young, very young, high-pitched voices, some awkward, and off-key, others very sweet. In an instant, everybody recognised it for what it was, from their own childhoods of long ago.

One times one is one
Two times two is four
Three times three is nine
Four times four is sixteen
Five times five is twenty-five
Six times six is thirty-six……’

‘The children have come back! To their old class-room! This is where they were taught! Don’t you see!’ Simon was yelling with excitement. ‘I knew it somehow! I just knew it!’

The sound of the children grew louder and louder, beginning to drown out the incessant throbbing and humming. As if defeated, the vibrations began to dissipate. The humming grew lower and lower.

Seven times seven is forty-nine
Eight times eight is sixty-four
Nine times nine is eight-one
Ten times ten is one hundred
Eleven times eleven is one hundred and eleven…

The childrens’ voices, faltered slightly over the last two lines, then swelled in triumph.

And twelve times twelve is one hundred and forty-four!

The torches suddenly flickered on. The terrible humming and vibration had stopped entirely. The whole room was silent, except for an occasional creak, and the gasping of their breath, as they exhaled.

They all began to scramble to their feet, in the dim light of the torches, looking around in amazement. The sound of the childrens’ voices, laughing in delight, faded away into an echo, and then disappeared. Only Simon remained kneeling, staring down at the floor.

Morag stood up, feeling shocked and dazed. Her ears were still ringing from the sounds that they heard. She turned and looked down at Simon accusingly.

‘How did you pull that trick, Simon? I must say it was very good. I was very moved, by that. How did you manage it?’

‘I didn’t’. Simon replied, still staring at the floor.

Morag frowned. ‘Look, I don’t understand…’

‘Leave him be, Morag’, Pat said, quietly walking across to them.
‘I don’t think he knows himself’.

He knelt down by Simon, his joints complaining loudly, and put his hand on his shoulder.

‘You said something about the children not liking it earlier, didn’t you? I didn’t understand you at the time, but now I do. Thanks, boyo. You’ve done a good job here tonight’. He got up again.

‘Look’, Morag complained, ‘I don’t see…’

‘Let’s see if that talisman of yours can help anybody else here’. said Pat firmly, steering her by the arm towards the others. Annie sat down by Simon, her legs crossed, and reached across, grasping his hand.

‘What was it, Simon? Tell me’.

Simon looked up at her. ‘I don’t know, Annie, I really don’t. I just had a premonition, or some instinct, before. I don’t really know where it came from. I really don’t’.

She could see the mixture of deep emotions in his face, his lips twisting. She turned at a cry of pain, as Morag applied the healing powers of the talisman, then looked back at him.

‘I think I know’. she said softly. ‘Its because of your commitment to the past. You identify with things long gone. Like Annabelle. You reach across the years and touch other people long before you were even born. It does you credit, Simon. Your basic humanity. To see people as they were, and still are. I think its wonderful’.

Simon was about to reply, when he was interrupted by a sharp rapping at one of the locked windows. Everyone fell silent, and picked up their weapons.

‘Oh no. Not more’. said Pat softly. He walked across the room to the closed window. As he reached it, the rapping sounded again, more imperiously this time.

‘Who’s there?’ he asked softly, grasping his club firmly.

‘Oh, that’s Pat is it? You open this window this instant! I can’t hover around here all night!’

Pat looked around at the others.

‘You’re not, by any chance, a daemon, are you?’

There was a muffled exclamation. ‘No, I am not! I’m with Sister Teresa! Now open up, or else!’

Pat immediately began to open the shutters, unbolting them first, then slowly swinging them open, unlocking the sash window and carefully pulling it up. They saw the silhouette of a small robed figure outside, apparently hovering just outside the window.

‘About time!’ It snapped, then began to clamber in through the window. ‘Well?’ it snapped sharply at Pat.

‘I apologise, madam. Let me help you alight from this window’. The figure took his helping hand grudgingly, and jumped lightly from the window ledge onto the floor.

She  was the smallest nun they had ever seen. She was no more than five feet tall, and the dishevelled grey robes she wore looked as if they were too big for her. Grey wisps of hair protruded from beneath her wimple and hood, and she peered at them through small wire half-moon glasses, her tiny mouth pursed in disapproval, as she stood with arms folded, looking around.

‘This is a disgraceful mess!’ she pronounced, in a voice surprisingly strong for her size. ‘I am Sister Louise. Who is in charge here?’

Simon clambered stiffly to his feet, but before he could say anything, Morag stepped forward. ‘Look, I am a police officer, and…’

‘Be quiet! You and your laws have no jurisdiction here! I said, who is in charge?’

Simon shuffled forward, everyone’s eyes on him. ‘I suppose I am’. he said awkwardly.

Sister Louise looked him up and down appraisingly. ‘Hmmmm’ she muttered to herself. Then she nodded. ‘You are wounded, and so are many of you. There is blood on you’.

A huge bang sounded on the door, startling them. ‘That will be Sister Teresa’. the little nun said. ‘Well, go on, then’, looking sharply at Pat, ‘ let her in, or she will break the door down!


Pat sheepishly trotted across, threading his way around the broken eruptions in the floor, and began to unbolt the main door. He had hardly undrawn the last bolt, when the door was flung open. A huge majestic bulk stood in the doorway, grey robes flapping.

‘Sister Teresa!’

She stood in the doorway, beaming, and then strode into the room. Following her was a procession of robed nuns, who came in and stood in a line by the door. They looked slightly worn and tattered but their faces were, though elderly, bright and flushed.

‘These are my sisters!’ Sister Teresa announced proudly. ‘My squadron, if you like!’ The nuns smiled shyly, and nodded their heads in the direction of the tired, dusty figures in the room. Sister Teresa swivelled her large brown eyes across the room, noting everything.

‘You have fought a terrible battle here’. she said slowly. She looked hard at Simon and Annie. ‘We have also fought a rather nasty one outside and around here. An aerial one of course. But we have seen the last of them. She stared at Morag. ‘They waited until you were inside. They wanted you all together for massacre’.

‘Who’s they? asked Simon, plaintively.

Sister Louise answered, rather sharply. ‘The usual riff-raff, of course! Flying daemons, harpies, wraiths and so on. We sorted them out proper we did! Oh!’ she put her hand to her mouth. One or two of the nuns in the ranks giggled, and tried to look solemn.

Sister Teresa sighed. ‘Pride is a sin, Sister Louise, and so is the improper use of English. But you are right. We clobbered them good!’ She burst out laughing, her huge body rippling with merriment. There was a release of tension in the room, and everybody began to smile and laugh, forgetting for a few moments what had gone on.

Index Finger stepped forward. ‘We are grateful for your invaluable assistance, Sister Teresa, you and all your sisters. But we have all been through a terrible time. It has been a nightmare’. He shuddered slightly. ‘I would suggest that we leave this…’ he glanced around, ‘this mess, and go home to eat and sleep. Brother, summon our carriage’.

‘Of course’. Third Finger pulled out a small silver whistle from his coat-pocket and blew on it shrilly. In the distance they could hear an answering roar, then a screech of tyres. There was a brief flash of headlights through the cracks in the shutters, a final snarl, and then a heavy chugging some way down the alleyway outside.

‘That’s Caliban!’ shouted Annie, in delight.

They gradually limped down the stairs, towards the front door. As Simon passed, Sister Teresa caught him by the arm, and leant down. ‘Simon, you must tell me more about what happened here. About your sister, and about the children’.

‘The children!’ gasped Sister Louise, whose sharp ears had caught their conversation. ‘Is that true? A miracle?’

‘Too soon to tell, Sister Louise. Eavesdropping is another sin’.

‘I apologise, Sister Teresa’. replied Sister Louise, stiffly, her eyes still alight with curiosity.

‘I suppose your friend in higher places will tell you, anyway’ said Simon. He felt exhausted and weary.

‘He already has. Simon. We will leave you now. We have our own means of transport. Index Finger will return to pick up his Brothers later. Go home, Simon, but not for tea!’ she chuckled.

As Simon trudged to the end of the lane, a huge grey car stood there, thundering and throbbing, its great headlights glaring balefully down the road like searchlights. As he clambered in, squeezing in amongst the others in the back compartment, the door slammed shut, and Caliban screamed off down the street, causing dustbin lids to rattle, and window lights switched on. They were all crammed together, but nobody spoke.



Caliban drew up outside their house with a screech of brakes that must have woken the entire neighbourhood. But their mother and father were waiting for them, standing on the front step, outside the open door. They looked very composed and serious, and Simon’s mother immediately took control. She sent the girls upstairs to wash and bathe and change out of their bloodstained, clothes and change into some of Annie’s. Morag, who had walked to the headquarters, refused politely.

‘Then go into the kitchen and join the others, Morag. Simon is there, and so is Pat and that awfully scruffy dog, plus the seagull who keeps muttering about nosh. When the others come down, we can eat. We have news for you, but that will wait’.

Morag muttered her thanks, feeling embarrassed. But Christine, their mum, called her back. ‘Look after my son, please!’ She said it quietly. ‘He is wounded, but too proud to admit it. Use your talisman. And that seagull too. He has something wrong with his wing’.

Morag felt desperately ashamed. ‘I’m so sorry! I should have done that before!

‘Oh no! He would have kept out of your way! He was more concerned about all of you. Go on, Morag’.

She went into the kitchen. Simon lay, half asleep in the large cushioned grandfather chair at the end of the broad kitchen table. Pat was sprawled out on a kitchen chair next to the warm Aga cooker, eyes closed, next to Sniffer, spread-eagled on the floor. It was hard to tell whether he was awake or even alive. Morag decided to creep up on Simon, which she did, and quickly pressed the gently glowing talisman against the deep ugly cut on his head.

Simon screamed and woke up, and then fell back again, as the emanating waves of the talisman had their effect. The gash closed and became whole again, though his face was still stained with the brown of drying blood. His head fell back and he closed his eyes.

‘Where’s that bird?’ Morag said gleefully. Pat opened one eye. ‘Adrian? He’s over there’. nodding his head towards the corner, where a rumpled bundle of feathers suddenly got up.

Morag stepped towards him, eyes gleaming. Adrian eyed her with alarm.

‘I’m all right! Don’t touch me!’

‘Come on, little birdy. It won’t hurt a bit’.

‘Get away from me, you rotten copper cow!’

There was a sudden agonised squawk.

‘Ooouuuuch! Bitch!’

‘Try your wing now, Adrian’. suggested Pat, mildly, opening his eye again. Adrian spread his wings experimentally, and flapped them, filling up the corner of the kitchen.

‘Yeah, not bad’. he admitted grudgingly. ‘I reckon I can fly on it now’.

He glared at Morag, who stood, her arms folded, smiling sweetly at him

‘yeah, ta, plod. Where’s everybody else?’

At this point, everybody flooded back into the kitchen. They were ravenously hungry. Dishes of bread, butter, cold roast chicken, flavoured with herbs, creamy tomato sauces and dips, a platter full of cheeses, green and mixed salads, warm pizzas, cut into slices, fruit pies and fresh green apples appeared, and for a while there was a contented silence. But Annie kept darting frightened glances at Simon. He barely ate, and kept staring into the distance. The others noticed, but daren’t mention it.

Their father got up finally, and everybody looked up. ‘My wife and I have been busy today, whilst you were otherwise engaged’. He looked at his watch. It is six o’clock in the morning. It is too late to tell you now, but we have some news for you. ‘Good news’, he added hastily, as he saw their faces. ‘but it will wait. Go to bed now. The young women are on a sleepover, so your parents will not be worried. It has been arranged. Get up when you like, or can’.

Some took their leave. Adrian even said ‘Ta very much’, and flew off into the night, rather lopsidedly. Pat and Sniffer departed together, with polite thanks, back to Pat’s place, wherever that was. No-one actually knew.

‘I’ll establish a “cordon sanitaire” around him’. Pat grinned. ‘Not the first time’.

‘What’s that thing you’re carrying, Pat?’ asked Indira curiously.

‘What, this?’ Pat hefted his club. ‘My shillelagh. Don’t ask me how to spell it!’

‘Mum, if Indira and Pei-Ying are in the spare room, then Mariko can have mine. I’ll sleep in Simon’s’. Annie said bravely, with an air of martyrdom. ‘Simon can have the living-room couch’.

Morag stood up. ‘I’d better get a taxi’.

‘No!’ said Simon sharply. ‘If Morag doesn’t mind, I’d rather she stayed. She can have my couch. Please Morag. I need to say something to you’. His parents, Annie, and Morag, stared at him, anxiety in their faces.

‘Don’t worry. Morag and I are not making secret assignations. I just want to ask her something. That’s all’.

‘Of course’. His mother replied. ‘That’s absolutely fine. I’ll make it up for you, Morag’. But she looked deeply troubled as she left.

Annie stared  at Simon. Morag could almost feel the hurt in her. ‘Where are you going to sleep, Simon?’

‘I want to stay up for a while. I can’t sleep yet’.

Annie hesitated. ‘I see. Goodnight night, then’. She turned and walked out of the door. Morag’s heart bled for her. She had seen the utter dismay and misery on her face as she left. She waited until she heard Annie’s footsteps on the stairs, and then got up, and turned out the main light in the kitchen, so that only the lights under the kitchen cupboards remained. She sat down opposite Simon at the end of the table.

‘That was cruel, Simon’. she said quietly.

Simon didn’t answer.

‘Why don’t you wipe the remains of that blood off your face? Or are you on some kind of guilt trip?’ she spoke harshly.

Simon looked up at her.

‘Will you promise me, Morag, not to tell Annie, or even let her remember, what she saw down in that terrible pit? Promise me, please! It would destroy her!’

Morag’s face felt suddenly hot. She realised what this was about. She framed her words very carefully.

‘I promise you, Simon. On my mother’s sake. You’re trying to protect your sister. I know that. But perhaps she doesn’t know that. But there’s more, isn’t there?’

‘Yes. Thank you, Morag. There is more’.

Simon was silent for a few seconds. Morag waited for him, patiently.

‘I’m terrified, Morag. Tonight, I suddenly realised how responsible I was for all the people I love and care about. We all sat here, and talked and laughed, and I thought to myself, what if I had done the wrong thing? I might have condemned them to death!  As it is, they’ve escaped. I feel guilty about bringing them to this. About them trusting me, or Annie! I don’t know what we’ve brought them, or you, into! Tonight I did things that I never dreamt I could. But their lives depended on it! What I said, what I did. I don’t know whether I can bear that responsibility!’

Morag was looking hard at him. She saw a young face, old before his time, racked with confusion and uncertainty. She felt desperate compassion and sympathy, trying to frame her next words. What she said, she knew, had to take this young boy away from the knife-edge, that he was so desperately tottering upon. She remembered her mother’s words: “Always be truthful and honest. Those you speak to will know and understand”.

She took a deep breath. She spoke softly. ‘Simon, you saved all our lives tonight. You must remember that, always. It doesn’t matter how, but you did. You should also remember that we were there, not because we had to, but because we chose to. We are all together in this, Simon, like it or not. Like you and Annie, we must have faith in ourselves. I believe that, and so do the others. This is not about self-guilt or remorse. It’s about our inner strength, Simon. If we didn’t have that, we’d all be in a psychiatric ward being treated for acute post-traumatic stress disorder! Don’t worry about the others, they’re there! Even that bloody seagull!’

Simon laughed. Morag was relieved. Perhaps her words had some effect after all.

She got up, and stopped. ‘Simon, don’t forget why we’re doing this. Think about Ragimund. She loves you, Simon. Think about how proud she will be, when she knows about tonight. Remember, it’s not just you, but all of us’.

She walked around the table and kissed him gently on the forehead.

‘Sweet dreams, dear prince. Goodnight’. She walked silently through the door. Simon stared at the table, glinting in the early morning light, his thoughts twisting and turning, until, at last, tiredness overcame him, and  he slumped back into the embracing chair, sleep falling over him as a comforting blanket.


Frank Jackson (12/02/2011)  Word Count - 10429